On Nov. 11, Americans celebrate veterans and honor those who served, but the date holds special meaning beyond our borders and around the world. In fact, the 11th of November is a solemn day to our many of our nation’s allies. To them it is Remembrance Day or Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I hostilities at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month in 1918. The red poppy became synonymous with the fallen troops during the First World War — and has remained a symbol of their sacrifice ever since. But the poppies adopted this meaning because of the war poem “In Flanders Field” written by the Canadian Physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.
It was at the second battle of Ypres, Belgium in April to May 1915 where McCrae saw the devastation firsthand. The Germans had just begun using chlorine gas against their enemies. Within the first ten minutes of the battle, there were already six thousand French casualties. After only the first seventeen days, half of McCrae’s brigade had died in battle.
McCrae’s close friend, Alexis Helmer, was killed in action on May 2nd. He chose to perform the burial service himself. As he laid his friend to rest, he saw beauty in the hellscape around him.
Red poppies are a hardy flower. Where the land had been destroyed by mortar fire, chlorine gas, and countless other environmental concerns, the poppies grew around the graves — not even the high sodium or increased levels of lime could deter the red blooms.
Nearly every grave was decorated, as if it were a symbol from above.
The next day, in the back of an ambulance overlooking the battlefield, McCrae wrote what would arguably become Canada’s most well-known literary work.
“In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
–In Flanders Field by John McCrae
McCrae would be promoted to the consulting physician of the First British Army just four days before succumbing to pneumonia on Jan. 28, 1918. He would never know the end of the war or see the true impact of his poem. Canadians, Brits, Aussies, and New Zealanders wear a red poppy to remember the fallen of all wars. Americans borrow from this tradition for Memorial Day.
Atlantic convoy operations could be terrifying for any Merchant Mariners and Navy sailors assigned to cross the treacherous waters, but the desperation of SC 107 in 1942 is on a whole other order of magnitude. The 42 ships were spotted Oct. 30, 1942, and spent the next week struggling to survive as half their number were consumed by 16 U-boats.
The HMS Edinburgh survives extreme torpedo damage from a German sub attack.
(Imperial War Museum)
SC 107 was filled with ships sailing from the Canadian city of Sydney in Nova Scotia to the United Kingdom. It was a slow convoy, filled with ships thought capable of sustaining 7 knots but incapable of holding the 9 knots of faster convoys on the same route.
These would normally be heavily guarded, but Canada and America had shifted as many ships as possible to North Africa to support landings there. So the convoy was lightly guarded with just a destroyer and three corvettes assigned to travel all the way across with it. On October 30, U-boat pack Violet, Veilchen, spotted the juicy, underdefended target.
The pack was deployed in a patrol line with 13 boats ready for combat, and those boats were able to summon three more that would join the hunt from the west. These 16 German combatants prepared to slaughter their way through the Allied convoy.
Allied bombers helped sink two German U-boats at the start of the fight over SC 107, but the convoy soon moved out of their range.
(U.S. Air Force)
The German radio traffic tipped off the convoy that it was about to come under attack, and its escort deployed to protect it. Luckily, this first contact came within range of the Western Local Escort, ships assigned to protect convoys near the Canadian and American coasts as the convoys were still forming and starting east.
So the thin escort was buttressed by the British destroyer HMS Walker and Canadian destroyer HMS Columbia. This made for three destroyers and a few smaller escorts. They worked together with land-based planes and bombers to smack the submarines down, hard. Two German U-boats were sunk, and another sub attack was interrupted. On October 31, two submarines were driven off.
But, by November 1, the Western Local ships were at the edge of their range and had to turn back. The convoy was, so far, unharmed. But it was 42 ships protected by only five ships, only one of which was a destroyer. And 13 German boats were out for blood.
German submarines were equipped with deck guns that allowed them to slaughter undefended convoys, but they used their massive torpedoes to kill convoys when surface combatants were in the water.
(Imperial War Museums)
The escorts spent the first hours performing desperate passes around the convoy to keep the U-boats at bay, but after midnight the subs made their move. They attacked the escort ships. One U-boat made it past the escorts and hit a ship with a torpedo. First blood opened the floodgates. After the first ship was finished off, another seven were hit and destroyed by simultaneous attacks from multiple U-boats.
On November 3, 10 submarines made attempted attacks, resulting in the sinking of one tanker. As night fell, the subs hit four more ships and sank them, including the “commodore ship,” where the top merchant mariner of the fleet sailed and commanded.
The USS Schenck was one of the destroyers sent to protect SC 107 from further attacks on November 4.
One of the ships hit was a large ammo ship filled with munitions. Approximately 30 minutes after it was attacked, the fires resulted in a massive explosion that shook the waters, damaged nearby ships, and likely sank the German boat U-132.
Now near Iceland, ships laden with rescued survivors broke north for Iceland to disembark those still alive while the rest of the convoy continued east. The U.S. Navy dispatched two destroyers to guard the convoy, but SC 107 would lose one more ship in the closing hours of November 4.
The next day, November 5, the convoy reached the range of anti-submarine planes and those, combined with the increased naval escort, finally drove off the German vessels. But 15 ships were already sunk and more damaged. Even counting the probable loss of U-132, Germany sacrificed three submarines in this pursuit.
The tables were, slowly, shifting in the Atlantic, though. The technological and industrial might of the U.S. was allowing more and more vessels to hit the waters with radar and sonar that would find the U-boats wherever they hid. Six months after SC 107, the naval clashes of Black May would signal the fall of the wolfpacks.
When Hirohito assumed the role of Emperor of Japan, the country was at the top of its game. A great world power, fresh off a victory over the Russian Empire, Japan enjoyed a booming economy, the third-largest navy, and a permanent seat at the head of the League of Nations. It soon began to unravel.
A swath of assassinations of government officials, attempts on the Emperor’s life, and a failed coup by a faction of the Japanese military may have left Hirohito suspicious and paranoid. He did little to stem to the rising tide of militarism in the Japanese government and did nothing to stop the military from ending civilian oversight of the Imperial Japanese Military. Most of us know what happened in the years that followed.
Hirohito toward the end of his life.
After World War II, much of Japan was able to move forward. Hirohito was not deposed but remained Emperor. Just how much control he was able to exercise over the governing of the empire is still a subject of debate in Japan to this very day. He claimed he was little more than a figurehead but many believe his god-like status in Japanese society could have done more. Only he, and perhaps those around him, knew for sure.
One of those around him published a book about his time with the Emperor.
Hirohito, now known as Emperor Showa in Japan, lived until 1989, just shy of his 88th birthday. A recently-published diary penned by Shinobu Kobayashi, then one of the Emperor’s chamberlains, one of the men who managed the Imperial household functions, says the Emperor was by no means happy about Japan’s entry in the war or how it was conducted in his name.
It is true that once many in the military government of Japan learned that the Emperor would broadcast a surrender order via the use of his voice recorded on vinyl, they attempted to depose Hirohito and destroy the record. The conspirators were thwarted by the layout of the Imperial Palace and the record was smuggled out by a laundry woman and broadcast the next day. But over the years, evidence and other memoirs have been published that paint a contradictory view of the man, who was certainly one of the 20th Century’s most important, controversial figures.
Kobayashi says the Emperor felt “anguish” over Japan’s entry into World War II, and feared that as his life continued, he would only attract more blame for his country’s actions. When the royal household attempted to reduce his workload after the death of his brother Prince Takamatsu, Hirohito was dismissive.
Hirohito next to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the days following Japan’s surrender. Many Japanese were offended by this photo, given the General’s casual stance in the face of the Emperor’s formality.
(U.S. Army photo)
“There is no point in living a longer life by reducing my workload,” the then-86-year-old Emperor said. “It would only increase my chances of seeing or hearing things that are agonizing.” Kobayashi tried to console the emperor by pointing to Japan’s miraculous postwar recovery in the intervening decades.
“It’s a page in history,” he wrote. “You do not have to worry.”
Hirohito managed to avoid being tried as a war criminal because Gen. Douglas MacArthur trusted that even the Emperor’s most fervent believers would adopt democracy after the war – with the Emperor’s blessing. Hirohito’s continued presence on the Chrysanthemum Throne became a unifying symbol of postwar Japan.
After Hirohito’s death in 1989, his son, Akihito, assumed the throne as the 125th Emperor of Japan. The line of monarchs can be traced back to 680 BC, with varying degrees of power and responsibility.
Prior to America’s official entry into World War II, the U.S. Navy was involved in “short of war” operations against Nazi Germany. In some cases this involved escorting merchant ships that were steaming to help supply England.
Tensions between the U.S and Germany increased after a Nazi submarine fired on the destroyer USS Greer (DD 145).
But, as Samuel Eliot Morison pointed out in the “Battle of the Atlantic,” the U.S. was still operating under neutrality legislation. So, when they did stuff to Nazi vessels, they needed to have some legal grounds outside of a war declaration.
On Nov. 6, 1941, the light cruiser USS Omaha (CL 4) and the destroyer USS Somers (DD 381) were on patrol in the South Atlantic looking for a German raider. Two months had passed since the Greer had been fired on, and since then, the destroyer Kearny (DD 432) had been torpedoed and the destroyer USS Reuben James (DD 245) had been sunk.
The Omaha and Somers then came across a ship claiming to be an American merchant vessel out of Philadelphia. The interaction with the vessel drew suspicions, and the Omaha, under the command of Capt. Theodore E. Chandler, ordered the vessel to stop. A boarding party came aboard just as scuttling charges went off. The boarding party kept the ship from sinking, and determined its true identity as the German blockade runner Odenwald.
The ship was taken to Puerto Rico, where the cargo – over 6,200 tons, including 103 truck tires and lots of rubber – and the vessel were sold off. According to Samuel Eliot Morison, the Navy justified the intercept by claiming that the Odenwald was a suspected slave trader.
In 1947, the Odenwald’s owners sued the Navy over the seizure. It didn’t pan out for them at all. The boarding party and prize crew assigned to the vessel, though, made out big-time: $3,000 each. Crew on board the Omaha and Somers got two months of pay and allowances.
That’s a prize worth as much as $34,000 today.
Chandler, though, never got that bonus. Although he was promoted to rear admiral, in January 1945, his flagship, the heavy cruiser USS Louisville (CA 28), was hit by kamikazes off Iwo Jima. While assisting in fighting fires, his lungs were badly injured, and he died of his wounds soon after.
The U.S. has made a name for itself launching humanitarian missions around the world when disaster strikes. The operations save thousands of lives, relieve suffering, and burnish America’s reputation.
Here are six of the largest relief operations the U.S. has launched outside of its borders:
In Operation Tamadachi, Marines rushed into the Sendai Airport and cleared broken vehicles and tons of debris from from runways to reopen the airport. The Navy sent in the USS Ronald Reagan and 21 other ships to help ferry supplies from international donors and relief agencies and to search the ocean for survivors swept into the sea.
Navy aircraft also moved Japanese personnel when necessary.
Unique to Operation Tamadachi was a nuclear component as the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant were heavily damaged. The U.S. assisted with coordinating and conducting aerial monitoring while Japanese forces evacuated the surrounding areas and worked to stabilize the facility.
The relief effort helped save thousands of lives, but the country still lost more than 20,000 people to the three earthquakes and follow-on tsunami in 2011.
Massive floods in Pakistan in 2010 drove people from their homes, wiped out fields, and increased the spread of diseases. The U.S. and other nations responded with a massive relief effort that helped ferry needed supplies. The U.S delivered its first 5 million tons of supplies in just over a month of relief and delivered 20 million tons before the end of operations.
Thirty military helicopters were pressed into the effort alongside a fleet of C-130s and C-17s. The C-17 is the U.S. military’s second-largest plane and can carry 90,000 pounds per lift.
The USS Carl Vinson sailed to Haiti in January 2010 after a massive earthquake killed 230,000 people and devastated the local infrastructure. Air Force special operators controlled a huge amount of air traffic while the Navy assisted with logistics and Marines helped shore up buildings and clear debris.
The Navy employed over 30 ships to provide help and the USNS Comfort provided medical care, fresh water, and needed shelter. The Army later deployed paratroopers to help prevent outbreaks of disease and to continue rebuilding key infrastructure and homes.
In 2009, Indonesia was once again rocked by earthquakes. This time, a special operations group was already present in the country when the earthquakes hit and it provided coordination for follow-on forces. Emergency supplies quickly flowed into the country.
When an earthquake in the Indian Ocean sent a massive tsunami into 14 countries in late 2004, the Republic of Indonesia was the worst hit. Over 280,000 people were killed but the USS Abraham Lincoln ferried food, water, and medical supplies to the worst hit areas.
Over the entire region, 30 Navy ships served emergency needs and the USNS Mercy, a 1,000-bed hospital ship, provided critical medical care to 200,000 survivors.
The largest humanitarian assistance operation in history was actually launched to overcome a man-made shortage, not recover from a natural disaster. The Soviet blockade of West Berlin caused a massive food shortage in the Western-government occupied sectors of the city.
“Some with faces bloated and blackened beyond recognition, lay with glassy eyes staring up at the blazing summer sun; others, with faces downward and clenched hands filled with grass or earth, which told of the agony of the last moments.
“Here a headless trunk, there a severed limb; in all the grotesque positions that unbearable pain and intense suffering contorts the human form, they lay.”
The burial parties put the bodies in shallow graves or trenches near where they fell — sometimes Union and Confederate soldiers together. Others, found by their comrades, were given proper burials in marked graves.
Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin visited the battlefield soon after, and was appalled by the devastation and the stench of death.
“Heavy rains had washed away the earth from many of the shallow graves. Grotesquely blackened hands, arms and legs protruded from the earth like “the devil’s own planting… a harvest of death” while the stench of death hung heavy in the air,” writes John Heiser of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Curtin went on to fund the creation of a special cemetery for the civil war dead, and also to recover and rebury the remains on the battlefield.
This grisly job was entrusted to a series of teams, led by local merchant Samuel Weaver.
He described how poles with hooks were used to search the clothing on exhumed corpses for identification — how the color and fabric of uniforms was used to distinguish Confederate from Unionist corpse.
1st Massachusetts Monument.
Initially, Confederate bodies were left were they lay in the ad-hoc graves, and only Union soldier exhumed to be reburied in the new National Military Park Cemetery, then called the Soldiers National Cemetery.
It was at the consecration of the cemetery on November 19 that President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, where he praised the sacrifice of the soldiers.
He called on Americans to pledge “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
About a decade later, Weaver’s son helped Confederate families exhume the remains of the 3,000 Confederate dead, who were reburied in Richmond, Raleigh, Savannah and Charleston.
Gettysburg National Military Park.
So many bodies were buried in the fields of Gettysburg that not all were found, and remains were still being discovered almost a century and a half later.
In 1996, a tourist found human remains in territory called Railroad Cut, about a mile outside town. It was the first time more or less complete human remains had been found on the battlefield since 1939, reported the Baltimore Sun at the time.
The remains were examined by the Smithsonian, and found to belong to a man about 5 foot 8 or 9 tall, in his early 20s, who had been shot in the back of the head.
In 1997 the remains were given a military burial in Gettysburg National Military Park Cemetery alongside partial remains of other other soldiers found over the years.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
There’s something to be said for aggressively pursuing the job you want. For British Admiral Horatio, Lord Nelson, that opportunity came at the Battle of Copenhagen when the famous admiral disobeyed the orders of a less-famous, less successful one in the funniest way possible.
Lord Nelson was arguably England’s most famous military mind, and without a doubt, one of its most famous admirals. By the time the British engaged the Danes at Copenhagen, Nelson had been commanding ships for more than 20 years and had been in command as an Admiral for nearly as long. But Nelson wasn’t in overall command of the British at Copenhagen. That honor fell to Britain’s Sir Hyde Parker, but Sir Hyde wasn’t as aggressive as Lord Nelson, certainly not aggressive enough for Nelson’s taste.
Until the Battle of Copenhagen, Parker was considered a very good commander, commanding Royal Navy ships for some 40 years in fights from Jamaica to Gibraltar. But Hyde was more of an administrator than a battlefield leader, sticking close to the rules of naval combat. This wasn’t a problem for anyone until 1801, when he ordered the Royal Navy at Copenhagen to disengage.
Nelson wasn’t having it.
Unlike Parker, Nelson was known to flaunt the doctrine of naval warfare at the time. He is famous for saying, “forget the maneuvers, just go straight at them.” Nelson was aggressive without being careless and had a sixth sense for the way a battle was flowing. From his ship closer to the fight, he could tell that the attack needed to be pressed. Parker was further away from the fighting, in a ship too heavy for the shallower water closer to Copenhagen. So when he was ready to disengage – as doctrine would have him do – he raised the flag signal.
Nelson is said to have put his telescope up to his blind eye, turned in the direction of Parker’s flagship, and allegedly said:
“I have a right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal.”
Nelson knew the battle would go his way, and even though some of his ships did obey the disengage order, most of the frigates did not. The battle began to turn heavily in favor of the British, with most of the Danish ships’ guns too heavily damaged to return fire. Denmark would be forced into an alliance with the British against Napoleonic France and received protection from Russia. For his actions, Nelson was made a viscount, and Parker was recalled to England, where he was stripped of his Baltic Sea command.
In a small county in Northern Alabama, there’s a town named for Major Payne. It’s not named after the hilarious, quotable 1995 movie starring Damon Wayans. It’s named for a little-known U.S. Army officer who was stationed in the area in the 1830s, during the administration of Martin Van Buren — and there’s very little that’s funny about the real Major Payne.
Then-Capt. John G. Payne took command of the area now known as Fort Payne, Alabama, in the 1880s. Fort Payne was the site of Willstown, a Cherokee settlement where the Cherokee language received its alphabet. The Cherokees were keen to assimilate into the population of the greater United States, but the U.S. would have none of it. Under President Andrew Jackson, the natives were ordered to relocate to Oklahoma — and John Payne was sent to take the first steps.
Today, the area is home of Fort Payne, Alabama, seat of Dekalb County.
In 1830, President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which was supposed to set the stage for a negotiated and voluntary movement of native tribes to areas West of the Mississippi River. Instead, in practice, the act stripped natives of any rights in their current locations and all Native nations were forcibly moved to Oklahoma. The five so-called “civilized” tribes of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole were most affected.
Those five tribes had homes, farms, schools, and in many cases, functional and effective self-governance. They were not eager to leave all that behind in favor of some unknown land they’ve never seen. But the United States wasn’t really giving them a choice — the U.S. Army would move them at gunpoint, with many in chains.
Martin Van Buren: Andrew Jackson’s third term.
By the time Martin Van Buren took office in Washington, the Army was ready to move. In 1838, General Winfield Scott led the Army into areas controlled by the Cherokee, including what is today Fort Payne, Alabama. Waiting for him was a stockade constructed by forces under Major John Payne that was designed as an internment camp for Cherokees waiting to be relocated westward.
Payne himself would go on to settle in Tennessee and Georgia after marrying a woman of Native American descent. By the time of the Civil War, Payne was no longer affiliated with the military, and was living in the south with his wife and five children.
All that remains of Payne’s stockade is a stone chimney in the middle of an overgrown wood, a monolith tribute to the thousands of Cherokee that were removed from their homes almost 200 years ago.
Aerial refueling has always been risky business. Tankers fly through the sky, loaded to the gills with flammable fuels while dragging long hoses or booms behind them as jets chase after them like hungry mosquitos.
But if that’s risky, the first aerial refueling was straight-up crazy. Wesley Mays, a famous daredevil of the late-1910s and early-1920s, climbed from one biplane onto another with a 5-gallon jug of fuel strapped to his back.
From there, he waited for Daugherty to bring his wingtip in range and grabbed it. Mays lifted himself onto the wing and worked his way between the planes’ wings and into the cockpit. He poured the gas into the engine and strapped himself into his waiting seat, sealing his place in history.
The Army Air Corps got in on the aerial refueling action 2 years later in Jul. 1923, but they needed a way to transfer much more than 5-gallons at a time. So they opted to use a tanker aircraft, a hose, and a receiving aircraft. First Lt. Virgil Hines flew a DH-4B outfitted as the tanker ahead of 1st Lt. Frank W. Seifert’s DH-4B receiver. Hines dangled the hose behind and beneath his aircraft where Seifert could reach it.
The fuel was transported without incident, but engine trouble in Seifert’s plane prevented the duo from achieving a planned endurance record. Still, they developed techniques that allowed another Air Corps team to set the record with a 37-hour, 25-minute flight in Aug. 1923.
Gemini 3 was the first American space mission to be crewed by more than one astronaut. Gemini 3 performed the first orbital maneuver ever by shifting its orbit mid-flight. This breakthrough performance also showed that a re-entry vehicle could change its touchdown point. What it will be remembered for in the annals of NASA history, however, is a corned-beef sandwich.
For just shy of five hours, the Gemini 3 mission experienced very few setbacks — none of them major. From the takeoff aboard a Titan-II Rocket to the capsule’s recovery by the USS Intrepid, the crew would tell you it was a very smooth, well-run mission. The 89th U.S. Congress, however, had a different opinion.
The crew of Gemini 3. Not pictured: pocket sandwich.
Strangely enough, one of Gemini 3’s other mission requirements was to test space food in the capsule — specific food, not just whatever food the astronauts wanted to bring. The mission took five hours, but the non-rated food incident lasted less than a minute. The two astronauts were working in the capsule when pilot John Young, who was on his first spaceflight, pulled out a corned-beef sandwich.
“I was concentrating on our spacecraft’s performance, when suddenly, John asked me, ‘You care for a corned-beef sandwich, skipper?'” Grissom later recounted. “If I could have fallen out of my couch, I would have. Sure enough, he was holding an honest-to-john corned-beef sandwich.”
“Where did that come from?” Grissom asked. Corned-beef sandwiches were his favorite. “I brought it with me,” Young answered. “Let’s see how it tastes. Smells, doesn’t it?” The smell of corned beef did indeed fill the spacecraft. The astronaut picked up the sandwich from a local deli called Wolfie’s inside the nearby Ramada Inn in Cocoa Beach. Wally Schirra gave the sandwich to Young, who stowed it away in a pocket in his spacesuit.
Grissom took a bite, but the sandwich was not holding its integrity in zero gravity. The astronauts opted to put the sandwich away. Young admitted that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to bring the sandwich into low earth orbit. Grissom told him the sandwich was “pretty good, if it would just hold together.” With crumbs of rye bread floating around the cabin, the crew continued their mission.
“It didn’t even have mustard on it,” Young wrote. “And no pickle.”
While mission control at NASA and Young’s superiors were less-than-thrilled with the smuggled sandwich, the rest of the mission went ahead as planned and though the two were given slaps on the wrists and told, in no uncertain terms, that non-man-rated corned-beef sandwiches were out for future space missions, nothing more was really thought of it.
Until Congress stepped in.
Vietnam, civil rights, and corned beef.
It was the height of the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Gemini 3 was supposed to be the first orbital mission ever to have more than one astronaut, but the Soviets had beaten NASA to the punch by a week — when it launched the Voskhod 2 mission. Regardless, the United States was behind in the race and the costly program was under close scrutiny.
The House Appropriations Committee began a full review of the incident, concerned that those rye crumbs were a serious threat to the safe operation of the spacecraft. It’s true that the greasy crumbs could have played havoc on the craft’s electronics and computer systems. The sandwich was nicknamed the “-million sandwich.”
A replica of the million sandwich.
(Grissom Memorial Museum)
Congress thought the astronauts were ignoring the space food they were sent to evaluate and were wasting taxpayer money. John Young later wrote that he didn’t think it was that big of a deal and that it was common to carry sandwiches aboard. The offending corned-beef sandwich wasn’t even the first smuggled sandwich — it was the third. These days, astronauts make sandwiches in space all the time, they just use ingredients that keep the crumbs to a minimum.
What they were supposed to be eating.
Young commanded the first space shuttle mission in 1981. And carried aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia was a menu that included corned beef. The smuggled sandwich itself is lost to history, but a good likeness of the original can be found preserved in acrylic at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Mitchell, Indiana.
On Mar. 2, 1965, North Vietnamese guards at an ammunition storage area near Xom Bang heard the telltale sounds of massed aircraft overhead. They then learned why the F-105 Thunderchief earned the nickname “Thud” as 5,000 pounds of bombs from each of the passing planes hit the Earth around them.
The United States Air Force had just launched Operation Rolling Thunder, a bombing campaign over North Vietnam that lasted more than three years. Photographer Cade Martin set out to document and preserve the memories and images of the men who flew those dangerous missions.
Martin was just seven years old when the Vietnam War ended. What he knew about it came from movies and documentaries. Then, one day, he went to a Thud pilot reunion in San Antonio, took their portraits, and listened to their stories — the revelation of the war from their perspective rendered him speechless. Their stories were many and, as one might imagine, incredible.
“We have since learned that our target list was shared through Switzerland with the enemy to ensure no civilians were harmed. Well, that’s no way to win a war. The enemy would move out and set up somewhere else, ready to hit us on our way in and out. And, sometimes… Chiefs of Staff would send us five days in a row.” – John Piowaty, USAF
Rolling Thunder was an effort to break the will and ability of the Communists in the North and bring a negotiated end to the aggression against the non-Communist South. But, like many other aspects of the Vietnam War, it restricted the warfighter for political reasons and failed to achieve its overall strategic goals. Meanwhile, the men flying above North Vietnam were performing acts of valor and heroism without knowing what’s happening in Washington.
“In my junior year of high school, 1952, the Korean War was in full swing. Our fighter pilots were picking up where the aces of WW2 left off. Now in jets engaging in dogfights with the MiGs of North Korea and China. I wanted in. Went directly from high school to flight school. My all-time childhood dream come true.” – Gerald McGauley, USAF
Thoe pilots who flew those missions hit thousands of targets in North Vietnam, dropping more ordnance than was dropped during the bombing campaigns of World War II. The problem was that the classic targets of such a campaign were not as abundant or as vital to the North Vietnamese war effort than they were in Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Much of North Vietnam’s weapons and materiel for the war was provided by Communist China and the Soviet Union.
“I finished first in my class, giving me first choice of assignment. I went to “Gun School” at Luke AFB in Phoenix. There, I was in a class of seven. Three years later, only three of us were still alive… and this was before the war had begun.” – John Morrissey, USAF
Even though it was a Rolling Thunder target, the main distribution network for these supplies – the Ho Chi Minh Trail – was not effectively halted, as it was a simple network of roads and trails, hidden under jungle canopy and traversing steep mountain passes. The pilots could not hit what they couldn’t see and the trail remained an effective means of distribution.
“The F-105 – It was the sweetest thing you’d ever want to wrap your hands around. Once you got it airborne the sensation was like flying a Cadillac. 52,000 pounds, 65 feet long, 38-foot wingspan. Couldn’t turn with a MiG but could outrun them. Great airplane.” – Ben Bowthorpe, USAF
A simple cost-benefit analysis of the campaign shows the failure of the strategic initiative. At a cost of 0 million, the US wreaked only 0 million worth of damage to the North. It also forced the Vietcong to increase troop levels in South Vietnam, which further escalated the war. The North came to the negotiating table as President Lyndon B. Johnson called off the campaign — but they were not cowed into a negotiated peace as the U.S. had hoped.
Rolling Thunder ended fifty years ago, on November 2, 1968 — but the war raged on in various forms until 1973.
“My heroes growing up were soldiers and pilots. They played big roles in the movies and stories of the time, making aviation look exciting and romantic. I daydreamed and sketched airplanes through my early childhood. This led to building and flying models until finally in high school I got a chance to take flying lessons.” – Ed “Moose” Skowron, USAF
The Air Force was also hamstrung by leadership in Washington over available targets. While military commanders wanted more decisive action and an unrestricted bombing campaign, political leaders wanted to humble the North Vietnamese with an impressive display of American military might. While the display was made, the North would not concede. After spending the better part of a decade ousting the French from Vietnam, the Communists knew that a war of attrition was their best chance at defeating a power like the United States.
“They had so many different kinds of guns. 37, 57, 85, 100 millimeter guns. 1,700 guns in place circling Hanoi. We had briefing, we knew where the guns were at… but you couldn’t avoid all of them. We had to go in there and take our chances.” – Cecil Prentis, USAF
In the years that followed Vietnam, photographer Cade Martin noted that the men who flew the F-105 mission during Rolling Thunder were silent in the postwar years, sitting back as the world Monday-morning-quarterbacked their performance in the war. The Thud pilots lost some 922 aircraft in the skies over North Vietnam and more than a thousand American service members were killed, captured, or wounded.
“You can’t run a war from the Oval Office. I would have loved to have McNamara or Johnson on one of those flights with me.” – Cal Jewett, USAF
Martin’s project, called Over War, seeks to document and share the history of the Rolling Thunder pilots that they have shared among themselves for the last fifty-plus years. You can check out more of their personal statements, photos, and testimonies at Cade Martin’s Over War website.
Modern Americans can join the military and go to war without too much fuss, since the U.S. still needs people for ongoing fights in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hotspots around the world.
But our forefathers didn’t always have a place to go if they got the martial itch. Sometimes, they really wanted to join a war that the American people didn’t want to get involved in.
That’s when truly bold Americans would just join another country’s military and get to work.
1. Polish 7th Air Escadrille
As a victor of World War I, Poland grew in size, gained a border with Russia, and quickly found itself at war with the communist Bolsheviks. American volunteers were allowed to form the Polish 7th Air Escadrille and the aviation unit engaged in fierce ground attacks against Russian cavalry from 1919 to 1920.
2. The gendarmeries and national guards of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua
U.S. Marines holding the Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto César Sandino’s Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)
In the early 1900s, Marines were sent to Caribbean nations to protect American business interests and to help shore up governments friendly to the U.S. The Marines who were dispatched to the islands often ended up holding ranks in both the U.S. military and the local forces at once. For instance, then Maj. Smedley Butler was the commandant of the Haitian Gendarmerie and then Cpl. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller was a second lieutenant in the Gendarmerie.
3. Eagle Squadrons
Americans who wanted to take the fight to Nazi Germany before Pearl Harbor had few legal options, but some lied about their citizenship and risked exile from America to join the Royal Air Force in 1939 and 1940. Eight Americans took part in the 1940 Battle of Britain that saw the RAF narrowly defeat attempts by Luftwaffe to open the British Isles to invasion.
Dozens more Americans arrived after the Battle of Britain and helped the U.K. hold the line until America’s entry into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Unfortunately, the fighting went badly for the American volunteers. Nearly one-third of them died in Spain and the Republic was overthrown by Fascist Gen. Francisco Franco.
5. The Flying Tigers
The Flying Tigers of World War II were a group of American pilots and ground crew who President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly authorized to go to China and help that country fight the Japanese invasion. Despite the presidential authorization, the Americans had to resign their military positions and travel under assumed identities.
He’s famous for leading the nighttime aerial bombing raid on Tokyo in the opening days of World War II, a feat that earned him the Medal of Honor. He commanded the Eighth Air Force and broke the back of the Luftwaffe.
But James H. Doolittle also nearly blew the biggest intelligence advantage the Allies had – ULTRA.
So, how in the world did this hero manage to do that? The big problem was that Doolittle had a habit of leading from the front. In fact, an obituary in the Los Angeles Times revealed how he lead the Tokyo Raid.
Though General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, the Army Air Corps Chief of Staff, wanted Doolittle to hang back and act as his chief aide, Doolittle made a run around the Army Air Corps staff and got the spot to lead the raid.
Doolittle survived the Tokyo Raid and escaping China ahead of Japanese forces. But he wasn’t quite done going too far forward.
While commanding the 12th Air Force in Africa, he drew the wrath of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. According to Dik Daso’s biography “Doolittle,” Eisenhower had called Doolittle’s HQ to talk with the general. Doolittle wasn’t in the HQ, he was in a Spitfire taking it for a test flight. Eisenhower expressed his displeasure with his subordinate.
But Doolittle just didn’t take the hint. Even when he commanded the Eighth Air Force, he kept flying missions. Retired Navy Capt. G. H. Spaulding noted that Doolittle would continue to fly even after he was briefed on ULTRA – the Allied codebreaking effort that targeted Germany’s Enigma machine.
On June 27, 1944, Doolittle allowed his new intelligence officer, Brig. Gen. Arthur Vanaman — who also had been briefed in on ULTRA — to fly what was supposed to be a “milk run” over Germany. Doolittle had flown a number of times, and made it back, but Vanaman would not be so lucky.
German flak scored a hit on Vanaman’s plane. The pilot ordered the crew to bail out. About half did before control of the plane was restored. The plane returned to base, with news that Vanaman had bailed out over enemy territory.
In his 2007 book Masters of the Air, Donald L. Miller needed only one word to describe Eisenhower’s reaction to Doolittle’s decision to let Vanaman fly that mission: Furious. Luckily, the Germans didn’t ask Vanaman any questions at all. They kept him as a POW until the end of the war. Vanaman would retire from the Air Force as a major general in 1954, according to the Air Force’s official biography of him.
According to an official biography on the Air Force web site, Doolittle would retire from the Air Force as a lieutenant general in 1959. In 1985, he would receive a fourth star from President Reagan. A very lengthy and remarkable career for a man who almost blew the biggest secret of the war.