Prototype planes that lose competitions rarely get a second act. Just ask the YF-23 Black Widow II — two jets were produced and tested and now both will live out their days on display in museums. But there are a lucky few who have lost out only to get a second chance.
It’s rare, but, in a few cases, these runners-up made a huge impact with the United States military. The following planes made the most out of a second chance.
The XF4F-3 Wildcat in flight. This plane got a second chance after earlier prototypes fell short against the Brewster F2A Buffalo, which turned out to be a real lemon in combat.
Grumman F4F Wildcat
Believe it or not, the extremely successful Wildcat almost never saw the light of day. The original version of this plane lost a developmental competition to the Brewster F2A Buffalo. Thankfully, the Navy gave the Wildcat a second chance, and this plane ended up holding the line against the Imperial Japanese Navy’s force of Mitsubishi A6M Zeros.
Boeing’s Model 299 did very well in the competition — until a fatal crash knocked it out of contention.
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
The prototype of the B-17, known as Model 299, initially performed extremely well. It was faster and more powerful than the competition. Unfortunately, the Model 299 crashed during its second evaluation flight, killing both pilots on board. With the Model 299 destroyed and disqualified, Douglas won the competition with the B-18
Fortunately, the Army Air Force, who were extremely impressed with the B-17’s performance, found a legal loophole through and kept the program alive. It went on to be the mainstay of the Eighth Air Force in World War II.
A version of the F-86 beat out the XF-88 Voodoo, but the plane survived as the basis for the F-101 Voodoo.
McDonnell XF-88 Voodoo
In 1946, the Army Air Force was looking for a long-range, jet-powered escort fighter. McDonnell offered up the XF-88 Voodoo to compete for this contract, which lost out to a version of the F-86 Sabre.
Combat in Korea quickly proved that the U.S. still needed an effective penetration fighter. So, McDonnell scaled up the XF-88 to make the prototype of the F-101 Voodoo, which entered service in 1957 and didn’t fully retire until 1983!
The B-1A was cancelled, but made a comeback in the 1980s as the B-1B Lancer.
In the eyes of the Air Force, the YF-17 was inferior to the F-16 Fighting Falcon, but the Navy saw something in this design. After making some modifications, this prototype become the classic F/A-18 Hornet, which still serves today!
December 7, 1941 is a date which will live in infamy. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor took the lives of 2,403 Americans, wounded 1,178, and served as the catalyst for America’s entry into WWII. Multiple factors like Japanese misinformation, American focus on the war in Europe, and the fact that the attack took place on a Sunday contributed to the high loss of American life that day. Despite the surprise nature of the attack and the low state of readiness of American military forces in Hawaii, American servicemen fought back valiantly. With the sky littered with Japanese aircraft, American aviators did their best to get airborne and repel the attack. Though 14 Army Air Corps pilots tried to take off, most were shot down as they taxied. However, a few of them managed to get airborne and take the fight to the skies.
2nd Lt George Welch and 2nd Lt. Kenneth Taylor spent the evening of December 6th at the Wheeler Field officers club and an all-night poker game. The next morning, as the two men discussed the idea of an early morning swim, they were alerted to the attack by the sound of distant gunfire and explosions. Miles away from their airfield at Haleiwa, they phoned ahead to have their Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighters fueled and armed before they hopped into Taylor’s Buick and raced toward the fighting. Reaching speeds of 100mph on their dash to the airfield, the two men were attacked by Japanese planes who attempted to strafe them on the ground.
When they reached the airfield, their P-40s were only partially loaded with ammunition. Despite this, and with Taylor still wearing his tuxedo pants from the night before, the two men took off. They engaged a formation of Nakajima B5N2 Kate torpedo bombers and shot down two each. However, one of Welch’s .30-caliber guns jammed and Taylor was hit in the arm and leg by a tail gunner, and the two returned to the airfield.
As they refueled and rearmed, their mission was debated. “We had to argue with some of the ground crew,” Welch recalled. “They wanted us to disperse the airplanes and we wanted to fight.” As their planes were refitted and Taylor was advised to remain grounded to have his wounds treated, a second wave of Japanese planes appeared. With Welch’s jammed gun still not cleared and Taylor refusing medical treatment, the two men took off again. Soon after, Taylor caught the attention of a flight of Mitsubish A6M2 Zero fighters. Welch managed to shoot one of the Zeros off of Taylor’s tail before pursuing an Aichi D3A Val dive bomber out to sea and shooting it down.
Welch and Taylor are officially credited with six kills during the attack on Pearl Harbor. “We went down and got in the traffic pattern and shot down several planes there,” Taylor recalled. “I know for certain I shot down two planes or perhaps more; I don’t know.” Taylor later appeared before Congress to testify during an investigation into the attack.
For their actions, Welch and Taylor both received the Distinguished Service Cross. Though General Henry “Hap” Arnold recommended both men for the Medal of Honor, the honor was denied by their commanding officer because they had taken off without permission.
The other three aviators who managed to take off, 1st Lt. Lewis Sanders, 2nd Lt. Philip Rasmussen (who was still in his pajamas), and 2nd Lt. Gordon Sterling, were at a slight disadvantage compared to Welch and Taylor. Though their Curtiss P-36 Hawk fighters were very similar to Welch and Taylor’s P-40s, the P-36 had a less powerful radial engine. Still, the three men managed to get airborne. “We climbed to 9,000 feet and spotted Japanese ‘Val’ dive bombers,” Rasmussen recounted in a 2002 interview. “We dived to attack them.” Sanders is credited with one enemy aircraft kill. Sadly, after this initial attack, Sterling was shot down and drowned after getting out of his plane.
Rasmussen, who witnessed Sterling’s death, charged his guns only to have them malfunction and begin firing on their own. In an incredible stroke of luck, a Japanese plane flew into the uncontrolled burst of fire and exploded. Rasmussen got his guns back under control and, after shaking two Zeros off his tail, managed to score one more kill. That was when he felt his aircraft get hit.
“There was a lot of noise,” Rasmussen recalled. “He shot my canopy off.” Rasmussen’s P-36 had lost its hydraulics and tail wheel. Nursing his badly damaged plane back to the airfield, he managed to land without his brakes, rudder, or tail wheel. It was later discovered that two 20mm cannon shells had lodged themselves in the bulky radio behind the pilot’s seat which saved Rasmussen’s life.
2nd Lt. John Dains, 2nd Lt. Harry Brown, and 2nd Lt. Malcolm Moore also managed to get airborne at Pearl Harbor. Moore did not score any kills during the attack and Dains’ suspected kill remains unconfirmed. Brown, however, is credited with the final American kill of the attack.
Of the 29 Japanese planes shot down at Pearl Harbor, these men were responsible for 10. Though America’s war in the Pacific began with a badly bloodied nose, men like Welch, Taylor, Sanders, Rasmussen, and Brown gave the Japanese a taste of what was to come.
Now, when this video first appeared, it was believed to have been from the cockpit of a F-16. According to FlightGlobal.com, though, the actual plane was a CT-155 Hawk assigned to NATO Flying Training Canada.
For a single-engine fighter like the CT-155, this bird strike prove to be very fatal. As heard in the video, the two pilots on board tried to get the engine to re-start. When that fails, there’s only one option left for the pilots: GTFO.
That’s exactly what these pilots did, leaving the stricken Hawk to its fate.
The pilots who ejected, RAF Flight Lieutenant Edward Morris and Captain John Hutt of what was then the Canadian Defense Forces Air Command (now the Royal Canadian Air Force), were both recovered alive and well. It was a close call. You can see that close call from their perspective below.
Brigadier General Chuck Yeager is best-known for being the first man to break the sound barrier. He was also a World War II ace and saw action in Vietnam as commanding officer of the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying B-57s. But did you know that this aerial all-star also logged time in the MiG-15?
The MiG-15 in question was flown from North Korea to Seoul by No Kum-sok, a defector who, upon landing, learned that he was fulfilling a $100,000 bounty by delivering the plane into allied hands. The MiG-15 was quickly taken back to the United States and put through its paces.
The last moments of a MiG-15 — many of these planes met their end in MiG Alley.
Test pilots are known for getting in the cockpit of new, unproven vehicles and using their skills and adaptability to safely maneuver vessels through early flights. They’ve flown the X-15 into space and are responsible for putting the newest fighters, like the F-35, through their paces. But what’s just as important (and half as reported) is role they play in exploring the capabilities of foreign aircraft, like a MiG, Sukhoi, or some other international plane.
This is why the “Akutan Zero,” a Japanese plane that crashed on June 4, 1942 over Alaskan soil, was so important. It gave the US invaluable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of an enemy’s asset, informing the design of the F6F Hellcat.
This is the MiG-15 that was flown to South Korea by a North Korean defector.
The MiG-15 of the Korean War wasn’t quite as fearsome as the Zero was in World War II. In fact, the F-86 dominated it over “MiG Alley.” But finding out just how good – or bad – the MiG-15 really was still mattered. After all, American allies, like Taiwan, ended up facing the MiG-15 later in the 1950s (the Taiwanese planes ended up using the AIM-9 Sidewinder to deadly effect).
The MiG-15 still is in service with the North Korean Air Force, meaning Yeager’s half-a-century-old flight still informs us today.
Learn more about Yeager’s time flying the MiG-15 in the video below.
When the U.S. military entered World War II, American businesses geared their entrepreneurial efforts toward supporting the war effort as a means of survival. This meant the majority of raw materials were used to produce weapons, ammunition, armor, aircraft, and other necessary equipment. Zippo Manufacturing Company had a decade of experience selling their flip-open lighters to the consumer market, but during the war they exclusively produced Zippo lighters for American service members.
The classic Zippo design garnered respect among the millions of Americans serving overseas. These steel-cased lighters had a black crackle finish and no customization, engravings, or art work on them but were durable and could function no matter what elements troops found themselves in. An ad in 1942 wrote, “Zippo Windproof LIGHTERS have acted as rescue beacons for men in open boats, as a guide through dense dark jungles and as a means for lighting fires for food and warmth.”
Ernie Pyle, a famous war correspondent and newspaperman, developed a special relationship with George Blaisdell and personally received a shipment of 50 Zippos prior to the D-Day invasion. “And another 100 will be sent to Ernie every month for the duration,” Blaisdell added.
Pyle famously penned a letter to Blaisdell on Oct. 29, 1944: “If I tried to tell you how much these Zippos are coveted at the front and the gratitude and delight with which the boys receive them, you would probably accuse me of exaggeration,” he wrote. “There is truly nothing the average soldier would rather have.”
Following Pyle’s tragic death in the Pacific in 1945, Blaisdell immediately sent 600 Zippo lighters engraved with “In memory of Ernie Pyle” to the captain of the USS Cabot to hand out to the crew who counted Pyle as one of their own.
Post-World War II, the increasingly popular Zippo lighters became available to the general public once again. The connection between Zippo and the U.S. military didn’t stop there, and during the Vietnam War Zippo emerged as the most popular item carried in the pockets of American service members. Unlike the cigarette lighters from previous wars, these Zippos were personal mementos specifically customized with unit logos, maps of Vietnam, and both humorous and crude slogans.
“You had people who were discontent people who wanted to express heartfelt emotions,” said Bradford Edwards, a Vietnam-era Zippo collector and artist. “And here was a small canvas that may be the last thing some of these guys had to say.”
One soldier’s Zippo had the logo for the United States Army Air Defense Center in Fort Bliss, Texas, on the front, while the lid reads, “When I die bury me face down so the whole world can kiss my ass.” On the back, the case reads, “5th Special Forces Group – 1st Special Forces Viet Nam 69-70” with an engraving of a U.S. Army Special Forces green beret. The lid reads, “Nha-Trang Viet Nam.”
During the Vietnam War, Zippos were sold at the PX or by locals operating the street side black markets. Their popularity in wartime culture surged with “Zippo Tracks” being adopted as a nickname for flame throwing tanks, and “Zippo Raids” used to describe the actions of soldiers burning down hooches or villages.
Although Zippo remained a treasured collector’s item, during the 1980s a surge of fake lighters saturated the market. Zippo continues to produce military-themed lighters to commemorate their storied legacy, although the artwork is more general. The Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania, is home to Zippo and Case Knives flagship stores, where collectors and tourists alike can take a deeper dive into the history of Zippo and their involvement with American service members.
Samuel J. Seymour was away from his home for the first time at just five years old. He was with his father on a business trip to Washington, D.C., a city filled to the brim with soldiers and other men with guns. He was nervous and scared at the sight of so many firearms. To put him at ease, his nurse decided to take him to a play, and President Lincoln himself would be there.
It was an event he would never forget, as he recounted it to a TV audience and celebrity contestants Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, and Lucille Ball some 90-plus years later.
“It wasn’t a pleasant thing,” Seymour told Meadows when describing his night at Ford’s Theater on a 1956 episode of I’ve Got A Secret. “I was scared to death.”
When Lincoln arrived, he smiled and greeted the crowd from a flag-draped booth in the balcony. The President’s smile and the mood of the theater relaxed the young boy. Until a shot rang out. Strangely, the five-year-old Seymour was very concerned about the man who appeared to have fallen from the balcony of the theater in the middle of the performance. He had no idea someone had been shot, let alone that it was President Lincoln.
“Pandemonium” then swept through the theater, Seymour recalled, as his nurse hurried the boy out of the theater. He heard calls of “Lincoln’s shot! The President is dead!”
Seymour died two months after his TV appearance.
The man, of course, was Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Booth waited until the play’s funniest line when the shot would be masked by the sound of laughter. Booth calmly walked into the President’s booth, barred the door, and fired a single shot into the President, who was laughing at the line. Union Army Maj. Henry Rathbone, who accompanied Lincoln that night with their wives, fought Booth for his single-shot derringer and was stabbed for his effort. His constant wrangling with Booth caused the assassin’s boot spur to get tangled in the flag as he jumped from the President’s box. This is why Booth landed awkwardly on his leg.
Many in the crowd were confused. Not everyone heard the shot, and many thought it was still part of the play. Little Samuel Seymour didn’t understand it either.
“I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat,” the old man said. “That night I was shot 50 times, at least, in my dreams – and I sometimes relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.”
1430 Hrs. Local, Sept. 6, 1976. Sea of Japan near Hakodate Airport, Hokkaido Prefecture.
Jet fuel burned faster than he calculated as he pressed lower under the overcast, down to the gray black waves only 150-feet above the Sea of Japan. He hauled the heavy control stick left, then corrected back right in a skidding bank around a fishing vessel that came out of the misty nowhere in the low afternoon cloud cover. White vapor spiraled long “S”s from his angular wingtips in the violent turn nearly touching the wave tops.
That was the second fishing boat he had to bank hard to miss at nearly wave-top level. Rain squalls started. The huge Tumansky R-15 jet engines gulped more gas by the minute. This plane was not made to fly low and subsonic. It was built to fly supersonic in the high altitude hunt for the now-extinct American B-70 Mach 3 super-bomber that was never put into service.
He had to find the Japanese Self-Defense Force F-4 Phantoms that were no doubt in the air to intercept him. If they didn’t shoot him down first, they would lead him to Chitose Air Base where he may be able to land safely. If his fuel held out. But the Japanese Phantoms were nowhere to be found.
So, he hauled the stick back into his lap and the big, boxy Foxbat clawed through the clouds in its last, angry climb before succumbing to a fuel-starved death.
Eventually, he found an airport. Hokodate Airport. A 6,000 foot runway. Not long enough for his MiG-25 though. He’d make it work. On final approach to Hokodate he nearly collided head-on with a 727 airliner. It was better than ditching where he’d lose his biggest bargaining chip. His top secret airplane. He managed a rough landing, running off the end of the runway, climbing out of jet, and firing his pistol in the air when curious Japanese began snapping photos of the incident from a roadway.
It was, as I recall, the biggest thing that had ever happened in my life. I was 15 years old then.
We raced to the hobby shop on our bicycles to consult with the older men who owned the store. What would this mean? Was it real? Would there be a model of the MiG-25 released soon? We poured over the grainy newspaper photos, the best we had ever seen, again and again. We could not believe it, but it was real. The most exotic, highest flying, fastest, most secretive fighter plane on earth had just fallen into American hands. We got our first look at the mysterious MiG-25 Foxbat.
Flight Lieutenant Viktor Ivanovich Belenko, an elite MiG-25P pilot of the Soviet Air Defense Forces, had defected with the most secret operational combat aircraft of the era.
U.S. analysts initially the believed the MiG-25 was a highly maneuverable air superiority fighter with sophisticated lightweight jet engines. The reality was the MiG-25 had massive, heavy engines and was made of mostly simple materials using vacuum tube technology
(The Koku Fan)
What happened in the aftermath of his defection 42 years ago influenced aircraft design, dispelled myths about the Soviet Union, angered one nation and offered relief to another while leaving a third in an awkward diplomatic bind. It was one more minor tear in the tapestry of the Iron Curtain as it slowly unraveled around the edges, like a loose thread that continues to pull out longer and longer.
“What did they think and [what do we] think now? Traitor! Military pilots consider it a huge disgrace for the Air Force of the USSR and Russia.” That is what the administrator of the most active social media fan page for the Russian Aerospace Forces told TheAviationist.com when we asked them what Russians think of Viktor Belenko today. While the Iron Curtain has come down, the hardened attitudes about Belenko betraying the state remain. The Russians still hate Viktor Belenko for stealing their most prized combat aircraft at the time.
In the U.S., “secret” units have been operating Russian MiGs and Sukhois quietly over the American west for years. But Belenko’s defection in 1976 with a Foxbat, the NATO codename for the MiG-25 (the Russians don’t call it that), was an intelligence coup that not only provided technical data and benchmark insights for decades to come, it also provided a core-sample of Communist life in the Soviet Union.
According to Belenko, things were bad in the Soviet Union. In the 1980 chronicle of Belenko’s defection, “MiG Pilot: The Final Escape of Lieutenant Belenko”, author John Baron wrote of rampant alcoholism within the ranks of the Soviet air force. Living facilities at bases in the eastern Soviet Union were poor since some of the bases the MiG-25 operated from had not yet been upgraded to accommodate the larger ground crews needed to maintain the aircraft. Food quality for enlisted maintenance crews was so bad the men refused to eat. While food for officer/pilots like Belenko was much better, when Belenko reached the United States after his defection he mistakenly ate a can of cat food and later remarked that, “It was delicious. Better than canned food in the Soviet Union today!”
But Belenko entered a netherworld when he defected from Russia. While U.S. President Gerald Ford granted Belenko asylum in the U.S. and the Central Intelligence Agency gave him a stipend and built a life for him as a pilot and consultant in the U.S., neither side could fully trust the turncoat. When Belenko arrived in Japan he was given the book by Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch”. Despite his oath of military service to the Soviet Union, Belenko feared and was repulsed by the deep social injustice of Communist Soviet Russia. He had seen people inside the Soviet Union suffering like Denisovitch from poverty, hunger, and oppression. Belenko wanted out. And so, he stole his Foxbat, flew it to Japan and never looked back.
In a footnote to Belenko’s defection with the MiG-25P Foxbat, I did get my scale model airplane kit shortly thereafter. The Japanese hobby brand Hasegawa had sent photographers to Hokodate Airport to photograph the MiG-25 before it was concealed, examined by the U.S. and Japan, and shipped back to the Soviet Union in pieces. Within months of the MiG-25 landing in Japan, Hasegawa released a 1/72nd scale plastic model kit of the MiG-25 complete with decals for Viktor Belenko’s aircraft. It sold for U.S.
Japanese hobby brand Hasegawa obtained photos of the MiG-25 at Hokodate Airport before it was covered and quickly produced an accurate 1/72nd scale plastic of the aircraft.
(The Squadron Shop)
Viktor Belenko continues to live in the United States according to most sources. He was photographed in a bar in 2000 where he was recognized, photographed and spoke openly to people about his experience defecting from the former Soviet Union. In 1995, he had returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and safely returned to the U.S. afterward. Belenko told an interviewer he had enjoyed going on fishing trips in the U.S. with test pilot and fighter ace General Chuck Yeager.
Viktor Belenko adapted well to life in the U.S., flying for the U.S. military and enjoying U.S. culture. He even got married in the United States.
There have been other famous defections by military pilots, including a shadowy attempted but apparently failed defection with a Soviet Tu-95 “Bear” heavy bomber. Author Tom Clancy rose to prominence on his breakout fictional novel “The Hunt for Red October” about a Russian captain defecting with a Soviet nuclear powered missile submarine. One of his fictional characters in the book even refers to the Belenko defection saying, “This isn’t some pilot defecting with a MiG!”. But fictional accounts aside, now that the Iron Curtain has long since come down it is unlikely we will ever see a defection from any country like Viktor Belenko’s.
Featured image: Photos of the then-secret MiG-25 Foxbat were taken from a nearby road before it could be covered.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Richard James Flaherty was born on November 28, 1945.
Unbeknownst to his parents, Richard and his mother, Beatrice Rose, shared incompatible blood types (Richard, Rh-Positive; Beatrice, Rh-Negative). This is a dangerous condition that can lead to serious complications for the fetus or even death. Thus, when Richard was born, he was different.
The incompatibilities in the blood caused hormonal imbalances and stunted his growth. When he reached adolescence, Flaherty was small compared to his peers. Flaherty would be considered a dwarf in medical terms, meaning that his height was less than 4’ 10.’’
Short in size he might have been, but short in courage he wasn’t. When the Vietnam War heated up, Flaherty volunteered for the Army. However, he was initially turned down because of his size. It was only after a determined effort, which included the involvement of his local Congressman, that he managed to acquire a waiver.
In 1967, Flaherty attended Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the infantry and assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. He deployed with the Screaming Eagles to Vietnam and served as a platoon and recon platoon leader.
During that 13-month tour to Vietnam, Flaherty received the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for valor, respectively, the third and second highest award for bravery under fire, and was wounded three times.
His Silver Star citation offers a brief glimpse to Flaherty, the man. The action took place on April 20, 1968, when Flaherty’s platoon was ambushed and came under withering enemy fire.
“Throughout the battle, he repeatedly exposed himself to the hostile fire in order to better direct the suppressive fire of his squads. Lieutenant Flaherty immediately called a 90 Millimeter recoilless rifle team to his position after having spotted an enemy bunker position to his front, which was delivering automatic weapons fire on his platoon. Lieutenant Flaherty then personally directed and assisted the 90 Millimeter recoilless rifle team in an assault of the enemy bunker, braving up the intense hail of hostile fire. Under Lieutenant Flaherty’s astute direction and leadership, the enemy bunker was swiftly destroyed, enabling his platoon to advance and continue its devastating attack against the enemy.”
After his tour of duty was over, he applied for Special Forces training. But it wasn’t easy. To even attempt Special Forces training, Flaherty had to gain six pounds and get another height waiver.
After successfully graduating the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), also known as Q course, Flaherty was assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group. He went back to Southeast Asia with the 46th Special Forces Company as a Special Forces Operational Detachment A (SFODA) commander. His ODA was tasked with training the Royal Thai Army in counterinsurgency operations and prepare them for a deployment to Vietnam.
ODA’s are the tactical arm of the Special Forces Regiment. Comprised of 12 Special Forces soldiers, an ODA can operate independently behind enemy lines for long periods of time without supervision.
In 1970, Flaherty was reassigned to the 10th Special Forces Group, where he commanded another ODA and then an Operational Detachment Bravo (ODB), a headquarters element. The following year, 1971, he was discharged from active duty and transferred to the Army Reserves, where he served until 1983.
Flaherty was unfazed by the criticism he continued to receive throughout his life.
In a contemporary interview, he had said that “I’ve taken a lot of kidding about my size. I just tell them I’m 35 pounds of muscle, 14 pounds of dynamite and one pound of uranium-238, and it gets a lot of laughs.”
Flaherty was killed during a hit and run attack on May 9, 2015, in Miami. He had spent his last years alive homeless. In his death, however, he found his home next to the woman he had loved, Lisa Anness Davis.
Former police officer David Yuzuk has written a superb book on Flaherty and his amazing life. You can check it out here.
Over many centuries, various armies have created and deployed all sorts of weapons to be used against their enemies on the battlefield. Some of these inventive weapons go under modifications and come out the other end even bigger and more badass than before. On the flip side, some old school engineers and scientists get froggy and develop a liquid mixture that they don’t fully understand before they let it loose into enemy territory. Once such infamous mixture that is still affecting troops today, years after exposure: Agent Orange.
1. It’s full of deadly ingredients
When you combine 2,4,5-T (Trichlorophenoxyacetic) acid with 2,4-D (Dichlorophenoxyacetic) acid, you produce one of the worst herbicides mixture known to man — Agent Orange. The idea of destroying the enemy’s landscape is a historic military tactic, but using an herbicide was considered new and clever development.
However, the chemical compound that could achieve the damaging goal was considered a new type of weaponry. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. stored the Agent Orange liquid in 55-gallon drums that were waiting to be picked up and sprayed.
2. It’s use was codenamed ‘Operation Ranch Hand’
The idea was to use the chemical to burn up the enemies’ vegetation and decrease the number of locations they had available to hide.
During a nine-year period, it’s estimated that 20-million gallons of the toxic liquid were sprayed over the jungles of south-east Vietnam. This mission to deploy the herbicide was known as Operation Ranch Hand.
During World War 2, England and the U.S. came up with the idea of using these herbicides but didn’t deploy the liquid compounds on the battlefield. Although Agent Orange is the most infamous type, there were also Agents Blue, Pink, Green, Purple, and White. Each different type varied in mixtures and strength.
It’s estimated nearly two and a half million troops were exposed to Agent Orange during their time in Vietnam.
4. It contains TCCD
In addition too Trichlorophenoxyacetic and Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, Agent Orange also contains Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin. TCCD is known for being extremely dangerous, even in small amounts. When troops serving in Vietnam came home, many reported side defects of cancer, congenital disabilities (in their children), miscarriages, and skin diseases among others.
According to the History channel, evidence of Agent Orange can still be found in many areas where the chemical was dropped — nearly 50-years ago.
Check out the HISTORY‘s channel below to watch the interesting breakdown on such a controversy chemical.
The days after the September 11th attacks were very different from the United States’ “business as usual” of post-Cold War days gone by. As the days stretched into weeks, the culture of the U.S. changed a little bit, and you could see it everywhere, from entertainment media to individuals across the country. The mood suddenly shifted.
For retired four-star general Wesley Clark, the mood shift was an entirely different level when he met old friends at the Pentagon.
Clark was a Presidential candidate in 2004.
In a 2007 interview, Clark tells Democracy Now that life at the Pentagon was markedly different from the military world he knew after 34 years in the Army. The former NATO Supreme Allied Commander got a little insight from his old friends about how the United States was preparing to respond to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
Some ten days after the attacks, Clark says he was in the Pentagon visiting friends at the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he was called into a former colleague’s office. Without divulging which colleague, Clark tells Democracy Now that the general told him they were preparing for a war with Iraq. This was just ten days after Sept. 11, 2001. Clark confirmed that there was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but the general was firm on the decision to invade.
“I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail,” Clark remembered the general saying.
Clark returned to the Pentagon a few weeks later. By this time, the United States was conducting bombing operations in Afghanistan. He poked his head into the same four-star colleague’s office and asked if the war was still on – it was. Not only was the war with Iraq still going on as planned, but the plan had since been expanded to also include other countries that were traditionally hostile to the efforts of the United States.
The general showed Clark a classified memo from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that listed seven countries that were to be toppled by the U.S. military in the coming five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. In that order.
Clark believes Iran needed the US to oust Saddam Hussein, something it could never do.
Clark believed that by that time, Iran already saw itself at war with the U.S., considering the calls for regime change and the ongoing proxy war in neighboring Iraq. In 2007, the United States military was implementing the famous “surge” strategy for defeating the insurgency in Iraq, a strategy that had not yet reaped benefits by the time of Clark’s interview. Clark was trying to stop the momentum for war with Iran.
Of course, the list of countries mentioned by Gen. Clark’s friend in the Pentagon have their own set of issues or were later beset with them. Libya and Syria fell victim to the Arab Spring five years later. The government of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya eventually fell, which led to his death. The government of Bashar al-Asad in Syria was rescued from collapse by Russian intervention in the country’s ongoing civil war. Lebanon was wrecked by an Israeli invasion in 2006. Sudan has since split into two countries as a result of civil strife, and Iraq would infamously suffer at the hands of ISIS after the U.S. withdrawal.
The most powerful weapon in the United States’ Cold War arsenal was likely not its hundreds of nuclear warheads — it was the man whose job it was to deploy them.
There are few men in Air Force history as noteworthy and controversial as Gen. Curtis LeMay. He earned the nickname “Iron Ass” for his stubbornness and shortness once his mind was made up. When he did speak, the stout, cigar-chomping, stone-faced general had a reputation for his outspoken manner. Though not always remembered fondly by history, some of his image as a shoot-first-ask-questions-later, caveman may be undeserved.
He was the youngest general to wear a fourth star. When he retired, he had served as a four-star general longer than anyone in American history; a big deal for a general who didn’t go to a service academy, instead graduating from Ohio State. At the height of his career, he was the symbol of American military might. A bit more about one of the U.S. Air Force’s most influential founding generals can be gleaned through his more noteworthy quotes.
1. “We should always avoid armed conflict. But if you get in it, get in with both feet and get out as soon as possible.”
Despite his gruff, cold image, every operational goal, in LeMay’s mind, was a means to an end. Ending a war quickly meant saving American lives. During World War II, LeMay was responsible for the firebombing of Japanese cities which completely destroyed most major Japanese cities. It was his command that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Official estimates from the United States Strategic Bombing Survey determined at least 330,000 killed, 476,000 injured, 8.5 million people made homeless, and 2.5 million buildings destroyed. Almost half of 64 Japanese mainland cities were completely destroyed. The destruction was not lost on LeMay. He acknowledged that if the Japanese had won the war, he would have been tried as a war criminal.
Later he would reveal that dropping the atomic bombs was totally unnecessary, given the level of destruction he had already waged on Japan. He said he only dropped them because of President Truman’s authority. After the war, Japan’s former Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe confirmed that the decision to surrender was based on the prolonged bombing wrought by General LeMay’s Marianas-based air forces. LeMay took command of the Marianas in January 1945. The Japanese surrendered in August of 1945.
2. “War is never cost-effective. People are killed. To them, the war is total.”
He was known as a tough commander, but a fair one. He earned a reputation for being stone-faced, uncaring about the needs of his men but LeMay actually suffered from Bell’s Palsey, which literally immobilized his face. When a Harvard study found Army pilots were aborting bombing missions over Germany out of fear, LeMay personally led every bombing sortie and ordered any crew who didn’t go over the target be court martialed.
The gruff general took combat losses to heart, knowing he’d sent men to die, but firmly believed if the death of one American could save a thousand, then it was the right decision to make. In The Fog of War, a documentary about the life of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, McNamara quoted LeMay: “Why are we here? Why are we here? You lost your wingman. It hurts me as much as it does you. I sent him there. And I’ve been there, I know what it is. But you lost one wingman, and we destroyed Tokyo.”
3. “Successful offense brings victory. Successful defense can now only lessen defeat.”
This is an “extremely belligerent, many thought brutal” man who believed in the power, threat and use of nuclear weapons. He wanted SAC to be able to deliver every nuclear warhead in the American arsenal on the Soviet Union at once. This military rationale earned LeMay the image of a cold man who was obsessed with starting any kind of war with the Russians.
It was Gen. LeMay who inspired the character of Buck Turgidson in “Doctor Strangelove,” willing to pay for a victory over the Soviet Union with unlimited American lives. As a bomber pilot, LeMay’s point of view was one of overwhelming force. At its height, the SAC had 1600 bombers and 800 missiles in its arsenal.
4. “We can haul anything.”
As the commander of U.S. Air Forces In Europe, LeMay was asked by the Commander of all U.S. forces in Europe, Lucius D. Clay, about the feasibility of an airlift (later known as the “Berlin Airlift”) to break the Soviet blockade of West Berlin.
Gen. Clay asked LeMay “Can you haul coal?” Even though he preferred the more aggressive response of an armed convoy backed by bomber aircraft, Gen. LeMay enthusiastically began the 5,000 ton per day airlift operation within weeks. He was so instrumental in its startup, it was initially called “The LeMay Coal and Feed Delivery Service.” LeMay’s response to Clay’s hauling question represents the can-do attitude and spirit of the U.S. Air Force.
5. “If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I’m going to knock the shit out of them before they take off the ground.”
Robert McNamara, who served under LeMay during WWII and over him as Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy Administration, called him the finest combat commander there ever was. While he was convinced a war would happen at some point and believe the U.S. should fight it on the grounds most favorable to it, LeMay’s military upbringing taught him that true readiness required constant training and this readiness was to be in place when the civilian leaders of the military deemed it necessary to use them.
His solution was to create a force so powerful no one would dare sneak an attack. He would always advocate for a heavy military response, most notably during the thirteen-day Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but always loyally and diligently carried out the orders and policy of his civilian superiors.
6. “To err is human, to forgive is not SAC policy”
When he took control of Strategic Air Command in 1948, most of his bomber crews couldn’t hit Ohio with a mock atomic bomb during exercises. The SAC under Gen. LeMay became one of the most effective military units in the world on the basis of relentless training.
One officer was quoted as saying: “Training in SAC is harder than war … it might be a relief to go to war.” Within two years, the procedures, checklists, and training implemented by General LeMay gave SAC one of the best safety records in U.S. military history.
7. “The price of failure might be paid with national survival.”
After retiring from the Air Force in 1965, LeMay ran with George Wallace on his segregationist party ticket. It led many to conclude that LeMay agreed with Wallace’s racial views. In truth, LeMay agreed to run with Wallace because he believed in a hard line against Communism, and an end to the War in Vietnam, and didn’t see any of the potential candidates doing these things.
LeMay was no racist. During his tenure as a commander in the Air Force, he had actually promoted the integration of units well before Truman’s executive order. Protesters would attend Wallace rallies shouting “Sieg heil” at the man who designed the bombing plans that crippled Nazi war production, even personally leading the most dangerous missions.
Nowadays, you can find entire sections of the internet devoted to mastering the art of “off-grid” living. There, you can find both experts and charlatans exchanging argumentative blows in the never-ending digital debates we’ve let permeate through every facet of our modern lives. Back in 1967, however, things were different.
The internet was still a long way off, as were debates about the best solar-powered showers and thousand-dollar coolers. Getting off the grid back then was a conceptually simpler exercise: you just went into the woods and made do with what you had. Of course, without much of the technology even the saltiest of outdoorsmen have come to rely on today (like modern waterproofing and insulation in our clothes), living off the land was only simple in concept.
Doing so, of course, took hard men with even harder wills; men like Dick Proenneke.
Dick Proenneke hard at work in Twin Lakes, Alaska.
(National Parks Service photo taken by Richard Proenneke and donated by Raymond Proenneke)
Proenneke joined the Navy the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He served as a carpenter, honing his woodworking skills until the end of the war. Upon leaving service, he trained as a diesel mechanic, quickly earning a name for himself that allowed him to travel around the West Coast for work before once again loaning his skills to the Navy as a civilian heavy equipment operator and mechanic at the Naval Air Station Kodiak in Alaska.
After an accident at work years later nearly left Proenneke blind, he decided to devote the remainder of his life to living it as he saw fit. A modest and responsible man, he’d saved enough by age 50 to start his retirement, though while most see retirement as an end to hard work, for Proenneke, it was just the beginning.
An avid naturalist and amateur filmmaker, Proenneke set off to build a log home in the unsettled wilderness of Twin Lakes, Alaska–far from the closest remnants of human civilization. Aside from a few tools and some waterproofing materials he utilized in the construction of his home, he built the entire cabin by hand using only what he had available in the dense Alaskan bush. While this is a feat many others have accomplished, what made Proenneke special was that he filmed the whole thing, giving us a first-hand look at how off-grid living was done back before people debated it in online forums instead of doing it for real.
Proenneke leaned hard on his days as a Navy carpenter in the construction of his home, building most of it with little more than hand saws, mallets, and a sharp ax. He even fashioned the hinges on his doors out of wood he harvested from nearby trees. In the videos he captured along the way, you can see the combination of expertise and patience guiding Proenneke’s hands, making quick work of complex tasks and, if you’re anything like me, occasionally even fooling you into thinking the work looks easy.
Proenneke remained in his modest but expertly crafted cabin for the better part of three decades before finally returning to civilization at age 82. Four years later, he passed away, leaving the cabin to the National Parks Service to be preserved for posterity, as his remote home at Twin Lakes had already become a bit of a tourist attraction for like-minded adventurers that imagined their own lives away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
Today, Dick Proenneke’s legacy lives on not only thanks to visitors reaching his remote cabin, but in a series of books and television specials compiled before and after his death. His footage, combined with journals Proenneke maintained over the years, offer a glimpse into the reality of embraced solitude, self-reliance, and what man is capable of if he’s willing to forgo convenience in favor of purpose.
Much of his footage can now be found on YouTube, allowing an entirely new generation of aspiring outdoor enthusiasts to see what getting “off the grid” meant back before that turn of phrase was even invented. Watching Proenneke’s films not only serves as a how-to of sorts, but it also serves as a reminder that humanity wasn’t always so tied to electricity, comfort, and recreation. There was a time when our lives were intrinsically linked to the world around us, when our survival was predicated on our wits and work ethic, and when our job was just a list of things that had to get done before sunset.
Dick Proenneke is a reminder to us all that we aren’t the consumers and couch potatoes we’ve been groomed to be: we’re powerful, capable men and women wired just like the survivors, warriors, and hunters that came before us. The only difference between Dick Proenneke and each of us is a bit of know-how and a lot of heart. These videos can help with the former, but for the latter, you’ll have to look for inside yourself.
The Coast Guard isn’t the most highly respected branches of the Armed Forces, to put it lightly. For all the flak it gets from other branches, the Coast Guard has solidly established its value to the US. In fact, it has one of the lengthiest histories of all.
The Coast Guard is among the oldest federal organizations in the US
It was established back in 1790, just 14 years after America gained independence. For eight years, it reigned supreme as the US’s only sea-based service. At that point, the Navy was invented, but the CG was far from finished.
On January 28th, 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service merged into one; the new, official Coast Guard. As described by Title 14 of the U.S. Code:
“The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times. The Coast Guard shall be a service in the Department of Homeland Security, except when operating as a service in the Navy.”
It has played a role in nearly every war since.
Is it a military force or a law enforcement branch? Yes.
Despite being over a century old, the Coast Guard is the most misunderstood branches. It’s actually a two for one deal. Most of the time, it functions as an arm of Homeland Security and a marine rescue agency. Members are also responsible for guarding marine wildlife, environmental protection, and enforcing the law all across the country’s coastline.
During times of war, however, it becomes an extension of the Navy, to assist against foreign threats as directed by the President.
To be more specific, the Coast Guard…
Is responsible for enforcing the law across all U.S. ports and waterways
Protects over 100,000 miles of coastline
Mans a fleet of hundred of cutters and aircraft, plus over 1,600 boats
Conducts around 45 search and rescues a day
Seizes thousands of pounds of illegal drugs each week
Screens over 350 merchant vessels before arrival in U.S. harbors
Investigates pollution incidents
Maintains buoys and other navigation aids
Investigates commercial vessel casualties
Makes the shipping of billions of dollars worth of goods possible
In short, the Coast Guard is pretty frickin’ cool.
In addition to celebrating its 106th official birthday (and its 231st if you count its earliest years), the Coast Guard has churned out some awesome vets. Jeff Bridges, Arnold Palmer, and even Popeye were coasties! It also has a frat that used to be called the Ancient Order of Pterodactyl. It was renamed to the Coast Guard Aviation Association in 2007. Not quite as catchy, but still cool.
More importantly, 10 lives every day are saved by members of the Coast Guard. Happy birthday, guys. You’re doing awesome.