From dragons to giants, here's what people first thought of dinosaur bones - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Karuika asks: Who was the first person to figure out what dinosaur bones were?

From around 250 to 66 million years ago various dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Today the only dinosaurs left are birds, which are coelurosauria theropods — funny enough the same sub-group Tyrannosauruses belong to. (Think about that the next time you’re enjoying a McDinosaur sandwich or scrambling up some dinosaur eggs for breakfast.)

Beyond their avian progeny, all that mostly remains of these once dominate creatures are fossilized bones, footprints, and poop. While many dinosaurs were actually quite small, some were comparatively massive, bringing us to the question of the hour — what did people first think when they pulled huge dinosaur bones out of the earth?


To begin with, it is generally thought humans have been discovering dinosaur bones about as long as we’ve been humaning. And it appears that at least some of the giant creatures of ancient legend likely stemmed from the discovery of dinosaur bones and fossils, and the subsequent attempts of ancient peoples to explain what they were.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Giphy

For example, 4th century BC Chinese historian Chang Qu reported the discovery of massive “dragon bones” in the region of Wuchen. At the time and indeed for many centuries after (including some still today), the Chinese felt that these bones had potent healing powers, resulting in many of them being ground down to be drunk in a special elixirs.

As for the exact medicinal purposes, in the 2nd century AD Shennong Bencaojing, it states,

Dragon bone… mainly treats heart and abdominal demonic influx, spiritual miasma, and old ghosts; it also treats cough and counterflow of qi, diarrhea and dysentery with pus and blood, vaginal discharge, hardness and binding in the abdomen, and fright epilepsy in children. Dragon teeth mainly treats epilepsy, madness, manic running about, binding qi below the heart, inability to catch one’s breath, and various kinds of spasms. It kills spiritual disrupters. Protracted taking may make the body light, enable one to communicate with the spirit light, and lengthen one’s life span.

While fossilized bones may not actually make such an effective cure-all, all things considered, the classic depictions of dragons and our modern understanding of what certain dinosaurs looked like are actually in the ballpark of accurate.

Moving over to the ancient Greeks, they are also believed to have stumbled across massive dinosaur bones and similarly assumed they came from long-dead giant creatures, in some cases seeming to think they came from giant human-like creatures.

Moving up to that better documented history, in the 16th through 19th centuries, the idea that the Earth was only about six thousand years old was firmly entrenched in the Western world, leading to these fossils creating a major puzzle for the scientists studying them. Even Meriwether Lewis of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition found a dinosaur bone in Billings Montana, but in his case, he decided it must have come from a massive fish, which was a common way they were explained away given that no creatures that then walked the earth seemed to match up.

The various ideas thrown around around during these centuries were described by Robert Plot in his 1677 Natural History of Oxfordshire:

[are] the Stones we find in the Forms of Shell-fish, be Lapides sui generis [fossils], naturally produced by some extraordinary plastic virtue, latent in the Earth or Quarries where they are found? Or, [do] they rather owe their Form and Figuration to the Shells of the Fishes they represent, brought to the places where they are now found by a Deluge, Earth-quake, or some other such means, and there being filled with Mud, Clay, and petrifying Juices, have in tract of time been turned into Stones, as we now find them, still retaining the same Shape in the whole, with the same Lineations, Sutures, Eminencies, Cavities, Orifices, Points, that they had whilst they were Shells?

Plot goes on to explain the idea behind the “plastic virtue” hypothesis was that the fossils were some form of salt crystals that had by some unknown process formed and grown in the ground and just happened to resemble bones.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Triceratops mounted skeleton at Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.

However, Plot argues against this then popular notion stating,

Come we next to such [stones] as concern the … Members of the Body: Amongst which, I have one… that has exactly the Figure of the lowermost part of the Thigh-Bone of a Man or at least of some other Animal…a little above the Sinus, where it seems to have been broken off, shewing the marrow within of a shining Spar-like Substance of its true Colour and Figure, in the hollow of the Bone…

After comparing the bone to an elephant’s, he decided it could not have come from one of them. He instead concluded,

It remains, that (notwithstanding their extravagant Magnitude) they must have been the bones of Men or Women: Nor doth any thing hinder but they may have been so, provided it be clearly made out, that there have been Men and Women of proportionable Stature in all Ages of the World, down even to our own Days

Thus, much like is thought to have happened with certain ancient peoples, he decided some of these bones must have come from giant humans of the past. During Plot’s era, the Bible’s mention of such giants was often put put forth as evidence, such as in Numbers where it states,

The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim… and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.

Though the bone Plot was describing has since been lost to history, he left detailed drawings, from which it’s thought to have come from the lower part of the femur of a Megalosaurus (literally, Great Lizard).

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Modern restoration of Megalosaurus.

But before it was called the Megalosaurus, it had a rather more humorous name. You see, in 1763 a physician called Richard Brookes studying Plot’s drawings dubbed it “Scrotum Humanum” because he thought it looked like a set of petrified testicles. (To be clear, Brookes knew it wasn’t a fossil of a giant scrotum, but nevertheless decided to name it thus because apparently men of all eras of human history can’t help but make genital jokes at every opportunity.)

While hilarious, in the 20th century, this posed a problem for the International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature when it eventually came time to formally classify the Megalosaurus as such. The problem was, of course, that Brookes had named it first.

Eventually the ICZN decided that since nobody after Brookes had called it Scrotum Humanum, even though he was the first to name it, that name could safely be deemed invalid. Thus Megalosaurus won out, which is unfortunate because discussion of the rather large Scrotum Humanum would have provided great companion jokes to ones about Uranus in science classes the world over.

Moving swiftly on, humanity continued to have little clear idea of what dinosaurs were until William Buckland’s work on the aforementioned Megalosaurus in 1824.

As for the word “dinosaur” itself, this wouldn’t be coined until 1842 when British scientist Sir Richard Owen noted that the few dinosaur fossils that had been scientifically studied at that point all shared several characteristics. For the curious, those species were the Megalosaurus, Hylaeosaurus and Iguanodon. He further concluded that the fossils could not have come from any creature that currently roamed the Earth and thus came up with a new name — dinosaur, meaning “terrible/powerful/wondrous lizards”.

Of course, it should be noted that despite being knighted for his life’s work in 1883, Owen was renowned for stealing other people’s ideas and calling them his own, in at least one case even after having previously ridiculed the person he stole the ideas from — paleontologist Gideon Mantell. In several instances, Owen would attempt to take credit for some of Mantell’s pioneering work on the Iguanodon, while downplaying Mantell’s contributions in the process.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

paleontologist Gideon Mantell.

To add insult to injury, it is speculated that the much more distinguished Owen actively worked to stop some of Mantell’s work and papers from getting published.

To further illustrate Owen’s character and rivalry with Mantell, after near financial ruin in 1838, his wife leaving him in 1839, and his daughter dying in 1840, Mantell would become crippled after a fall from a carriage on October 11, 1841. Previous to the accident, he had frequently suffered from leg and back pain, but the source of it was dismissed as likely due to the long hours of work he put in and the like. Things got worse when a coach he was on crashed, shortly before which Mantell leapt from it. In the aftermath, his former pain became extreme and he ceased to be able to use his legs properly. As he writes, “I cannot stoop, or use any exertion without producing loss of sensation and power in the limbs… and could I choose my destiny, I would gladly leave this weary pilgrimage.” He later laments in his journal, “my long probation of suffering will be terminated by a painful and lingering death.”

What does any of that have to do with Owen? To add insult to injury, after Mantell died from an opium overdose taken to help relieve some of his constant and extreme pain, several obituaries were published of Mantell, all glowing — except one…

This one was anonymously written, though analyses of the writing style and general tone left few among the local scientific community with any doubt of who had written it.

In it, Owen starts off praising Mantell, stating, “On Wednesday evening last, at the age of about 63 or 64, died the renowned geologist, Gideon Algernon Mantell…” It goes on to note how Mantell’s memoir on the Iguanodon saw him the recipient of the prestigious Royal Medal. Of course, later in the article, Owen claims Mantell’s work for which he won that medal was actually stolen from others, including himself:

The history of the fossil reptile for the discovery of which Dr. Mantell’s name will be longest recollected in science, is a remarkable instance of this. Few who have become acquainted with the Iguanodon, by the perusal of the Medals of Creation would suspect that to Covier we owe the first recognition of its reptilian character, to Clift the first perception of the resemblance of its teeth to those of the Iguano, to Conybear its name, and to Owen its true affinities among reptiles, and the correction of the error respecting its build and alleged horn…

The article then goes on to outline Dr. Mantell’s supposed various failings as a scientist such as his “reluctance to the revelation of a truth when it dispossessed him of a pretty illustration”, as well as accusing him of once again stealing people’s work:

To touch lightly on other weaknesses of this enthusiastic diffuser of geological knowledge… we must also notice that a consciousness of the intrinsic want of exact scientific, and especially anatomical, knowledge, which compelled him privately to have recourse to those possessing it… produced extreme susceptibility of any doubt expressed of the accuracy or originality of that which he advanced; and in his popular summaries of geological facts, he was too apt to forget the sources of information which he had acknowledge in his original memoirs.

It finally concludes as it started — on a compliment, “Dr. Mantell has, however, done much after his kind for the advancement of geology, and certainly more than any man living to bring it into attractive popular notice.”

It’s commonly stated from here that, out of spite, Owen also had a piece of Mantell’s deformed spine pickled and put on a shelf in the Hunterian Museum in London where Owen was the curator. However, while this was done, the examination and study of his spine was done at the behest of Mantell himself.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

British scientist Sir Richard Owen.

Thus, an autopsy was performed and an examination of Mantell’s spine showed he had a rather severe and, at least at the time, peculiar case of scoliosis. As to what was so interesting about this case, one of the physicians involved, Dr. William Adams, states, it was discovered “that the severest degree of deformity of the spine may exist internally, without the usual indications in respect of the deviation of the spinous processes externally.”

In other words, in other such cases, it was clear the spine was not straight from visual observation of the person’s back where a curve could be observed. Mantell’s spine, however, exhibited severe scoliosis, but in such a way that upon external examination methods of the day where the person was lying down or standing up, it otherwise appeared straight.

To Adam’s knowledge, such a thing had never been observed before, but if Mantell had this particular brand of scoliosis, surely many others did as well. But how to detect it. Mulling over the problem inspired Dr. Adams to come up with a method to make such a deformity visible with external examination, thus giving the world the Adam’s forward bend test which many a school student even today has no doubt recollections of being subjected to periodically.

Going back to Owen, as to why he seems to have hated Mantell so much, this isn’t fully clear, though it may have simply been Mantell’s work sometimes resulted in showing Owen’s to be incorrect in various assumptions, jealousy of a scientist he deemed inferior to himself, or it could just be that Owen was a bit of a dick. As noted by famed biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, “[I]t is astonishing with what an intense feeling of hatred Owen is regarded by the majority of his contemporaries, with Mantell as arch-hater. The truth is, [Owen] is the superior of most, and does not conceal that he knows it, and it must be confessed that he does some very ill-natured tricks now and then.”

Of course, if you steal other people’s work long enough, eventually you’ll get caught, especially when you’re one of the world’s leading scientists in your field. Owen’s misstep occurred when he was awarded the prestigious Royal Medal from the Royal Society for his supposedly pioneering discovery and analyses of belemnites, which he called the Belemnites owenii, after himself and gave no credit to anyone else for the ideas in the paper. It turns out, however, four years previous he’d attended a Geological Society get together in which an amateur scientist by the name of Chaning Pearce gave a lecture and published a paper on that very same creature…

While Owen was allowed to keep his medal even after it was revealed he’d stolen the work of Pearce, the rumors that he’d similarly “borrowed” other ideas without credit and this subsequent proof resulted in the loss of much of his former academic prestige. Things didn’t improve over the following years and Owen was eventually given the boot from the Royal Society in 1862 despite his long and rather distinguished career.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Giphy

While he would never again do any scientific work of significance, his post plagiarist career did prove to be a huge boon for those who enjoy museums. You see, up until this point, museums were not places readily open to the public, and to get access, you usually needed to be an academic. They were places for research, not for random plebeians to gawk at things.

After losing any shred of respect from his peers, he eventually devoted his energies into his role as the superintendent of the natural history department of the British Museum. Among other things, as superintendent, he pushed for and helped develop London’s now famed Natural History Museum, London. He also instituted a number of changes such as encouraging the general public to come visit the museum at their leisure, devoted the majority of the displays for public use, had labels and descriptions added below each display explaining what each was of so anybody, not just the educated, could understand what they were looking at, etc. Many among the scientific community fought against these changes, but he did it anyway, giving us the modern idea of a museum in the process.

In any event, after Owen, Mantell’s, and their contemporaries’ work finally revealed these long extinct creatures for what they were, interest in dinosaurs exploded resulting in what has come to be known as the “Bone Wars” between rival paleontologists in the 1890s which got so heated, some paleontologists literally resorted to dynamiting mines to beat their rivals in discoveries.

The most famous such rivals were Othniel Marsh of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale and Edward Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

While the pair started out friendly, even choosing to name species after one another, they eventually became bitter enemies, and when they weren’t doing everything in their power to find dinosaur bones as fast as possible, they were writing and giving talks insulting one another’s work, attempting to get each other’s funding canceled, stealing discoveries from one another or, when not possible, trying to destroy the other’s work. In the end, the product of this rivalry was the discovery of a whopping 142 different species of dinosaurs. (For the record, Marsh discovered 86 and Cope 56.)

Before ending, any discussion of this wild west era of dinosaur bone hunting and scholarship would be remiss without noting the unsung hero of it all — Mary Anning, who is credited with finding many of the fossils used by other scientists for “their” discoveries like of the long-extinct Ichthyosaur, Plesiosaurus (in fact finding the first complete Plesiosaurus), and the flying Pterosaur.

Anning was also noted to be popularly consulted by scientists the world over for her expertise in identifying types of dinosaurs from their bones and various insights she had on them, with many world renowned scientists actually choosing to make the journey to her little shop in person where she sold these bones in Dorset England.

Almost completely uneducated formally and having grown up relatively poor, with her father dying when she was 11, Anning’s expertise came from literally a lifetime of practice, as her family lived near the cliffs near Lyme Regis and from a little girl she helped dig out bones and sell them in their shop.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Portrait of Mary Anning.

Without access to a formal scientific education, she eventually took to dissecting many modern animals to learn more about anatomy. She also was an insatiable reader of every scientific paper she could get her hands on related to geology, palaeontology and animals. In many cases, unable to afford to buy copies of the papers, she’d simply borrow them from others and then meticulously copy them herself, with reportedly astoundingly exact replication of technical illustrations.

On that note, Lady Harriet Silvester would describe Anning in 1824,

The extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved… It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour—that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.

Despite finding some of the best known specimens of these creatures and risking her life on a daily basis during her hunt for fossils around the dangerous cliffs, Anning got little public credit for her discoveries owing to a number of factors including that she was a woman, from a dissenting religious sect against the Church of England, and otherwise, as noted, had no real formal education. So it was quite easy for scientists to take any ideas she had and the bones she dug up and claim all of it as their own discovery. As Anning herself would lament, “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.”

A companion of hers, Anna Inney, would go on to state, “these men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.”

That said, given the esteem she was regarded among many scientists, some of them did desire she be given credit for her contributions, such as famed Swiss palaeontologist Louis Agassiz who was one of many to visit Anning’s shop and to pick her brain about various things, ultimately crediting her in his book Studies of Fossil Fish.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Further praising her work a few years later was an article in The Bristol Mirror, stating,

This persevering female has for years gone daily in search of fossil remains of importance at every tide, for many miles under the hanging cliffs at Lyme, whose fallen masses are her immediate object, as they alone contain these valuable relics of a former world, which must be snatched at the moment of their fall, at the continual risk of being crushed by the half suspended fragments they leave behind, or be left to be destroyed by the returning tide: – to her exertions we owe nearly all the fine specimens of Ichthyosauri of the great collections …

Of the dangers of her work, Anning once wrote to a friend, Charlotte Murchison, in 1833,

Perhaps you will laugh when I say that the death of my old faithful dog has quite upset me, the cliff that fell upon him and killed him in a moment before my eyes, and close to my feet … it was but a moment between me and the same fate.

Beyond academic credit, in one lean stretch where Anning’s family was unable to find any new fossils and they had to start selling off all their worldy possessions just to eat and keep a roof over their heads, one of their best customers, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch, decided to auction off many of the bones he’d bought from them and instead of keeping the money, gave it to Anning’s family.

Of this, in a letter to the Gideon Mantell, Birch stated the auction was,

for the benefit of the poor woman… who… in truth found almost all the fine things which have been submitted to scientific investigation … I may never again possess what I am about to part with, yet in doing it I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that the money will be well applied.

Beyond the approximately £400 this brought in (about £48,000 today), this also significantly raised the awareness among the scientific community of the family’s contributions to this particular branch of science.

Further, when she lost her life savings apparently after being swindled by a conman in 1835, the aforementioned William Buckland managed to convince the British government and the British Association for the Advancement of Science to give her a pension of £25 per year (about £3,000 today) in recognition of her work’s importance to science.

On top of this, when she was dying of breast cancer in the 1840s and couldn’t continue on in her work as before, the Geological Society provided additional financial support to make sure she was taken care of.

After her death, they also commemorated a stained-glass window in 1850 in her memory with the inscription:

This window is sacred to the memory of Mary Anning of this parish, who died 9 March AD 1847 and is erected by the vicar and some members of the Geological Society of London in commemoration of her usefulness in furthering the science of geology, as also of her benevolence of heart and integrity of life.

The president of the Geological Society, Henry De la Beche, would also write a eulogy for her, which stated in part,

I cannot close this notice of our losses by death without adverting to that of one, who though not placed among even the easier classes of society, but one who had to earn her daily bread by her labour, yet contributed by her talents and untiring researches in no small degree to our knowledge…

This was the first eulogy for a woman the society had ever published, and the first time such a eulogy had been given for a non-fellow.

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

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MIGHTY TRENDING

Pentagon won’t pay for female troops’ infertility

An Army retiree says she was just 21 years old when exposure to a chemical used to strip paint from aircraft parts caused her to become infertile.

Hers is just one of the stories compiled in an alarming report by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), an advocacy group for service women and women veterans, that details military women’s access to reproductive health care.

Based on a survey of nearly 800 active-duty, reserve, retired, and veteran women, SWAN found that over 30% of women who currently serve or who have served in the armed forces reported infertility. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 12% of civilian women experience difficulty getting or staying pregnant. It’s this disparity that activists found most alarming.


“This data clearly cries out for more research to pinpoint the high levels of infertility,” the report says.

Jessica Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense, said the military does collect data about infertility. A September 2013 issue of a monthly medical report showed that over 16,800 service women were diagnosed with infertility during a 13-year surveillance period.

That amounts to fewer than 1% of active-duty women who served during that time, a striking disparity with the findings of the SWAN report, which collected self-reported data. The military’s numbers, now over five years old, represented women who “were hospitalized during the surveillance period” and whose hospitalization record showed a particular code for infertility, according to the report reviewed by Business Insider.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

A US Marine watches over the civilian firefighters at the burn pit as smoke and flames rise into the night sky behind him in Camp Fallujah, Iraq.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Samuel D. Corum.)

In an emailed statement to Business Insider, Maxwell said that military service members who can not conceive within “acceptable clinical guidelines are given full access maternal fetal medicine and advanced fertility services.”

The military’s report also states that its health care system “does not provide non-coital reproductive therapies … except for service members who lost their natural reproductive abilities due to illnesses or injuries related to active service.”

Many of the women who responded to its survey told SWAN that their infertility is service-connected. One respondent, a retired Army officer who was formerly enlisted, said that her military occupation exposed her to methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), an organic solvent used to strip paint and clean parts. A report compiled by the World Health Organization lists reproductive harm as a possible long-term side effect of MEK exposure.

Another respondent said she was exposed to harmful toxins as a fuel handler; the Centers for Disease Control lists jet fuel as a potential cause of reproductive harm. A third woman said she was exposed to air pollution caused by burn pits; while conclusive data have not yet been compiled, some studies have linked poor air quality to decreased fertility.

Despite the science linking these hazards to infertility, many women say that military and veteran health care systems are not providing access to treatment. SWAN reports that only five military facilities provide a full range of treatment, and many survey respondents say they had to pay out-of-pocket, sometimes up to ,000, for care.

Despite the military’s insistence that it provides treatment when infertility is related to active service, TRICARE, the military’s health care provider, does not cover in vitro fertilization.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Morris “Moe” Berg’s dying words — “How did the Mets do today?” — were on brand for the 70-year-old New York native who enjoyed a 15-year career in Major League Baseball before America entered World War II.

Sports columnist John Kieran called Berg “The Professor” on account of his reputation as an Ivy League-educated linguist and lawyer, a mentor and coach to younger MLB players, and a newspaper-devouring raconteur who earned fanfare as a repeat contestant on the NBC radio quiz show “Information Please.”

His 1972 New York Times obituary eulogized, first and foremost, the “catcher in majors who spoke 10 languages.”


But the brainy 6-foot-1-inch bullpen catcher with an unspectacular batting average had another career entirely: He was a World War II secret agent who gathered intelligence on three continents for the US government.

“We often think about athletes just playing ball and going in for records. But Moe, Ted Williams twice, Joe DiMaggio — they went off and risked their lives and their careers to serve,” said filmmaker Aviva Kempner, who illuminates Berg’s life and legacy in her 2019 documentary, “ The Spy Behind Home Plate.”

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Washington Senator Joe Kuhel (left) with Moe Berg (right).

(Alchetron)

Berg’s particular line of work during the war — he ultimately served as a spy for the Manhattan Project while working for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA — further differentiated him. Who else would sit in the dugout talking about whether Mussolini would win or not?” Kempner said.

As the surviving members of the Greatest Generation dwindle and tensions rise among 21st-century nuclear-armed powers, Kempner emphasizes the need to learn about veterans and remember their contributions and sacrifices.

“It’s important to know who our unknown heroes are and what they did,” she said.

Here’s a window into Berg’s life and transition from multilingual ballplayer to World War II nuclear spy.

He was the son of immigrants.

Moe Berg was born in Harlem in 1902. He was the third child of Bernard Berg and Rose Taschker, Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, who came to the US seeking economic opportunity and religious freedom.

The Bergs moved to Newark, New Jersey, where Bernard opened a pharmacy. Education was paramount, and Bernard in particular expected his kids to pursue one of three professions: lawyer, doctor, or teacher.

From his early days, Moe had a rocket arm and a photographic memory.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Moe Berg’s passport.

As a 7-year-old, he played baseball on a church team using the pseudonym “Runt Wolfe.” He excelled on the field and in the classroom, initially studying at New York University. He transferred to Princeton University, where he was a star on the baseball team and in the modern languages department.

The popular, idiosyncratic scholar-athlete turned down an offer to join one of Princeton’s exclusive eating clubs, purportedly after being told that while he’d be more than welcome, he shouldn’t think of bringing other Jews around.

He spent off-seasons studying law at Columbia University and traveling the world.

After Berg graduated college, the Brooklyn Robins (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) and the New York Giants were interested in recruiting him, in part because they thought he’d help draw the city’s relatively large Jewish population.

He joined the Robins and played in the minor leagues. His technical skills and lack of offensive power inspired the phrase “good field, no hit.” He went on to play for the Chicago White Sox.

At the time, major leaguers worked in the spring and summer and were off the rest of the year. Berg used his baseball earnings to travel. He studied Sanskrit at the Sorbonne in Paris and wrote of how much he enjoyed French “wine, women, and song.”

Largely to appease his father, Berg also enrolled at Columbia Law School and arrived late to spring training while finishing his first year. The following year, the White Sox owner denied Berg’s request to arrive late again, so Berg arranged to leave school early and make up his courses. He’d go on to pass the bar and join the firm Satterlee and Canfield.

But baseball was his priority and ultimately how he made his living throughout the 1930s. He said he would rather be a baseball player than a Supreme Court justice.

He became a catcher by accident.

In 1927, White Sox catcher turned manager Ray Schalk, in a pinch during a game, called out to the bench asking if anyone could catch. Berg tried to volunteer the player next to him. But Schalk thought Berg, a shortstop, was volunteering and put him in without being corrected.

“If it doesn’t turn out well, please send the body to Newark,” Berg reportedly told his teammates. He took to catching. He and his second baseman communicated about the opposing team’s base runners in Latin.

If the runner trying to steal understood Latin, Berg said they’d switch to Sanskrit.

He made two trips to Japan “for baseball” in the 1930s, capturing panoramic footage of Tokyo that is believed to have been used to plan the 1942 Doolittle Raid, the US’s first bombing raid on Japan in World War II.

With Japan already at war with China, the Japanese government was becoming increasingly militarized. (Japan and China clashed from 1931 to 1932 and again between 1937 and 1945.) Meanwhile, Japanese citizens were growing interested in America’s favorite pastime.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Two Japanese naval vessels, left foreground, at Yokosuka Naval Base near Yokohama, directly in the path of bombs from Maj. Gen. James Doolittle’s raiders, April 18, 1942.

(Library of Congress)

In 1932, Berg was among a group of major leaguers sent to Tokyo to coach Japanese college players in hitting, base-stealing, and other skills. When the tour ended and Ted Lyons and Lefty O’Doul returned home, Berg stayed, traveling around Asia by himself.

He ended his trip in Berlin, and he saw firsthand the beginning of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, along with then-Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini’s fascist influence on the Nazi movement.

Back in the US, Berg played on the Washington Senators, frequenting embassy parties in DC, before being dropped and picked up by the Cleveland Indians.

In 1934, the Soviet Union briefly invaded China, and with tensions rising in the Pacific, the US sent an all-star roster of American League players on a tour of Japan to compete against Japanese teams in a friendly 18-game series.

The players would also serve as goodwill ambassadors, as the All-American Japan Tour was an attempt to bolster Japanese-American relations through a shared interest in baseball.

While Berg had set a league record for catching 117 games straight without an error, he didn’t have the same hall-of-famer status as other recruits, like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averil, and Lefty Gomez. But he had been to Japan before, and when catcher Rick Ferrell dropped off the All-Americans roster just before the tour, Berg readily accepted the invitation.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Moe Berg, second from the left in the first row, with other members of the “All Americans” on a visit Nagoya Castle during a free day on the 1934 exhibition.

(CIA Museum)

He studied Japanese on the deck of the ship during the three-week journey across the Pacific. Upon arriving, Babe Ruth heard Berg greet a fan in Japanese. Ruth said he thought Berg claimed not to know Japanese. Berg said that he hadn’t a few weeks before.

“Shhh.”

Berg traveled with a 16 mm Bell and Howell movie camera, seemingly undeterred by leaflets distributed by police warning people not to make maps or capture images, which the Japanese feared could be used against them in war.

He also carried an official letter of introduction from US Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

On one occasion, Berg peeled off from his teammates and went to the roof of a Tokyo hospital, then the city’s tallest building. He wore a Japanese kimono and slippers, and he had flowers and an alibi that he was visiting an ambassador’s daughter who’d just had a baby.

But he threw out the flowers and ended up on the roof, where he shot a panorama of the Tokyo skyline, including the harbor and industrial centers. The US would later use the shots as reconnaissance footage to inform wartime military strategy and plan bombing raids.

How Berg delivered the footage to the US government remains murky. He was known for answering questions about his government work by putting his finger to his lips and saying, “shhh.”

When pressed on how he’d left the hospital with the movie camera, he supposedly responded, “What made you think I had anything in my kimono other than my big pecs and biceps?”

During World War II, he retired his Red Sox uniform to work for the government.

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, killed more than 2,300 Americans and catapulted the US into World War II. Millions of Americans joined up. Before Berg’s father died in January 1942, he asked his sons, “Why aren’t you contributing to this war?”

Berg left the Red Sox to work for the Office of Inter-American Affairs, a government agency President Franklin Roosevelt founded to counter Axis propaganda in Latin America.

In February 1942, Berg made a radio broadcast addressing the people of Japan, in Japanese, asking for peace; he identified himself as “a friend of the Japanese people” and urged listeners to avoid “a war you cannot win.”

That summer, his work took him to Central and South America, ostensibly as an goodwill ambassador distributing baseball gear. He fed reports on the political situation to his boss, Inter-American Affairs Coordinator Nelson Rockefeller.

The OSS tapped him as a nuclear spy who carried out acts of espionage and sabotage to thwart Hitler’s nuclear program.

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt recognized the importance of strong foreign intelligence to the Allied war effort. In 1942, he signed an executive order forming the OSS, a clandestine espionage and sabotage agency directed by Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan.

Donovan, a Republican, was Roosevelt’s Columbia Law classmate and a World War I general turned Wall Street lawyer. As the founding father of America’s CIA forerunner, Donovan recruited a diverse cast of military and civilian personnel whom he fondly regarded as his “Glorious Amateurs.”

At its peak in 1944, the OSS employed some 13,000 men and women, with personnel stationed across the world, working not only as field agents but also as codebreakers, researchers, mapmakers, psychologists, scientists, and propagandists who carried out special operations and information warfare.

Berg was recruited to the OSS in 1943.

With his unusual aptitude, agility, language skills, and information-gathering experience, Berg became the OSS agent that Donovan designated to support the government’s top-secret initiative to develop its first nuclear weapons, codenamed the Manhattan Project.

It was an undertaking so covert that Roosevelt supposedly didn’t even tell then-Vice President Harry Truman about it.

Leading researchers and scientists, including Albert Einstein, briefed Berg, teaching him what they hoped would be sufficient background on atomic energy and their adversaries’ efforts so Berg could collect vital information and assets from occupied Europe.

In 1944, Berg moved throughout war-ravaged Italy to track down important Italian scientists and documents in danger of falling into Hitler’s hands.

“I see Moe is still catching very well,” Roosevelt said after learning Berg had located and extracted Italy’s foremost expert in aerodynamics, Antonio Ferri.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Berg in a photo published upon his release from the Red Sox on Jan. 14, 1942.

(CIA Museum)

Ferri had destroyed lab equipment that could help the Axis and gone into hiding in the mountains with a crate of scientific documents. He raised a resistance circuit carrying out guerilla operations to thwart the Axis and enable Allied air drops. Berg and Ferri connected and began parsing and translating the scientific documents.

With special permission from Roosevelt, Ferri entered the US with a suitcase and the crate of documents and was escorted to the nation’s leading aeronautics research center, in Langley, Virginia.

As Manhattan Project scientists raced to develop the atomic bombs that America would drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, its leaders remained concerned with where Hitler stood with any similar efforts.

If the Axis powers were making progress, it would likely involve German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Prize winner who remained in Germany during the war.

In December 1944, Berg was sent to neutral Switzerland for a conference at the University of Zurich with a pistol, a cyanide tablet, and a false identity as a Swiss physics student. His mission was to attend an intimate lecture that Heisenberg was giving at the conference.

If Heisenberg mentioned working on a nuclear bomb, Berg was to stand up and shoot Heisenberg point blank, with the understanding that this would also mean being killed himself.

Between the German language and the deeply technical physics terminology, Berg left the lecture unsure of what Heisenberg knew. He ended up complimenting Heisenberg on his talk and later insisting on escorting him to his hotel.

In the resulting report, which was read by Roosevelt, Berg determined that Heisenberg had low confidence in the German effort and that Hitler was at least two years behind the Manhattan Project.

Berg died in Belleville, New Jersey, in 1972 at the age of 70, after a fall at his home.

In 2018, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi awarded a Congressional Gold Medal to OSS personnel. The presentation of Congress’s highest civilian honor marked the first collective recognition of the OSS, which President Harry Truman disbanded in 1945.

Truman formed the CIA in 1947 from the old OSS headquarters. While Donovan was not employed by America’s post-war intelligence organization, many of his “Glorious Amateurs” were, and four would go on to hold the agency’s top post.

A bronze statue of Donovan — and an OSS book of honor naming the 116 OSS members who were killed during World War II — are on display in the lobby of the CIA’s current headquarters in Langley.

Berg declined the Medal of Freedom in 1946. He never married or had children. He led a nomadic existence, traveling and, in his later years, living with his sister, Ethel, in New Jersey.

Ethel Berg accepted his Medal of Honor after his death and donated it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York, where it is on display, along with his catcher’s mitt and passport.

Ethel took Berg’s ashes to Israel, but to this day, no one knows where his remains are buried.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North and South Korea may officially end the Korean War

The upcoming summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In could result in a historic announcement, with the sides declaring an end to the 68-year long war on the peninsula, according to a report.

Newspaper Munhwa Ilbo cited an unnamed South Korean intelligence source as saying the coming Kim-Moon summit on April 27, 2018, the first time the leaders will meet face-to-face, may result in a peace announcement.


The news follows weeks of planning between the South and North that kicked off with a thawing of previously tense relations during the Winter Olympics.

Since then, Kim has expressed an unprecedented willingness to talk to the South, a desire to talk about denuclearization with the US, and traveled outside his country for the first time since assuming power in 2011 to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

During the thaw, North Korea has seen an influx of South Korean visitors, including diplomatic delegations and Korean pop bands, with Kim himself sitting in on a performance that he reportedly loved.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Chief of the National Security Office Chung Eui-yong and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meetingu00a0in Pyongyang on March 5, 2018; Jong-un is holding a letter signed by SK’s president Moon Jae-in to arrange for more talks towards peace.

North Korea has also opened up the Kim family to publicity, sending his sister Kim Yo Jong to the games and upgrading the status of Ri Sol Ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, from “comrade” to “revered first lady” in a potential bid to create a cult of personality around her.

The US maintains a wait-and-see attitude toward the talks, and has vowed to stay tough on North Korea by not letting up on sanctions or military pressure. But the customary military exercises that take place with the US and South Korea have been delayed and toned down since 2017.

Experts remain skeptical that North Korea would actually go through with its promises to denuclearize, as it has entered into negotiations in the past only to have them fall apart when it came time to inspect their nuclear sites.

But South Korean diplomats repeatedly say Pyongyang has stuck to its promise of denuclearization, and even laid out specific plans for implementation.

In any case, the relations between North Korea and the world have markedly turned since 2017, when President Donald Trump threatened the country with presumably nuclear “fire and fury” and Pyongyang spoke of firing missiles at US forces in Guam and detonating nukes in the sky.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US Navy’s railgun is a lesson on how to not develop weapons

The US Navy’s efforts to develop a powerful electromagnetic railgun are a lesson in what not to do, a top US admiral said Feb. 6, 2019.

The US has “a number of great ideas that are on the cusp,” Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said at the Atlantic Council, adding that “some of these technologies are going to be absolutely decisive in terms of defining who wins and who does not in these conflicts and in this new era” of great power competition.

But the US needs to accelerate the process because its adversaries are moving faster, he said. The admiral called attention to the railgun, a $500 million next-generation weapon concept that uses electromagnetic energy to hurl a projectile at an enemy at hypersonic speeds.


The US Navy has been researching this technology for years, but the US has not armed a warship with the gun. China, a rival power, appears to have mounted a railgun on a naval vessel, suggesting it may be beating the US in the race to field a working railgun with many times the range of existing naval guns.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Electromagnetic Railgun located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

(U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)

“I would say that railgun is kind of the case study that would say ‘This is how innovation maybe shouldn’t happen,'” Richardson said. “It’s been around, I think, for about 15 years, maybe 20. So ‘rapid’ doesn’t come to mind when you’re talking about timeframes like that.”

He said that the US had learned a lot from the project and that “the engineering of building something like that, that can handle that much electromagnetic energy and not just explode, is challenging.”

“So we’re going to continue after this, right? We’re going to install this thing. We’re going to continue to develop it, test it,” he said. “It’s too great a weapon system, so it’s going somewhere, hopefully.”

The admiral compared the railgun to a sticky note, which was invented for an entirely different purpose, to illustrate that the US had learned other things from its railgun research.

The hypervelocity projectile developed for the railgun, for instance, “is actually a pretty neat thing in and of itself,” he said, and “is also usable in just about every gun we have.”

“It can be out into the fleet very, very quickly, independent of the railgun,” he said. “So this effort is sort of breeding all sorts of advances. We just need to get the clock sped up with respect to the railgun.”

During 2018’s Rim of the Pacific exercise, the US Navy fired hypervelocity projectiles developed for railguns from the standard 5-inch deck gun on the destroyer USS Dewey, USNI News reported in January 2019.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG-105) transits the Pacific Ocean while underway in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations.

(U.S. Navy Photo)

And it’s apparently a concept the Navy is considering for the Zumwalt-class destroyers, the guns for which do not work and do not have suitable ammunition.

These hypervelocity projectiles are fired through the barrel via sabots that hold the round in place and harmlessly fall out the end of the barrel after firing. The sheer power of the electromagnetic pulse and the round’s aerodynamic profile allow it to fly much faster than normal rounds to devastating effect — the US Navy has said its experimental railgun could fire these bullets at seven times the speed of sound.

But experts argue that the railgun is inherently problematic technology, saying that regardless of who gets there first, the guns are likely to be militarily useless.

Railguns are “not a good replacement for a missile,” Bryan Clark, a naval-affairs expert, previously told Business Insider. “They’re not a good replacement for an artillery shell.”

He added: “It’s not useful military technology.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy ships back up Taiwan before important summit

The US Navy sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait Nov. 28, 2018, just days ahead of a planned meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale, accompanied by the Henry J. Kaiser-class underway replenishment oiler USNS Pecos, transited the strait, US Pacific Fleet explained to Business Insider in an emailed statement.


“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Dave Werner, a Pacific Fleet spokesman, told BI. “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

The move could be seen as a message to China, which the US has accused of intimidation and coercion in the region, behavior that runs contrary to the US vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” The US military has used similar rhetoric for freedom-of-navigation operations, bomber overflights, and other activities in that area that have at times run afoul of Chinese interests.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale.

The US Navy sent two warships — the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and the cruiser USS Antietam — through the strait in October 2018. A similar operation was carried out in July 2018, when the destroyers USS Mustin and USS Benfold sailed between mainland China and Taiwan.

Beijing is extremely sensitive to US military maneuvers near Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway province.

The US Navy’s moves through the Taiwan Strait come just before Trump is expected to sit down to dinner with Xi at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The two leaders are expected to discuss a number of different issues, ranging from trade to tensions at sea, during their meeting.

In recent months, the US Air Force has repeatedly flown B-52 bombers over the South China Sea. In September 2018, a US Navy destroyer conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation near the contested Spratly Islands, where it was challenged by a Chinese warship that forced the American vessel off course.

Despite some goodwill gestures, such as the recent port call by the USS Ronald Reagan in Hong Kong, tensions between Washington and Beijing persist.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

These are some of the most fascinating discoveries of lost ships and planes

There has always been something alluring about lost ships and planes. Maybe it’s the massive treasure some wrecks hold in their belly, or maybe it’s the clues to lost history that some ghost ships provide.


Some of these wrecks were civilian vessels, like the former USS West Point (AP 23), which also had names like SS America. Others were planes that crash-landed like the Akutan Zero did. Mostly, there is just this sense of mystery around them.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
The ill-fated crew of the B-24D Lady Be Good. (USAF photo)

Take for instance the Lady Be Good, a B-24 Liberator that got lost during a sandstorm that ended up flying two hours south of its base. It was missing for over a decade until discovered by an oil exploration crew. All but one of the crew were accounted for, but when parts of the B-24 were used on other planes, several suffered mishaps. A curse? Or just coincidence?

The Lady Be Good is not the only B-24D on the list – another one, which landed on Atka Island in the Aleutians, also made the list. This time, the plane was found sooner but left in place. It now constitutes part of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

Also on the list is an RB-29 called Kee Bird, whose crew survived, but which caught fire during a salvage attempt.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
The wreck of the SS American Star, formerly USS West Point (AP 23), among other names. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps the craziest story is that of the Sverdlov-class cruiser Murmansk. This was a powerful ship, with a dozen 152mm guns in four triple mounts, 10 533mm torpedo tubes in two quintuple mounts, 12 100mm guns in six twin mounts, and 32 37mm anti-aircraft guns. However, her end was sad.

Sold to India to become razor blades, she broke from her towline and ended up on the Norwegian coast.

So, check out the video below to see some of the world’s most fascinating ghost ships and planes.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What the Korean War can teach us about the future

While often labeled “the forgotten war,” the Korean War left a distinct stain on the collective memory of the American military community.

The short, but extremely bloody, conflict saw hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians die from combat and non-battle causes—forcing America to reevaluate how it had approached the war. The first war in which the United Nations took part, the Korean War exposed discrepancies between calculated diplomacy, a nation’s moral imperative, military readiness, and the innate complexities of warfare—all issues that T.R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War examines in detail.


Fehrenbach’s book has been regarded as essential reading by military-minded leaders in America, including Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, a Marine Corps Reserve lieutenant colonel who served in Afghanistan, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. While North and South Korea seem to have found some kind of peace as they recently agreed to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, Fehrenbach’s work—as a definitive and cautionary tale about the promises and perils of military action—is still a particularly timely perspective.

Read on for an excerpt from This Kind of War,which offers a blow-by-blow account and analysis of America’s past military action in the Korean Peninsula.

This Kind of War


More than anything else, the Korean War was not a test of power—because neither antagonist used full powers—but of wills. The war showed that the West had misjudged the ambition and intent of the Communist leadership, and clearly revealed that leadership’s intense hostility to the West; it also proved that Communism erred badly in assessing the response its aggression would call forth.

The men who sent their divisions crashing across the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950 hardly dreamed that the world would rally against them, or that the United States — which had repeatedly professed its reluctance to do so—would commit ground forces onto the mainland of Asia.

From the fighting, however inconclusive the end, each side could take home valuable lessons. The Communists would understand that the free world—in particular the United States—had the will to react quickly and practically and without panic in a new situation. The American public, and that of Europe, learned that the postwar world was not the pleasant place they hoped it would be, that it could not be neatly policed by bombers and carrier aircraft and nuclear warheads, and that the Communist menace could be disregarded only at extreme peril.

The war, on either side, brought no one satisfaction. It did, hopefully, teach a general lesson of caution.

The great test placed upon the United States was not whether it had the power to devastate the Soviet Union—this it had—but whether the American leadership had the will to continue to fight for an orderly world rather than to succumb to hysteric violence. Twice in the century uncontrolled violence had swept the world, and after untold bloodshed and destruction nothing was accomplished. Americans had come to hate war, but in 1950 were no nearer to abolishing it than they had been a century before.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
U.S. Marines move out over rugged mountain terrain while closing with North Korean forces.

But two great bloodlettings, and the advent of the Atomic Age with its capability of fantastic destruction, taught Americans that their traditional attitudes toward war—to regard war as an unholy thing, but once involved, however reluctantly, to strike those who unleashed it with holy wrath—must be altered. In the Korean War, Americans adopted a course not new to the world, but new to them. They accepted limitations on warfare, and accepted controlled violence as the means to an end. Their policy—for the first time in the century—succeeded. The Korean War was not followed by the tragic disillusionment of World War I, or the unbelieving bitterness of 1946 toward the fact that nothing had been settled. But because Americans for the first time lived in a world in which they could not truly win, whatever the effort, and from which they could not withdraw, without disaster, for millions the result was trauma.

During the Korean War, the United States found that it could not enforce international morality and that its people had to live and continue to fight in a basically amoral world. They could oppose that which they regarded as evil, but they could not destroy it without risking their own destruction.

Because the American people have traditionally taken a warlike, but not military, attitude to battle, and because they have always coupled a certain belligerence—no American likes being pushed around—with a complete unwillingness to prepare for combat, the Korean War was difficult, perhaps the most difficult in their history.

In Korea, Americans had to fight, not a popular, righteous war, but to send men to die on a bloody checkerboard, with hard heads and without exalted motivations, in the hope of preserving the kind of world order Americans desired.

Tragically, they were not ready, either in body or in spirit.

They had not really realized the kind of world they lived in, or the tests of wills they might face, or the disciplines that would be required to win them.

Yet when America committed its ground troops into Korea, the American people committed their entire prestige, and put the failure or success of their foreign policy on the line.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

What exactly happens when the queen dies?

HailCaesoo asks: What all happens when the queen of England dies?

Queen Elizabeth II has reigned over the UK and the Commonwealth for almost seven decades, but it turns out what happens when she sheds this mortal coil has been planned out in detail going all the way back to shortly after she ascended the throne in the 1950s, with the Queen herself planning some of the elements.

As you might imagine, the whole affair includes an amazing amount of pomp and circumstance, though this was not always the case, or at least not nearly to the extent we see today in various Royal ceremonies. For example, going back to the funeral of King George IV it is noted in the book Royalty Inc: Britain’s Best Known Brand,

Dozens of pickpockets arrived in Windsor and lifted watches and money from sightseers who had turned up to see if any celebrities were attending. The funeral itself, hurried through in St. George’s Chapel at nine o’clock in the evening, was largely undignified. The congregation crowded in, jostling for the best seats, and then chatted noisily among themselves. ‘We never saw so motley, so rude, so ill-managed a body of persons,’ The Time’s’ correspondent reported… At least the undertakers were not drunk, as they had been at the funeral of George’s daughter and heir, the Princess Charlotte who died in childbirth in 1817.

As for his successor, William IV’s, coronation,

William only reluctantly agreed to have a ceremonial coronation and the money spent on the occasion was less than a fifth of that expended on his brother’s behalf ten years earlier… Among the other changes to royal protocols, the new King opened the terraces at Windsor Castle and the nearby great park to the public access and reduced the fleet of royal yachts. All this, his lack of pomposity and his visceral dislike of foreigners, particularly the French, tended to endear him to the populace…. When William IV himself died in June 1837, there was also a private funeral at Windsor and, if not quite as undignified as George’s had been, it was a perfunctory affair.

The ultra elaborate more public ceremonies now associated with the monarchy wouldn’t begin in earnest until the late 19th century, in part because of public protest over not being included in many of these events. For example, there was significant backlash over the fact that the 1858 wedding of Princess Victoria and Prince Friedrich Wilhelm had not been more public. As noted in a contemporary report by the Daily Telegraph at the time, the people lamented the “growing system of reserving the exclusive enjoyment of State ceremonials and spectacles for particular classes.”

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

In 1867, British journalist Walter Bagehot would postulate of all of this, “The more democratic we get, the more we shall get to like state and show, which have ever pleased the vulgar.”

That said, initial efforts to improve things were apparently somewhat lackluster. For example, the eventual Marquess of Salisbury, Lord Robert Cecil, after watching Queen Victoria open parliament in 1860, stated:

Some nations have a gift for ceremonial. No poverty of means of absence of splendour inhibits them from making any pageant in which they take part both real and impressive… In England the case is exactly the reverse. We can afford to be more splendid than most nations; but some malignant spell broods over all our most solemn ceremonials, and inserts into them some feature which makes them all ridiculous.

Nevertheless, by the time of Queen Victoria’s death things had started to improve somewhat, though this particular funeral ceremony too was almost made “ridiculous”. You see, while pulling the cart containing the queen’s coffin up a steep hill, a harness on one of the horses snapped, with the result being two of the other horses rearing back and bucking. The result of all of that, in turn, was the Queen’s coffin coming extremely close to being ejected from the carriage. Had it done so, it would have gone careening down the steep hill, possibly ejecting the Queen’s body at some point…

As for her successor, Edward VII, he would double down on improving public ceremonies, essentially turning every opportunity for pageantry into an elaborate affair and including the public as much as possible. Notably, upon his death in 1910, he had his body placed in a coffin at Westminster Hall with over 400,000 people reportedly coming to see it, helping to popularly bolster the old practice of certain members of the monarchy lying-in-state in the UK.

This all now brings us to the exact plan for what happens when Queen Elizabeth II dies. Code — named Operation London Bridge, meetings have been held a few times per year in the over six decades since the plan was originally created in order to tweak it as needed with the times, with the overarching plan going over every possible contingency the architects can think of.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Giphy

Beyond logistical plans by the government, in more recent times, British news outlets have also had in place pre-planned obituaries, with some TV outlets rumored to occasionally rehearse the broadcasts they will give to announce the Queen’s death, right down to what they’ll wear.

If you’re wondering — a whole lot of black, including black ties for the men, extras of which are actually kept on hand at the BBC just in case needed on short notice. This reportedly became a thing after Peter Sissons of the BBC inadvisably wore a red tie when announcing the Queen Mother’s death. Certain members of the general public did not react kindly to this.

Moving back to the official side of things, to begin with, first, immediately upon her death the Queen’s private secretary, Edward Young, will send a coded message to the Prime Minister, with the message originally “London Bridge is down”. However, given the whole point here of using such a coded message is to help reduce the chance of premature leaks of the news of the Queen’s death, it’s possible the exact coded phrase has been changed since that one was discovered. (If you’re curious, when King George VI died, the code was “Hyde Park Corner” and for the death of the Queen Mother “Operation Tay Bridge” was used.)

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

George VI and British prime minister Clement Attlee (left), July 1945.

From there various entities, such as the media, will be officially notified and the Radio Alert Transmission System (RATS) will be activated announcing the death to the public. That said, it’s likely given social media is a thing that the news will leak much quicker that way to the wider public.

This all essentially kicks off a 12 day sequence of events, outlined in the plan as D-day (the day of the Queen’s death), D+1, D+2, etc. (Interestingly this is also exactly the reason the famed military operation now commonly known as D-Day is called such — just standing for “Designated day”, allowing for ease of coordinating a sequence of events when the actual start date is unknown, or in some cases where there is a desire for it to be kept as secret as possible.)

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing of all that will occur on D-day, beside the Queen’s death, is Prince Charles will assume the position of King, even though actually being sworn in as King will not take place until the following morning.

As for the coronation ceremony, this can potentially take many months to finally take place. For example, Queen Elizabeth II’s own coronation after the death of King George VI on February 6, 1952, did not take place until almost a year and a half later, on June 2, 1953. In this case, the decision to wait this lengthy period was made by Winston Churchill.

That said, there is some speculation that Charles’ coronation will be relatively swift in comparison in order to forestall any momentum building in public sentiment that may push for an abolishment of the monarchy, especially given the relatively lesser popularity of Prince Charles compared to the almost universally loved Queen he is replacing. To help further forestall such from happening, steps have been actively taken in recent years to try to bolster Charles’ profile among his subjects.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Prince Charles.

It should also be noted here that Prince Charles may choose to not become known as “King Charles III”, as he is free to choose any of the names from his full name of Charles Philip Arthur George. From this, there is some speculation that he may wish to honor his grandfather King George by taking the name King George VII or he may go with King Philip after his own father.

In any event, after Charles takes the oath the day after the Queen’s death, Parliament will be called to session that same day (the evening following King Charles’ oath) to swear allegiance to him. Likewise, police and military forces under his rule will also be called wherever they are to swear their allegiance to their new King.

Also on that evening, the new King will address the nation for the first time in that role. In her own such broadcast, Queen Elizabeth, among other things, swore “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

This is a good thing as we’ve previously noted the monarch of the UK is for all intents and purposes above the law in virtually every nation in the world, not just their own. On top of that, from a legal standpoint, their power in their own little empire is almost absolute for a variety of reasons, though of course, Queen Elizabeth II at least has very rarely used any of this authority.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Queen Elizabeth II waving to crowds.

But given this, as you might expect it’s quite important that the person made monarch in Britain is mentally stable and trustworthy as it would take a literal revolution or rebellion to take such powers away from that person from a legal standpoint, assuming said British monarch did not wish to have those powers taken. This would also place the military, police, Parliament and others in the awkward position of having to very publicly break their sworn oaths to said monarch to take their powers away against their will.

Going back to the Queen, what exactly happens to her body directly after her death will depend on where she is at the time, with Operation London Bridge attempting to plan for any contingencies. For example, should she die in her frequent summer home at Balmoral Castle in Scotland a special Scottish ceremony is planned before her body will be sent back to London. In this case, along with appropriate preservation being done, her body will be placed in Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh for a short time, and then her coffin carried to St. Giles’s Cathedral where a service will be held.

After this, the coffin will be put aboard the Royal Train at Edinburgh Waverley railway station and then will make its way down to London where it will be ultimately placed in Buckingham Palace. Given mourners will likely throw flowers and other things at the train as it passes, plans are in place to have another train follow behind shortly thereafter to clear the tracks as needed before the tracks are put back in general use.

On the other hand, should she die abroad, a jet from the No. 32 Royal Squadron will be dispatched with the Queen’s coffin to collect her body. (And if you’re wondering, yes, such a coffin is already made and waiting in case of a Royal’s death — called the “first call coffin”, kept by the Leverton Sons royal undertakers for when it’s needed.)

Wherever it’s coming from, the Queen’s body will, as alluded to, make its way to the Throne Room of Buckingham Palace and be held there for at time. Four days after her death, her coffin will be placed in Westminster Hall, available for public viewing almost 24 hours a day for four days.

Given approximately 200,000 people went to view the Queen Mother’s coffin in 2002, it’s expected the number going to view Queen Elizabeth’s coffin will be vastly more than this.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

The Queen Mother’s funeral carriage.

Finally, the night before the funeral takes place, special church services will be held across the UK to commemorate the death of the head of the Church of England. The funeral will then take place the following day, with said day being deemed a national holiday.

On that day, the coffin will be carried from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey where approximately 2,000 guests will be invited into the Abbey to witness the funeral directly, with the service conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. After that ceremony is over, the the Queen will likely be laid to rest in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Finally, at some yet undetermined point after the mourning period, the coronation of the new King will take place, which will also be a national holiday.

As for other logistics, with the change to the new King, various official things like certain physical money, stamps, etc. will switch from Queen Elizabeth’s visage to the King’s, and an awful lot of official documents and the like that formerly said “her” and “Queen” will be switched to “him” and “King”, such as the national anthem having the words slightly altered to “God Save the King”.

Bonus Fact:

Along with being the only person in the UK to not need a passport when traveling abroad, the Queen similarly doesn’t need a driver’s license to drive either. This is because, like passports, driver’s licenses are issued in her name. So she’s allowed to simply vouch for her own driving ability in person should she ever be pulled over.

Now, you’d think given her status and wealth, the Queen would never drive anyway, but you’d be wrong, though she did a few months back voluntarily cease driving on public roads at the urging of her security team who worried about the elderly Queen’s safety in driving on public roads at her age. But before that, it turns out the Queen loved driving and cars. In fact, during WW2 the Queen (then a princess) badgered her father to let her do her part for her country and subsequently ended up serving as a mechanic and driver with the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service at the tender age of 18. (She’d actually registered to serve at age 16 but King George wouldn’t allow it).

The Queen took her position incredibly seriously, becoming, by all accounts, a competent mechanic and driver, trained to fix and drive a host of military and suburban vehicles.

Fast-forwarding a bit through history, a humourous story about the Queen’s driving prowess comes from 1998 when she was visited at her estate in Balmoral, Scotland by the then Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The story was later revealed to the world by one-time Saudi ambassador Sherard Cowper-Cole.

Knowing Abdullah’s stance on the rights of women and the fact that women are essentially banned from driving in Saudi Arabia (there’s technically no law that says women can’t drive, but licenses are only issued to men), the Queen, demonstrating quintessential British passive aggressiveness, offered the Prince a tour of her palace grounds.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Giphy

Dutifully, the Prince agreed and the pair headed outside where a large Land Rover bearing the Royal insignia was parked. After waiting for the Prince to climb into the passenger seat where he no doubt assumed a chauffeur would drive the pair around, the Queen then nonchalantly climbed into the driver’s seat and proceeded to drive the car, much to the Prince’s astonishment. According to ambassador Sherard, the Prince was extremely nervous about this arrangement from the start.

Things didn’t get better for him.

The then 72 year old Queen, knowing that Abdullah had never been driven by a woman before and no doubt observing his anxiety, decided to mess with him by purposely driving as fast as possible on “the narrow Scottish estate roads”.

As she sped along at break-neck speeds, the Crown Prince screamed at the Queen through his interpreter to slow down and pay closer attention to her driving. The Queen, ignoring his admonishments completely, continued pleasantly chatting away as if she wasn’t doing her best Fast and the Furious impression. We can only imagine Abdullah’s reaction if the Queen had mentioned to him that she never got her driver’s license…

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

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The Army has just declassified how the PT belt works (and it’s amazing)

In a stunning reversal after years of tight-lipped silence, Army officials have revealed the capabilities of the “physical training belt,” a reflective band soldiers wear around themselves to ward off everything from bullets to badgers to STDs.


“The Department of Defense has previously hidden the details of this lifesaving technology for fear of it falling into the wrong hands,” an Army spokesman said in a conference. “But our NATO allies and the American people deserve to know the simple fact: PT belts save lives.”

PT Belt

The PT Belt, also known as the “glow” or “reflective” belt, is worn around the chest or waist. According to newly released documents, it bends gravity. Here’s what it can do:

1. Fatigue

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Photo: US Army Visual Information Specialist Markus Rauchenberger

The PT Belt’s ability to manipulate gravity allows it to reduce the weight of any item it is wrapped around. This means that soldiers carrying a 100-pound ruck and 40-pounds of armor can reduce that load to about 50 “effective pounds” if they use two reflective belts.

2. Bullets

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

The gravity reduction from the combat load can be redirected into an extremely small black hole that guides the bullet away from the soldier. An incoming round headed for center mass won’t be pulled away, but can be guided to hit an extremity. A shot originally headed for an extremity will usually miss.

3. Healing

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
This man is basically Wolverine at this point.

The reflective layer in a PT belt is actually a mesh of microscopic crystals that provide constant holistic healing and realign the service members’ chakras. Different PT belts align the chakra in different ways to allow for different benefits:

Yellow PT belts reduce upper brain function, allowing junior troops to act without question.

Green PT belts prevent the buildup of certain pathogens and parasites.

Blue PT belts increase muscular strength but reduce cardiovascular endurance.

4. Animal attacks

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

PT Belts can reach into the primal part of animal brains to allow the wearer limited control of the creature. Typically this is just enough for troops to more effectively “shoo” animals away, but those with innate beastmaster powers may be able to command the forces of nature. They are typically recruited into the previously top-secret “Camel Spider Corps.”

5. Lasers

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

The microscopic crystals in a PT belt reflect the laser beam and break it up, rendering it useless.

6. Vehicles

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

Pretty straight forward, the belt increases the visibility of the soldier, allowing vehicles to avoid hitting troops.

7. STDs

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Does anything in this photo look attractive? Exactly. PT Belts! Photo: US Army

It’s a simple fact that military uniforms increase the chances that a citizen or fellow service member will approach an individual for sexual relations. Like the classic BCG eyewear, the PT Belt not only wipes out the increase afforded by the uniform but also erodes the original appeal of the soldier. Basically, it’s anti-sexy.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How fighter jets can ‘headbutt’ enemy planes

When fighter jets are scrambled to intercept enemy or unidentified planes, they have a range of options, from immediate lethal fires to trying to contact the rogue plane via radio, depending on the situation. One of the options is to use their plane to conduct the “headbutt” of the other plane.

The maneuver is sweet, but not nearly as metal as it sounds.


From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet, like the ones that headbutted and then attacked and destroyed Syrian ground attack aircraft in June, 2017.

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William Rosencrans)

There are a number of maneuvers which have been described under the umbrella of the term, “headbutt,” but none of them include physical contact between the two planes.

Last year, the ‘headbutt’ maneuver got press coverage after F-18Es intercepted hostile ground attack jets over Syria in June. There, the U.S. fighters conducted one of the most aggressive forms of the maneuver. Two American jets flew close to one another, with one trailing behind. The jets’ wakes combine and become even stronger, and the two jets fly in front of the targeted jet in order to destabilize it with the violent wake. They also dropped flares.

Basically, the two American jets use the “winds” from their own passage to rock the targeted jet. When that failed to dissuade the Syrian Su-22 from bombing U.S. backed forces, the F/A-18E shot down the Syrian jet.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

(AirWolfHound, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Another version of the headbutt, usually seen when the Air Force is trying to get the attention of a friendly or civilian aircraft, has the headbutting jet fly well underneath the target aircraft, then fly up nearly vertical about 500 feet ahead of the friendly plane’s nose, nearly guaranteeing that the pilot will see the U.S. fighter without forcing the pilot to fly though a violent or dangerous wake.

This is only done if ground controllers and the fighter pilots have been unable to establish radio communications with the aircraft, and the aircraft is flying into restricted airspace.

A third version of the maneuver is very similar to the first, but has only one jet flying ahead of the targeted aircraft. This has two advantages. First, less wake is created, meaning that the targeted aircraft is less likely to encounter trouble in flight as a result of the maneuver. Second, it allows the wingman of the headbutting aircraft to loiter either hidden or in a good attack position, ready to move in for a kill if necessary.

This version of the maneuver is often accompanied by the release of flares in order to drive home the point that the U.S. jet is trying to communicate with the targeted aircraft.

While these maneuvers have certainly existed for a long time, the American emphasis on them has grown since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Suddenly, an Air Force that had always been aimed at foreign enemies had to be prepared to assess threats in the domestic airspace much more often.

Like all U.S. military forces, especially when operating with and near civilians, the U.S. pilots wanted a clear escalation of force procedure with ways to assess whether a civilian aircraft was a threat before they were forced to shoot it down.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones

F-16s like this one can fly well over the speed of sound, but have to be prepared to slow down enough to communicate with civilian planes visually, whether its by headbutting them, rocking their wings, or flashing their lights.

(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kathryn R. C. Reaves)

This required the pilots to develop new skills, like additional levels of warning an aircraft that it was entering restricted airspace. It also led to pilots of fighter jets that could break the sound barrier suddenly being worried about how they could slow down enough to read a Cessna’s tail number.

If that doesn’t sound challenging, realize that many of the single-engine planes flying around U.S. skies are considered fast if they can clear 175 knots, roughly equal to 200 mph. Meanwhile, F-16s can fly 1,600 mph. If a fighter is checking on a slow-moving, single-engine plane, they may need to fly (at least) 100 mph faster than their target simply to prevent a stall.

Now imagine trying to get a phone number off of a yard sign while your friend is driving 100 mph.

Takes practice.

But if they can’t get into radio contact with a plane and can’t properly identify it from its tail number, they still need options to get its attention without shooting it down. Headbutting, making radio contact, flashing their landing lights, and dropping flares are among such techniques, but they’re not the only ones. In fact, in at least one tense situation over restricted airspace, a Coast Guard helicopter flew ahead of a civilian plane with a whiteboard telling it to change to a specific radio frequency.

Thanks to all these efforts, the U.S. Air Force has never had to shoot down a civilian plane, and they’ve gained experience using a valuable tool for deterring enemy planes near U.S. forces abroad. But, like the events in June 2017 demonstrated, the “headbutt” won’t always scare the enemy away — and American pilots still might have to get their hands dirty.

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How the voice of Optimus Prime was inspired by a Marine

Peter Cullen is now known to fans around the world as the voice of Optimus Prime — leader of the Autobots in the The Transformers cartoon, video game and film series. The voice and character traits of Optimus are rooted in Marine values and leadership. Here is the story.

Cullen, born and raised in Montreal, Canada to Irish-Catholic parents learned many great lessons and had a wonderful upbringing with his siblings. He grew up skating from the age of 2 or 3. The winters in Montreal were extremely harsh with tens of feet of snowfall making some East Coast winters look mild. His siblings Michela, Larry and Sonny were post-war kids that enjoyed different sports such as hockey, boxing and baseball. Larry was Peter’s hero growing up where Larry was a great boxer and was quite tall. Cullen said, “Larry had a sensitive nose so in boxing matches I would hit his nose to bloody him where it looked like I was getting the better of him. Larry grabbed me and said, ‘Peter if you keep this up I am really going to hurt you,’ of course when he hit me with his gloves it was like being hit by a sand bag.” 

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Larry and Peter Cullen. Photo courtesy of Peter Cullen.

Peter shared, “Larry was my hero from the very beginning. His personality stayed the same throughout his life. He was noble, courageous and had integrity specifically being honest to the heart and Corps. My brother had Marine Corps strength actually built into him.” Cullen stated that these values and athletic skills were instilled in him by their parents. Both parents were athletes. His mother was an all-American hockey player in college and his dad was a distance runner for Boston University where he was the captain of the team. Roger Bannister beat Cullen’s father’s record for the mile. Cullen’s parents were dignified and demanded respect from their children. Cullen said, “We were taught to be honest and truthful. That is ingrained in you. My Jesuit training from Loyola helped as well.” His parents were loving, giving and conservative in raising them. Cullen recalled, “When my mom walked into the room we stood to attention.” Cullen’s father also used humor throughout his daily life. 

His brother Larry joined the Marines before the U.S. entered the Vietnam War. His brother thought that getting out of college he wanted to continue playing football and planned to do so for the Marine Corps. Once Larry joined the Corps the Vietnam War began to pick up pace. He was trained in Quantico, VA as an officer. Larry served in Vietnam as an infantry officer with K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. His personal awards include the Bronze Star with a “V”, two purple hearts with gold stars and the Combat Action Ribbon. Cullen shared, “Once he graduated from officer training, he was informed he was going to be on his way to Vietnam. Our father worked in the international newspaper business and was going to be worried about his son.”

 Cullen recalled being a radio station announcer in Montreal for the Milk Man’s Matinee from midnight until 6 am. He would get the paper through the teletype machines then put a record on. Once, he saw news come through on Operations Hasting. Cullen stated, “I was reading about the Marines there where the NVA was coming through and executing officers in the field…Larry had a one in four chance of survival when talking about the situation.” He wanted to intercept the newspaper going to his home and rushed home so his father wouldn’t read it. He said, “…my father eventually did read the paper in his office downtown and had a stroke. That is how concerned he was for Larry.” Larry survived and was awarded the Bronze Star with a “V” during Operations Hastings and his father eventually recovered.

Cullen shared, “I went to five or six reunions with Larry for his Marine unit from Vietnam. I was a speaker at one of them telling jokes and making them laugh…a great bunch of guys there. There is a special aura about Marines where you can pick them out….They are the most sincere wonderful people where these reunions reminded me of that and how special they were. Larry got a lot of joy out of being around his fellow grunts.” He believes Marines share a powerful message when they are around. Being around Larry’s friends from the Corps means a lot to him, “I talk to several of them where they are starting to go. I still remain in contact with Larry’s platoon leaders and his enlisted men. Larry became a captain and was stationed in Camp Pendleton where I met a lot of them….the feeling of being around Marines echoes through me.”

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Larry during days in the Corps. Photo courtesy of Peter Cullen.

Cullen began his entertainment career doing summer stock during the senior year of high school. He took the place of an actor that got sick and was initially building sets and scenery. He enjoyed doing the role and then pursued an acting career going to The National Theatre School of Canada. Cullen studied Shakespeare, Chekhov and Eugene O’Neil. He had parts in West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie and then The King and I in Winnipeg. He had the lead in Bye Bye Birdie. He worked in repertory theatre in Montreal and came back to Montreal to transition over to radio when Kennedy had just been assassinated. He took a job at a gas station before long and then was working at a radio station. 

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Cullen as Optimus Prime in Transformers, 2007. Photo courtesy of IMDB.com.

Cullen and Larry became friends with famous comedian and actor Jonathan Winters. Winters served in the Marines in the Pacific during World War II and left the Corps as a Corporal. Winters positively influenced many of the great comedians of today, including Robin Williams, and passed back in 2013. Larry introduced Winters’ comedy records to Cullen back in the 1950s. Winters shared a lot about his Marine stories and past with the brothers. They would spend up to ten hours talking at a time together. Winters met Cullen on a special show with the famous comedian. Winters met Cullen on a special show with the famous comedian. Winters and Cullen lived near each other and continued their friendship. Larry moved out to Los Angeles in the early 80s, so the two Cullen brothers and Winters spent a lot of time together. Winters would exhaust Larry with laughter — they would have to go home after laughing so hard because of his antics. 

Cullen was a regular on the The Sonny and Cher Show. Winters invited Cullen to work with him on a special, which humbled Cullen as it was the, “…greatest of honors to be even considered.” He worked on The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show as well. He wanted a normal family, moved out to the country and did voice acting. This led to him working as a voice actor for cartoons, promos for network TV, movie trailers and narration for films. Cullen has done more cartoons than anything else. He said, “Kids remember my voice from the different cartoons I worked on. I can’t even remember doing the voice.” Adults ask him to sign pictures for him for cartoon characters he doesn’t even remember voicing. He shared, “Lessons in humility come hard and often in showbiz,” which reflects the difficulty of working in the business. 

Cullen talked about how Optimus Prime came about. “My character in The Transformers for Optimus Prime came from Larry. I did not know that many Marines back in 1984; they always had that sense of dignity and honor built into them. There is something special about Marines.” He was called by his agent for an audition for the leader of these toys, called The Transformers. He was to play the leader which was a big semi-truck. His brother was staying with him at the time. Cullen needed to use the only car they had for this audition. He informed Larry he was going to an audition to play the voice of a hero truck and Larry responded, “That’s a heck of a way to make a living.” Cullen informed him that the character was a good guy and Larry replied, “If you are going to be a leader, be a real leader not a Hollywood leader with the yelling and screaming and pretending to be a tough guy. Be sincere, be honest, be respectful….be strong enough to be gentle.” Larry’s voice got deep and quiet when he said, “Be strong enough to be gentle.” His delivery surprised Cullen and he thanked his older brother for the advice.

When he got to the audition his paper stated that he was, “Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, but it could have said my name is Larry Cullen, leader of the…” The voice just came out where the whole persona was Larry and was a Marine, “…the character was just a great guy.” Two weeks later Cullen’s agent contacted him to let him know he’d gotten the role. Cullen informed his older brother about him being the basis for the character – – Larry was now a cartoon. Cullen’s loyalty and admiration he had for his brother is a great part of his life. 

Cullen shared, “The Marine Corps definitely stands out to me from the other branches of services in the way it has affected me. Through the experience I have had with Larry and the Marines of his platoons and Marines from other units…there is a sense of dignity, honor and integrity that does not require many words or attitude.” Cullen further adds, “It is a built-in sense of confidence and sense of respect where it is a ‘been there done that’ without snubbing and without conceit. It is a sense of earned honor…and so well deserved for the amount of intensity that a Marine feels from the very beginning of their training through their service. It is just pervasive…the sense of truth that a Marine has to the team he is with and to himself. There is no other way to describe, it is just being a Marine, different from everybody else. Just different.” Cullen strongly feels that Marines are just, “…special.”

A person wearing a hat

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A picture of Larry and his medals earned in the Corps. Photo courtesy of Peter Cullen.

Cullen was invited on the USS Reagan aircraft carrier by Michael Reagan recently. He got to meet the captain of the ship and take a photo with the crew. He is humbled by, “how this character Optimus Prime has touched the hearts of so many people in the military.” Cullen is happy and fulfilled with his legacy he is leaving behind with his acting work, his family and he left a legacy for his brother and those that served with him. He said, “Being interviewed by the Marines is the honor of all honors. I am grateful that you requested to interview me and how proud I am to be a part of this. Thank you.”  

Cullen said that his brother Larry was quiet about his service in Vietnam and did not say much. Larry shared a funny story once about boot camp where he had brushed a sand fly away from his face and the DI had him dig a grave to bury it. Once Larry had buried the sand fly the DI asked, “what direction was he facing?” Larry did not remember the direction and had to dig the sand fly back up. Larry told Cullen that, “…if you try to join the Marine Corps I will break both of your legs.” Larry believed Cullen was placed on this earth to make people laugh and to entertain them. Cullen tried to sign up for the Corps however the recruiting office was closed for the day — Larry was very upset at him. 

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Megatron (voiced by Frank Welker) vs. Optimus Prime (voiced by Cullen) in The Transformers: The Movie, 1986. Photo courtesy of i-mockey.com.

Cullen began his entertainment career doing summer stock during the senior year of high school. He took the place of an actor that got sick and was initially building sets and scenery. He enjoyed doing the role and then pursued an acting career going to The National Theatre School of Canada. Cullen studied Shakespeare, Chekhov and Eugene O’Neil. He had parts in West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie and then The King and I in Winnipeg. He had the lead in Bye Bye Birdie. He worked in repertory theatre in Montreal and came back to Montreal to transition over to radio when Kennedy had just been assassinated. He took a job at a gas station before long and then was working at a radio station. 

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
Megatron (voiced by Frank Welker) vs. Optimus Prime (voiced by Cullen) in The Transformers: The Movie, 1986. Photo courtesy of i-mockey.com.

Winters invited Cullen to move out to California to work with him. Cullen was a regular on the The Sonny and Cher Show. Winters invited Cullen to work with him on a special, which humbled Cullen as it was the, “…greatest of honors to be even considered.” He worked on The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show as well. He wanted a normal family, moved out to the country and did voice acting. This led to him working as a voice actor for cartoons, promos for network TV, movie trailers and narration for films. Cullen has done more cartoons than anything else. He said, “Kids remember my voice from the different cartoons I worked on. I can’t even remember doing the voice.” Adults ask him to sign pictures for him for cartoon characters he doesn’t even remember voicing. He shared, “Lessons in humility come hard and often in showbiz,” which reflects the difficulty of working in the business. 

Peter Cullen
Winters with Cullen on the beach back in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Peter Cullen

In closing Cullen stated, “Wherever a Marine is, they are distinct and are unchangeable where truth is with them. I can tell you (the interviewer) are a Marine.” Cullen ended the call with, “Semper Fi my friend.”

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
An image showing Cullen alongside many of his voice creations, Optimus Prime included. Photo courtesy of Twitter.com.
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how French commandos saved Christmas in Paris in 1994

On December 26, 1994, millions of shoppers across North America rushed to malls in an attempt to make the most of post-Christmas sales. Across the Atlantic Ocean, at an airport in Marseille, France, a small group of men decked out from head to toe in black garb were doing a different kind of rushing — clinging to the back of a mobile staircase while barreling at high speed (or at least as fast as the truck would go) down a runway.


These weren’t ordinary men. Their target was a hulking, cream-white Airbus A300 filled with more than 160 scared and bewildered passengers and flight crew, some of whom were now resigned to accepting an imminent death.

The men on the mobile stairs planned on taking the aircraft in front of them by force, even if it meant giving up their lives in the process. Success was the only acceptable outcome of this operation. Failure would result in the massacring of innocents. Hailing from the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (more popularly known as GIGN), these black-clad ninjas were counter-terrorists, the best France had to offer.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
The GIGN raid on Flight 8969
(The Aviation Intelligencer YouTube)

Today’s mission was a hijacked Air France airliner, wired with explosives and crammed with 166 innocent lives. A small group of hijackers, armed to the teeth, were identified as the targets of this mission. Negotiations had failed and the last-resort scenario was now in play.

Just a few days earlier, on Christmas Eve, that same aircraft sat at an airport in Algeria with flight attendants scurrying around, preparing the cabin for takeoff. The pilots and flight engineers chatted among themselves as they completed their pre-departure checklist. Labeled Air France Flight 8969, this plane would travel with 236 passengers and crew from Algiers to Paris.

Civilian airlines flying routes into Algeria were repeatedly warned, at the time, that their planes were under constant threat of missile attacks. As a result, Air France only allowed crews who volunteered for the Algiers route to fly it, as long as they knew the risks involved.

On December 24th, the threat didn’t come from a missile but rather from 4 members of the Armed Islamic Group — a Middle Eastern terrorist organization. Disguised as members of the Algerian presidential security force, they walked into the cabin of the Airbus without arousing any suspicion, though some found it quite odd that they visibly carried their weapons.

Outside the aircraft, airport personnel began to worry when the airliner sat on the apron, sealed and ready to depart for Paris, but didn’t move an inch. Already facing delay, the control tower tried to hail the cockpit — no response. Fears began to manifest and armed tactical response teams were deployed immediately.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
GIGN operatives practicing clearing a building
(Domenjod)

It was hijacked.

Aboard Flight 8969, the hijackers began checking passports, likely to earmark targets for execution in the event that their demands weren’t met. Soon after, amidst terrified screams, the terrorists revealed their intention to take the aircraft and waved their guns in the air, demanding cooperation.

The hijackers wired explosives in the cockpit and the main cabin while forcing the pilots, at gunpoint, to exchange clothes with them. The airliner was surrounded outside by police and Algerian military personnel. Negotiations began, but would soon break down.

Within hours of the hijacking, two passengers were executed and their bodies were dumped outside the aircraft. Attempts to use the lead hijacker’s mother to get him to surrender peacefully further enraged the terrorist, causing a breakdown in communications. By the following day, Christmas, another passenger was executed. French government officials were outraged — the Algerian military had botched the situation and were losing innocent lives.

From dragons to giants, here’s what people first thought of dinosaur bones
GIGN commandos with rifles and submachine guns
(Domenjod)

After releasing just over 60 passengers as a sign of good faith, the aircraft was eventually allowed to take off and continue to France, albeit to Marseille as it had burned through too much fuel to make it to Paris.

GIGN was notified and they diverted their aircraft to Marseille, which had already taken off for Spain — as close as they could get to Algeria without entering the country. Having familiarized themselves with the Air France A300 they were aboard — identical to Flight 8969 — they were ready to roll as soon as their plane touched down.

In the early hours of December 26, Flight 8969 landed and was ushered to a secluded spot at Marseille, Unbeknownst to the hijackers, they were now under surveillance by highly-trained and well-experienced GIGN snipers. Their new demands confirmed the rumors of an attack on Paris. They ordered 27 tons of fuel, instead of just the 9 they needed to make it to Paris.

They intended on turning the A300 into a flying, fuel-laden bomb, triggered using the explosives they had previously wired. When detonated over densely-populated Paris, it would kill all on the flight, scores on the ground, and wound and maim many more. GIGN wasn’t about to let this happen.

Tricking the hijackers into clearing a space in the front of the aircraft for a press conference (and forcing the passengers further towards the back of the jet), GIGN prepped the aircraft for a takedown. In the early evening of December 26, the raid began.

Airstairs (mobile staircases) began racing towards Flight 8969 loaded with GIGN commandos that were armed with submachine guns and pistols. They threw stun grenades and entered the fray.

In the chaos, one of the plane’s pilots jumped out of the cockpit window and hobbled to safety. Snipers began firing into the cockpit, aiming for a hijacker they knew had hunkered down in there. The teams that entered through the rear of the aircraft evacuated passengers. Three hijackers were immediately killed; a fourth remained in the cockpit for 20 minutes before meeting his end.

By the end of the engagement, all four hijackers were dead. 13 passengers and 3 crew were wounded. Aside from the 3 passengers who were executed, all survived. The majority of the Air France flight crew returned to the skies despite the trauma.

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