These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941 is a date which will live in infamy. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor took the lives of 2,403 Americans, wounded 1,178, and served as the catalyst for America’s entry into WWII. Multiple factors like Japanese misinformation, American focus on the war in Europe, and the fact that the attack took place on a Sunday contributed to the high loss of American life that day. Despite the surprise nature of the attack and the low state of readiness of American military forces in Hawaii, American servicemen fought back valiantly. With the sky littered with Japanese aircraft, American aviators did their best to get airborne and repel the attack. Though 14 Army Air Corps pilots tried to take off, most were shot down as they taxied. However, a few of them managed to get airborne and take the fight to the skies.

2nd Lt George Welch and 2nd Lt. Kenneth Taylor spent the evening of December 6th at the Wheeler Field officers club and an all-night poker game. The next morning, as the two men discussed the idea of an early morning swim, they were alerted to the attack by the sound of distant gunfire and explosions. Miles away from their airfield at Haleiwa, they phoned ahead to have their Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighters fueled and armed before they hopped into Taylor’s Buick and raced toward the fighting. Reaching speeds of 100mph on their dash to the airfield, the two men were attacked by Japanese planes who attempted to strafe them on the ground.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor
2nd Lt. Kenneth Taylor (left) and 2nd Lt. George Welch (U.S. Air Force)

When they reached the airfield, their P-40s were only partially loaded with ammunition. Despite this, and with Taylor still wearing his tuxedo pants from the night before, the two men took off. They engaged a formation of Nakajima B5N2 Kate torpedo bombers and shot down two each. However, one of Welch’s .30-caliber guns jammed and Taylor was hit in the arm and leg by a tail gunner, and the two returned to the airfield.

As they refueled and rearmed, their mission was debated. “We had to argue with some of the ground crew,” Welch recalled. “They wanted us to disperse the airplanes and we wanted to fight.” As their planes were refitted and Taylor was advised to remain grounded to have his wounds treated, a second wave of Japanese planes appeared. With Welch’s jammed gun still not cleared and Taylor refusing medical treatment, the two men took off again. Soon after, Taylor caught the attention of a flight of Mitsubish A6M2 Zero fighters. Welch managed to shoot one of the Zeros off of Taylor’s tail before pursuing an Aichi D3A Val dive bomber out to sea and shooting it down.

Welch and Taylor are officially credited with six kills during the attack on Pearl Harbor. “We went down and got in the traffic pattern and shot down several planes there,” Taylor recalled. “I know for certain I shot down two planes or perhaps more; I don’t know.” Taylor later appeared before Congress to testify during an investigation into the attack.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor
Welch and Taylor after receiving their Distinguished Service Cross medals (U.S. Army)

For their actions, Welch and Taylor both received the Distinguished Service Cross. Though General Henry “Hap” Arnold recommended both men for the Medal of Honor, the honor was denied by their commanding officer because they had taken off without permission.

The other three aviators who managed to take off, 1st Lt. Lewis Sanders, 2nd Lt. Philip Rasmussen (who was still in his pajamas), and 2nd Lt. Gordon Sterling, were at a slight disadvantage compared to Welch and Taylor. Though their Curtiss P-36 Hawk fighters were very similar to Welch and Taylor’s P-40s, the P-36 had a less powerful radial engine. Still, the three men managed to get airborne. “We climbed to 9,000 feet and spotted Japanese ‘Val’ dive bombers,” Rasmussen recounted in a 2002 interview. “We dived to attack them.” Sanders is credited with one enemy aircraft kill. Sadly, after this initial attack, Sterling was shot down and drowned after getting out of his plane.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor
The Curtiss P-36A at the National Museum of the United States Air Force depicts a pajama-clad Rasmussen (U.S. Air Force)

Rasmussen, who witnessed Sterling’s death, charged his guns only to have them malfunction and begin firing on their own. In an incredible stroke of luck, a Japanese plane flew into the uncontrolled burst of fire and exploded. Rasmussen got his guns back under control and, after shaking two Zeros off his tail, managed to score one more kill. That was when he felt his aircraft get hit.

“There was a lot of noise,” Rasmussen recalled. “He shot my canopy off.” Rasmussen’s P-36 had lost its hydraulics and tail wheel. Nursing his badly damaged plane back to the airfield, he managed to land without his brakes, rudder, or tail wheel. It was later discovered that two 20mm cannon shells had lodged themselves in the bulky radio behind the pilot’s seat which saved Rasmussen’s life.

2nd Lt. John Dains, 2nd Lt. Harry Brown, and 2nd Lt. Malcolm Moore also managed to get airborne at Pearl Harbor. Moore did not score any kills during the attack and Dains’ suspected kill remains unconfirmed. Brown, however, is credited with the final American kill of the attack.

Of the 29 Japanese planes shot down at Pearl Harbor, these men were responsible for 10. Though America’s war in the Pacific began with a badly bloodied nose, men like Welch, Taylor, Sanders, Rasmussen, and Brown gave the Japanese a taste of what was to come.

MIGHTY HISTORY

British commandos blew up Nazi shipyards in this crazy daring op

In early 1942, things were finally starting to look up for the Allies in Europe. After the Miracle at Dunkirk, the British managed to regroup and deploy their forces elsewhere. The Blitz was over, and the English home islands were safe from invasion (for the time being). Most importantly, the Americans were in the war on the Allied side. The time was right to hit Nazi Germany where it hurt while making the North Atlantic just a little safer for the Royal Navy to operate.

The British set out to destroy the shipyards at St. Nazaire, France.


These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

An aerial view of the target.

The French port as St. Nazaire held one of the largest drydocks in the world. The legendary battleship Bismarck was on its way to St. Nazaire when the Royal Navy caught up to her and sunk her. Few other docks could accommodate ships of that scale. So to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, the British decided to destroy them with a daring commando raid. There was just one problem, the Special Operations Executive believed the mission would require more explosives than they could reasonably carry into the dock.

And all the Navy ships that could destroy the facility were too heavy to get into the Loire Estuary. So instead of using people or guns to destroy the complex, they decided to essentially make one giant floating bomb.

The British needed to destroy the facility’s dock, the water pumping machinery, and any U-boats or other shipping in the area. To get the men and explosives close enough to the facility and have enough to actually do the job, the SOE decided to strip a Royal Navy destroyer, making it light enough to slip into the estuary and up the River Loire. After stripping it for weight, the ship would be packed with explosives. The plan was for the commandos to board smaller ships and disembark. Once in the facility, they would set explosives elsewhere in the complex, then blow them up.

All of them, including the giant ship bomb.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

The convoy of two destroyers and 16 smaller craft left England and set sail for France on the afternoon of March 26, 1942. After capturing two French fishing boats, they all arrived off the coast of St. Nazaire around 9 p.m. and made their way into the port under a German naval ensign. That’s when the RAF began making a bombing run that was supposed to distract the German defenders, but it only served to make the Germans more suspicious. By the time the flotilla of English ships was coming in range of the target, they were challenged by the German navy.

In an instant, all the defenders’ searchlights and guns were pointed at the ships. The Germans began to rake the ship with incessant fire, even after the British surrendered. The German fire only increased, so now the British began to shoot back. The HMS Campbeltown, the ship that was laden with explosives, increased her speed.

At 1:30 a.m. the Campbeltown rammed the gates of the dockyard facility, driving the hull into the gate. The commandos finally disembarked as 5,000 German defenders scrambled to make sense of what was happening. Two assault teams, five demolition teams, and a mortar group all spread out into the complex. They moved quickly to take out the various workings of the drydock and the ships there, and they were largely successful, but the effort was not without casualties. The Germans managed to kill many of the raiders.

By this time, escaping back to the ships was not an option. The commando teams’ new orders were to escape back to England however they could and to only surrender if they ran out of ammunition. Most of them did. They attempted to piecemeal an escape to a nearby old town and into the outlying woods. They were quickly surrounded and captured by the Germans. Only five managed to make it back to Spain and thus, England.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

The Campbeltown wreck was still in the dry dock months later.

The Campbeltown didn’t explode right away. It remained lodged in the drydock gates for more than 24 hours as the Germans tried to make sense of the Allied raid. At noon on March 28, 1942, the charges exploded, completely destroying the drydock, along with two tankers moored there. It killed 360 Germans and knocked the drydock out for the remainder of World War II.

Some 169 British troops died in the effort, along with 215 taken prisoner. The Nazis lost two tugs, two tankers, and the drydock in this daring raid but the more strategic importance of the raid was less than welcome. Hitler began to double his efforts to fortify the Western coast of France. By the time D-Day came around in 1944, the new fortifications would cost the Allies dearly.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the one boxing match the Navy doesn’t want you to know about

Boxing is a sport that empowers human ambition and drive unlike any other form of activity. The physical preparation boxers make before a fight is unparalleled and the adrenaline rush after a well-deserved victory is irreplaceable. There’s just no comparison to any other form of winning. Maybe that was boxing’s appeal to deployed American sailors.

By the end of the Spanish-American war, the U.S. Navy occupied the Dominican Republic and sent a heavy naval force along the shores of this small Caribbean island in order to protect the U.S. government’s financial interest.

Theodore Roosevelt was president at the time and he believed implementing combative boxing events on naval vessels would increase military morale by having competitors pummel one another for glory. These events grew very popular and in no time boxing became a main sporting activity widespread across the Navy.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan…until one match went too far and turned fatal on July 8, 1908, aboard the USS Yankee.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor
Light Heavyweight match between Navy sailor Dale Alexander (right) and his Marine opponet.
(U.S. Navy photo)


Not long after the orders were passed down, boxing matches were being held on the decks of naval vessels in order to generate unit cohesion. To liven up the troops and sailors alike, these events were code-named “Smokers.”

Smokers went from a recreational sporting matches to prizefighting spectacles in no time, providing the opportunity to earn respect and extra pay for those sailors in need of a salary hike. This gave minority sailors – primarily Jewish and black sailors –the chance to be seen as more than just their ethnic background. It was one way to earn respect from and build camaraderie with their white counterparts in the days before a racially integrated military.

On July 8, 1908, onlookers cheered and mocked the fighters as the contestants took the stage. Raphael Cohen, a Jewish coal shoveler on the USS Yankee, awkwardly took the ring, awaiting the confident Jordan R. Johnson, a black gunners-mate from the USS Olympia, whose experience could be seen in his cold, unbroken deathly glare.

Both men came from humble beginnings, hardened by their fair share of turmoil, which may have been what brought them into the ring – or as the fighters would call it, the circle of truth.

Johnson joined the military at age 15 and quickly became a victim of physical abuse by his fellow shipmates. This was easily identifiable by unexplained scars on his ribs, abdomen, and neck. Growing up, Johnson spent nights shackled in irons, which turned him into a hardened fighter and earned him fear and respect on the Olympia. The ship’s decks became his training ground as he fought anyone who would meet him.

Cohen, on the other hand, was a young man looking for his identity, merely trying to to find where he belonged in this testosterone-heavy environment. After marrying at a young age, he believed the Navy would turn him into a man (or at least the man he thought he should be) so he searched to prove to himself that he was tough enough to hang with the other fighters.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor
A U.S. Navy-sanctioned boxing match.

Both fighters were eager to get the fight going once the bell rang. The fully-charged Cohen fearlessly ran straight at Johnson, whose patience and experience kept him calm throughout the exchange. They fought hard, throwing caution to the wind, and neither giving in as the rounds continued.

Hundreds of sailors and Marines went wild as the two boxers pummeled one another. As each round continued, the crowd could see Cohen weakening. Even the referee questioned Cohen’s condition before allowing him to remain in what would become Cohen’s last stand.

By the eighth round, Cohen had enough, finally slumping to the ground after a crisp shot to the temple landed by Johnson rattled Cohen and left him unable to continue.

Johnson was victorious but what had he really won? Cohen would later be raised onto a stool and carried out of the ring. Two hours later, he was pronounced dead in the medical room.

An autopsy would later reveal the cause of death being a massive blood clot found inside of Cohen’s brain, attributed to the excessive beating he received in the bout. Captain Edward Francis of the USS Yankee later denied all involvement with the organization of the fight and reported Cohen’s death as “not in the line of duty.”

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor
The telegram informing Cohen’s family of his death.

Cohen’s remains were buried in the Dominican Republic but later sent back to his family in New York in 1911. His remains were finally laid to rest in Maimonides Cemetery in Brooklyn. Jordan Johnson was cleared of all wrongdoing and left the Navy a year later. In 1929, Johnson passed away at the young age of 46, leaving the events of that day as a piece of untold military history.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why names are added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

Known simply as “The Wall” to the men and women who can find the name of a loved one inscribed on it, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall lists the names of those who fell during the Vietnam War. The names are arranged first by date, and then alphabetically. There are more than 58,000 names on more than 75 meters of black granite, memorializing those who died in service to that war.


The eligibility dates span Nov. 1, 1955, through May 15, 1975, though the first date on The Wall during its dedication was from 1959. A service member who died in 1956 was added after The Wall was dedicated – and names have actually been added on multiple occasions.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

(Hu Totya)

When The Wall was completed in 1982, it contained 57,939 names. As of Memorial Day 2017, there were 58,318 names, including eight women. There are veterans still eligible to have their names inscribed with their fellow honored dead. The Department of Defense decides whose name gets to go on The Wall, but those inscribed typically…

  • …died (no matter the cause) within the defined combat zone of Vietnam (varies based on dates).
  • …died while on a combat/combat support mission to/from the defined combat zone of Vietnam.
  • …died within 120 days of wounds, physical injuries, or illnesses incurred or diagnosed in the defined combat zone of Vietnam..

Currently, victims of Agent Orange and PTSD-related suicide are not eligible to have their name inscribed on the memorial wall. You can request to have a name added at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website.

10 more names were added to The Wall in 2012 and the statuses of 12 others were changed. The 10 servicemen came from the Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and Air Force, and died between 1966 and 2011. The Department of Defense determined that all deaths were the result of wounds sustained in Vietnam.

As for the status changes, the names are still recorded on The Wall. For those who’ve never seen The Wall in person, each name is also accompanied by a symbol. A diamond means the person was declared dead. A name whose status is unknown is noted by a cross. When a missing person is officially declared dead, a diamond is superimposed over the cross. If a missing person returned alive, the cross would be circumscribed with a circle.

The latter has never happened.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial features more than just The Wall, it also includes the Women’s Memorial and “The Three Soldiers” statue.

Status changes happen all the time, as the remains of those missing in action are found, identified, and returned home.

While the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall doesn’t include the names of service members who died through diseases related to Agent Orange exposure, other state and local memorials may include them. As recently as October, 2018, the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall began to include those who died through such illnesses.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 games World War I soldiers played in the trenches

100 years ago, our great-great grandfathers were in the trenches of France, and fighters on both sides of the war had to while away their time when they weren’t actively working or fighting. And it takes a lot to keep your morale up and your terror down when your work hours are filled with enemy mortars, artillery, and machine guns.

Here are six games and other activities they turned to:


(Note that this article uses information from the letters of British soldiers written in 1915. Unless there’s another link cited, the letters are pulled from this digital file from the British National Archives.)

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

A large crowd of World War One soldiers watching two boxers sparring in a ring during the boxing championships at the New Zealand Divisional Sports at Authie, France, in July 1918.

(Henry Armytage Sanders)

Boxing

Unsurprisingly, some of the top activities were a little violent, and boxing was a top activity. These could be tournaments where one company or platoon fought another, but they were also often just quick, relatively impromptu matchups. Soldiers talked about the fights in letters, and it seems that the more violent the fight was, the better. One British soldier wrote:

“We are having a good time here in the way of concerts, sports, boxing tournaments etc. The latter was great especially the bout between a Farrier Sergeant and a cook’s mate. They biffed at one another until neither could stand, it was awfully funny.”
These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

The “Christmas Truce” took place around Christmas, 1914, and included some sports events, like football matches.

(Illustration by A. C. Michael of the Christmas Truce created for “The Illustrated London News”)

Football (American and European)

Football was also popular, but was obviously a team-based event that lent itself well to one unit playing against another. American and European football were both played in the trenches, though it’s obvious that European football would be more popular everywhere but the American Expeditionary Force.

The famous Christmas Truce soccer game was part of this tradition, but games were commonly played between allies rather than adversaries. One soldier wrote in a 1915 letter that his unit played against a rival battery in an old cabbage patch. The patch made a bad football pitch, but the letter-writer won, so he wasn’t sore about it.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

World War I Gurkhas wrestle on the regimental transport mules.

(H. D. Girdwood, British Library)

Wrestling (sometimes on mules)

Wrestling, like boxing, was popular for the same reasons, but there is a special, odd caveat that wrestling matches were sometimes held on mules. Yeah, like the animals. This activity was featured during a special sports day in October, 1917, but it didn’t include details of the sport.

Likely, it consisted of two riders wrestling until one knocked the other off the gallant steed, but I like to imagine that the mules were combatants as well, because cartoons don’t become real as often as I would like.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

Scottish troops and other onlookers watch troops taking part in an organized sports day.

(British photo from the National Library of Scotland)

Wheelbarrow racing, pillow fights, and other improvised events

Other events on that sports day included pillow fights and “wheelbarrow” races. The events were organized to improve morale, but anyone who has spent time with troops in the field knows that games like these are common any time infantrymen get bored.

These games could include pretty much anything the soldiers could think of. The easier it is to play the game without specific gear, the better.

Plays and other performances

But when troops needed to entertain themselves in an organized way, they had more choices than just sports and fighting one another. Sometimes, this resulted in soldiers holding their own plays and concerts, but they could also enjoy performances by professionals when they came around.

Another British letter written in 1915 but digitized in 2014 was penned by a soldier who gave a short, blow-by-blow of the barracks activities. While he was writing, one soldier did a performance where he acted like a dancing monkey with a small cup for change and another soldier started playing the accordion.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

A 1929 edition of “Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht,” a game that led to the American game of “Sorry.” The German became popular in Central Powers trenches in World War I.

(Vitavia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

“Don’t Get Annoyed With Me” and other board games

Troops on both sides of the trenches used board games to pass the time because, obviously, video games weren’t a thing yet. Plenty of games were popular in the war. Checkers could be played with bits of metal or buttons on a hand-drawn board, or a travel game of Chess could be popular. And no war has been fought without playing cards since someone figured out how to paint faces on bits of paper.

But German troops could enjoy a game that had been invented just in time for the war, “Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht,” which translates to “Don’t Get Annoyed With Me.” Players moved game pieces around a board and tried to get them “Home,” but the opposing player could knock a piece off just before it reached safety and thereby piss off the other player.

If it sounds familiar, that’s because the game “Sorry” is a close descendant.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An ‘undead’ general thrashed the Spartans after his execution

Spartans have a weird reputation for being the undeniable kings of Classical warfare while in reality, they get a lot of really great press from the Battle of Thermopylae, but they weren’t really better or worse than any of the other Greek city-states. In fact, for 17 years, the Army of Messenia, led by King Aristomenes, handed the Spartans their asses for 17 years until he was captured and executed by Spartans.

And he soon appeared again at the head of the Messenians, ready to kick more Spartan ass.


These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

Can’t stop, won’t stop.

A lot of U.S. military veterans are gonna have a hard time hearing this, but there was very little that was special about Sparta. Contrary to popular belief, the upbringing of Spartan boys had nothing to do with military training and everything to do with being a good citizen and obeying the law. Between 550 BC and 371 BC, Sparta’s win rate in pitched battles was 1-1, and the loss to Thebes in 371 really did them in. For good. Even at Thermopylae, yes 300 Spartans made a brave last stand, but Herodotus (and later, Frank Miller) forgot to mention the 700 Thespians who were also there, along with the 900 other lightly-armed infantry who couldn’t afford the gear to be a hoplite.

The Spartans, while perhaps brave, weren’t the bearded Hellenic crack team of ancient special operators they somehow get credit for being today. What they were was aggressive and present. The Messenians, sick of being slaves to stupid Spartans, rose up against their overlords and fought them at the Battle of Deres. Though no one really won that battle, one man stood out above the rest – Aristomenes. He fought so well the Messenians declared him their leader.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

Aristomenes would be captured after a night of carnal delights with Spartan priestesses.

Aristomenes took the fight to Sparta and immediately took their temple to Athena. The Spartans returned and fought him again, only to lose once again. Aristomenes and the Messenians routed the Spartans over and over at Boar’s Grave and Great Trench. After these victories, it was said that Aristomenes was captured and taken to Sparta, where he was sentenced to die a warrior’s death. The Spartans led him to a cliff where he would be thrown off. But the sentence of a warrior’s death meant Aristomenes would be tossed over while still wearing his armor. He was tossed over, and the Spartans went home, certain that a Messenian army without Aristomenes was no match for them.

The Messenian King, however, was still very much alive. Using his shield, which the Spartans gave him to die with, he slowed his fall against the side of the cliff. The descent itself wasn’t even that far, considering he landed on the bodies of hundreds of his former fellow Messenian warriors who were sentenced to a similar fate. Using the bones of his comrades, Aristomenes climbed back up the cliff and walked back to his forces.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

Some sources say a fox led Aristomenes away from the cliff. Either way, he survived.

As the two forces met up the next day, the legend goes, Aristomenes strode to the front of his forces. The Spartan Army was so surprised at seeing the reanimated corpse of the king they killed the day before that they broke ranks and fled. The Messenians would next move on the fortress at Mount Eira, one they would hold for some 11 years, from which they would conduct guerrilla raids.

Of course, time was not on the side of the Messenians holed up in the fortress. The siege ended Aristomenes when he led a column of women, children, and refugees out of the fortification and to safety on the island of Arkadia while 500 of the remaining defenders launched a diversionary attack on the Spartans. The refugees escaped and the defenders were killed to a man. Aristomenes left the Army for Rhodes, where he later died.

But this time, he stayed dead.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Sears became the store of the American Century

One of America’s longest-serving retailers is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. While this doesn’t mark the end of the 130-year-old retailer, it doesn’t exactly bode well for its future, either. With 700 just over Sears and K-Mart stores nationwide, the company is bleeding money it doesn’t have. Hopeful sources tell the Wall Street Journal that there will still be upwards of 300 stores open for the coming holiday season, but the company is a shadow of its former self.


The once-dominant retail sales company, first founded as a mail-order catalog in 1891, has been in a slow decline over the past decade.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor
(Wall Street Journal)

The company once sold everything, from dresses to appliances to even cars at one point. In fact, President Jimmy Carter even grew up in a shotgun-style house his family purchased through a Sears catalog. Hell, the company even sold cocaine and opium at one point. Try getting that on Amazon.

While anecdotes about Sears, Roebuck, and Company selling patent medicine are quaint, this was a company that was — for much of its life — ahead of its time. The story of the rise of Sears is almost the story of the American century — of the American dream.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

An automobile offering from a 1909 Sears catalog.

In the months and years after the Civil War, communication and transportation technologies that were developed to help the Union fight and win the war were still on the cutting edge. While working as a railroad agent around the early 1880s, Richard Warren Sears purchased a collection of unwanted watches from a local jeweler and then resold them to his coworkers — picking up a big profit along the way.

He used this experience to start a mail-order watch business with a watch repairman named Alvah Roebuck. The duo moved to Chicago, a rail hub, and expanded their offerings to other jewelry. After selling that business, he moved away to Iowa but came back to the mail-order business shorty after. That’s when Sears and Roebuck founded Sears, Roebuck, Company.

They began to expand into the rest of the postwar United States. Not through brick and mortar stores, rather the company expanded the offerings in its catalog. Most importantly, they began to service the more remote areas of the United States, lending dependability and stability to the supply side of these remote markets — something local stores could not do.

Eventually, the company went public, survived the Great Depression, changes in ownership and direction, and by the 1930s, was opening stores in urban areas to respond to the American population moving closer to those areas and away from rural ones. The company still distributed goods to rural communities from its multi-million square foot warehouse in Chicago. Control over its distribution was one of the stores’ original keys to success.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor

Fashionable and functional.

Sears was the original “everything” store. Rather than sell the latest fashions or flash-in-the-pan trinkets, the original Sears stores sold reliable consumer staples at a lower cost. Socks and sheets aren’t sexy, but everyone needs them and the Sears Tower, then the world’s tallest building, was built on a foundation of consumer needs.

This is strangely also the foundation of Sears’ downfall. A company that had survived everything from the Panic of 1893 to the Great Depression and two World Wars would begin to lose sight of what once made it great and profitable. While Sears’ dedication to consumer needs helped drive American industry, helped develop suburban areas in the days following World War II, and even drive U.S. companies into Mexico and Canada, it began to lose sight of that foundation.

In the 1980s, the company expanded into credit holdings, stocks and financial products, even real estate. By the 1990s, it was no longer a price leader. Years of inflation in the 1970s and 1980s led to the foundation of similar department stores based on competing with companies like Sears through lower prices. K-Mart, Target, and Walmart fired the first shots that led to Sears’ decline. Amazon just put the nails in the coffin. Allen Questrom, a retired retail executive says 1985 was the year Sears made its first mistake.

“They took their eye off the ball,” Questrom, former head of Sears rival J.C. Penny, told the Wall Street Journal, referring to Sears opening the Discover Card brand. Other industry insiders say it happened earlier, when it purchased brokerage and real-estate firms like Dean Witter Reynolds and Coldwell Banker.

But by the time Sears decided to get rid of its financial holdings, it was too late. It survived the Great Recession, but its last profitable year came in 2010, posting losses of over billion since. Despite a further shedding and sales of unprofitable assets and an increased focus on what does work for the company’s remaining stores, the 70,000 employees left at the once-iconic retailer no doubt wonder if there’s anyone in the wings that could make Sears great again.

Articles

This infantry commander received 3 Silver Stars in 5 months

 


These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor
(Photo: U.S. Army)

Fred K. Mahaffey was a distinguished veteran of the U.S. Army who eventually rose to the rank of four-star general. It was during his time as a battalion commander in Vietnam that he, on at least three separate occasions in five months, risked his life to save his men. He received a Silver Star for each action.

Mahaffey was the commander of the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. On Jan. 26, 1969, his units were engaged in the Ding Tuong Province. He ordered his command and control helicopter to begin conducting low passes over the battlefield so he could survey the action and coordinate support between his men.

Then he had the helicopter drop him off, and he began leading the fight from the ground. Throughout the night, he came under intense fire four times but stayed at the front to rally and direct his forces.

A few months later on Apr. 29, the 2nd Battalion was conducting a reconnaissance in force mission in Long An. One of the infantry companies found a larger enemy element and engaged in a firefight. Mahaffey once again ordered his helicopter to the battlefield.

When he arrived, he began flying circles over the battlefield and selected targets for artillery fire despite the fact that he was under severe anti-aircraft fire. After the company had surrounded the enemy, Mahaffey had the helicopter land so that he could help his men eliminate the Vietnamese element.

Between May 12 and 13, Mahaffey completed his hat trick. Again, his forces were conducting a reconnaissance in force when they encountered a large enemy element. Mahaffey called in both artillery and air strikes from the bird and made constant adjustments to the fire missions to maximize their effects.

These pilots fought back at Pearl Harbor
Soldiers on the ground guide in a helicopter during a resupply mission in Vietnam. (Photo: U.S. Army)

He then joined the forces on the ground and kept calling in missions, some as close as 35 meters from his own position. He stayed on the battlefield and coordinated the support fires until his men were able to destroy the enemy element completely.

For these three engagements, Mahaffey received three Silver Stars, but that’s not the full extent of his heroics in Vietnam.

He also received two Distinguished Flying Crosses. One was for his actions leading from the sky throughout the Vietnam deployment.

The other Distinguished Flying Cross resulted from actions taken on Apr. 6, 1969, when he saw two enemy soldiers maneuvering near his men. He ordered the bird to conduct low passes while he fired on the soldiers with his M-16, killing them both. He then landed, recovered their weapons and documents, and took off again.

Articles

This was Canada’s WWII plan to build an aircraft carrier made of ice

When we think of crazy military schemes, we probably think of the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. From nuclear-tipped kamikaze pilots to a base on the moon to secret listening cats, the two superpowers came up with a lot of unconventional ideas for fighting World War III.


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If outfitting cats to be radio transmitters is crazy, then I don’t want to be sane.

So no one would blame you if you thought the idea of a silly military scheme from Canada was a little far-fetched. The U.S.’ northern neighbors are very rational, logical, and don’t feel the need to project global military power.

During World War II, however, everyone was looking for the edge that could end the war in their favor. And since Canada was such an integral part of the British Empire, she was willing to put some ideas to the test…like, say an aircraft carrier made of ice in the mountains of Alberta.

Only it wasn’t so crazy.

Project Habakkuk was the British effort to make unsinkable, non-melting landing strips made of Pykrete — a slurry of ice and sawdust. Pykrete (named for the inventor, Geoffrey Pyke) floated in water and would help keep the ice from melting during the summer months. Upon hearing about this, one of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s scientific advisors made his way to Churchill’s bath and tossed a piece in.

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You know you’re the boss when you make people meet you in the bathtub. And they show up.

It floated in the bath water and the wheels of invention began to turn. Churchill long had an idea for protecting British shipping but couldn’t spare the steel. Pykrete was an excellent material for his new endeavor.

British fighters patrolling for U-Boats in the North Atlantic were limited in the time they could loiter in the air above shipping lanes. If the Allies could create unsinkable floating refueling stations throughout the area, the planes could land, refuel, and continue the mission. More shipping would undoubtedly get through to England. The idea was first floated on Canada’s Patricia Lake in 1943.

A 1,000-ton, 1:50 scale model was constructed on the Canadian lake to keep the material frozen while keeping the idea away from Nazi spies and saboteurs. The project was dubbed “Habakkuk,” and would be a ship 2000 feet long and 100 feet thick. The actual ship needed 26 electric motors and a 15-story rudder to support its massive 7,000 mile operational range.

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An artist’s concept drawing of Habakkuk.

Unfortunately, despite the success of keeping the Pykrete ship frozen throughout the Canadian summer and the material standing the test of being rebuilt, the cost of actually building the size necessary to fit the plan was just too high.

The British abandoned the 60-foot long model, where parts of its construction (the non-ice parts) can be found on the bottom of Patricia Lake to this day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 badass operators you should know more about

The US Army’s premier special missions unit, commonly known as “The Unit,” has participated in several major military operations since its establishment in 1977. Thomas Patrick Payne was the latest member to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in Iraq after helping rescue more than 70 hostages in 2015. At Coffee or Die Magazine, we have shared the stories of some who served within this elite unit. 

Most recently, we sat down with Jamey Caldwell and discussed how he went from an operator chasing Usama Bin Laden through the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, to a burgeoning fly-fishing career. We also talked to retired Sgt. Maj. Kyle Lamb about his career and experiences during the Battle of Mogadishu. And then for the 27th anniversary of that battle, we spoke to former Army Ranger Brad Thomas to gain a perspective through his eyes of the events that occurred before and after the famous battle. Thomas went on to serve a career in the Unit and now is a guitarist for the rock band Silence and Light.

Here are four other operators that you should know more about. 

Col. Charles Beckwith

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Col. Charles Alvin Beckwith, the founder of the US Army’s special missions unit. Photo courtesy of USASOC.

Special operations forces within the US military have been present since as early as the American Civil War, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the Army established a highly trained force to respond to evolving crises happening all over the world. Col. Charles Beckwith was the man to lead the charge. The Army Special Forces soldier served with 7th Special Forces Group and spent two years operating with covert “White Star” teams during Operation Hotfoot. Their mission was to harass North Vietnamese Army troops along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

In 1962, Beckwith conducted counterinsurgency operations in Malaya while attached to the British 22nd Special Air Service. This led to an epiphany, and Beckwith conceptualized an equivalent unit in the United States. After the exchange program, Beckwith returned to Vietnam with Project Delta, Detachment B-52, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), which became the most decorated unit in the Vietnam War. Beckwith led a 250-man element in 1965 to rescue a Green Beret base in Plei Me

The next year he was struck through the abdomen with a .50-caliber bullet and seriously wounded. In 1977 Beckwith went on to be the founder of the nation’s first counterterrorism and hostage rescue unit. Beckwith later participated in Operation Eagle Claw, the infamous rescue mission during the Iranian hostage crisis, and retired afterward. 

Sgt. Maj. Mike Vining

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Sgt. Maj. Mike Vining attended and graduated from the very first selection course. Photo courtesy of the US Army.

Mike Vining served 31 years in the US Army before retiring as a sergeant major. For a one-year tour of duty to Vietnam between 1970 and 1971, Vining served with the 99th Ordnance Detachment as an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician. His team was responsible for destroying Rock Island East, the largest enemy ammunition cache in the war.

Vining later attended and graduated from the first Operator Training Course (OTC-1) in 1978 and went on to participate in Operation Eagle Claw, Operation Urgent Fury for the assault on Richmond Hill Prison, Operation Just Cause, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. He also served as the explosive investigator of the Downing Assessment Task Force for which he investigated the truck bombing at Al Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996. 

Maj. Thomas Greer

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Operators on the hunt for Usama Bin Laden in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in November 2001. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Greer, better known by his pen name, Dalton Fury, was among the very first operators to write a book about the initial invasion of Afghanistan. His 2008 book, Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man, discussed the unsuccessful mission of tracking Bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora. Prior to joining the Unit, Greer served as an enlisted soldier in the 75th Ranger Regiment for eight years. Throughout his 15-year career in special operations units, he hunted war criminals in the Balkans, served as an assault force commander on direct action raids against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and tracked Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq. 

Greer retired in 2005 after more than 20 years of military service. In civilian life, Greer consulted on strengthening the security of all the nation’s nuclear power plants and was a military consultant for the popular video games Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. He died in 2016 after a battle with cancer; he was 52.

Sgt. Maj. Dennis Wolfe

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Dennis Wolfe served his country in the US Army and as a civil servant for 48 years in total. Photo courtesy of USSOCOM.

Dennis Wolfe contributed 48 years of combined military and civilian service to his country. When Wolfe first joined the Army he planned to go the Airborne route, but after suffering a knee injury in basic training, he chose to enter the EOD career field.

“In the EOD field I was on presidential support, VIP support, supporting the secret service,” he said at the US Special Operations Command ceremony where he was the recipient of the 2018 Bull Simons Award for lifetime achievements as a special operator. 

“One of my assignments in the EOD field was as an instructor at Redstone Arsenal and that is where I got a call to come to Fort Bragg for an assessment and selection process for a unit that was starting up,” Wolfe recalled. This assignment was for the US Army’s new special missions unit. Wolfe, as well as Mike Vining on this list, were pioneers in the EOD world. Like Vining, Wolf also attended and graduated the very first OTC-1 in 1978. He participated in Operation Eagle Claw and Operation Urgent Fury and after his retirement was a trailblazer bringing together civilian scientists with military strategists to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

“I never turned anything down. I never planned anything specifically. The unit said they needed me because of my skills. I couldn’t refuse. I’ll go. I never thought I had all those skills people were looking for. Sometimes they had more faith in me than I had in myself. I felt as a soldier I couldn’t turn anything down,” Wolfe said, reflecting on his career. “During my time SOF has gone from reactive to proactive. I think we are still there today. At least I hope we are.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Nazis had a super creepy breeding program

It may seem like attempted genocide on an international scale would have been enough for the Nazis and their dreams of racial purity. But they were proactive ethno-nationalists who were just as interested in extra-marital breeding and kidnapping as they were in mass murder. That interest led to Lebensborn, a literal Aryan breeding program.


As the Nazis cemented power in Germany in the 1930s, they instituted a series of discriminatory policies against the Jewish, Roma, and other peoples deemed immoral or undesirable by the Third Reich. On December 12, 1935, Germany instituted the Nuremberg Laws that banned intermarriage between most Germans and Jewish people. But Lebensborn was enacted in secret the same day.

The program was led by Heinrich Himmler himself. Women were recruited from the Band of German Maidens, the female wing of the Hitler Youth. (Yes, the Nazis filled their breeding roster with their version of Girl Scouts.) Women and girls who wanted to participate had to prove their racial purity going back three generations.

The “studs” of the program were primarily officers recruited from the SS and the Wehrmacht. Again, they were partnered with young women who had just made it out of the Fascist Girl Scouts. And the officers were typically partnered with multiple girls/women, sleeping with them at a time scheduled to match their peak ovulation.

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A German officer with a baby at a Lebensborn Society.

(German Federal Archives)

Women could join the program whether they were wed or unwed, though Himmler stopped advertising that fact after the Germans protested the immorality of babies being bred out of wedlock.

The babies born to the mothers were quickly weened and placed in the care of the SS. Many would be adopted out to German families, but others would live in special Lebensborn houses. There were at least 26 of these spread across Nazi-occupied Europe. An estimated 20,000 children were born to Lebensborn women.

But as creepy as all of that is, there was an even darker side to the program. Potentially hundreds of thousands of children deemed “racially pure” were kidnapped from countries conquered by the Nazis and sent to Lebensborn houses where they were indoctrinated to be German and then adopted out.

Children who refused to believe that they were abandoned by their parents or who refused to identify as German were beaten. If they continued to resist, they were sent to concentration camps and eventually killed.

The Allies found the evidence of these crimes as they liberated Europe, same as the discovery of concentration camps. On May 1, 1945, 300 children were discovered—alive but abandoned—in the town of Steinhoering. When the relatives of a kidnapped child could be identified, Allied personnel sought to reunite them with their family.

But the Germans had destroyed much of the paper trail as the Allies advanced, and many children were too brainwashed to leave their adopted families. A 1946 estimate put the number of children kidnapped at 250,000. Only 10 percent—25,000—were successfully reunited.

All of this led to a terrible legacy. Hundreds of children born or kidnapped into Lebensborn only discovered their heritage as adults. For their childhoods, they either had gaps in the knowledge of their family or else were fed lies about who their fathers were.

And, unsurprisingly, there is no sign that the breeding program led to genetically superior people. The children born of these “racially pure” unions often had blond hair and blue eyes, but there wasn’t anything remarkable about them — certainly nothing that would justify such a despicable practice by the Nazis.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what different berets mean in the Army and Air Force

Spend any amount of time on or around an Army or Air Force post and you’ll be sure to find a number of beret-wearing service members around you.


Hell, you’re going to be greeted by a blue beret each and every time you get to an Air Force gate (SecFo HUA!) and, if you were on any Army post between 2001 and 2011, you saw black berets everywhere you went, as they were a part of standard Army uniform.

Got it — but what about the less commonly seen berets? The green, the tan, and the maroon?

This is what berets of all colors mean in the Army and Air Force.

Black — U.S. Army

A black beret is worn by all soldiers in service dress unless they are otherwise authorized to wear a different, distinctive beret.

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The black beret is authorized for wear in service dress for the entire Army. (DOD Photo by Karlheinz Wedhorn)

Black — U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party

A black beret is the official headgear of the Air Force TACP. They’re about as operator as you get in the Air Force without becoming pararescue or combat control.

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Black berets look good in Air Force Blue, too. (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

Blue — U.S. Air Force Security Forces

The most common beret across all branches of service as of writing. Security Forces (the Air Force’s version of Military Police) wear the blue beret with every uniform whenever not deployed or in certain training.

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The second most common beret on this list: Security Forces HUA! (Image from Paul Davis).

Green — U.S. Army Special Forces

This is the cream of the crop of the U.S. Army. The green beret is the single most recognizable sign of a badass.

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They could still probably kick your ass… (Image via Reddit).

Grey — U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape

These guys teach most of the other badasses on this list how to survive in the worst conditions. That definitely qualifies them for their own beret.

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A new wave of survival specialists. (USAF photo by Airman 1st. Class Melissa L. Barnett).

Maroon — U.S. Army Airborne

Aside from the Army’s green beret, the maroon beret of Army airborne is one of the easiest to recognize.

These guys drop into any situation with complete operational capability.

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Oh, just a bunch of badasses in the midst of random badassery… (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

Maroon — U.S. Air Force Pararescue

In the Air Force, the maroon beret means something completely different. While being Army Airborne is an amazing distinction, the Air Force Pararescuemen are truly elite.

The introductory course has one of the highest failure rates of all military schools and the ones that do complete it go on to become the kind of guy that you do not want to fight in a bar.

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Ever see a wave of kick*ss? (Image by Stew Smith)

Pewter Grey — U.S. Air Force Special Operations Weather

These guys do weather in the most undesirable conditions. I know that may not sound very operator, but just take a quick look at the training they endure and the types of operations they conduct and you won’t ever question their beret again.

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A surprising badass, Air Force Special Operations Weather. (Image from Combat Survival Magazine).

Tan — U.S. Army Rangers

The Army Rangers began wearing tan berets in 2001 when the Army made the black beret the standard headgear for the entire Army.

Prior to that, they owned the black beret.

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It’s safe to say the tan beret has grown on us all. (Image from 75th Ranger Regiment Public Affairs Office)

Scarlet — U.S. Air Force Combat Control

The scarlet beret is the headgear of the U.S. Combat Controller. Their beret is one you’ll rarely see because they’re always on the go, doing what they were trained to do… which is classified.

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A Combat Controller salute. (USAF photo by Dawn Hart)

Articles

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

When you go to Sagamore Hill — the home (and now museum) that President and Medal of Honor recipient Teddy Roosevelt had on Long Island — you may see a .38-caliber Model 1892 Army and Navy revolver. This was a six-shot revolver chambered in .38 Long Colt.


As a standard revolver, many were produced, but Teddy’s gun was important to him. It had been recovered from the wrecked battleship USS Maine (ACR 1). He famously used the revolver to rally the troops (as seen in artwork about the charge up San Juan Hill), but he also pulled the trigger, taking out the enemy with it at least once during that charge.

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Photo: U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Roosevelt kept the gun, and after his death in 1919, his house became a museum; the revolver remained in the home for display. It was stolen in 1963 and recovered, but according to a 1990 New York Times article, it was swiped again. Valued at $500,000 at the time, it had not been insured.

Oddly enough, for a revolver that was clearly inscribed “From the Sunken Battle Ship Maine” and “July 1st, 1898, San Juan, Carried and Used by Col. Theodore Roosevelt,” it was missing for 16 years until it was turned in to the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

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Teddy Roosevelt’s M1892 revolver. (FBI photo)

The pistol is now back in the Dagamore Hill museum — presumably well-protected against theft. The thief who took the gun in 1990, though, is still at large.

Below is a video by Brad Meltzer about the gun’s history — and its 1990 theft.