When did having a prisoner's last meal be anything they want start? - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

If you happen to ever find yourself slated to have society as a whole decide it would be best if they killed you, the silver lining is that in many parts of the world where this is still a thing, the last meal you ever eat is likely to be significantly better than the ones you’ve been consuming up to that point in prison. So how did this rather odd meal tradition come about and is it actually true death row inmates can get anything they want to eat?


To begin with, while it’s commonly stated that the whole idea of the last meal request came about due to Christ’s famed last supper, there doesn’t seem to be any direct evidence of this.

So how did the tradition actually start?

While history is absolutely littered with various cultures having feasts associated with death, such as the public feast for Roman gladiators the night before their potential date with death, called the coena libera, it wouldn’t be until slightly more modern times where we start seeing those being executed widely granted such a courtesy en masse. Once this did start to become a thing, in the early going, while wealthy individuals slated for execution, as ever, could generally request whatever they wanted any time, and were even often allowed servants to attend them as they awaited their execution, common things granted to the poor before their execution seem to have been at best a swig of some alcohol or the like.

Things began to pick up steam considerably on this front around the 16th century, however. Or, at least, things appear to have. It is entirely possible that such courtesies were widely granted before this to even the poor, with documented evidence of it simply not surviving. On that note, things like the printing press’ invention in the 15th century began making documented history of rather mundane events like the executions of random Joe Citizens more, well, documented. Thus, it may or may not be coincidence that accounts of such courtesies started to pop up more and more around the 16th century and progressing from there.

Whatever the case, by the 18th century, particularly in places like England, such practices were definitely around and relatively common. For example, in London it was common to allow the condemned to enjoy a meal with various guests, generally including the executioner, on the eve of the execution. Further, there is record of Newgate Prison death row inmates being allowed to stop at a pub on their march to their death at the Tyburn Fair gallows. At the pub, they would typically share drinks with their guards and executioner.

Over in Germany, perhaps the best documented case of the food practice around this time was that of Susanna Margarethe Brandt of Frankfurt. On January 14, 1772, Brandt, a poor servant girl, was executed for allegedly killing her newborn child. Eight months before this murder, she’d become pregnant by a journeyman goldsmith who she never saw again after they had sex. She subsequently successfully hid her pregnancy all the way to the eighth month when she gave birth secretly and alone in a laundry room on August 1, 1771. Unfortunately, when the baby came out, whether because newborn babies are insanely slippery or she just failed to realize it was about to drop, it fell from her and smacked its head against the stone floor. The child then, according to her, wheezed momentarily and then ceased to breathe. Brandt subsequently panicked, hid the baby in a stable and fled the scene. However, having no money or means to support herself, the next day she returned to Frankfurt where she was eventually arrested for murdering the child. Whether she did or not, and even if it would have survived anyway given it was premature, is a matter of debate even today, but she was nonetheless convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.

Shortly before her execution, however, she was the guest of honor at what has been dubbed the “Hangman’s Meal”- a rather large feast prepared for the condemned and various officials who had condemned her. If you’re curious, the meal in this case supposedly was “three pounds of fried sausages, ten pounds of beef, six pounds of baked carp, twelve pounds of larded roast veal, soup, cabbage, bread, a sweet, and eight and a half measures of 1748 wine.” Of course, the young Susanna reportedly ate none of it, merely drinking a little water as the officials feasted around her. Not long after, her head was lopped off.

Moving over to the United States where the idea of the “last meal” is perhaps best known today, it would appear this tradition did not initially jump across the pond when Europeans began setting in the Americas. Or, at least, surviving accounts of executions don’t seem to mention such courtesies, with some exceptions usually having to do with drink or something to smoke. For example, in 1835, the New York Sun reported shortly before his execution, murderer Manuel Fernandez requested and was granted a bit of brandy and some cigars, courtesy of the warden at Bellevue prison.

As the 19th century progressed, this sort of thing became more and more reported, as did eventually the practice of granting last meal requests, which by the early 20th century became quite common.

This all leads us to why. Well, as far as more historic cases, such as the early known instances in Europe, it’s generally hypothesized that people did it as a way for officials and executioners to more or less say to the prisoners “We’re going to kill you, but it’s nothing personal.” In essence, offering a bit of kindness to the condemned before their death with the prisoners themselves seemingly appreciating the courtesy, at least when it came to the alcohol.

On that note, it’s widely reported from this that the practice was instituted as a way to ensure the ghosts of the executed would feel friendly towards their condemners and executioners and thus not come back and haunt them, but we couldn’t find any primary documentation backing such a notion.

Whether that’s true or not, moving on to more modern times, the underlying reason why prison officials started doing this is not any better documented and there doesn’t ever seem to have been any laws requiring it, for instance. It’s just something people did on their own and the idea spread, presumably thanks to the media’s then love of reporting everything about the last hours of those being executed, and the general public eating it up across the nation.

Whatever the case, law professor Sarah Gerwig-Moore, co-author of Cold (Comfort?) Food: The Significance of Last Meal Rituals in the United States, posits of all this,

Last meals may be an offering by the guards and prison administrators as a way of seeking forgiveness for the impending execution, signaling that ‘it’s nothing personal.’… There are standard operating procedures that put up a wall between guards and prisoners, but nevertheless, there is a fondness between them… The last meal as a tradition is really a way of showing humanity between the caregivers of people on death row who are completely powerless and who come to care about these people — they feel complicit, and conflicted. The last meal is a way to offer, in a very, very small way, a show of kindness and generosity.

On this point, she also notes from her research, “The most generous meals correlate to the states that execute the most people — except for Texas…”

Texas, of course, having executed about 1,300 people in the last two centuries and trending the opposite of everyone else- actually increasing the number of executions in recent decades. For reference here, they’ve conducted 562 executions (almost half their couple century total) since 1982- apparently doing their best to adhere to the supposed 13th century Papal decree at the Massacre at Béziers, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” This translates to, “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.” Or to put it in the form that is apparently Texas’ state motto- “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” (Joking asside, Texas’ state motto is actually the single word- “friendship”, owing to the fact that the name of the state derives from the Caddo word for “friends” or “allies”.)

On the note of Texas, last meals, and being friendly, in 2011 Senator John Whitmire very publicly pushed for an ultimately got the special meal requests for those about to be executed abolished, at least officially. He noted of this, “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege… enough is enough… If you’re fixing to execute someone under the laws of the state because of the hideous crime that someone has committed, I’m not looking to comfort him… He didn’t give his victim any comfort or a choice of last meal.”

That said, proponents on the other side of that argument generally state that part of the point of offering such courtesies is to demonstrate that while the state is killing someone on behalf and with the express consent of the public as a whole, if it’s not done in a humane way, the public and the state are no better than the person being killed. As Professor Kathy Zambrana of the University of Florida sums up, “It comes down to how do you treat one human being when you’re about to take someone’s life.”

History professor Daniel LaChance of Emory University further chimes in, “These last meals — and last words — show the state is democratic and respects individuality even as it’s holding people accountable. As horrible as the deed they’ve been convicted of [is], the person still has some kind of dignity that we’re acknowledging.”

As to what drew the ire of Senator Whitmire to come against the then almost century old Texas tradition of the last meal, it was the meal request of death row inmate Lawrence Russel Brewer, who was sentenced to death for taking part in the rather horrific and senseless racially motivated murder of James Byrd Jr in 1998. So what did Brewer ask for? A couple chicken fried steaks, a triple decker bacon cheeseburger, a beef and cheese omelet, fried okra, a full pound of BBQ, a half loaf of bread, three fajitas, and a meat lover’s pizza. For dessert, he requested a container of Blue Bell ice cream and peanut-butter fudge. To wash it all down, he asked for three root beers.

When the time came, however, he ultimately ate nothing.

This all brings us to whether inmates can actually request and receive basically anything they want. While the media widely reports this is the case, including with this specific example of Brewer, this isn’t correct at all. In fact, in the vast majority of cases where inmates request something elaborate like this, what they actually get is just a simple, one-person version of it.

As famed “death row chef” Brian Price, who prepared well over 100 such meals, states, “The local newspaper would always say they got 24 tacos and 12 enchiladas, but they would actually get four tacos and two enchiladas… They only get items in the commissary kitchen. If they order lobster, they get a piece of frozen pollack. They quit serving steaks in 1994. If they order 100 tacos, they get two or three.”

That said other states and prisons sometimes do it differently. For example, in nearby Oklahoma, they allow the meal to be purchased from a local restaurant if desired, though capping it at … Other states that allow similar, such as Florida, are more generous, allowing for a budget of .

Of course, as you might have guessed from all we’ve said so far, those actually involved in making or acquiring the last meal may or may not pitch in if they so choose to go beyond. For example, in Cottonport, Louisiana, when one unnamed death row inmate requested lobster, the warden at the Angola prison, Burl Cain, went ahead and paid for a full lobster dinner, with Cain then dining with the inmate. You see, much like many historical instances of this sort of thing, before Cain’s recent retirement, he would always extend an invitation to the condemned to have their last meal with him and sometimes other select guests.

Of course, as with Susanna Brandt and Lawrence Brewer, it’s quite common for death row inmates to forgo eating their “last meal”, as the whole impending death thing generally leaves many without an appetite. To try to get around the problem, the so-called last meal is sometimes not actually the last meal at all, with it generally designated the “special meal” by prison officials. Even when it is literally the person’s last meal, it is usually scheduled far enough ahead that they might still be able to eat, but not so far away that they’ll have to go an extended time without eating before their execution. For example, in Virginia the rule is the meal must be served at least four hours before the execution. In Indiana, they go even further with the special meal often coming a few days before the big show, in a time when the person can actually enjoy it on some level.

For those who don’t have an appetite, they often share. For example, in places like Florida, in certain cases family or friends may be allowed to enjoy the meal with the condemned. Some inmates instead donate it to others. For example, in 1951, Raymond Fernandez, one of the “Lonely Hearts Killers” along with his lady love Martha Jule Beck, made a request that his meal be given to another inmate to enjoy.

On a similar note, in the early decades of this tradition in Texas, it was relatively common for the condemned to order and be given large portions of food for their special meal precisely so they could have enough to share with every other inmate on death row in the prison. This extra food request was usually honored by prison officials because it was seen not just as a mercy, but something that helped keep all those on death row in line directly before executions.

That said, not all inmates have trouble eating. Perhaps the most famous case of this was murderer Rickey Ray Rector. After committing two rather senseless murders, he attempted to kill himself by shooting himself in the head. However, he ended up living through the ordeal owing to shooting himself in the temple- a common way to kill one’s self in the movies, but in reality very survivable if medical aid is nearby, with the person effectively having just given themselves a lobotomy.

Despite his rather deficient mental faculties as a result of the whole bullet through the brain thing, Rector was controversially sentenced to death. The issue became even more of a media sensation after the fact when it was learned that while he happily ate his last meal, he chose not to eat the pecan pie that he got with it. Why? He told the guards he was “saving it for later.”

Once again showing the humanity of the guards involved, they went ahead and saved the piece of pie just in case there was a last minute stay of execution.

This all brings us to what prisoners actually usually request for their last meal. While exact fare is rather diverse (for example in one case a person simply requested a “jar of pickles” according to the aforementioned Brian Price), if categorizing this into groups, it often comes down to either things you’d find at McDonald’s or KFC (or literally McDonald’s or KFC meals in many cases), something fancy, or a favorite home cooked meal from the person’s childhood or the like.

As for the first two categories there, it’s noted that the vast majority of death row inmates come from rather impoverished backgrounds, and thus often go with favorite food items they are accustomed to and haven’t gotten while in prison- things like fried chicken, cheeseburgers, french fries, and soda, or the like. That said, some go the other way, picking foods they couldn’t really afford when in the land of the free, or may have never even tried at all, like lobster or filet mignon. As for favorite home cooked meals, the aforementioned Brian Price states when he prepared these meals, he always did his best to make it just as the inmate described, or even potentially getting a specific recipe from the condemned’s loved ones.

Regardless of what camp one goes with, some choose their last meal not on what they necessarily intend to eat, but rather to make a statement.

As for such statements, going back in time a bit in 1963, murderer Victor Feguer requested nothing more than a single solitary unpitted olive for his last meal. He then requested the seed be buried with him in the hopes that it would grow an olive tree as a symbol of peace and rebirth.

On a similar note, one Jonathan Wayne Nobles, who apparently had been on drugs since he was 8 years old living in foster homes, as an adult murdered two women while high on a cocktail of substances. In prison, however, he got off the drugs and became a devout Catholic and, not just model inmate, but model person. As one example, at one point he attempted to save the life of a random woman he heard about who was dying from kidney failure. However, while he did successfully find a doctor willing to perform the procedure to take one of his kidneys out and give it to the woman, it ultimately turned out the pair were did not have matching blood types and the woman died. Doubling down, Nobles later attempted to have all his organs donated after his execution, but this request was denied as Texas did not allow death row inmates to donate their organs. Going back to his last meal request, he simply asked for the Eucharist (communion).

To end on a lighter note- well… relatively speaking…- in the 1940s Wilson De la Roi, who murdered a man while in prison, was slated to be killed via a somewhat newly minted poison gas chamber in San Quentin. When asked what he wanted for his last meal, he merely requested a bunch of indigestion tablets. When asked why, he stated that he felt sure he was soon to have rather severe case of gas…

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

Articles

This massive air offensive had an adorable name

As the Allies put their plans into action in 1944 preparing for the eventual D-Day landings, they knew that they needed to break German logistics in Normandy. As part of the process, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle and the 8th Air Force targeted the rail networks that crisscrossed France.


But while the landings would be known as Operation Overlord and the evacuation of the Dunkirk was called Operation Dynamo, the rail bombings were named Operation Chattanooga Choo Choo.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?
The generals had a lot of choices for operation names, and they choo- choo- choosed that one. (GIF: YouTube/Simpsons Channelx)

The operation wasn’t named after the “The Simpsons” episode. That would be ridiculous, reader who apparently doesn’t understand that World War II happened before “The Simpsons.”

No, it was named after a popular song of the day. Glenn Miller had recorded the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1941 and someone on the staff must have liked it. That would be similar to the missile strikes on Syria having been named after a Katy Perry or Taylor Swift song.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?
B-17 formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, Aug. 17, 1943. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Despite the silly name, the operation was a huge success. The air forces wanted to limit German logistics while obscuring the site of the upcoming landings in Operation Overlord. So they dropped bombs all over occupied France but stipulated that two bombs be dropped at Pas de Calais for every one that hit in Normandy.

Adolph Hitler and his cronies were convinced the landings could come at Calais. The bombs ripped through German railways, marshaling yards, wireless radio stations, and other key infrastructure, softening up Normandy for the invasion.

All thanks to Operation Chattanooga Choo Choo.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia’s new battle tank is getting…a toilet?

War is hell — but for Russian tank crews, it’s about to get a bit more comfortable.

The designer of a new battle tank that is under development says the latest plans for the armored vehicle include a built-in toilet for its three-person crew.

Ilya Baranov, an official at the Ural Design Bureau of Transport Machine-Building in Yekaterinburg, announced the unusual feature of the T-14 Armata tank on March 7, 2019, during an interview with Russia’s TASS news agency.


Baranov said the toilet system is meant to help Russian tank crews during long missions with few stops or none at all.

A prototype of the T-14 Armata tank was unveiled publicly at a military parade in Moscow in 2015, but development has continued since then.

During rehearsals for that parade, there were three malfunctions of the prototype — including one that occurred on Moscow’s Red Square:

Танк «Армата» заглох во время репетиции парада Победы в Москве

www.youtube.com

Russian officials said at the time of the presentation that 2,300 of the vehicles would be in use in Russia’s armed forces in 2020.

They said the first battle-ready units should be sent to the 1st Guards Tank Regiment, which is part of the 2nd Guards of the Motorized Taman Division based in the Moscow region.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 1980 Olympics are the ‘cleanest’ in history. Athletes recall how Moscow cheated the system.

When Moscow hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics, games were being played not only in Soviet arenas but at the headquarters of the KGB.

The Kremlin was determined to host an untarnished event after the United States and 65 other countries boycotted the 1980 Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the secret police were heavily involved in the effort.

On the surface, they succeeded.


The Soviets performed like champions in Moscow, winning 195 medals, including 80 golds, enough to top the medal count. And the 1980 games stand alone today as the cleanest on record — the first and only since the testing of Olympic athletes began in 1968 to not disqualify a single athlete for using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.

But Soviet athletes and former members of the KGB allege that the Soviet authorities were using dirty tricks to boost performances while maintaining the appearance of a clean competition.

In a scheme that bears some resemblance to the state-sponsored doping program that Russia employed to boost its performance when it hosted the scandal-plagued Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, the Soviet authorities allegedly oversaw a broad effort to tamper with athletes’ drug tests.

In 1977, the KGB’s Fifth Directorate, which handled domestic security issues, created the Eleventh Department. Officially, the new entity’s task was “to disrupt subversive actions by the enemy and hostile elements during the preparation and holding of the Olympics.”

In reality, the employees of the Eleventh Department also worked in the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, which was accredited for the Olympics just two weeks before the games kicked off on July 19, 1980.

‘We Don’t Need Accidents’

Konstantin Volkov, who won a silver medal in the pole vault for the Soviet Union at the 1980 games, told Current Time that when it came time to hand in his urine sample for testing, an employee at the Moscow lab informed him that “we throw all this out” and handed him a different container already filled with urine.

“I said, ‘Well, I don’t have anything [in my urine]. I’m not scared,'” according to the 60-year-old Volkov. But the former pole vaulter said the lab employee insisted that “we don’t need accidents, so go turn this one in.”

When asked if other athletes, including from the 70 other countries competing in the games, were doing the same, the lab employee confirmed that they were.

“Yes, everyone is the same; no exceptions,” Volkov recalled the lab employee saying. “No one will have anything [in their samples].”

Retired KGB Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Popov told Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that two of his former colleagues were accredited to work in the Anti-Doping Laboratory during the 1980 Olympics.

“They filled the containers [of urine] that were purportedly to be from the athletes,” said Popov, who handled sports journalists at the time. “Naturally, they didn’t have any positive doping tests, and that’s how the samples were clean.”

In the event that an athlete like Volkov actually provided samples, they were “simply replaced with obviously clean ones,” Popov added.

Efforts to uncover doping among Olympians first began at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. By 1975, the International Olympic Committee had banned anabolic steroids, which were often used by Soviet athletes. The next year, at the Montreal games, 12 athletes were disqualified for using steroids.

Yet despite the expanded effort to catch drug cheats, not a single athlete was caught doping in Moscow four years later — a result that contrasts sharply with a 1989 report by the Australian parliament that alleged “there is hardly a medal winner at the Moscow Games, certainly not a gold medal winner…who is not on one sort of drug or another: usually several kinds. The Moscow Games might well have been called the Chemists’ Games.”

The Kremlin was under extraordinary pressure to ensure that no scandals tainted the Moscow games, the first Olympics hosted by a communist country, and on which the Soviet Union had spent an estimated id=”listicle-2646453422″.3 billion.

With the “whole world” watching, state-run Moskva 24 TV recollected recently, the Soviet government was looking to “eliminate all elements of chance.”

Soviet citizens, meanwhile, were essentially told to consider the games a view into their own future. And in the sphere of sports doping, they were.

First Moscow, Then Sochi

Thirty-four years later, the Kremlin was once again playing host to the Olympics, this time in winter, in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi. The 2014 Winter Olympics, won by Team Russia, was held up at the time as a symbol of Russia’s return as a sporting powerhouse and arrival as a tourism destination.

But those victories were soon tainted by allegations that Russia’s security services had been swapping out Russian athletes’ urine samples to avoid the detection of performance-enhancing substances.

“The Winter Olympics in Sochi debuted the ultimate fail-safe mechanism in the Russian’s sample-swapping progression,” concluded a 2016 independent investigation commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). “A protected Winter Olympics competitor likely to medal did not have to worry about his or her doping activities. They could dope up to, and possibly throughout, the games as they could count on their dirty sample being swapped at the Sochi Laboratory.”

Russian officials have never accepted the conclusions of what is commonly called the McLaren Report, and have engaged in a drawn out battle with WADA that continues to this day.

While Russia escaped a ban from the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the fallout from the scandal resulted in the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee in 2017, preventing Russian athletes from competing under the Russian flag in South Korea in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Tens of Russian athletes were banned from international competition, and 13 medals won in Sochi were stripped from Team Russia.

Most recently, the failure by Russian authorities to cooperate fully with WADA’s investigation into the Moscow lab and the country’s state-sponsored doping program led the international anti-doping watchdog in 2019 to impose a four-year ban on Russia participating in or hosting any major international sports competitions, including the Olympics.

Popov told Current Time that the tampering in Sochi was “a remake, let’s say, of what there was in the ’80s…. The experience gained in those years was employed at the Sochi Olympics.”

He added that in 1980 the U.S.S.R.’s State Sports Committee had a “special program” that provided steroids to athletes who, in their coaches’ opinions, had the best chances of winning.

In 1980, then-20-year-old Volkov was seen as a potential gold medalist in Moscow, having won the European Championships just months before.

During the 1980 Summer Olympics, he told Current Time, representatives of the doping program suggested that he use anabolic steroids.

“They had me come in with my coach, my father,” Volkov recalled. He said he was told that he needed to go through “a special drugs program to win a gold medal.”

“But we refused because, first of all, we didn’t know how this works with pole vaulting” or how it would impact a pole vaulter’s technique, Volkov continued. “They said, ‘OK, it’s on you. If there’ll be a failure, then you’ll answer for your actions.'”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam — part seven

Da Lat, Vietnam
April, 2017

My “one night in Da Lat” was a pleasant reprieve from the war and normal combat operations that we had been conducting. I’d heard of the city, but never believed all of the stories I’d heard. Stories about the beautiful architecture, the green and lush gardens, cool weather, and about the graceful people — certainly a Shangri-La such as this couldn’t exist in the Vietnam I’d come to know. But low and behold, it did.


In stark contrast to what I had come to expect, this beautiful city, now grown into a true metropolitan area filling much more of the mountain encircled bowl, represented a softer, subtler side of Vietnam.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

Not found in Da Lat were the loud bars and crowds of rowdy people. In their place were quiet enclaves where people would meet, have a drink, and talk in a quiet atmosphere. Here couples and families would stroll down the wide boulevards and enjoy the fragrant air and quiet neighborhoods. Also included was the central market area where you could find virtually anything you needed, from sweaters to shoes to fast food.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?
When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

40 years later and none of that has changed in Da Lat, it’s only gotten bigger and it was a pleasure to see that the city and people were as I remembered them.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

Follow Richard Rice’s 10-part journey:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

This article originally appeared on GORUCK. Follow @GORUCK on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is the first black graduate of the US Naval Academy

The military has traditionally been the most progressive institution in the United States. In 1948, long before the Civil Rights Movement swept America, the U.S. military had already begun to integrate. But that doesn’t mean the changes came quick or easy, especially for Wesley A. Brown, the first African-American to graduate from the Naval Academy in Annapolis.


Brown started classes at the academy in 1945, three years before President Truman ordered the military to stop separating black and white troops. Five men came before Brown as Midshipmen and were chased out of the academy altogether. Brown was the first to make it to graduation day – and he did it with a flourish.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

Brown was a Washington, D.C. native who grew up as a voracious reader, and was particularly interested in the history and heritage of African-Americans in the United States. He would work after school as a mailman at the Navy Department before he was nominated to attend the Naval Academy by New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Life at Annapolis was hard at first. Many did not accept him, and he was loaded down with undeserved demerits that almost found him drummed out.

“I get asked that question often, ‘Did you ever think about quitting?'” Brown said in a 2005 Baltimore Sun interview. “And I say, ‘Every single day.’ When I came to the academy I learned that there were all kinds of prejudices against Jews, Catholics, even the Irish and I looked around and thought that these prejudices were instilled in them by their families, and they could not be blamed for feeling the way they did.”

But he persevered and actually found that many more of his fellow Mids supported him. One of his most ardent supporters was a fellow track teammate, the son of a Georgia peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

Brown (right) at the dedication of the USNA Field House that would bear his name.

Brown graduated from the Naval Academy in 1949 joining the Navy’s civil engineering corps. He created infrastructure in the Navy’s most important postings from the Philippines and Hawaii to Cuba, and even Antarctica. For 20 years, Brown was an important officer in the service, even seeing action in Korea and Vietnam. He retired in 1969 and became a faculty member at Howard University, in his hometown of Washington, D.C.

The Seabee retired with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

To honor his achievements and his history as a USNA athlete, the academy dedicated its newest athletic facility in 2008 as the Wesley A. Brown Field House. Brown was on hand at the ceremony to mark the construction of the facility that would bear his name, decades after racism and prejudice nearly cost him his illustrious career. Brown died in 2012.

Military Life

The 7 best things about Air Force bases, according to a Marine

There are certain things that any junior enlisted Marine can expect to find on any Marine Corps base. Morning runs along the fence line, guarded by uniformed men with guns. Hundreds of people standing in lines, mindlessly marching towards the same, processed shelf-stable meat that has been rewarmed and served in precise measurements onto your mechanically-washed lunch tray, used continually since 1978. Daily wake-up times and roll calls. Accountability and uniformity of clothing, housing, grooming, and sanitation alongside weekly white-glove room inspections.


It sounds a lot like prison.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?
But with more stuff to carry.

There is an escape, however, and that escape is provided by the United States Air Force. Marine bases are built for efficiency, not comfort, so it comes as a huge surprise for a young jarhead when he breaches the walls of an Air Force base to find all the luxuries of a more refined culture. Here’s what that budding Marine might find:

7. Dorms. They live in dorms.

When I first got to Fleet Marine Force, I was assigned to First Battalion First Marine Division on Camp Horno in a metal squad bay with Vietnam-era graffiti spray-painted on the wall just underneath the “Condemned due to Asbestos” signs.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

Imagine a big tin can cut in half, laid cut side down and attached to a community hygiene area that’s void of individual shower stalls and doors for the toilets. Compare that to Air Force dorms: individual rooms with their own bathroom and dining area.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?
Welcome to Barksdale. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Curt Beach)

I’ve heard a rumor that they even have laundry services. As in, they have someone who will clean, fold, and return their clothing to them. I have literally had to put hot water and detergent into trash bags with my clothes, twist the end shut, and shake the bag furiously until my uniforms were clean enough for government work. #noexcuses.

6. The food scene is beyond reproach.

Steakhouses, burger joints, sushi restaurants, donut shops, ice cream parlors, and Chinese take-out are all within walking distance of any of the those magical “dorms” in which airmen reside. The real surprise is found in the Air Force “dining facility.” Marines are accustomed to chow halls, the simple, red-headed stepbrother of the proud and capable USAF dining facility. What chow halls lack in variety, they also lack in quality and general palatability.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

I was definitely ingesting calories, just not tasty or healthy ones. But Air Force dining facilities provide multiple lines with an assortment of delicious cuisine. Sandwich stations, fresh pizza, and salad bars all complement the hot-line, which has multiple choices of its own. It all balances nicely with an ice cream bar — complete with myriad toppings from which to choose.

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It’s like a buffet restaurant that you don’t immediately regret.

When done, you don’t even have to bus your own food tray; they clean up after you.

5. Largest exchanges and MWRs.

Imagine that gas station in the bad part of town where the guy behind the cash register would sell alcohol to the underage you while doing drug deals out the back. Now, picture that place selling PT uniforms and rank insignia. That is your basic Marine Corps Exchange.

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Pictured: A standard MCX.

The first time I made my way into an Air Force Base Exchange is reminiscent of when Harry Potter wandered through Diagon Alley, shopping for his wand. It was astonishing. It was a mall on steroids, complete with barbers, cars, motorcycles, and gun sales.  I felt like I was a kid in a candy store.

Also, there was a candy store!

4. Women!

There are women on an Air Force Base. A solid ratio, too, considering most Marine bases are at around 50-to-1, men-to-women. These numbers are based on personal experience on an infantry base notorious for being in the middle of nowhere and in no way reflects a scientific method of any kind nor census numbers from any reliable source.

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Pictured: Marine grunts processing statistics.

It was simply the feeling of a then-twenty-something junior enlisted Marine that the entire Marine base was a giant sausage party, ripe with testosterone. Kadena Air Base however, an Air Force base on Okinawa, was brimming with the fairer sex — a fact all of the Marines on the island are keen to and plan their weekends around.

3. The gym is legit.

Marine gyms are similar to prison weight yards: A bunch of high-protein-diet neanderthals angrily grunting at solid steel weights so old that the numbers have worn off. There is no air-conditioning and the staff is made up of short-term infantry Marines — every one of which know the best way to bulk up, just ask them… or accidentally make eye contact, whichever.

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There’s a 60% chance these Marines are stateside.

USMC gyms provide only free weights and pull-up bars, so if you want to do cardio, go outside and run. Conversely, Air Force gyms are masterfully designed temples of athletic excellence. All of which come complete with pools, yoga classes, Zumba courses, cardio centers, masseuses, basketball courts, racquetball courts, functional fitness areas, and juice bars!

2. They basically have water parks.

They have indoor pools, outdoor pools, water slides, and lifeguards. Just throw some overpriced hot dog vendors in a USAF water rec center and you’ve got yourself water park. They are open to all active duty service members and their families. Marine bases’ only use for pools is to drown-proof Marines annually… so all this Air Force water fun was crazy to witness.

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Welcome to Little Rock AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Scott Poe)

1. Officers on gate guard duty.

Seeing shiny rank insignia in the Corps is rare at best, and non-existent at the gate. But in the Air Force, you’ll see these young officers leading the charge with regard to showing picture IDs when entering their hallowed ground.

It’s seen as a display of leadership for them to take to the gate on mornings, Fridays, and sometimes even holidays. I’ve never personally been relieved of duty by an officer, it didn’t seem like a thing to hope for, so seeing it from another service — especially the Air Force — brought a single tear to my eye.

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Military members tend to make fun of the USAF for their high-maintenance personas, but if you examine the situation further, you may find they’ve earned it. The jokes will continue to fly and Marines will enjoy flaunting their comparative mistreatment, but the reality is that those same Marines know where they’re headed when liberty sounds.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Pando Commandos’ were more intense than you’d think

For the 2017 Army-Navy Game, the Army’s jerseys celebrated the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), the predecessor to the current 10th Mountain Division. Even with the spotlight on one of the most versatile units of WWII, many people don’t understand the bad-assery of the “Pando Commandos.”


After witnessing ski-mounted Finnish soldiers successfully take on and destroy two Soviet tank divisions, founder of the National Ski Patrol, Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole saw for the need ski troops in the U.S. Army. After much convincing of the Department of Defense, the 10th Light Division (Alpine) was formed from the combinations of the 85th, 86th, and 87th Infantry Regiments assembled, 9,200ft above sea level, at Camp Hale in Pando, Colorado on July 13, 1943.

The goal here was to train a rugged, mountain soldier, acclimated to the harsh mountain tops of the Alps and the frigid north of Scandinavia. Soldiers needed to be trained in both skiing and ice climbing. The 10th Light Division (Alpine) was soon ready to fight and was re-designated as the as the 10th Mountain Division, complete with unique tab and official unit patch.

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Because apparently you can’t use a cartoon panda holding a rifle on skis as your official heraldry. (Image via KnowYourMeme)

Meanwhile, the Germans had just set up defenses across the Alps, making travel from the south nearly impossible — a perfect task for the Pando Commandos.

The Germans at Riva Ridge on Mount Belvedere assumed that the near 1,500-ft vertical cliff would be impossible to scale and scarcely manned the position. The 10th Mountain, under the cover of night, blizzard, and complete silence, made the climb and assaulted the Germans as they slept. It was a complete success. The surprise attack grabbed the attention of Germans, who tried to make seven counterattacks to reclaim the peak. None were successful.

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At the time, skiing was mostly a college thing. As a result, their division had more degrees and were smarter than anyone else — a fact most 10th Mountain guys would happily tell you today. (Image via Boston Globe)

Today, the legacy continues on as the 10th Mountain still trains in the icy hell known as Fort Drum. The high-altitude training is perfectly suited for the mountains of Afghanistan.

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(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Liane Schmersahl)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Watch a Coast Guardsman jump onto a narco-sub full of cocaine

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro not only earned their pay recently but they also once again proved themselves worthy of their boat’s namesake. After struggling to catch up to a narco-sub filled with 17,000 pounds of cocaine, the crew hopped aboard the partially-submerged craft, opened the hatch, and apprehended the crew as the boats all sped along at the water line.


If for some reason you didn’t actually think the Coast Guard was cool, just watch this Coastie bang on a cartel submarine like they personally violated his property.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch Russian-made Venezuelan aircraft ‘aggressively’ shadow US plane

United States government security officials announced that a Russian-built Venezuelan aircraft “aggressively” shadowed an American aircraft over the Caribbean sea.

The US Southern Command, which is the agency responsible for security cooperation and operations in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, tweeted to condemn the incident, which it said happened during an American mission that was monitoring for illegal trafficking.

“[Venezuela] SU-30 Flanker “aggressively shadowed” a U.S. EP-3 aircraft at an unsafe distance July 19, 2019, jeopardizing the crew & aircraft. The EP-3 was performing a multi-nationally recognized & approved mission in international airspace over [the Caribbean Sea.]”


The tweet also slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for offering military assistance to the country’s far-left leader Nicolas Maduro. The US, in addition to most Latin American and European countries, recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s claim to be the rightful leader of Venezuela.

“This action demonstrates [Russia’s] irresponsible military support to Maduro’s illegitimate regime underscores Maduro’s recklessness irresponsible behavior, which undermines [the international] rule of law efforts to counter illicit trafficking.”

The US Southern Command reportedly said in a statement that the aircraft was “flying a mission in approved international airspace” when it “was approached in an unprofessional manner by the SU-30 that took off from an airfield 200 miles east of Caracas.”

‘The US routinely conducts multi-nationally recognized and approved detection and monitoring missions in the region to ensure the safety and security of our citizens and those of our partners,” the command added.

Venezuela has been home to widespread chaos and unrest after a US-backed bid by the Venezuelan opposition to remove Venezuelan President Maduro failed in April 2019 after senior Venezuelan government and military officials flaked on promises to switch sides and instead stood by the president.

The movement to oust Maduro had enjoyed widespread civilian support but previously failed to gain support from the military.

The effort came months after Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela in January and urged the military to turn against Maduro.

President Donald Trump previously said on Twitter in early June 2019 that Russian forces had withdrawn from the country, though the country reportedly denied it discussed with the president withdrawing its defense personnel.

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

10 of the best ‘Full Metal Jacket’ memes ever made

In 1987, Stanley Kubrick released one of the most acclaimed feature films that created a stir within the Marine Corps community — Full Metal Jacket. The movie was an instant hit and, suddenly, veterans and active-duty service members of all ages started memorizing the film’s dialogue and working it into their daily conversations.

Although the film debuted more than 30 years ago, its epic storyline and unique characters contribute to today’s popular culture. Full Metal Jacket still manages to engage audiences, even after we’ve seen it a dozen times. Now, in the age of memes, Full Metal Jacket lives on.


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Why isn’t he standing at the position of attention?

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We, of course, choose Animal Mother.

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Taking jabs at Pvt. Pyle never gets old.

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Too bad his vacation didn’t end well…

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“Ain’t war hell?”

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See!

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He was the guest of honor.

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So that’s what Animal Mother’s problem was. We were way off!

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Neither game has a winner…

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Now that’s a war face.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why apricots are the most despised fruit in the military

There are many unfounded superstitions within the military. Don’t eat Charms candy. Don’t whistle on a Navy vessel. Pilots won’t take off without being given a thumbs up. The list goes on.

Many of these superstitions have traceable roots that run back to a time when someone did something and terrible results followed, but there’s seldom any empirical evidence behind the practices. To that end, Marines and Marine veterans from all eras and battlefields will all attest to one fruit being such bad luck that even uttering its name will cause them to freak out.

This fruit is, of course, the apricot.


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​Vietnam was bad enough. Even if you liked the taste of the fruit, you probably shouldn’t do anything to make everyone ostracize you.

(National Archives)

While most troops tend to stay away from apricots — typically referred to as ‘cots, forbidden fruits, or A-fruits, to avoid being jinxed by uttering its true name — the biggest contributors to this superstition are Marine tankers and Marines on Amphibious Assault Vehicles.

Officially, the myth began in WWII. Many of the AAVs that were hopping around the islands of the Pacific would carry the fruit, as it was often found in rations. All the AAVs that were destroyed with their crewmembers inside were said to have a single piece of cargo in common: apricots. Of course, there isn’t much proof to back up this statement, as many vehicles that didn’t carry the forbidden fruit met the same fate.

The superstition continued into the Vietnam War. There, Marines were hesitant about even being near someone eating a ‘cot because they thought it meant that rockets or artillery were soon incoming. The belief was so strong that Marines would often force someone out of the tent if they tempted fate by biting into one of the stone fruits.

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You still won’t find any of them in a Marine Corps chow hall. Just grab an apple, they taste better and probably maybe won’t cause everything to explode or break down. Probably.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Janessa K. Pon)

It was also said that ‘cots were to blame for many Marines vehicles breaking down during the Persian Gulf War and the early days of the Global War on Terrorism before they were all but banned by the military overseas.

Until apricots were removed from MREs in 1995, many Marine tankers would opt out of bringing MREs into their vehicles altogether on the off chance that the A-fruit was hiding in one of the sealed bags. The myth continues to this day, and most Marines won’t even utter the name of the fruit, let alone touch them.

Articles

This is the only unit to see combat in every major conflict since WWI

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of numbered units throughout the military, many with storied histories and with extensive combat roles since the United States military began operating on the world stage in the early 20th Century. The U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment can trace its lineage all the way back to the American Revolution. The 1st Infantry Division can claim to be the longest continuously serving division in the U.S. military. Even the U.S. Navy has the famed USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned sailing ship in the fleet. However, no unit has been deployed to every major conflict of the last one hundred years except for one — the 5th Marine Regiment.


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Lance Cpl. Seth H. Capps, a member of the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, drinks out of Devil Dog Fountain following the 93rd anniversary of the Battle for Belleau Wood May 30. (Photo By Cpl. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

The 5th Marine Regiment’s story begins on June 8, 1917, when it was activated in Philadelphia as part of the United States’ buildup for World War I. The Regiment was assigned to the 4th Marine Brigade, which became a part of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division. The 5th would establish itself in Marine Corps lore for its actions at the Battle of Belleau Wood in the spring of 1918. They would also fight at places such as Aisne and St. Mihiel, as well as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

During the regiment’s service in France, it earned its nickname, “the Fighting Fifth,” and was awarded the French Fourragère for receiving three Croix de Guerre citations, a decoration members of the 5th Marines still wear today. The unit also had five folks (3 USMC, 2 USN) receive the Medal of Honor.

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A Collier’s drawing of Belleau Wood, circa 1921

The next major action for the Fighting Fifth was battling their way across the Pacific in World War II. The 5th landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942 and endured four months of grueling combat on there before being relieved with the rest of the division on December 9, 1942. For their efforts during Guadalcanal, the 5th Marines and the entire 1st Marine Division received their first Presidential Unit Citation.

After a rest and refit in Australia, the 5th Marines returned to combat in the late stages of Operation Cartwheel in late December 1943. They landed at Cape Gloucester, New Britain and would fight there until February 1944 when they were relieved by the 40th Infantry Division. The Marines had another period of rest and refit before encountering their greatest challenges of the war, at Peleliu and Okinawa.

The 5th Marines entered combat on Peleliu on September 15, 1944. Unbeknownst to them, the Japanese changed their tactics from attempting to stop landings at the beach to fortifying the entire island and creating a defense in depth. The lack of this knowledge would cost the Marines dearly. After the seizure of the airfield, the rest of the division set about clearing the remainder of the island.

By late October, the 5th Marines were the only regiment still combat effective and their commander, Col. Harold Harris, turned to siege tactics to remove the Japanese, telling his officers “be lavish with ordnance and stingy with men’s lives.” The Marines handed over operations of the island to the 81st Infantry Division and moved on to prepare for the invasion of Okinawa.

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The 5th Marines final action of the World War II was at Okinawa, where they landed along with the rest of the 1st Marine Division and 6th Marine Division on April 1, 1945. They were able to quickly clear the northern part of the island but Japanese resistance to the south would require extraordinary effort to reduce. The fight on Okinawa made places like Sugar Loaf Hill and Shuri Castle famous.In all of World War II four Marines from the 5th were awarded the Medal of Honor. Following the fall of Okinawa and the Japanese surrender,  the 5th was sent to China for occupation duty.

War soon found the 5th Marines again when they were deployed as part of the Provisional Marine Brigade to the Pusan Perimeter in South Korea to shore up defenses against the invading North Koreans. The Fighting Fifth then rejoined their World War II counterparts, the 1st and 7th Marines, in reforming the 1st Marine Division to take part in the landings at Inchon and the liberation of Seoul.

That winter the 5th Marines fought for their lives at the “Frozen Chosin” Reservoir. When the situation looked bleak and the Marines were falling back Gen. Oliver Smith told his command, “Retreat, Hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction!”

After their withdrawal from North Korea, the 5th Marines remained in the war and would hold off the Chinese attempts to break the Main Line of Resistance until the armistice in July 1953. The heroic efforts of the 5th Marines garnered ten more Medals of Honor and another Presidential Unit Citation. The regiment left Korea in 1955.

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Peacetime would not last long for the 5th as just over a decade after leaving Korea they were deployed as part of the troop buildup in Vietnam in May 1966. The 5th Marines and the rest of the 1st Marine Division would spend six years battling the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong. Their fighting spirit would make their name known once again, this time at places like Huế during the Tet Offensive. During the Vietnam War, seven members of the regiment received the Medal of Honor before returning to Camp Pendleton in 1971.

The 5th Marines returned to combat once again against the forces of Saddam Hussein in 1991 as part of Operation Desert Storm. 1st Battalion served as part of Task Force Ripper, while the 2nd and 3rd Battalions joined later and participated in the Liberation of Kuwait. The 5th Marines returned to the Middle East in 2003 as part of the Invasion of Iraq where they spearheaded the Marine Corps efforts. After defeating Iraqi forces, the 5th Marines remained in Iraq until October 2003, conducting security and stability operations. They would return to Iraq two more times, each time completing a 13-month deployment. Beginning in 2009 separate battalions of the 5th Marines began deployments to Afghanistan until the deployment of Regimental Combat Team 5 in 2011. 2nd Battalion was the last to deploy serving with RCT 6 in 2012.

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Cpl. Brian Conley of 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division drinks from the Devil Dog Fountain in the town of Belleau, France, May 26.After participating in the Memorial Day ceremony at the Belleau cemetery the Marines of 5th Marine Reg. walked to the town of Belleau to spend time with the locals and French marines to strengthen French-American relationships while memorializing losses in the battle of Belleau Wood. (Official Marine Corps photo by: Cpl. Daniel A. Wulz)

In the nearly 100 years since the 5th Marine Regiment was first formed, 24 Marines from the regiment have received the Medal of Honor, second only to the 7th Marines 36 recipients. The 5th Marines have also been a part of the 1st Marine Division when it received all nine of its Presidential Unit Citations, as well as earning two of its own during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. According to the Marine Corps website, the 5th Marines are the most decorated regiment in the Corps.

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