This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

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.

 

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
The poem and red poppies used to sell Canadian victory bonds

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.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
The Second Battle of Ypres by Richard Jack (Painting via Canadian War Museum)

“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.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
British 1st Btn Cameronian Highlanders wear gas masks fix bayonets in anticipation of German gas attack 2nd Battle of Ypres on 20th May 1915 (Photo via Forces War Record)

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.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
Poppies growing on the graves of British and Australian soldiers in a cemetery near Daours, France in June 1918. (Photo via Australian War Memorial)

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.

Memorial Day in America falls on the last Monday of May — and it’s no coincidence that it occurs during the time of year when flowers, including the red poppy, are most in bloom.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Dutch intelligence agents fooled Communists for almost 40 years

By 1968, global Communism was very much a threat to Western Europe. In Czechoslovakia, a massive invasion of Warsaw Pact forces saw a revolution crushed under the communist boot. Eurocommunist parties were popping up in Spain, Finland, and Italy. In China, Mao Zedong had rejected reforms enacted by Deng Xiaoping and re-enacted the repressive policies that led to the Cultural Revolution there. Unlike the Americans, who faced the spread of global Communism with force, the Dutch decided to found the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Netherlands – a group with which China cooperated.

The Chinese didn’t know its pro-China party in the Netherlands was a run entirely by Dutch spies who just wanted information on Chinese intentions.


This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

Beijing even paid for the party newspaper, also run by Dutch spies.

A Dutch intelligence agent named Pieter Boevé set up the MLPN in 1968, gaining the trust of its Chinese Communist allies through the publication of its newspaper. Its timing was also fortuitous, as China and the Soviet Union had long before began to split in their view of what global Communism should look like. Since the MLPN embraced Maoist China and rejected the Soviet Union, that was even better for the Chairman. Using his MLPN, Boevé was able to expand his influence deeper into the party in Beijing.

His supposedly 600-member Communist party in a deeply capitalist society was the toast of the Communist world while Boevé ran the MLPN. In truth, there were only 12 members, but no one in the party or in the rest of the world knew that. Boevé could go anywhere in the Eastern Bloc, and China welcomed him with open arms so much, Zhou Enlai even threw a banquet in his honor. More importantly, they would brief him on the inner workings of the Chinese mission at the Hague.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

The math teacher who outsmarted global Communism.

After attending a Communist youth seminar in Moscow in 1955, Boevé was recruited by the BVD, the Dutch intelligence service, to play up his Communist bona fides. He accepted and soon visited Beijing for a similar congress. The Sino-Soviet Split played right into the BVD’s hands, and after he embraced Maoism, his fake party practically built itself. The Dutch were able to know everything about China’s secret workings inside their country, and the Chinese paid for it, all of it orchestrated by Boevé, who was never paid as a spy. He was a math teacher at an elementary school.

“I was invited to all the big events – Army Days, Anniversaries of the Republic, everything,” Boevé told the Guardian in 2004. “There were feasts in the Great Hall of the People and long articles in the People’s Daily. And they gave us lots of money.”

The secret was kept until after 2001, when a former BVD agent wrote a book about the agency’s secret operations. Boevé and his fake party were outed.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Win the first War on Terror by backing ‘Shores of Tripoli’ on Kickstarter

It was the first time the United States fought a pitched battle on foreign soil and, as a sign of things to come, came out the victor. In 1805, Arab mercenaries and United States Marines under the command of William Eaton and Marine Lt. Presley O’Bannon marched on the Tripolitan city of Derna. Their mission was to capture the city, then restore the rightful (American friendly) ruler of Tripoli to the throne. The Marines were outnumbered by nearly ten to one and made an overland march of 500 miles before they could even attack.

Well, do you have a better idea? A new strategy game on Kickstarter invites you to give it a shot.


In Shores of Tripoli, a new game from Washington, DC’s Fort Circle Games, take one or two players to take up arms as either the United States or the Bashaw of Tripoli in a game of wits and maneuvers designed to bend your opponent to your will. Tripolitania wants to keep conducting pirate raids that have brought it so much wealth in gold and slaves. The United States is out to end the reign of Barbary terror and restore the freedom of American ships at sea.

With cards representing significant events and the most important players in these events, players use dice and in-game figurines to start battles, start diplomatic talks, and get more troops to the fight. To win, the Americans must force the Tripolitans to submit to a peace treaty or forcibly install a pro-American ruler.

Guess which route the Marines chose.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

“Lolz” – Lt. Presley O’Bannon.

To win as Tripoli, you have to inflict enough shock and damage on the Americans and their squadron of ships as possible, sinking four frigates or capturing 12 merchantmen.

Shores of Tripoli the board game honestly looks like any history buff’s greatest wet dream. Along with educational information about the conflict, the game comes with a high-quality game map, 82 wooden game pieces, and a lot of other high-quality elements. One historian’s review of the game called it “historically accurate” and “sophisticated” as well as “beautifully designed” and – most importantly, “very fun.

Now learning about military history doesn’t have to mean memorizing a bunch of boring dates. Now it means taking down the first terrorists with the United States Marine Corps.
This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

Which looks like everything I’ve ever wanted in any game anywhere.

(Shores of Tripoli on Kickstarter)

You won’t get it in time for Christmas 2019, but for a backing of .00 you can get a copy of this amazing-looking historical strategy game. Or in true Marine Corps fashion, you can donate your copy to Toys for Tots. As you donate more money, you get more copies of the game, presumably one for yourself and up to 30 to donate to schools and Toys for Tots.

William Eaton just declared himself general and commander of the force that attacked Derna. For id=”listicle-2641249602″,000 you can declare yourself the Executive Producer of Shores of Tripoli game. Head on over to its Kickstarter page to find out how.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this soldier earned the Medal of Honor while stoned

It is absolutely forbidden to do drugs in a war zone. It’s illegal to do drugs as a member of the Armed Forces — it always has been. Still, by the 1970s, marijuana use by U.S. troops in Vietnam was widespread. Tim O’Brien even wrote about it in The Things They Carried. One U.S. troop even earned the nation’s highest honor while high on it.


Peter Lemon was stationed at Fire Support Base Illingworth in Tay Ninh province, South Vietnam on Apr. 1, 1970. It was that day he became one of the youngest-ever Medal of Honor recipients at just 20 years old.

He was born in Toronto, an immigrant who willfully joined the U.S. Army to fight against the spread of Communism. He was from a family of military veterans, after all. He became an American citizen at 11 and enlisted as soon as he could. His optimism about the war in Vietnam quickly fell away after a series of disappointing events: allied troops killing surrendering enemy combatants, the fragging of a hated lieutenant, and the loathing the locals had for American troops.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
Lemon in Vietnam.
(Photo from Peter Lemon)

So, when things got slow, he and his buddies passed the time by smoking a little pot. After a recon patrol one night, they blew off some steam with a little partying. He had no idea the next day would be the defining event of his life.

“We were all partying the night before,” Lemon said. “We weren’t expecting any action because we were in a support unit. It was the only time I ever went into combat stoned. You get really alert when you are stoned because you have to be.”

His fire base was located near the Ho Chi Minh Trail, admittedly bait for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops to attack as they entered South Vietnam. There were many fire bases like it, as it was a common tactic to draw out masses of enemy troops. Unfortunately for the tired revelers at Illingworth, the night wasn’t as quiet as they expected.

At 2:06 am, the enemy struck in full force. 400 hardened NVA troops swarmed the 220 Americans at the fire base. The Americans lacked the critical piece to their fire base tactics: air support. The NVA destroyed the base’s communications and rained mortars and artillery on the sleepy Americans.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
A hastily-constructed fire support base like Fire Support Base Illingworth.

Lemon, despite finishing a joint before bed, jumped out of his rack and manned a heavy machine gun until it couldn’t fire anymore. He did the same with his rifle. Both weapons malfunctioned. When those no longer worked, he switched to tossing hand grenades at the oncoming enemy. The NVA returned with a grenade of their own, injuring Lemon. He managed to take down all but one enemy. As soon as the Communist soldier reached his position, Lemon dispatched him in hand-to-hand combat.

That’s when fate stepped in. The day before, Illingworth received a shipment of 40 tons of 8-inch artillery shells it couldn’t use. The ammo was dumped in the middle of the base, and as soon as Lemon killed his attacker, the shells all detonated. The blast knocked Lemon to the ground and tore apart anyone near it.

Still, he managed to pick himself up, take a buddy to the aid station, and grab more grenades. He was shot by incoming NVA bullets for his trouble, but he pressed on. Then, realizing the base was about to be overrun, he charged the incoming enemy waves, tossing grenades and knocking them down with his fists as he moved, completely routing them.

He then retook another machine gun and fired into the NVA hordes (while standing fully in the open) until he passed out.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
Lemon manning his machine gun.
(Artist’s rendering)

If all of that wasn’t enough, he refused medical evacuation until his more seriously wounded friends took off first. Lemon, now a motivational speaker, dedicates his Medal of Honor to his three friends who died in the fighting, Casey Waller, Brent Street, and Nathan Mann.

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 amazing facts about General Douglas MacArthur

Few military leaders in history are as iconic as General Douglas MacArthur. He was a bigger-than-life figure who rose to five-star rank and grew to believe in his own myth so much that he thought he was above the Constitution and ultimately had to be brought down by the President of the United States.


Here are 8 amazing facts about the general known as the “American Caesar”:

 

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
MacArthur signing the articles of surrender aboard the USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay in 1945.

 

1. His parents were on different sides of the Civil War

MacArthur’s father, Douglas Jr., was a Union general, and his mother was from a prominent Confederate family. Two of her brothers refused to attend the wedding.

2. His father and he are both recipients of the Medal of Honor

Douglas MacArthur, Jr. was bestowed the Medal of Honor for actions at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in 1863. His son received the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt in 1942 for defending the Philippines.

3. His mom lived at a hotel on the West Point grounds the entire time he was a cadet

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

MacArthur’s mom told him he had to be great like his dad or Robert E. Lee, and she made sure he stayed focused by living on campus near him. The semi-weird strategy worked in that he was number one in his class by far. His performance record was only bested in history by two other cadets, one from the Class of 1884 and Robert E. Lee himself.

4. He puked on the White House steps

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
MacArthur riding between President Roosevelt and Adm. Chester Nimitz.

During a heated defense budget discussion with FDR in 1934, MacArthur lost his temper and told the Commander-in-chief that “when we lost the next war, and an American boy, lying in the mud with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy foot on his dying throat, spat out his last curse, I wanted the name not to be MacArthur, but Roosevelt.” He tried to resign on the spot but Roosevelt refused it. MacArthur was so physically upset by the exchange that he threw up on the White House steps on the way out.

5. He wanted to be president

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

Although he was still on active duty in 1944 he was drafted by a wing of the Republican Party to run against FDR. He even won the Illinois Primary before the party went with Dewey. He tried again in ’48 but quit after getting crushed in the Wisconsin Primary. His last attempt was in ’52 but the Republicans bypassed him for a less controversial (and more likeable) war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

6. He didn’t return to the United States for six years after World War II

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

Because he was in charge of ensuring post-war Japan didn’t fall into chaos (and became a democracy) and then in command of the Korean War effort, MacArthur didn’t return to the U.S. between 1945 and 1951.

7. He got a ticker tape parade in NYC after he was fired by Truman

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

MacArthur was defiant in carrying out President Truman’s plan to end the Korean War, and the general carried out a campaign in Congress to authorize the complete takeover of North Korea. Truman was convinced that would result in World War III, and when MacArthur refused to back down the President had no choice but to remove him from command. Although disgraced, MacArthur was so popular he was treated like a hero on his way out, including having a ticker tape parade thrown in his honor down the streets of Manhattan.

8. He designed his signature look

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
(AP Photo/File)

His cover, shades, and corncob pipe were all part of a look MacArthur cultivated himself. The pipe company, Missouri Meerschaum, continues to craft replicas of the general’s customized pipe, and Ray-Ban named a sunglass line after him in 1987.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ was a horrifying WWI infantry charge

Just in time for Halloween, the horrifying tale of a Russian infantry charge gone bad. Listen, everyone knows the Russian infantry historically gets the worst of every war, but World War I was especially horrific for the Russians fighting Germany. For the Russians defending Osowiec Fortress, it was especially horrible.

Welcome to the age of poison gas. You know something was intense if Sabaton has a song about it.


In true, stupid World War I fashion, the German high command ordered a full-frontal assault on Osowiec Fortress, using 14 battalions of infantry, along with sappers, siege guns, and artillery. The Russians had roughly 900 men defending the fortification, with less than half of that being conscripted militiamen. Instead of the usual artillery pounding, the Germans decided to use poison gas on the fort, opting to use chlorine gas on the Russians.

Well, it turns out the gas and the water in the air, along with the water in the lungs of the Russian defenders didn’t just choke the Russians; it turned the chlorine into hydrochloric acid and began to dissolve the Russians from the inside out. Russians tried to stem the gas using wet rags, but they had no chemical defenses, and the skin on their faces soon began to melt as well.

Instead of just taking the assault, the beleaguered Russians decided to counter attack.

The 100 or so men who formed up to charge the Germans ran into 12 battalions of enemy troops, but kept on running anyway. What the Germans saw coming through the mists was the difference-maker. A horde of face-melting zombies charged through the darkness and slammed into an army of 7,000. The Germans panicked and bolted at the sight of the undead Russians.

German troops turned and ran from the horrifying scene so fast, they ran into their own booby traps and barbed wire. The bold, outnumbered counter-charge was short-lived, however. The fortress would have to be abandoned as other fortifications surrounding Osowiec were starting to fall, and the Russians would soon be trapped. They demolished the fort and fell back.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the H-1 Huey has a special place in US military history

For more than 50 years of rotary wing aviation, lots of helicopters have come and gone from the U.S. military. But only one is still in service — the H-1 “Huey.”


This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
A UH-1 Huey with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 touches down at a remote helicopter landing pad in al Anbar province to refuel Oct. 9 during a scouting mission. (Photo from U.S. Marine Corps)

Technically there are two versions of the Huey still flying, the UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper — both in service with the Marine Corps. These aircraft are heavily updated from their initial production models but will be in service with the Marines for years to come.

The UH-1 first entered service with the U.S. Army in 1959 as a utility helicopter. Produced by Bell Helicopter, the UH-1 was the first turbine powered helicopter to enter service. Although officially named the Iroquois, it received the nickname “Huey” from its original designation, HU-1A. These initial A models first saw service with the 101st Airborne, the 82nd Airborne, and the 57th Medical Detachment.

The 57th Medical Detachment would be the first unit to employ the Huey in Vietnam in 1962.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
(Photo from Wikimedia)

As American involvement in Vietnam escalated so did the Huey’s. The initial A model’s shortcomings soon gave way to the UH-1B with a longer cabin and more powerful engine. Continued development led to the C and D variants. The “Charlie” model was outfitted with external weaponry and operated as a gunship. The D model was another expansion of the “B,” gaining 41 more inches of cabin space increasing its capacity to fifteen feet. This meant it had two pilots, two door gunners, and could still carry an entire infantry squad. It was this version that would first see extensive use by the U.S. Army in Vietnam.

In 1962 the Marine Corps adopted the UH-1E version of the Huey, which was modified to their specifications.

Once employed in Vietnam, the Huey served in every conceivable role. It performed troop transport duties, general support, MEDEVAC, and search and rescue. It was also loaded with weapons and used as a gunship.

Rocket-armed Hueys became known as “Hogs” while gun-toting helos were dubbed “Cobras.” Troop transport versions were nicknamed “Slicks” — a reference to their slick sides that held no weapons stations. However, some of these gunship roles were taken over by a new model, the UH-1G.

In 1966 the Army began receiving the UH-1G “HueyCobra” a reference to its lineage and its mission. By 1967 the “U” was replaced by an “A,” designating the helicopter as the attack platform that it truly was. While it shared many parts with its utility brother, the new Cobras were designed specifically as gunships, mounting stubby wings for weapons and carrying a 20mm cannon under the nose.

The new helicopters provided armed escort for air assaults, armed reconnaissance, and close air support for troops on the ground.

During the Vietnam War over 7,000 Hueys were deployed and flew over 7.5 million flight hours with the vast majority in service with the Army. Over 3,000 were lost to combat operations along with over 2,700 pilots, crew, and passengers. Hueys evacuated more than 90,000 patients from the battlefield, greatly increasing the survival rate of soldiers wounded in combat. It is estimated that over 40,000 helicopter pilots served in Vietnam, most of them flying Hueys.

The more than 3,000 Hueys — mostly H variants — that survived the war would be the backbone of the military’s post-war helicopter fleet. Late in the Vietnam War the Marine Corps bought the more powerful twin-engine UH-1 that would enter service as the UH-1N. While the Marines continued development of the Huey, the Army began a search for a new helicopter that led to the acquisition of the new UH-60 Black Hawk.

The Black Hawk would replace the Huey as the Army’s primary utility helicopter though it would retain a number for training and other purposes well into the 2000’s.

The UH-1N would continue in Marine Corps service as a light utility helicopter for another three decades, seeing service around the world. When the UH-1s were upgraded to twin-engine models, the AH-1 Cobras received the same treatment, becoming the AH-1J SeaCobra. In addition to receiving new engines, the Cobra also got improved M197 20mm cannon.

Again, the Army went a different route and developed the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The Marines were denied funding to acquire a naval version of the Apache. This left the Marines no choice but to continue using the AH-1. More updates followed, including the AH-1T and the AH-1W, known as the “Whiskey Cobra.” These versions included more powerful engines and improved avionics and weapons capabilities.

When the Marines were once again denied the opportunity to acquire the Apache in 1996, they instead awarded a contract to Bell Helicopter, the H-1 Upgrade Program, to modernize and increase commonality for their aging fleets of UH-1Ns and AH-1Ws. This program resulted in the new and improved UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper. These aircraft have 84 percent common components, which decreases maintenance costs. These new versions began delivery in 2006 and have seen action with the Marines in Afghanistan.

The latest Viper and Venom models mean the Huey is one of the few, if not only, system to have variants run from A to Z. From the workhorse of the Vietnam War to the deserts of the Middle East, the Huey has been there for American troops through all conflicts of the past 50 years.

With at least a decade of service still ahead, the Huey family of helicopters will serve well beyond 60 years of continuous service for the American military.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This building in Stalingrad became the Russian version of The Alamo in World War II

In the Battle of Stalingrad a group of 25 men in a nearly abandoned apartment held off thousands of German soldiers during nearly two months of fighting. Time and time again, the assaulting German forces attacked the building occupied by Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov and his platoon.


In the fighting at Stalingrad, Russian and German soldiers clashed in bloody, close-quarters combat. Some buildings held Germans and Russians on different floors for days, fighting the other side through the stairwells.

One of these heavily contested buildings was a four-story apartment building that overlooked the Volga river and had a clear line of fire down two roads intersecting in front of it. Whoever controlled that building could stop nearly any traffic moving within a kilometer of it.

The Russian Army sent a 30-man platoon to take the building from German occupiers, but only four survivors were left victorious. Junior Sgt. Pavlov, now the acting platoon commander, and his three men began constructing defenses of barbed wire and mines while also requesting reinforcements. In the basement of the building, 10 Russian civilians huddled with slim hopes of surviving the battle.

When 21 Russian soldiers arrived, they helped prepare the building for an extended siege. A PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle was placed on the roof, machine guns were placed in every available window facing the main square, mortars were emplaced, and walls were knocked out to facilitate communications between the men.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

Then the Germans came. Armored and infantry columns would move up the streets to try and take out the building. They were forced to cross “9th January Square,” a wide open space named for Russia’s Bloody Sunday. While the Germans were in the square, the Russians would strike.

The Russian soldiers would open fire with the anti-tank rifle on the roof, piercing the thin turret armor of the tanks. The men found that if they waited until the tanks were within 25 meters of the building, the enemy tanks could not elevate their own guns high enough to retaliate.

Meanwhile, machine gunners would begin firing from the windows, shattering the bodies of German infantrymen. When they had the rounds, the men would begin lobbing mortars out of the building and onto the attacking column.

From Sep. 23 to Nov. 25, 1942, this fighting continued unabated. The Germans would attack at regular intervals and would often keep a few machine guns firing during lulls to keep the Russians from sleeping.

The Germans were devastated in the fight for the building that they eventually marked on their maps as a fortress. Inside, the Russians were sticking to Order 227 which demanded that Soviet soldiers take, “Not one step back!”

They held out until Nov. 25 when a Russian counterattack allowed fresh soldiers to replace Pavlov and his men in the defense of Pavlov’s house. The civilians in the basement were also allowed to evacuate.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
The reconstructed apartment building in Stalingrad.

The building was reconstructed after the war. Bricks and materials from the bombed out structure that Pavlov and his men held was used to construct a monument on the corner of the new building.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a teenager tried to assassinate the Queen

The Queen is likely one of the single best protected people on the entire planet. But on June 13, 1981, a 17 year old young man who held a marksman’s badge from the Air Training Corps somehow managed to circumvent the endless layers of security put in place to protect the Queen and fired a revolver at her from about 10 feet or 3 meters away. In the process, he managed to get not just one shot off, but a half a dozen, completely emptying his gun. So how is the queen still alive today? Well, thanks to strict gun laws in the UK, the young man, one Marcus Sarjeant, could only get his hands on a gun that shot blanks…

So why did he do it? According to Sarjeant, he was inspired to try and kill the Queen thanks to the deaths of John Lennon, JFK, and the attempts on the life of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. In particular, Sarjeant was intrigued by the subsequent notoriety and fame Mark David Chapman achieved after shooting Lennon and endeavoured to do something similarly shocking so that he’d be remembered as well. Not unique in this, humans have been doing this sort of thing seemingly since humans have been humaning, with perhaps the most notable ancient example being about two thousand years ago when Herostratus destroyed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World just so history would remember him.


This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

A modern model of the Temple of Artemis.

Going back to Sarjeant, prior to trying to shoot the Queen, he had received military training, reportedly joining and then quickly quitting both the Royal Marines and Army after 3 months and 2 days respectively. In the former case, he claims he couldn’t take the bullying from his superiors. It’s not clear why he left the Army. After this, Sarjeant tried and failed to become both a police officer and firefighter before working briefly at a zoo — a job he quit after just a few months reportedly because, as with seemingly all teens, he didn’t like being told what to do.

After deciding that shooting the Queen was his ticket into the history books, Sarjeant wrote in his journal, “I am going to stun and mystify the world with nothing more than a gun… I will become the most famous teenager in the world.”

Decision made, Sarjeant set about trying to get a hold of a gun with which to accomplish the task. Fortunately for the Queen, he was unable to do this thanks to strict UK laws related to gun ownership and the sale of live ammunition. Thus, he was both unable to acquire bullets for his father’s revolver and unable to acquire one of his own, even after successfully joining a gun club. Eventually, he did manage to purchase a Colt Python replica, which was modified to fire only blanks.

Despite the unmistakable handicap of not having a working gun, Sarjeant charged ahead with his plan to assassinate the Queen anyway, posing for pictures with his newly acquired firearm, as well as his father’s that he had no bullets for. He then sent these to a couple magazines along with a letter about what he was going to do. He also reportedly sent a letter to the Queen stating, “Your Majesty. Don’t go to the trooping of the color today because there is an assassin waiting outside to kill you”. This is a letter we should note didn’t arrive until 3 days after Sarjeant tried to shoot the Queen.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

Photograph of Queen Elizabeth II riding to trooping the colour in July 1986.

As for the day of the Trooping the Colour ceremony, Sarjeant waited patiently for the Queen who he knew would be vulnerable due to the fact that she would be riding a horse in the open, and not in her usual well-guarded carriage. As soon as Sarjeant spotted her Majesty, he rushed forward and fired all 6 blanks his gun held at her, something that understandable startled the Queen’s 19-year-old horse, Burmese.

The Queen, showing why she is often considered an ambassador for British stoicism, didn’t really react much other than calming her horse and then continuing on all smiles as if nothing had happened.

If you watch the live news reporting of the event, the BBC broadcaster likewise exhibits this same stereotypical British reaction, directly after the shots were fired calming saying, “Hello, some little disturbance in the approach road… Burmese receiving a reassuring pat from her Majesty Queen, but he’s a very experienced, wise old fellow…” And then, much as the Queen had done, continuing on as if nothing significant had just happened.

Prince Charles reflects on Trooping The Colour in 1981 – Elizabeth at 90 – A Family Tribute – BBC

www.youtube.com

Of course, seconds after the shots were fired, the Queen’s personal guard tackled Sarjeant and began treating him as you might expect her guard would a man who had just seemingly tried to kill their charge. Sarjeant reportedly later told the guards his reasoning for the assassination attempt: “I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be a somebody.”

Sarjeant was ultimately taken to jail where he had to be held in solitary confinement for his own protection, as apparently even British prisoners don’t take kindly to someone taking pot shots at the queen.

When it came to the trial, because Sarjeant’s gun only held blanks, he couldn’t technically be tried for attempted assassination. As a result, Sarjeant was instead tried under Section 2 of the Treason Act of 1842, for “wilfully discharging at the person of Her Majesty the Queen a cartridge pistol, with intent to alarm her”.

Funny enough, this act came about in the first place because of people taking pot shots at Queen Victoria, most notably when one John Francis on May 29, 1842 chose to point a gun at the Queen, but not fire. The next day, he did the same thing, but this time discharging his weapon, but without apparent attempt to actually hit her, at which point he was arrested and tried for treason. A mere two days later, another individual, John William Bean, did the same thing, except, again, there was no risk to the queen. In this case, Bean had loaded the weapon with paper and tobacco.

The problem here was that, while neither of these instances were individuals actually trying to kill the queen, they nonetheless were being charged with treason, a conviction of which meant death. This was something Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, thought was too harsh, which ultimately led to the passage of the Treason Act of 1842. This had lesser penalties for discharging a fire arm near the monarch with intent to startle said monarch, rather than kill. As for the sentence if convicted, this included a flogging and a maximum prison sentence of 7 years.

Going back to Sarjeant, said Lord Chief Justice Geoffrey Lane to Sarjeant during the trial,

I have little doubt that if you had been able to obtain a live gun or live ammunition for your father’s gun you would have tried to murder her majesty. You tried to get a license. You tried to get a gun. You were not able to obtain either. Therefore, for reasons which are not easy to understand, you chose to indulge in what was a fantasy assassination…. You must be punished for the wicked thing you did.

Or to put it another way, Sarjeant won’t be remembered by history as the guy who tried to kill the Queen, but the guy who tried (and utterly failed) to mildly startle her.

In the end, while Sarjeant did apologize for what he’d done in court and would later write a letter to the queen apologizing directly, he was nonetheless sentenced to five years in prison, though at least got out of the flogging part of the possible punishment. Sarjeant ultimately only had to serve three years, the majority of which was spent at Grendon Psychiatric Prison in Buckinghamshire.

After he got out of prison in October of 1984, he changed his name and very deliberately disappeared from the public eye, his desire for fame evidently having been quashed during his time being held at Her Majesty’s leisure

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

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MIGHTY HISTORY

How ‘The 4 Chaplains’ of WWII became Army legends

Chaplains do a lot for the troops they serve during war, whether it’s bringing comfort to a badly wounded soldier in their last moments or helping guide a troop through rough, emotional times. A chaplain may be of just about any religion, but no matter which he’s chosen, he’s there for all troops.


There was one instance where four chaplains proved exactly that. In the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943, John P. Washington (Roman Catholic), Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), George L. Fox (Methodist), and Clarke V. Poling (Reformed Church of America) would go down in history as “The Four Chaplains.”

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
The four chaplains, John P. Washington, Alexander D. Goode, George L. Fox, and Clarke V. Poling, are portrayed on this postage stamp. (US Post Office image)

These men came from a variety of backgrounds. According to ArmyHistory.org, Fox was already a hero of note – a Silver Star and Croix de Guerre recipient from his service as a medic during World War I. Washington had survived a BB gun accident that nearly blinded him and had cheated on a vision test to serve in the Army. Goode followed in his father’s footsteps to become a rabbi and had shown a talent for bridging religious divides. Poling’s father had been a prominent radio evangelist. Washington and Goode, coincidentally, had both been rejected by the Navy.

However, all four of these chaplains would soon meet their end at the hands of a German U-boat and, in doing so, would become known for their extreme bravery and poise.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
The USAT Dorchester, which was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat on Feb. 3, 1943. (US Army photo)

When torpedoes from the German submarine U-233 hit USAT Dorchester, it triggered a calamity. The stricken transport developed a sharp thirty-degree list, rendering a number of lifeboats unusable. Over a third of the personnel on board were quickly killed and many of the survivors were panicked.

The four chaplains took control of the situation, passing out life jackets to the troops who needed them. At one point, a navy officer went looking for a pair of gloves when Goode stopped him, handing over his own gloves, claiming he had an extra pair. Another soldier began to panic about not having a life jacket and Fox was heard saying, “Here’s one, soldier.” A survivor witnessed Fox giving the panicking soldier his own life jacket. The official summary of the statements by survivors noted merely that the chaplains on board had a “calm attitude” throughout the Dorchester’s last moments.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
Painting showing the survivors of USAT Dorchester being rescued by USCGC Escanaba (WPG 77). (USCG painting)

All four chaplains perished in the sinking of the Dorchester. They received Distinguished Service Crosses and the Purple Hearts posthumously. Their heroism, though, will live on.

The video below is part of the 75th-anniversary tribute to these men:

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US Navy didn’t have an admiral until after the Civil War

Career progression for officers in the old United States Navy used to be very different from what we know today. Officers had just four ranks open to them, midshipman, lieutenant, master commandant and captain. Congress was not open to creating more because ranks like “admiral” were a European tradition and the American republic wanted to distinguish itself from Europe.

Today’s naval officers have four levels of admiral to strive for, but it wasn’t until the Civil War that Congress gave them any chance of achieving just one admiral’s rank. Until then, achievement in the U.S. Navy was a mishmash of titles, commands and appointments. The Civil War changed that, and a long-serving naval hero would be the first to wear the rank. 

The list of pre-Civil War U.S. Navy legends is a long one. John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, Matthew C. Perry, and Isaac Hull all achieved the highest rank possible of a U.S. Navy officer, but none were called admiral. This fact understandably annoyed many naval officers in the early days of the Navy because many became captains early in their careers. 

Current insignia of the Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral, Admiral and Fleet Admiral, respectively. Bet John Paul Jones would be jealous. (Wikipedia)

With only four ranks available to them, the highest achievement anyone could reach was the honorific title of commodore. “Commodore” was bestowed upon officers who commanded a squadron, fleet, or any other group of ships. This fact also annoyed senior naval officers, who realized that a midshipman in command of gun boats could be called “commodore.”

While “commodore” wasn’t really a higher rank, officers who earned the title kept referring to themselves as commodore, even when their command ended. Despite the confusion and enmity it caused in the ranks, that’s just how it went from the American Revolution to just before the start of the Civil War.

In 1857, Congress finally created a flag officer’s rank, uncreatively called “flag officer.” Flag officers were little different from the Navy’s old commodores when it came down to it, however, and the rank didn’t last long. In 1862, flag officers were gone and “commodore” became an official rank. 

Then came Commodore David G. Farragut. 

Admiral David Farragut onboard the USS Hartford (Public Domain)

Farragut was practically a sailor from birth. He was certainly a sailor until his death. His father came to the British colonies that would one day become the United States in 1766 from Spain. When they declared independence, George Farragut joined the South Carolina Navy. After the war was won, he moved his family to Tennessee, where his son David was born. 

David Farragut joined the Navy at age nine and would spend most of the rest of his life at sea. He cut his teeth in combat during the War of 1812, fought pirates in the Caribbean, and served in the Mexican-American War. By the time the Civil War broke out, he was a 64-year-old Commodore given the command of the Gulf Blockading Squadron. 

Three months into this command, he led the Union assault on New Orleans, sailed up the Mississippi Rivers and, along with the Union Army of the Gulf, captured the remaining Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi River. Those victories cut the Confederate States in two, the Union’s primary strategy against the south. 

To honor the lifelong sailor and his recent string of wins, Congress created the rank of Rear Admiral on July 16, 1862. Farragut became the first Admiral in the U.S. Navy, and 13 other officers were promoted with him. In August 1864, Adm. Farragut and the Union Navy would capture Mobile Bay, the south’s last major port. The Confederacy was cut off from the rest of the world. 

Adm. David G. Farragut, ca. 1863 Mathew Brady Collection. (Army) 

Combined with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, Farragut’s attack on Mobile Bay secured a second term for President Abraham Lincoln and the successful conclusion of the Civil War for the Union. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations

If there was one single place that could be called the front lines of the clandestine Cold War, Berlin was it. The city, like the rest of Germany, was divided. It was a bastion, deep inside the heart of the Eastern Bloc, where Westerners could roam relatively freely within their sector by day and sneak into enemy territory under the cover of darkness.

A divided Berlin was the setting for so many stories, many of which are just now coming to light. And many of those stories are about Detachment-A, a Special Forces unit so secret, many in Special Forces couldn’t even know about it.

If World War III broke out, their mission was not to win — they were 110 miles behind enemy lines and couldn’t possibly win a pitched battle. Their mission was to just buy time for NATO. Along the way, their training helped develop the units and tactics used by American special operations the world over.


Retired Special Forces soldier and former CIA agent James Stejskal was among among the members of Detachment A. He served in it for nine years and just wrote a book on the recently-declassified unit, called Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90. Working behind enemy lines in an unconventional conflict is one of the foundational duties of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, but Detachment A had no misconceptions about what would happen in a war with the Soviet Union. They would operate as small teams inside and outside of Berlin, tripping up the Red Army in any way they could.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops
The veterans of Detachment A today.

“We were going to, basically, break out of the city. Two of the six teams would stay behind and cause trouble inside the city. Four of the teams would go outside the city,” James Stejskal told WATM. “A railway network, basically called the Berliner Ring, would carry the majority of the Russian forces from east to west. Our mission was to report on and sabotage the railway, communications… to cause as much havoc as possible.”

Stejskal grew up with the military. His father was drafted for World War II in 1941, before Pearl Harbor. He would earn a commission during the war as a combat engineer in Patton’s XII Corps. His father even went to Germany during the Korean War. The younger Stejskal was always interested in intelligence, commando, and what he calls the “darker arts.” He read about the British Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services during WWII and it captivated him. So when it came time for him to join the Army, the Green Beret called to him. He joined with Special Forces on his mind. But Det A was so secret, he didn’t know it existed even after he earned his place among the elite.

“I only found out about it on one of my exercises in Germany,” he recalls. “We jumped into it, into Southern Germany for our annual winter warmer exercise and one of the guys on the ground that met us was a civilian-clothes guy, speaking German. Only later on in the exercise did he start to speak in English to us and, before too long, I figured out that he was actually American. He told us he’s from a unit Berlin and he couldn’t really talk about it.”
This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

(Courtesy Photo)

That piqued Stejskal’s interest. He continued to dig into it and, as one thing led to another, he found himself in Berlin. Detachment A was the closest unit to the old OSS that a soldier could get in to. Speaking German, the men of Det A wore their hair long, civilian clothes, and worked with soldiers from other countries. Their commander was a Czech officer and their Sergeant Major was a German who was in the Bundeswehr, both veterans of World War II.

“It’s a strange feeling. We were 110 miles behind the East German border, with about 12,000 allied troops inside West Berlin surrounded by close to a million Russian and Warsaw Pact soldiers,” He says. “Oddly enough, I think most of us were very energized to be where we were.”
This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

This would be an Emmy-winning TV show today. Mad Men, eat your heart out.

During peacetime, they performed protection duties for VIPs and – most importantly – they trained. Detachment A trained with the British Special Air Service, who taught them to watch how the Germans and Israelis performed anti-terror operations, like clearing a hijacked aircraft. They soon became the U.S. Army’s first counter-terrorism team, long before Delta Force or SEAL Team Six. Charlie Beckwith, Delta’s first commander, came to Berlin to see Detachment A for himself.

“He came over to Berlin to see how we were doing things and took a lot of our training techniques and tactics and exported them back to Fort Bragg, about 1980,” Stejskal says. “The commander of SEAL Team Six, Marcinko, he also came over and observed. We did our operability training with Delta Force later on in the 1980s. We also trained a lot of the SEALs in the city.”

Aside from forming the foundations of modern Special Forces and SEAL Team operations, veterans of Detachment A also took their knowledge back home, joining police departments as local SWAT teams popped up around the United States. They trained law enforcement and military alike in building assault tactics, urban combat, and clearing buildings. But if war broke out, these soldiers had no illusions about their fate.

“I never thought about it being certain death, but it could have,” says Stejskal. “I think we would’ve been hard-pressed to survive more than 72 hours, but you never can tell. You’re anticipating you’re going in to a very bad situation, but you got the best tools, the best cover, and everything else. You have a confidence level that you can do it, but you, there’s always that element of uncertainty that you don’t have everything under control, so that’s part of the energy that fuels you when you’re there.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

3 of the stupidest wars ever fought in world history

There are a lot of good reasons humans have gone to war in the past few centuries, believe it or not. Halting or preventing genocides, declaring independence to give oppressed people a homeland, and of course, defending ones homeland from an invader would all be good reasons to take up arms against another country.

These wars were none of those things, and are presented in no particular order.


This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

It is, admittedly, a nice bucket.

The War of the Oaken Bucket

While the War of the Oaken Bucket sounds more like a college gameday rivalry, it was really a 1325 war between two Italian states, Bologna and Modena, that killed 2,000 people. It was really a proxy war between supporters of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy and before I get too far into the details here, what you really need to know is that it was started because some Modenese soldiers took the bucket from Bologna’s town well.

Even dumber is lopsided victory the Modenese won in defending that bucket. At the Battle of Zappolino, some 32,000 Bolognese marched on 7,000 Modenese – and were chased from the battlefield.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

Surprisingly unrelated to the ongoing debate over Canadian bacon being real bacon.

The Pig War

This is a war that could have devolved into a much larger conflict, which makes it even stupider than it sounds. On San Juan Island, between the mainland United States and Canada’s Vancouver Island, was shared by both American settlers and British employees of the Hudson Bay Company. While the island was “shared” in practice, both countries had a claim to the northwestern island and it created a lot of tensions in the region. Those tensions boiled over in June 1859 when an American farmer shot a British boar for tearing up his potato crop. Arguments ensued and the farmer was almost arrested by the British.

The U.S. Army got wind of the situation and sent Capt. George Pickett (later of Pickett’s Charge fame) with a company of soldiers, who promptly declared the island American property. Of course the British responded by sending in its trump card, the Royal Navy. For weeks, it appeared the standoff would spark a greater war between the two powers, but cooler heads prevailed and the sides took joint custody of the island.

This is how the poppy became a symbol for fallen troops

Adwarable.

War of the Stray Dog

Another war that is exactly what it sounds like, except this one really did cause a number of deaths, as well as a 1925 fight that saw 20,000 Greeks meet 10,000 Bulgarians on the battlefield. The catalyst was a dog that had gotten away from a Greek soldier. The soldier chased after the dog, even though it ran across the Greek border with Bulgaria. Bulgarian border guards, seeing a Greek soldier running through their territory, of course shot him.

The Greeks then began an invasion of Bulgaria, occupying border towns and preparing to shell and take the city off Petrich before the League of Nations intervened, negotiating a cease fire.

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