This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave

Just like today, when it comes to leave, the leadership will reluctantly approve leave only when they’ve run out of excuses not to. In ancient Rome, if commeatus (leave) is granted, it affected the readiness of the army. Essentially, the needs of the army come first. The troops of ancient Rome had to accept that visiting families was not guaranteed. However, as much as the empire tried to prevent their soldiers from having human needs, they couldn’t stop nature.

When anyone receives leave of absence (commeatus), and for how many days, it is noted down in lists. For in antiquity (referring here to the early empire) it was difficult to be given unless for very good approved reasons. It seemed incongruous that a soldier of the Emperor, maintained in uniform and pay and rations at public expense, should have time to serve private interests.

Translated from Epitoma rei militaris, Book II, section XVIII

How dare you have a life outside the legion? Having feelings is bad, legionnaire. What does the emperor pay you for? Also, we’re extending your service from 16 years to 25. – Some Roman general probably.

Worst case scenario of granting leave

Once a troop is allowed to go on leave, the world is still not a safe place. War stops for no one and the road home also had its fair share of dangers. For the troops staying behind it meant lowered security with dire consequences.

The bridge was now complete, and the hills in front were occupied, […] with a speed and a display of strength which induced the Parthians to drop their preparations for invading Syria and to stake their whole hopes upon Armenia; where Paetus, unconscious of the coming danger, was keeping the fifth legion stationed far away in Pontus, and had weakened the rest (the fourth and twelfth legions) through unrestricted grants of leave, until he heard that Vologeses was coming with a large and threatening army.

Tactitus Annals Book XV

Commanders had good reason to deny leave because of the threat of fighting the enemy with a smaller force. Similarly, in today’s military leave can be denied due to important training. It is at the discretion of the commanding officer to consider if will not affect crucial training.

Best case scenario of granting leave

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
Saturnalia was the timeth to party.

The Roman troop on leave would attend financial and administrative tasks at home. The best time to request leave, just like today, would be during a holiday season. Saturnalia was practically the purge with less murder. A troop would go on leave, have fun, and return when he said he would.

Originally celebrated on December 17, Saturnalia was extended first to three and eventually to seven days…All work and business were suspended. Slaves were given temporary freedom to say and do what they liked, and certain moral restrictions were eased. The streets were infected with a Mardi Gras madness; a mock king was chosen (Saturnalicius princeps); the seasonal greeting io Saturnalia was heard everywhere.

Britannica.com

Lupercalia was another holiday that Romans looked forward to on February 15. It was tied to the founding of Rome myth and promoted fertility. The holiday would start with a ritual sacrifice called the Comitium at a cave named Lupercal at the foot of Palatine Hill. Roman priests would then run naked through the streets and slap women on the breast with bloody bits of goat hide to promote fertility. Additionally, men and women would be paired at random during the festival and there would be a great feast. The holiday consisted of lovemaking and copious amounts of wine. ‘I need my leave approved for…reasons, sir.’

A Roman soldier on leave is not on vacation

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
So…no paid sick days?

While on leave any number of things could happen such as a volcano explosion causing the mass evacuation and destruction of a major city. Normal stuff in the ancient Roman Empire. One Roman soldier on leave experienced the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and found himself with a tough decision to make – save himself or save civilians. At an archeological site at the ancient Herculaneum marina reveals a daring last stand of a Roman soldier attempting to keep order and cross civilians as the world around them burned. When A roman soldier went on leave he could either tend to his family, party like an animal, or take charge of a life or death situation. The following video shows the bravery of solider against impossible odds.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 10 weirdest military mysteries

The world is full of mysteries and the military world is no exception. Each war has been accompanied by strange stories, potential double agents, secret messages and unsolved disappearances. Scary? Intriguing? You tell me! Keep scrolling to learn about the top 10 mysterious events in military history.


1. The foo fighters were more than a band name. 

Almost everyone has heard of the foo fighters, but few realize the origins of the 90s rock band name. In WWII, the foo fighters were a genuine concern. At night, American and British aircraft pilots frequently spotted bright lights in the distance. At first, they assumed the lights were Russian or German flyers. Until they began to move, that is.

The lights would change direction and speed away faster than any aircraft possibly could. Hundreds of reports were recorded, with some pilots even reporting dogfights with them. Since no one was able to figure out what the crafts were or who piloted them, they were given the nickname “foo fighters.” To this day, it’s one of the biggest military mysteries of WWII.

2. The Red Baron’s killer was never found. 

The Red Baron, a German fighter pilot during WWI, was so famous that even Snoopy knew of his aerial prowess. He was one of the most lethal fighters in history, with over 80 confirmed kills. He was a serious threat to the Allied forces throughout the majority of WWI, until he was mysteriously shot down.

A Canadian pilot named Roy Brown claimed to have shot down his plane, but the details of his story didn’t quite make sense. No one knows for sure who killed him, but whoever it was would have had their name in the history books. The Red Baron was such an amazing pilot that the Allies helped to give him a decent burial in France in honor of his skill.

3. A Hungarian soldier turned out to be a serial killer…and he was never found. 

During WWI, a man named Bela Kiss enlisted in the Hungarian army. He notified his landlord that he would be away for some time, and left for war. Some time later, the landlord heard that Kiss had died in combat, so he decided to rent the house to someone else. When he arrived to clean it out, however, he walked into a house of horrors. Several bodies were inside preserved in alcohol, all belonging to women who had disappeared.

It turns out, Kiss had been tricking women into marriage before killing them and taking control of their finances. Despite an extensive search, and a few reported sightings, he was never found.

4. A plane vanished out of thin air, starting the legend of the Bermuda Triangle. 

It’s hard to imagine that six planes could straight up disappear, but that’s what happened. On December 5, 1945, five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers, collectively known as Flight 19, stopped responding to the control tower while on a training flight. A Mariner flying boat was deployed to search for the missing planes, but the Mariner soon vanished too. While no bodies or wreckage was ever found, 27 men and six aircrafts were never seen again.

While many rumors cropped up over the years, the disappearance probably has nothing to do with the supernatural. The most likely explanation is that Flight 19’s leader, Navy Lieutenant Charles Taylor, got so disoriented that he led the planes out to sea until they ran out of gas and crashed into the Atlantic. The rescue sea plane is likely to have exploded, as flying boats were prone to catching fire. Still, after all these years the resting place of the planes have never been found.

5. A strange ad was placed in the New Yorker magazine. But who published it? 

Anyone can put an ad in the paper, but one published in the New Yorker was more than a little suspicious. The ad was for a real game called “Deadly Double,” but the copy gave a not-so-secret message: “We hope you’ll never have to spend a long winter’s night in an air-raid shelter, but we were just thinking … it’s only common sense to be prepared. If you’re not too busy between now and Christmas, why not sit down and plan a list of the things you’ll want to have on hand. … And though it’s no time, really, to be thinking of what’s fashionable, we bet that most of your friends will remember to include those intriguing dice and chips which make Chicago’s favorite game: THE DEADLY DOUBLE.”

A similar ad for the same product included the phrase, “Warning! Alerte! Achtung!” Okay, then. The dice shown in the ad’s images were even more strange. Instead of numbers 1-6, numbers like 7, 20 and 12, were shown. Some believe these bizarre ads were really a hint to American spies that an attack on Pearl Harbor was on the horizon. The creator’s widow has denied any suggestion that the game had any connection with spy activity, but it still seems a little fishy.

6. Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis predicted the bombing of Pearl Harbor over 20 years before it happened.

In 1920, Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis was a bit of an oddball in the Navy. He was known for being pretty solitary and working late into the night. When asked what he was doing in his office so late, he said he was working on “a special project.” A year later, he appeared to go mad. He gave a lengthy prediction of the future, including Japan’s attack on several islands on the Pacific, the targeting of Pearl Harbor, and the use of torpedo planes. Considering torpedo planes hadn’t been invented yet, he sounded crazy…except he was right.

All his predictions were dead on. After his prediction, he asked for a 90-day leave, which was personally approved by the Secretary of the Navy. He was given a sealed envelope and sent off to Europe, but he never arrived. He went to Japan instead, where he mysteriously died. A man who knew him travelled there to search for him…but he was found dead too! It’s a strange story with many loose ends, but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the details.

7. Ralph Sigler’s death doesn’t seem like an accident. 

Ralph Sigler, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, arrived in America when he was eight. He enlisted in the Army in 1947 and got married to a German woman shortly after while he was stationed abroad. When his tour was over, he brought her back to the states and the couple had a child. Over a decade later in 1966, FBI agents arrived at his doorstep to let him know he had been randomly selected to participate in counterespionage. The family’s ordinary life was turned upside down overnight.

In the following years, Sigler fed a great deal of false information to the SVR, Russia’s intelligence agency. When he met Russian officials in person, he quickly earned their trust. He identified 14 SVR agents and over time grew worried that the Russians were starting to suspect something. The FBI approached him by this time, but Sigler made plans to retire from the Army

His first contact with Russian officials came in 1968 in Zurich, and he soon earned their trust. Authorities have speculated that Sigler’s work led to the identification of 14 SVR agents. He was given an estimated 0,000 in compensation, every last penny of which he gave to the Army.In the mid-1970s, Sigler worried that he was “getting in too deep” and the Russians were becoming suspicious, which may have led him to offer extra information under pressure. By this time, the FBI had approached him.

The situation grew complicated, and some American intelligence officers were suspicious of his loyalties too. He was forced to take a polygraph test, which showed he was extremely on edge. Concerned, the Army arranged for Sigler to stay at a motel. Sadly, he never left. His body was found in the motel room after he had been electrocuted by two motel lamps. While the Army ruled his death a suicide, most believe he was killed and possibly tortured by Soviet agents. In his last call to his wife, he ominously told her, “I’m dying. I never lied.” He was later awarded the Legion of Merit cross for his sacrifices.

8. During the Vietnam War, troops on both sides claimed to be attacked by large, ape-like creatures. Vietnam doesn’t have apes.

The Vietnam war was chaotic to say the least, but there’s one mystery that has never been explained. Troops from both sides often reported exchanging blows with a group of human-like creatures who had reddish hair and ape-like features. Strangely, there isn’t a single known species of ape in Vietnam.

Other soldiers reported an enormous snake around 100 feet long with a massive, three-foot head. In Vietnamese folklore, such a creature was known as a “Bull Eater.” For comparison, the largest snake ever recorded is a reticulated python named Medusa, who’s 25’2″ long. Either that was a massive exaggeration or a tall tale…or a 100-foot mystery monster is lurking in the jungle.

9. A Revolutionary War hospital dealt with plenty of death, yet no one knows where the dead were laid to rest.

During the American Revolution, there were obviously a lot of injuries. To serve these wounded soldiers, a hospital was built in the new town of Easton, Pennsylvania. Needless to say, 18th-century medicine wasn’t the best. While medical records were poorly kept, it’s safe to say that hundreds or thousands died there. The strange part is that there’s no record at all of where they were buried. Since there was no formal grave yard nearby, the easiest assumption is that somewhere around Easton, there’s a mass grave from the Revolutionary War that has yet to be found. If I lived in Easton, I might move.

10. What happened to Paul Whipkey?

Fast forward a few years to the 50s. Lieutenant Paul Whipkey was working in the Air Force at Fort Ord, California. He was one of the first to witness an atomic bomb test, and he was doing pretty well. When 1957 arrived, however, things began to go awry. Whipkey stopped acting like himself, dropped weight, and appeared to be constantly ill. He developed black moles all across his body and lost all his teeth. While he was at work, two men in suits frequently arrived to speak with him, and colleagues reported that he always appeared tense when the men left. On July 10th, he left on a trip to Monterey, but he was never seen again.

The events following are shrouded in secrecy. The army cleaned out his apartment almost instantly, and he was classified as a deserter. The army seemed reluctant to search for Whipkey, and in 1977 they destroyed all files on him, yet his status was updated from “deserter” to “killed in action.” Some believe he died on a secret CIA mission, but most people believe he suffered from radiation poisoning due to the atomic bomb detonation he witnessed. I guess we’ll never know!

MIGHTY HISTORY

Mighty Women: The disguised female soldiers of the Civil War

When we think of defining women’s rights movements, many cite women’s suffrage of the 20s or the explosion of female empowerment during the 60s and 70s. But in America, it started much sooner. 

As far back as the Revolutionary War women were found to have supported combat efforts, many alongside their husbands. Margaret Corbin was one of them and was critically wounded fighting after her husband was killed beside her. Corbin was the first female to receive a military pension for her efforts during the war. 

Women during this time were expected to relish their role in the home. It was also unbecoming for women to travel alone, unless she wanted to be thought of as “loose” or risk her safety. Historians believe there were many more instances of women disguising themselves as men than realized, for those reasons alone. 

The Civil War saw women go even farther and harder, regularly (and with increasing numbers) disguising themselves as men to fight alongside their countrymen. When the war began, thousands of women volunteered as nurses. Historians have discovered as many as a 1,000 women may have fought in every major conflict of the war itself. 

Those who were discovered were sent home, imprisoned or even institutionalized. They did it in spite of personal risk in order to serve their country. For these women, patriotism was more important than anything else.

Sarah Edmonds was one of them. Early on she used an alias and traveled as a man in order to work and earn a living. She was reportedly an ardent abolitionist and when the war broke out she was ready to risk it all. Edmonds mustered into the 2nd Michigan Infantry as Franklin Thompson on May 25, 1861.

During her time with the Union, she’d become a spy and participate in numerous battles, one which left her with life-long injuries. After a bout with Malaria two years later which left her fearful of being discovered, she made the decision to leave. Edmonds spent the rest of the Civil War as a nurse. Decades later she’d win the battle of earning her pension. 

civil war
State Archives of Michigan / 02255

Frances Clayton is another remarkable story of courage. When she enlisted as a man into the Union Army, it was alongside her husband. They traveled from Minnesota to Missouri to do so, hoping they could disguise her true identity. Posing as Jack Williams, they fought side by side for the regiment. When her husband was killed in action, reports revealed she stepped over his body to continue fighting. 

Another notable story was the one of Albert Cashier who was born Jennie Hodgers. Cashier fought in more than 40 different battles and continued to live as a man when the war was over. When his former comrades found out the truth, they rallied behind him in support. Upon Cashier’s death in 1915, he was buried in uniform and with full military honors.

civil war
Albert Cashier, formerly Jennie Hodgers

Despite the challenges and risk associated with posing as a man during these times, it was apparently easy. This was mainly due to so many underage boys who were allowed to sign up, it was easy for women to pass as bare faced teenagers. The physical fitness requirements were also minimal, at the time.  

Clara Barton is perhaps one of the most well-known women of the time. Although she would eventually become the founder of the American Red Cross, she was also known as the “angel of the battlefield.” She continually nursed the wounded and risked her life repeatedly to bring soldiers supplies. 

Barton was quoted to say that it was the events of the Civil War which pushed the women’s rights movement forward 50 years and opened the doors to the changes so desperately needed. 

The true number of disguised female soldiers will never be known but what is recognized is their undeniable impact on the war efforts. It was their courage which paved the way for women to openly serve their country. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us not forget the female veterans hundreds of years ago who made it all possible.

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That time the Coast Guard walked 1500 miles to rescue whalers

Commodore Bertholf served the United States in its Revenue Cutter and Coast Guard service from early manhood, never failing a call to duty, no matter what the danger, always acting in a notably distinguished and at times heroic manner, as evidenced in the especial award to him by Congress of its Gold Medal of Honor. He finally reached the highest command in the Coast Guard and retained to the last his vital interest in the cause of that service.
American Bureau of Shipping, 1921

In the quote above the American Bureau of Shipping commented on the productive career of Ellsworth Price Bertholf, first commandant of the modern Coast Guard and first flag officer in service history. No individual may claim sole credit for establishment of the U.S. Coast Guard as a military service. However, like the service’s original founder, Alexander Hamilton, Bertholf bore the greatest responsibility for the planning, establishment, oversight and initial success in the second founding of the Coast Guard in 1915.


Ellsworth Bertholf was born in New York City on April 7, 1866. In 1882, at the age of 16, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy, but was court martialed and dismissed after a hazing incident. In 1885, he entered the Revenue Cutter School of Instruction and matriculated with the Class of 1887. After graduation, he was assigned to the cutter Levi Woodbury and, as was customary at the time, he served two years at sea before receiving a third lieutenant’s commission in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. During his career, he would serve aboard cutters stationed around the United States and Alaska.

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
The 1897 Overland Expedition approaches whalers trapped in the Arctic ice at Point Barrow, Alaska

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Bertholf’s most noted service took place on land and in the waters of Alaska. In 1897, Bertholf, Lt. David Jarvis and Dr. Samuel Call of the Arctic cutter Bear, led a dangerous mid-winter relief party that became known as the Overland Expedition. Using sledges pulled by dogs and reindeer, the men set out on snowshoes and skis to relieve over 200 whalers stranded by pack ice near Pt. Barrow, Alaska. Three months and 1,500 miles later, the party arrived at Barrow delivering 382 reindeer to 265 starving whalers. Bertholf received a specially struck Congressional Gold Medal for this courage and heroism.

In the winter of 1901, Bertholf also made a trip across northern Siberia by sledge at the request of the U.S. Bureau of Education. The purpose of his mission was to procure a herd of reindeer for the Inuit villages in Northern Alaska. Bertholf went on to serve as executive officer and then commander of the Bear, made famous by its Alaskan cruises and the Bering Sea Patrol.

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
Cutter Bear officers, including Second Lt. Ellsworth Bertholf (front row far left) and Capt. Francis Tuttle (center).

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Bertholf enjoyed a distinguished career in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. He was the service’s first officer to attend the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and he rose quickly through the officer ranks. In 1911, at the age of 45, he was appointed captain commandant and head of the Revenue Cutter Service. He was the last man to serve in that position.

He also served as a delegate to the International Conference on Safety at Sea held in London in 1912 after the tragic loss of RMS Titanic. This meeting led to establishment of the International Ice Patrol, which the service has performed since 1913. In addition, he served as chairman of the Interdepartmental Board on International Ice Observation and Patrol in the North Atlantic and the service’s board on Anchorage and Movements of Vessels.

More than any other individual, Bertholf’s strong leadership and guidance made possible the establishment of the modern Coast Guard. With the director of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, Bertholf engineered a merger with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. This amalgamation would bring together hundreds of small craft from the Lifesaving Service and numerous cutters operated by the Revenue Cutter Service, and save the two services from elimination planned by an efficiency commission under President William Taft. Instead, in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act merging the services to form the U.S. Coast Guard with Bertholf appointed to lead the new military service.

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
Bertholf gravesite located at Arlington National Cemetery.

(Photo by John Evans.)

During World War I, Capt. Commandant Bertholf held the temporary rank of commodore, the first officer of either the Revenue Cutter Service or Coast Guard to achieve flag rank. The war cemented the service’s role as a military agency. During the conflict, the service performed its traditional missions of search and rescue, maritime interdiction, law enforcement, and humanitarian response. Meanwhile, the service undertook new missions of shore patrol, port security, marine safety, and convoy escort duty while playing a vital role in naval aviation, troop transport operations and overseas naval missions. By war’s end, these assignments had become a permanent part of the Coast Guard’s defense readiness mission.

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
Photograph of newly commissioned National Security Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750), first Coast Guard cutter to bear the name.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Bertholf retired from the Coast Guard in 1919 and joined the American Bureau of Shipping as vice president. He became very active in the affairs of that institution and travelled extensively to expand the ABS in foreign fields. He died of a heart attack in 1921 at the age of 55. He was survived by his wife and daughter and interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2008, the first of the Coast Guard’s fleet of National Security Cutters was named in Bertholf’s honor–the first Coast Guard cutter named for Bertholf.

Today, the story of Ellsworth Bertholf is lost and forgotten to the American public. The record of his life and legacy remain with us through his heroic feats in Alaska, his role in establishing the Coast Guard as a military service, and the distinguished National Security Cutter that now bears his name.

This article originally appeared on the United States Coast Guard. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

Anyone can tell you that in combat, good communications are important. But there was one time that a miscommunication helped the U.S. win a significant naval surface action off Guadalcanal during the Battle of Cape Esperance. 


That bit of lucky confusion happened on the night of Oct. 11, 1942. That was when Japan decided to carry out what was called a “Tokyo Express” run. These runs delivered troops, often dashing in under the cover of darkness. This was necessary because American planes at Henderson Field were very capable of taking down enemy ships in the daylight hours.

 

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
Gilbert C. Hoover (US Navy photo)

To take Henderson Field, Japan had to reinforce the troops on Guadalcanal — especially because the Americans had, in the middle of September run a substantial convoy to Guadalcanal at the cost of the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV 7). During that month, at the battle of Edson’s Ridge, the Marines had repelled an attack, inflicting substantial losses on the Japanese ground troops.

According to “The Struggle for Guadalcanal,” Volume Five in Samuel Eliot Morison’s “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II,” on Oct. 9, 1942, an American convoy carrying the 164th Infantry Regiment, part of the Americal Division, departed for Guadalcanal. Three United States Navy task forces covered the transports.

One was centered around the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8), which had launched the Doolittle raid almost six months prior. The second was around the battleship USS Washington (BB 56). The third was a group of cruisers and destroyers under the command of Rear Adm. Norman Scott, who had his flagship on the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco (CA 38).

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
USS San Francisco (CA 38), flagship of Admiral Norman Scott during the Battle of Cape Esperance. (US Navy photo)

In addition to the San Francisco, the heavy cruiser USS Salt Lake City (CA 25), the light cruisers USS Helena (CL 50) and USS Boise (CL 47), and the destroyers USS Laffey (DD 459), USS Farenholt (DD 491), USS Duncan (DD 485), USS McCalla (DD 488) and USS Buchanan (DD 484) were part of Task Force 64, which had the assignment of securing Ironbottom Sound until the transports finished unloading.

At 11:32 that night, the radar on the USS Helena detected a Japanese force of three heavy cruisers (the Aoba, Kinugasa, and Furutaka) and the destroyers Fubuki and Hatsuyuki. American radar tracked the Japanese force, which was covering a supply convoy. At 11:45 that night, Capt. Gilbert C. Hoover on board the Helena would send a fateful message to Admiral Scott, “Interrogatory Roger.” He was requesting permission to fire. Scott’s response, “Roger,” was intended to acknowledge receipt of the request. But “Roger” was also used for granting permission to fire, according to Morison.

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
Rear Admiral Norman Scott (US Navy photo)

Hoover would assume the latter, and at 11:46, the USS Helena opened fire with her fifteen six-inch guns. According to NavWeaps.com, the Mk 16 six-inch guns could fire up to ten rounds a minute. In that first minute, as many as 150 rounds would be fired by that ship. Other American ships also opened fire, and the Aoba, the flagship of the Japanese force, took the brunt of the American fire. The Japanese commander, Rear Adm. Aritomo Goto, was mortally wounded early on.

Thrown into confusion, the Japanese force initially believed they had been fired on by their troop convoy. Eventually, they began to return fire, but the battle’s result was never in doubt. The Aoba would be badly damaged, and the Furutaka and the Fubuki would be sunk by the end of the battle.

The Americans would lose the destroyer USS Duncan, while the Boise and Salt Lake City were damaged and returned to rear bases for repairs, along with the destroyer Farenholt.

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
USS Helena (CL 50). This ship’s 15 six-inch guns each could fire ten rounds a minute. (US Navy photo)

Norman Scott had won a tactical victory, thanks to that communications foul-up, but the Japanese landed their reinforcements that night. On the night of October 13, the battleships Kongo and Haruna delivered a devastating bombardment against Henderson Field, but couldn’t prevent American reinforcements from arriving.

Later that month, Japanese forces would fail to take Henderson Field, while a naval offensive would be turned back in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands at the cost of the Hornet.

The two men involved in that communications foul-up would see action about a month later off Guadalcanal when Japanese battleships tried to again bombard Henderson Field, only to be stopped by Daniel Callaghan.

Rear Adm. Norman Scott would be killed in action in that engagement. Hoover would survive, and be left in command of the surviving ships. As he lead them back, the anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52) would be sunk by a Japanese submarine. Rather than try to rescue survivors, Hoover radioed the position of the survivors to a patrolling B-17, expecting a request to be relayed to the South Pacific.

It never was. Only ten men would survive from the Juneau. According to Morison, Hoover was relieved of his command. An obituary from an unknown newspaper dated June 10, 1980 available at usshelena.org noted that Hoover, a three-time Navy Cross recipient, retired from the Navy in 1947, and served in various capacities until his death.

Articles

The origin of the famous ‘red phone’ in the Oval Office

In countless movies, in references across all mediums, the red phone exists. Brightly hued and highlighted through dramatic dialogue, we are shown this famous form of communication within the White House. But why is there a red phone in the first place? What does it do? And why it is so famous? After all, it’s just a phone. 

But, in actuality, it wasn’t a phone at all. Known as the Moscow-Washington Hotline, it was a direct line of communication between the White House and the Kremlin (where the Soviet Communist Headquarters resided). The line was established in 1963 after the Cuban Missile Crisis so that President John F. Kennedy, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev and their advisors could connect directly and quickly. 

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
“Khrushchev… your signal sucks… damn it, I lost him. That’s not good.” (DoD photo)

The need for the line was put into place after the 1962 crisis, when it took the United States 12 hours to translate a message from Khrushchev. The 3,000-word message is stated as taking a “dangerous amount of time” in translation. This prompted both sides to streamline communication. Hence, the hotline. 

The communication first consisted of teletype machines. In the ’80s it was transitioned to a fax machine, and in 2008, it became an email line connected by a secure computer link with lightning-fast connection speeds. 

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave
Well, that’s not red… or a phone… (Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library/ Wikimedia Commons)

Origins of the idea

There are several people who claim to have come up with the idea for direct communication, including a Harvard professor who had previously worked with the Department of Defense on nuclear war policies. The professor, Thomas Schelling, said the 1958 book Red Alert (which prompted the movie Dr. Strangelove) gave government officials the idea to connect directly– specifically, by showing the benefits of fast and direct conversations. 

After the agreement was signed, both sides began working on the logistics to lay this line, including ways to keep it secure such as encryption. The first message was sent on August 30th, 1963, including numbers and an apostrophe to ensure the connection worked properly.

The US sent: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back 1234567890,” a common test message, as it includes all 26 letters of the English alphabet. The first official use was to announce the assassination of JFK to Russia.

Over the years, the line has been accidentally cut multiple times, including when it was unknowingly bulldozed in Denmark. Today, there are bright and clear markers in Finland, as well as other countries, to help keep the line free from damage. 

Why a red phone?

This scene seems to be where it all started

Because there was never an actual red phone — or a phone at all for that matter — it’s an interesting addition to pop culture. Countless movies, video games and even movies portray a fictional red phone as a quick way to reach Russia. 

So where did the idea come from? It likely came from the movie, Dr. Strangelove, itself. The idea was then used throughout the 80s in political commercials, where it took off. President Ronald Reagan used the phone to market himself, showing off his Strategic Defense Initiative. In the 80s, it made another appearance for the 1984 election. It was also used in 2008 throughout Hilary Clinton’s campaign. In years since, it’s simply become a pop culture icon that remains recognizable in movies, museums and beyond.

Feature image: Jimmy Carter Library and Museum (Wikimedia Commons)

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Korean War POW escaped from captivity after 55 years

In June 2008, a 74-year-old North Korean farmer and former coal miner was swimming across the Tumen River, where it makes the border between the reclusive North Korean regime and Communist China. He was escaping the Hermit Kingdom like many North Koreans before him, except Kim Jin-Soo wasn’t North Korean.


The onetime South Korean Army soldier was born in the South, but enlisted in the Republic of Korea Army during the 1950-1953 Korean War. That’s how he ended up in the North.

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave

Suwon Airfield being evacuated by South Korean troops as North Korea advances in 1950.

The young South Korean was just 17 years old when he signed up to fight the Communist advance in 1950 but was wounded in action by small arms fire. That’s how the young soldier was captured. He was taken by his captors North to recover from the wounds, but his own army, believing him dead, stopped looking for him. When prisoners were exchanged after fighting stopped, no one thought to look for a dead man.

The definitely not dead Kim Jin-Soo did eventually recover from his wounds, only now he was trapped in the North’s Stalinist “utopia.” Unfortunately for him, he was still a prisoner and was sent to work in the coal mines in North Korea’s North Pyeongan Province for nearly 40 years.

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North Korean troops prepare for battle in 1950.

In the time that passed, the captive’s parents in the South both passed away. He even had four daughters and one son while living in the North. His surviving brothers in the South had no idea he was alive, let alone that they now had a nephew and a handful of nieces.

In the early 1990s, around the time of North Korea’s deadly and disastrous famine, Soo was sent to another province to work as a farmer. The harsh life of a North Korean POW had taken its toll on his body. He shrunk by nearly six inches over 55 years of captivity and weighed barely 105 pounds when he escaped to China.

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 things you didn’t know about the Solomons campaign

After the fighting around Guadalcanal, which was the stage for several epic naval battles, clashes continued in the South Pacific. These battles don’t get as much coverage today, but they were just as important. In fact, it was the Allied move up the Solomon Islands that arguably broke Japan’s back in the Pacific.

The Battle of Midway is justifiably celebrated as a decisive Allied victory that turned the tide of the war. Guadalcanal is known as a slugging match that, although bloody for both sides, put the initiative in Allied hands. It was through the Solomon Islands campaign, however, that put the Allies eventually into a position where they could neutralize the Japanese base at Rabaul and make General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines happen.


Here are a few things you might not have known about this crucial campaign:

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What ultimately emerged as the Allied plan for dealing with Rabaul: Surrounding it, then bombing the hell out of it.

(US Army)

The original plan called for taking Rabaul

MacArthur originally wanted to take Rabaul, which was a superb harbor (the reason why Japan had taken it in early 1942). It had proven extremely useful as a forward base for the Japanese, and MacArthur figured it could work just as well for Allied forces. But heavy fighting at Guadalcanal and the “Europe-first” strategy led to bypassing Rabaul as part of the “island hopping” campaign.

Bypassing worked out pretty well, don’t you think?

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A Vought F4U Corsair from Marine Fighter Squadron 215 (VMF-215) lands at Munda Point.

(USMC)

The New Georgia invasion cost Japan in the skies

The Japanese had built an airfield at Munda Point on the New Georgia Islands. This became an important objective in the campaign to the neutralize the Pacific. It took about three and a half months to take the islands, and cost the Allies almost 1,200 personnel — about 15 percent of the losses suffered at Guadalcanal. Japan lost 1,671 personnel, but the real discrepancy was in the air: 356 Japanese planes were downed compared to only 93 Allied losses.

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New Zealand Coastwatcher Donald G. Kennedy with a Marine officer.

The invasion of New Georgia was launched nine days early to save one man

According to Volume VI of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, after Japan took the Solomon Islands, a coastwatcher from New Zealand, Donald G. Kennedy, courageously went from village to village, vowing that the Allies would return. During the Guadalcanal campaign, he sent warnings of air raids to the Marines. After he was wounded in a firefight with a Japanese patrol boat, the 4th Marine Raider Battalion went in to protect his outpost while the invasion started. Kennedy later received the Navy Cross for his actions.

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USS Helena (CL 50) firing on Japanese ships during the Battle of Kula Gulf.

(US Navy)

Two naval battles early in the campaign came out roughly even

In the Battle of Kula Gulf, the U.S. Navy lost a light cruiser, but sank two destroyers. At the Battle of Kolombangara, the Japanese lost a light cruiser and the Allies lost a destroyer and had three light cruisers damaged in what was a tactical victory for Japan.

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Future President John F. Kennedy and the crew of PT-109.

(US Navy)

John F. Kennedy earned his heroic reputation in this campaign

John F. Kennedy’s heroism in the wake of the loss of PT 109 came during the fighting around the New Georgia Islands. His PT boat was with others in the Blackett Strait in August, about two months after the invasion started. His boat was rammed by HIJMS Amagiri, and the rest was history.

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Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on April 18, 1943 – hours before he was shot down by Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr.

(Imperial Japanese Navy)

The Pacific Theater’s “Zero Dark Thirty” mission took place just before the Solomons campaign

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was carrying out an inspection tour in April, 1943, when his place was intercepted by P-38 Lightnings. Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier would shoot down Yamamoto’s Mitsubishi G4M Betty while Rex Barber downed another that was carrying members of Yamamoto’s staff. The Japanese Navy didn’t have a new Commander-in-Chief Combined Fleet until a month before the invasion of New Georgia.

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Australian troops patrolling on Bougainville in January, 1945. Japanese troops on the island held out until August 21 of that year.

(Australian War Memorial)

The Solomons Campaign technically lasted throughout the war

The northernmost of the Solomon Islands, Bougainville, wasn’t fully under Allied control until the Japanese forces there surrendered on August 21, 1945. The United States pulled out in 1944, handing the fighting over to Australian troops, who carried out operations for about a year and a half.

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USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) is named for an escort carrier that was named after a battle of the Solomons campaign.

(US Navy)

Several Navy ships get their names from the Solomon Islands campaign

During World War II, a number of escort carriers — the Casablanca-class vessels USS Lunga Point (CVE 94), USS Bougainville (CVE 100), USS Munda (CVE 104) and the Commencement Bay-class ships USS Kula Gulf (CVE 108), USS Vella Gulf (CVE 111), USS Rendova (CVE 114), and USS Bairoko (CVE 115) were all named after battles in the Solomons campaign. Two other ships, the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Solomons (CVE 67) and the Commencement Bay-class USS Rabaul (CVE 121), were named for the campaign and the ultimate objective, respectively.

Today, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) carries on the name of one of those escort carriers, and an America-class amphibious assault ship will be named USS Bougainville (LHA 8).

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

From the punitive expedition to Mexico before World War I to the mountains of Korea, American service members relied on one iconic pistol above any other, the Colt M1911. In fact, some special operators still carry modified and reworked versions of the same sidearm today.


The famous pistol came, like many of the best weapons, from an urgent battlefield necessity. Soldiers and Marines fighting the Spanish in the Phillippines during the Spanish-American War ended up in combat with a rebel group that had been active in the islands for years, the Moro.

 

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A U.S. Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s maritime raid force fires an M1911 .45-caliber pistol at a range in Jordan June 9, 2013. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

 

The Moro fighters were known as fanatics and used opiates to keep going even if they were hit. The troops engaged in combat with them found out quickly that their pistols, .38-caliber weapons, often needed a few hits to bring down a fighter. This gave attacking Moro fighters time to get an extra couple knife swings or trigger pulls in before they were killed.

Soldiers reached back to their last sidearm, the Colt Model 1873 Revolver which fired a .45-caliber round. The .45 got the job done, and the Army put out a call for a modern weapon that fired it, preferably with semi-automatic technology and smokeless powder.

After a long competition, the winner was a Colt pistol from famed designer John Browning. It was a semi-automatic weapon that fired the desired .45-caliber cartridge packed with smokeless powder, allowing troops to defend themselves with lots of firepower on demand without giving away their position.

The Army designated the weapon the M1911 for the year it was adopted and got it out to the field. The gun got a trial with the Punitive Expedition to Mexico in 1916 where it performed admirably, but it cemented its place in troops’ hearts in 1917 when the American Doughboys carried it with them to Europe.

In World War I, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps carried the weapon. Army Cpl. Alvin C. York was part of an attack through German lines to destroy or capture some enemy machine guns. The initial attack was successful but everything went sideways and York was the highest ranking of the survivors.

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Army Sgt. Alvin C. York was awarded the Medal of Honor for killing dozens of Germans and capturing 132 of them as a corporal after an American assault was partially broken up. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

In a famous move, York managed to kill many of the Germans and capture 132 of them nearly on his own. During the engagement, he killed six Germans in six shots with his M1911 and it was that pistol that he pointed at the German commander’s head when he demanded and received their surrender.

Army Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., another Medal of Honor recipient, used the pistol after he was shot down in an attempt to fight off the German infantry trying to take him prisoner. While Luke was eventually killed, he took seven of the infantrymen with him.

Love for the M1911 spread to America’s allies. Great Britain, for instance, bought the guns for the Navy and the Flying Corps. In World War II, the Colt M1911 was once again the pistol of choice and Americans were lucky enough to get it as standard issue.

 

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(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua W. Brown)

 

Through Korea and Vietnam, the M1911 was the standard sidearm and a favorite of troops who cited its stopping power, ergonomics, and reliability.

But the weapon’s .45-caliber ammunition made it less operable with NATO allies and when the U.S. encouraged standardizing weapons and ammo across the alliance, it was sent to the chopping block. In 1992, the military branches transitioned to the Beretta M9 and its smaller 9mm ammunition.

But some M1911s are still floating around as special operations units reworked the M1911A1 variant introduced in 1926, allowing them to use the .45-caliber ammunition.

In fact, the Marine Corps ordered 12,000 new M45A1s from Colt. The M45A1 is basically a modernized M1911 that, of course, fires the .45-caliber round. But the 1911’s days might be numbered as Marine special operations troops are scheduled to ditch their .45s and pick up Glocks over the next several years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The barely successful inventor who pioneered repeating rifles

Quick! Name the inventor who has had the most impact on the military. Are you thinking of John M. Browning who invented all sorts of weapons including the M2 .50-caliber machine gun? Maybe Oliver Winchester, Benjamin Tyler Henry, or Horace Smith, the creators of Smith & Wesson?

Well, all of those guys owe their weapon success, in part, to the inventiveness of one man that’s largely forgotten by history.


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Walter Hunt

Walter Hunt and his impressive forehead created a lot of important inventions, including an early repeating rifle that would help propel the arms industry forward.

Walter Hunt created all sorts of life-changing things, but was constantly selling his inventions for a fraction of their worth in order to pay off debts.

One of these inventions was an early repeating rifle that would lead to the Henry Repeating Rifle, a weapon that was decisive in some Civil War battles. He was also the man behind the safety pin, an attachment for icebreaker ships, and an improved fountain pen, in addition to lots of other things that our audience doesn’t care about.

Hunt’s design for repeating rifles was patented in 1849 as the “Volitional Repeater.” His design incorporated earlier patents he filed, like a specific ammunition cartridge, and breakthroughs made by others to create a rifle capable of firing approximately 12 rounds in quick succession without reloading.

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Walter Hunt’s 1849 repeating rifle patent calls for ball ammunition to be stored in a tubular magazine. A spring feeds the ammunition into the proper position so it can be breech-loaded by the operator quickly.
(Patent filed 1849 by Walter Hunt)

 

So, basically, it was a rifle with cartridge ammunition that fed from a magazine into the breech for firing. Make the magazine removable and add a gas-operated piston and pistol grip and you have the basic idea of the M16.

But, like the early M16s, Hunt’s design had reliability issues, and he didn’t have the money or the inclination to go through a series of prototypes and redesigns. So, he sold the patent and design to investor George Arrowsmith who got the weapon into production and asked three men to improve the design. Benjamin Tyler Henry, Horace Smith, and Daniel B. Wesson made improvements on the design to create the Henry Repeating Rifle.

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The Henry Repeating Rifle carried up to 16 rounds and was a direct descendant of Hunt’s Volitional Repeating Rifle.
(Hmaag, CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

It was one of these Henry Repeating Rifles, direct descendants of Hunt’s design, that President Abraham Lincoln fired on the White House grounds at the request of the manufacturer. The company hoped to get Lincoln to intervene on their behalf with the Ordnance Department in order to get the Union Army to buy much more of them.

The Henry Repeating Rifle and similar designs were unpopular with many generals but mid-level officers who embraced them saw the potential early. One of the first wide-spread deployments of repeating rifles came in 1863 when Union Col. John T. Wilder got a loan from his own bank to outfit his entire mounted infantry brigade with the Spencer Repeating Rifle, similar in design to the Henry.

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General Burnside marches his men through the Cumberland Gap. In mountainous areas, the terrain limits the numbers of troops who can fight each other, making repeating rifles even more advantageous.
(Harper’s Weekly)

 

The plan was to ride to the battle on horses, then dismount and put the new repeating rifles into effect. Wilder’s brigade was sent to secure Hoover’s Gap in Tennessee ahead of a Union attack on Manchester. The Confederates anticipated the maneuver and were working to reinforce the gap before the Union could arrive in force on June 24, 1863.

The Northerners were able to scatter the Confederates deep into the gap and made it six miles ahead of their planned limit of advance. The infantrymen were so far forward, that the corps commander repeatedly ordered them to withdraw because he was sure they would be overwhelmed.

But with their repeating rifles, the single Union infantry brigade and its one artillery battery held its ground against a counterattack by four Confederate infantry brigades and four artillery batteries.

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​At the Battle of Franklin, some of the Union soldiers had repeating rifles, mostly Spencer and Henry models, that allowed them to overwhelm Confederate troops.
(Library of Congress, originally by Kurz and Allison)

 

When the corps finally arrived, its commander credited the repeating rifles with saving a thousand lives and three days of fighting.

Later battles, like the 1864 Battle of Franklin, saw similar results as Union soldiers carrying repeating rifles were able to vastly out fire their Southern opponents. At Franklin, the defending Union troops carrying 16-shot Henry Repeating Rifles could average 10 rounds per minute against the two or three of Confederate attackers. The Union suffered less than 200 soldiers killed while it inflicted over 1,700 losses on the enemy.

And the man who helped lead the repeating rifle revolution, Walter Hunt? Well, he had died four years earlier. He had achieved economic security, at least, before he died, but he never achieved the fame or fortune of the other men who contributed to the changing face of warfare.

But hey, at least he also didn’t have to see the Civil War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 heroes from Pearl Harbor you’ve likely never heard of

The attack on Pearl Harbor, which catapulted the US into World War II, happened 77 years ago on Dec. 7, 2018.

The Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii killed more than 2,400 American sailors and civilians and wounded 1,000 more.

Japanese fighter planes also destroyed or damaged almost 20 naval ships during the attack.

But the US sailors and civilians didn’t standby without putting up a fight.

Here are 7 Pearl Harbor heroes you’ve never heard about.


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Phil Rasmussen during flight school.

1. Phil Rasmussen, who raced into his plane to attack Japanese Zero fighters.

Lt. Phil Rasmussen was one of four American pilots able to get in the air and engage Japanese fighters during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When the attack was launched, Rasmussen was still in his pajamas when he ran out to the flight line and jumped in an then-old Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighter plane — the only US planes the Japanese hadn’t yet taken out.

Once in the air, Rasmussen shot down one Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter planes, and damaged another before he was targeted by two more.

The two Japanese fighters shot up his plane, and took out his radio, hydraulic lines and rudder cables, but he was able to fly away and hide in the clouds before landing without brakes, a rudder or tailwheel.

Rasmussen received the Silver Star for his actions, and retired from the Air Force in 1965.

Sources: US Air Force, We Are The Mighty

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Doris Miller.

(US Navy photo)

2. Doris Miller, who fired a machine gun at attacking fighters.

Cook Third Class Doris Miller was stationed on the USS West Virginia battleship when the Japanese attacked.

Awake at 6 a.m., Miller was collecting laundry when the attack was launched. He went to his battle station, which was an anti-aircraft battery magazine in the middle of the ship, only to find it had been taken out by a torpedo.

Miller then went to the deck, where he was assigned to carry away wounded sailors before he was ordered to the bridge to help the mortally wounded Mervyn Sharp Bennion (who later received the Medal of Honor).

After helping deliver ammunition to two .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun crews, and without any weapons training, he manned one of the guns himself and fired until the ammunition was spent.

“It wasn’t hard,” Miller later said.

“I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”

He received the Navy Cross for his actions, the first ever given to an African American.

Miller was killed in 1943 while serving on the escort carrier USS Liscome Bay, which was sunk by a Japanese torpedo.

Source: US Navy

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First Lieutenant Annie G. Fox.

(National Archives photo)

3. Annie G. Fox, who worked ceaselessly to care for the wounded.

First Lieutenant Annie G. Fox was the head nurse at the hospital at Hickham field, which was Hawaii’s main army airfield and bomber base, when the attack on Pearl Harbor was launched.

Fox “administered anesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment, assisted in dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressings, and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency, and her fine example of calmness, courage and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact,” according to her Purple Heart medal citation.

Fox was the first US service woman to receive the Purple Heart, which she received for her actions during the attack.

At the time, the US military awarded Purple Hearts for “singularly meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity or essential service.” When the requirement of being wounded was added, her Purple Heart was replaced with the Bronze Star, since she had not been wounded.

Fox was promoted to the rank of major before retiring from the service in 1945.

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USS Pennsylvania still in dry dock after the Pearl Harbor attack.

(US Navy photo)

4. George Walters, a crane operator who warned sailors of the incoming attack.

George Walters was a civilian who operated a huge crane next to the USS Pennsylvania battleship at Pearl Harbor.

He was 50 feet up in the crane when the attack was launched, and was one of the first Americans to see the Japanese planes coming, and alerted the sailors aboard the Pennsylvania.

Walters then repeatedly swung the crane back and forth to shield the ship from Japanese fighter planes as US sailors aboard the Pennsylvania attempted to return fire.

But the sailors manning the guns on the battleship had trouble seeing the Japanese planes because they were in dry dock.

“The water had been pumped out, dropping their decks to a point where the high sides of the drydock blocked most of the view,” author Walter Lord wrote in his book “Day of Infamy.”

So Walters used the crane’s boom to point out incoming Japanese planes.

“After a 500-pound bomb exploded nearby, damaging the crane and stunning Walters, he nearly fell from the crane. But Walters had moved the crane just in time to avoid a direct hit from the bomb, which left a 17-foot crater,” according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Walters has since been credited by many with helping save the ship. He operated cranes until 1950, and retired in 1966.

Source: Honolulu Star-Bulletin, History.com

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Cmdr. Cassin Young, who saved his ship from the attack.

(US Navy photo)

5. Cassin Young

Cmdr. Cassin Young commanded the USS Vestal repair ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Young was in his cabin in the Vestal when the attack was launched. He ran to the deck, where he organized sailors to fire the ships’ three-inch guns at the Japanese planes overheard.

But Young was blown overboard, along with 100 other sailors, when the forward magazine of the famed USS Arizona battleship, which was next to the Vestal, was hit and exploded.

The Vestal’s second in command ordered the remaining sailors to abandon ship, but Young swam through the oil slick water and climbed back aboard.

“Where the hell do you men think you are going?” Young yelled at the sailors abandoning ship, shouting at them to go to their stations and get the ship underway.

The Vestil eventually made it out into open waters. Damaged and on fire, it ran aground.

Young later received the Medal of Honor for his actions, and was promoted to captain of the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco. He was killed aboard the San Francisco during the Guadalcanal Campaign.

Source: US Navy, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

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Chief Boatswain Edwin Joseph Hill, who saved shipmates from Japanese fighters.

(US Navy photo)

6. Edwin Hill

Chief Boatswain Edwin Joseph Hill was stationed on the USS Nevada battleship when the attack on Pearl Harbor began.

As Japanese planes fired down on the ship from above, Hill jumped into the harbor’s waters and climbed ashore to release the Nevada from its mooring. He then jumped back in and swam towards the Nevada, which was moving to open water, and climbed back aboard the battleship.

But with the Nevada alone in the water, the ship was an obvious target, and would have blocked the harbor if destroyed.

With Japanese fighters attacking the Nevada, Hill directed other sailors to take cover behind the gun’s turrets. Many of the sailors later credited him with saving their lives.

When Hill tried to drop anchor during the second wave of attack, a Japanese bomb hit the bow and he was killed.

Hill was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Source: Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau, Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau

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Ensign Herbert C. Jones, who was passing ammunition up to gun crews when he was critically injured.

(US Navy photo)

7. Ensign Herbert C. Jones

Ensign Herbert C. Jones was stationed aboard the USS California battleship during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Jones had just taken over for the junior officer of the deck when the attack was launched.

After a torpedo damaged the mechanical hoist that loaded the ship’s anit-aircraft guns, Jones led a group of sailors to deliver the ammunition by hand.

Jones was in a compartment on the third deck passing ammo up a ladder to the gun battery when a bomb struck the second deck, injuring him critically.

The Nevada was taking on water, and threatened with catching fire from burning oil in the water, when an abandoned ship order was given.

Two sailors carried Jones up from the compartment, which had caught fire, but at one point, got stuck.

“Leave me alone! I’m done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off,” Jones said.

Marine Corps Pvt. Howard Haynes, who had been confined when the attack was launched, later credited Jones with saving his life.

“God, give me a chance to prove I’m worth it,” Haynes said.

Jones was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Source: Defense Department, “Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Savage and Final Appraisal”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first satellite into an elliptical, low-Earth orbit. It was only 184lbs with a 23″ diameter and managed to stay in orbit for 21 days before the battery powering the transmitter ran out. It burned up in the atmosphere three months later. This marked the beginning of what would be known as the “Space Race” between the Soviets and the U.S. However, according to legend, America may have accidentally beaten the Soviets at launching something into space — a manhole cover.


In the summer of 1957, during Operation Plumbob, American scientists were testing the capabilities of nuclear explosions in all fashions at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. They tested different alloys, various yield sizes, and, controversially, how troops react to exposure, but this story’s all about using a nuclear explosion as a propellant.

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During the Pascal-A test on July 26, scientists tested a nuclear warhead underneath the surface of the Earth, marking the first U.S. underground nuclear test. The test yield was 50,000 times greater than expected and the blast spewed out of the 500-foot, deep-cased hole. It destroyed the five feet of concrete that was used to cap the explosion.

Like every good scientist, they tried it again on Aug. 27 to test “safety.” Instead of the 55-ton yield of the previous test, they used 300 tons and placed a 2-ton concrete cap just above the bomb. Sitting atop the hole was the destined-for-greatness manhole cover. Scientists expected the concrete plug to vaporize, but when the vapors expanded, the pressure was forced up the shaft and blew the 4-in thick, 500lb, steel manhole into the air. The only high-speed camera, capturing one frame per millisecond, was only able to capture the manhole cover in a single frame.

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Fun Fact: Many tourists came from Las Vegas to witness the nuclear blasts. Probably not the best idea. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

When asked about the manhole cover, Dr. Robert Brownlee, the designer of the experiment, said that there was no way to account for all the variables at play and determine the fate of the steel cover. When pressed by a supervisor, he said that it must have reached six times the escape velocity of Earth (which is 11.2km/sec). A more modern estimate puts the speed of the steel cap at around 56 km/sec. For comparison, the speed of sound in air is 0.33 km/sec — or if you need a more veteran-friendly comparison, the muzzle velocity of an M4 is 0.9km/sec. The fastest man-made thing is the Helios 2, which travels 70.2km/sec.

There was no way to verify any of this, as the manhole cover was never found, but if the math was right and the manhole cover survived the extreme pressure and heat, Dr. Brownlee may have made it to space first, created the fastest object while in Earth’s atmosphere, and the third-fastest object known to man.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ex-slave who disguised herself as a man to enlist

Members of the Armed Forces will be familiar with the term “contraband.” In basic training, it was civilian clothing. On deployment, it was alcohol. For the Union soldiers that occupied Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1861, contraband referred to the slaves they captured. These captured slaves were pressed into service as cooks, laundresses or nurses to support the Union war effort. Among these captured slaves was 17-year-old Cathay Williams, who worked as a cook and washerwoman and eventually, as a soldier.


In September 1844, Williams was born in Independence, Missouri, to a free man and an enslaved woman. This made her legal status that of a slave. She worked as a house slave on the Johnson Plantation outside of Jefferson City, Missouri.

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Painting of Cathay Williams by Williams Jennings (U.S. Army Profiles of Bravery)

After she was pressed into service, Williams served under General Philip Sheridan and accompanied the infantry on campaigns around the country, including the Red River Campaign, the Battle of Pea Ridge, and the Shenandoah Valley Raids in Virginia. Her extensive travels during the war influenced her decision to enlist afterwards.

On November 15, 1866, Williams enlisted in the 38th Infantry Regiment (“Rock of the Marne”). Because women were prohibited from military service, Williams disguised herself as a man and enlisted under the name “William Cathay”. At the time, the Army did not perform full medical examinations on enlistees, so Williams was able to maintain her cover. Only two people in the regiment, a cousin, and a friend, knew Williams’ true identity. “They never blowed on me,” Williams said. “They were partly the cause of me joining the Army. The other reason was I wanted to make my own living and not be dependent on relations or friends.”

Williams was able to keep her secret despite a case of smallpox shortly after her enlistment. After her hospitalization, Williams was able to rejoin her unit at Fort Bayard in the New Mexico territory, helping to secure the construction of the transcontinental railroads. However, a case of neuralgia (intermittent nerve pain) sent her to the post surgeon who uncovered Williams’ secret and reported her to the post commander. On October 14, 1868, she received an honorable discharge with the legacy of being the first and only female Buffalo Soldier.

Williams went on to work as a cook, laundress, and part-time nurse in New Mexico and Colorado. Years later, her declining health led to a hospitalization from 1890 to 1891. In June 1891, Williams applied for a military disability pension. A doctor concluded that she did not qualify, and the Pension Bureau cited the fact that her Army service was not legal. It is estimated that Williams died between 1892 and 1900. Her final resting place is also unknown.

American women have disguised themselves as men in order to serve since the Revolutionary War. Williams, however, was the first known African-American to do so. She is also the only known woman to disguise herself as a man during the Indian Wars. Her fierce independence and determination to serve are hallmarks of the American spirit that she, and so many others before and after her, have sought to defend.

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Bronze bust of Cathay Williams at the Richard Allen Cultural Center in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (Buffalo Soldier Monument Committee)

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