How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

In January 1946, a rather amusing wanted ad was published in the pulp comic book Rangeland Romances. “Three lonely sailors” of the USS Mellette sent in a request for pen pals that seems like it would have been hard to ignore. 

The USS Mellette (APA-156) was a Haskell-class attack transport commissioned Sept. 27, 1944, conducting a series of training operations in the Pacific before she got underway for Iwo Jima on Jan. 27, 1945. She participated in the initial assault on Feb. 19, unloading supplies and taking on casualties. She would remain active in the Pacific, including Okinawa, Saipan, and Nagasaki, until she finally witnessed the official surrender of Japan in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. In June, 1946, she was decommissioned and entered into the Reserve Fleet at Yorktown, Virginia.

The Beach-Party Sailors’ letter was shared on Twitter by Vera Herbert, Writer and Co-Executive Producer of This is Us, a show that has taken great effort and care toward telling military stories. It’s no wonder, then, that she would get excited over this treasure of an ad:

Beach-Party Sailors

Dear Editor:

We wonder if you have room in your “Pony Express” for three lonely sailors.

We read RANGELAND ROMANCES and enjoy them very much. We are Marvin Munson S2/c and John Williams S2/c and Clayton Daniels S1/c. We have been overseas for several months and don’t get much mail at all. So come on, girls everywhere, and make some lonely sailors happy.

We are “beach-party” sailors and were in the invasion of Iwo Jima and have some interesting things to write about. So, girls, let’s sling some ink.

Sincerely,

U.S.S. Mellette (APA-156)

℅ Fleet Post Office

San Francisco, Calif.

JOHN WILLIAMS S2/c

MARVIN MUNSON S2/c

CLAYTON DANIELS S1/c”

Whether those frisky sailors ever heard from Rangeland Romances readers is tough to say, but I’m with Herbert in hoping they found love through the pages of pulp comics. 

They’re not the only service members who appreciate letters from home. One military spouse, Army wife Christina Etchberger, set up a pen pal program so people can write to veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Anyone who wants to is invited to write a letter to a veteran. Etchberger encourages pen pals to include thin objects like photos, cards, crafts, stickers, postcards, stamps, or seed envelopes and write a little something about yourself on the back (for example, Etchberger’s son wrote “looking for a pen pal who likes planes!”). Keep the letter positive and avoid controversial topics. 

Then mail your letter directly to the Lawton-Fort Sill Veterans Center, 501 SE Flower Mound Road, Lawton, OK 73501.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Curtis LeMay beat the Navy in an amazing maritime intercept

Curtis LeMay is best known for running Strategic Air Command in the 1950s and for serving as Air Force Chief of Staff in the 1960s. He’s also known for leading the strategic bombing campaign against Japan at the end of World War II. But before all that, he pulled off an amazing maritime intercept.


Back in 1938, finding ships at sea was a lot harder than it is today. Even with today’s technology, finding a ship that doesn’t want to be found is difficult. Back then, they didn’t have the advantages of radar-equipped maritime patrol planes, like the Lockheed P-3 Orion or Boeing P-8 Poseidon. Nope, all pilots had back then were binoculars to enhance the ol’ Mk 1 eyeball.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals
General Curtis LeMay (USAF photo)

Keep in mind those technical limitations as we talk about the feat LeMay pulled off in 1938. At the time, the Army Air Corps was in the midst of budget battles. The B-17 was in its infancy, and while the shooting hadn’t started yet, there were some war clouds on the horizon. As hostilities loomed, inter-service rivalries flared, especially tensions over who would defend America’s coast from the enemy.

Related: This is what you need to know about the B-17 Flying Fortress

Three Y1B-17s from the 2nd Bomb Group were selected to carry out an intercept of the Italian liner SS Rex. Aside from LeMay, the crews included Caleb Haynes, who would later become an air commander in the CBI Theater of World War II, and Robert Olds, the 2nd Bomb Group commander and father of legendary fighter pilot Robin Olds.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals
Clabe V. Haynes, lead pilot in the Rex intercept. (DOD photo)

On May 12, 1938, the three Flying Fortresses took off. According to Air Force Magazine, LeMay had to adjust the plan for the intercept when he learned the SS Rex was further out than expected. That glitch allowed LeMay to demonstrate his amazing skills. The B-17s flew over 600 nautical miles off the coast of the United States, then dropped down almost right on top of the Italian liner.

Initially, the incident caused a fuss among the Navy, which still claims the Air Force cheated by tracking a homing signal operating from the Rex. However, it did lead President Franklin D. Roosevelt to become an advocate of long-range aviation. The B-17 would later become a legend over Europe and the Pacific, but much of it started with the intercept of the SS Rex.

The SS Rex, incidentally, would later be sunk after it was seized by the Nazis.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist

Sitting on a bar stool at the bar of Le Jockey, a classy nightclub in Montparnasse on the Left Bank of Paris, was Ernest Hemingway. African American musicians on stage were playing their saxophones, horns, and drums, while beautiful women danced along.

“One of those nights, I couldn’t take my eyes off a beautiful woman on the dance floor—tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, long, seductive legs: Very hot night but she was wearing a black fur coat,” Hemingway recounts in A.E. Hotchner’s memoir Hemingway in Love: His Own Story

“She was dancing with a big British army sergeant, but her eyes were on me as much as my eyes were on her. I got off my bar stool and cut in on the Brit who tried to shoulder me away but the woman left the Brit and slid over to me. The sergeant looked bullets at me. The woman and I introduced ourselves. Her name was Josephine Baker, an American, to my surprise. Said she was about to open at the Folies Bergère, that she’d just come from rehearsal.”

She told him the fur coat was because she had nothing else on underneath. The Brit followed them as they were leaving, exchanging words the entire way, and pulled Hemingway’s sleeve and slammed him against the wall. Hemingway dropped the burly Brit with his fist as the police whistles were sounding. Hemingway spent the night at Baker’s kitchen table, drinking champagne sent from an admirer. They talked all night, “mostly bullshit,” but also about love and their souls.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals
Josephine Baker often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with her pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar and sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. Screenshot via YouTube.

“Cruel vibes can offend the soul and send it on to a better place,” Baker told Hemingway. “You need some good stuff to happen in your life, Ernie, to rescue you with your soul.”

Baker was as mysterious as she was captivating, and when asked about her flamboyant persona, Hemingway recalled she was “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw … or ever will.”

The American-born performer moved to France from a poverty-stricken home in St. Louis during the Roaring ’20s. Blacks in the United States weren’t welcomed as they were in Europe. The early success of Black entertainers can be credited to Harlem Hellfighter James Reese Europe, who introduced the jazz scene that would rumble across the continent during World War I. 

Baker performed in the Harlem music-and-dance ensemble La Revue Nègre. She dressed in provocative outfits, including a skirt strung with bananas (and not much else), while on stage and gained a reputation for her comedic and silly style. Soon she became a star, entertaining open-minded white crowds under the stage name the “Creole Goddess.” 

When the Germans invaded Paris in 1940 in the early years of World War II, Baker fled among thousands of others. The 34-year-old was in an interracial marriage with a French-Jewish sugar broker named Jean Lion. She was also openly bisexual and had frequent affairs with women. Had she not fled, she could have been the target of Nazi sympathizers. 

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals
Josephine Baker was one of the first Black superstars. Current American icons have paid her homage: Beyoncé wore a banana skirt in her 2006 Fashion Rocks performance, and Rihanna memorably wore a sheer Baker-inspired dress in 2014 at the CFDA Fashion Awards. Screenshot via YouTube.

She poured out champagne from several bottles and replaced it with gasoline to endure a 300-mile journey to her country estate, Chateau des Milandes. Here she harbored refugees fleeing the Nazis and was later approached by Jacques Abtey, the head of French counterintelligence, to join the French resistance.

“France made me what I am,” she told him. “I will be grateful forever. The people of Paris have given me everything. […] I am ready, captain, to give them my life. You can use me as you wish.”

And he did. She procured visas at her chateau for French resistance fighters and used her celebrity status to attend diplomatic functions held at the Italian embassy. Axis bureaucrats, diplomats, and spies spoke about the war, and she was nearby listening in. She collected intelligence on German troop movements and gathered insight into enemy-controlled harbors and airfields. She’d write notes on her arms and legs with confidence she wouldn’t undergo a strip search. 

The Nazis paid her a visit, as they suspected she may have been involved in resistance activities. She charmed her way out of having them search her home, which was filled with hidden resistance fighters, but was spooked enough to contact Abtey to leave France. Gen. Charles de Gaulle instructed the pair to travel through neutral Lisbon, Portugal, to London. Between the two of them, they carried 50 classified documents, including Baker’s notes scribbled in invisible ink on her sheet music.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals
Josephine Baker wearing a French military uniform. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance, and became a Chevalier de Légion d’honneur, the highest order of merit for military and civil action. Screenshot courtesy of YouTube.

After the Allies liberated Paris, she returned to her beloved city wearing a French military uniform. De Gaulle awarded her the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance and named her a Chevalier de Légion d’honneur, the highest order of merit for military and civilian actions.

This war hero then became a vocal advocate against segregation and discrimination in the United States in the 1950s and ’60s. 

“You know, friends, that I do not lie to you when I tell you I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents,” she said in 1963 at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. “And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) named May 20 Josephine Baker Day. She also had a family of adopted children she called her “rainbow tribe” to show that “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.”

Josephine Baker died on April 12, 1975, at age 68. She preached equality, lived with moxie, and inspired generations of not only Black Americans but all Americans to bring change where it was needed: “Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

VHA commemorates Black History Month

A look at the many “firsts” in Veterans health history


Today’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) embodies the spirit of the many Black men and women who broke history and continue to inspire us today.

National home for disabled volunteer soldiers, the first to provide domiciliary and medical care to Black veterans

VHA’s first hospitals opened under its predecessor, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The hospitals were racially integrated from the very beginning. The first African American Veterans, who served with the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War, were admitted to the Central Branch (now Dayton VAMC) in Ohio in March 1867.

Dr. Howard Kenney, 1962

It was the first government-civilian institution to admit the nation’s first African American Veterans of the Union Army.

First racially segregated veterans hospital

After the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case decision, the practice of “separate, but equal” accommodations based on race took hold in American society. When the National Home opened its new Mountain Branch in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1903, the staff segregated Veterans by race.

A Veterans hospital established exclusively for African American Veterans opened in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1923, for those who served in World War I, caring for more than 300,000 Black Veterans

Pictured above is Dr. Henry Ward and staff at Tuskegee Hospital, 1924.

First African American hospital director

Dr. Joseph H. Ward, of Indianapolis, became the first director of the Tuskegee Veteran’s hospital in 1923. Dr. Ward served in that capacity at Tuskegee until 1936.

Dr. Howard Kenney, 1962

Racial segregation ends at VA

On July 29, 1954, VA announced that segregation of the races had officially ended at all hospitals.

First African American director to integrate VA hospitals

Dr. Howard Kenney was the first director to integrate the VA hospital system. On July 20, 1962, he became the first African American VA hospital director for the East Orange, NJ, facility.Long Description

Viola Johnson, director, Battle Creek VAMC, 1984

First African American VA regional medical director

After integrating executive leadership at VA hospitals in 1962, Dr. Howard Kenney went on to become the first African American appointed as a VA Regional Medical Director in 1969.

First African American nursing director

Vernice Ferguson was the first African American nurse appointed as VA’s Director of Nursing in 1980, and she held that position for 12 years, retiring in 1992.

Viola Johnson, director, Battle Creek VAMC, 1984

First African American woman hospital director

Viola Johnson became the first African American woman to lead a VAMC in 1984 when she assumed direction of the Battle Creek Michigan facility.

First VA hospital named for African American veteran

The first VA facility named after an African American was named after Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient PFC Ralph H. Johnson (Marines) in 1990.

First African American VA Secretary

Jesse Brown was the first African American VA Secretary. He served from 1993 to 1997.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Asian-Americans have served in the Coast Guard for 165 years

Asian-American men and women have participated in the U.S. Coast Guard for over 165 years, playing an important role in the history of the service and its predecessor services.

Cultural contact with Asian peoples came only as the nation’s borders expanded to the Pacific Rim. The first documented case of an Asian man serving aboard a Coast Guard asset took place in 1853, when the San Francisco-based cutter Argus rescued the lone survivor of the dismasted junk Yatha Maru, fed and clothed him, and enlisted him into the crew. The cutter’s commanding officer, Lt. William Pease, phonetically spelled this first Asian recruit’s name as “Dee-Yee-Noskee.”


Cutter muster roles tell the rest of the story of Asian participation in the 19th century. Ethnically Asian names begin to appear on cutter muster rolls just after the Civil War. Expanded revenue cutter operations in the Pacific and the purchase of Alaska in 1867 presented an opportunity for more Chinese, Japanese and Filipino men to enter the rolls on West Coast cutters. As with other minorities, these men initially filled positions in food service or non-ranking enlisted rates. By the end of the century, virtually every Pacific-based cutter employed Asian crew members.

Two notable Asian service members defied the West Coast pattern and enlisted on the East Coast. Chiaio-shung Soong emigrated from China to Boston as a teenager to work in his uncle’s teashop. Dissatisfied with this work, Soong enlisted aboard the cutter Schuyler Colfax in 1879 and transferred to the North Carolina-based cutter Gallatin a year later. After his brief career in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, Soong attended Duke and Vanderbilt universities before returning to China as a missionary. He became a wealthy and influential power broker in Chinese politics and his children were among early 20th century China’s most powerful military, political and economic leaders. In addition, April 1904 saw 37-year-old F. Miguchi, of Kobe, Japan, enlist as a cook aboard the cutter Gresham. Before he left the service in December 1905, he had advanced in rate from ship’s cook to wardroom steward; saved the life of a drowning cutterman; and received the first Silver Lifesaving Medal awarded to a minority Coast Guardsman. Little else is known about Miguchi and even his first name remains a mystery to this day.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals
Photo of Chiaio-shung Soong during his years in the United States. This image was taken at his church in Wilmington, N.C.
(Courtesy of the 5th Avenue Methodist Church, Wilmington)

Wars in the Pacific had a major influence on Asian-American service in the Coast Guard. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Asian recruits continued to serve mainly on cutters based out of the West Coast. However, the 1898 Spanish-American War altered the service’s recruiting and the early 1900s saw countless Asian enlistments from captured territory, primarily the Philippines. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese-Americans were excluded from participating in the Coast Guard bringing to a temporary close an 85-year record of ethnically Japanese service members. That policy was later rescinded and Japanese-Americans returned to the service.

During World War II, Filipinos comprised the largest Asian group to serve in the Coast Guard. Most of these men were American citizens, but many native Filipino military men transferred to the Coast Guard after the Japanese captured their homeland in 1942. The exiled president of the Philippines even transferred the patrol boat Bataan and its crew to the Coast Guard for the duration of the war. Native Filipino Florence Finch worked for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence office before the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. After the fall of the island nation, she smuggled supplies to American prisoners-of-war and Filipino guerrillas. The Japanese arrested Finch, but American forces freed her in early 1945 and she boarded a Coast Guard-manned transport bound for the U.S. She next enlisted in the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, or SPARs, becoming the first Asian-American woman to don a Coast Guard uniform.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals
Florence Smith Finch supplied food and medicine to American prisoners of war in the Philippines then became a Coast Guard SPAR late in World War II.
(Coast Guard Collection)

Asian-Americans were also the first minority graduates of the Coast Guard Academy. In 1949, Chinese-American Jack Ngum Jones became the first minority officer to graduate from the Academy. Native Chinese Kwang-Ping Hsu graduated from the Academy in 1962. He was the first foreign-born Academy graduate and one of the Coast Guard’s first minority Coast Guard aviators, flying missions primarily in the Arctic and Antarctic. Harry Toshiyuki Suzuki graduated in 1963. In 1979, Filipino Wilfredo Tamayo completed the Academy’s International Cadet Program. He was one of the first graduates of the program and he later became the 22nd commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard. The year 1980 saw Japanese-American Moynee Smith become the first minority female graduate of the Academy and, in 1982, Jeanien Yee became the second Asian-American graduate. In 1986, Hung Nguyen became the first Vietnamese-American graduate of the Coast Guard Academy.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals
Kwang-Ping Hsu, born in mainland China was one of the service’s first minority aviators and became known for polar aviation missions.
(Coast Guard Collection)

Recent decades have seen Asian-American service members enter senior officer and enlisted levels in all branches of the service. For example, 1958 saw Manuel Tubella transfer from the Marine Corps to become the service’s second minority aviator and advanced to the rank of captain. In 2013, Rear Adm. Joseph Vojvodich became the Coast Guard’s first Asian-American flag officer and, in 2016, Rear Adm. Andrew Tiongson became the service’s second Asian-American flag officer.

For over 165 years, thousands of ethnically Asian men and women have served with distinction in the U.S. Coast Guard. They have been diligent members of the long blue line and they will play an important role in shaping the service in the 21st century.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Iran banned this most American of hairstyles

Forget business in the front, party in the rear. Iran is all business. There’s no party around back. At least, not for the most American of all possible hairstyles: the mullet. The mullet is so American, in fact, that it’s banned in Iran for precisely that reason. Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance said goodbye to the haircut for being “un-Islamic.”

The haircut was on a list of “decadent Western haircuts” that were banned, alongside ponytails, spiked hairstyles, and long hair in general in 2010.


The year was a difficult one for Iran, coming on the heels of the Green Movement, which protested the 2009 Presidential election and pushed for the removal of the Iran’s much-reviled (but reelected anyway) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The countrywide protests were the largest since the 1979 Iranian Revolution that saw Imperial Iran transformed into the Islamic Republic.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

“…from my cold, dead head.”

It’s fun to laugh at the idea of banning an American hairstyle that itself has been the butt of thousands of jokes for decades, but the reality is a little less funny. The hairstyle ban is part of a series of punishments from the anti-Western Cultural Ministry and part of the reprisals against the Iranian people for the Green Movement protests.

Raids, arrests, and human rights violations came immediately after the protests, but bans like the one on un-Islamic hairstyles are the enduring legacy of such knee-jerk reactions. Iranian police would start shutting down barber shops offering such hairstyles and fine the owners.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

Causing Achy Breaky Hearts.

It’s a strange notion that the mullet is considered a part of the Western cultural invasion of Iran, considering it’s a hairstyle that may have emerged in the ancient Middle East anyway. At first glance, the look that made Billy Ray Cyrus a cultural icon (for the brief time he was) should seem ridiculous to Iranian Morality policemen, but it’s not the only Western cultural trend to endure in the country.

Iranian men forego beards (even as beards are very much in back in the United States) while embracing neckties and European designer brands. These trends are hard to ignore, but the mullet should hardly seem comparable to the appeal of Prada and Givenchy.

“The proposed styles are inspired by Iranians’ complexion, culture and religion, and Islamic law,” said Jaleh Khodayar, who is in charge of the Modesty and Veil Festival. It was there that acceptable hairstyles were revealed. Also out are things like eyebrow plucking for males and excessive hair gel.

Failure to comply with the new hair regulations for men would result in a forced, bad haircut, courtesy of Iran’s Morality Police. The clerics who run Iranian society believe the looks will ultimate cause their way of life to disappear. But they also believe that sexy, revealing clothing causes earthquakes.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

Earthquakes are definitely because of Niloofar Behboudi and Shabnam Molav and not the 1,500-km long fault line running through Iran.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Army Air Corps pilot stole a Nazi plane to escape from a POW camp

Jimmy Doolittle – the man who bombed Tokyo just 5 months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – called Bob Hoover “the greatest stick-and-rudder man that ever lived.” Hoover had only been flying for five years by the time World War II broke out.


Hoover was captured by the Nazis after being shot down on his 59th mission over Europe.

The ace wasn’t about to spend the war in a prison camp, though. After 16 months as a POW, he was determined to get out and get back to the action. He staged a fight between fellow prisoners, jumped over the Stalag’s barb wire fence, and stole an unguarded Focke-Wulf 190 from the nearby airfield. He then flew it to newly-liberated Holland.

After the war, Hoover had an illustrious aviation career. He became a test pilot and Air Force legend, even backing up Chuck Yeager when he broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 in 1947.

A “pilot’s pilot,” Hoover continued to fly in air shows until 2000.

Sadly, Hoover died on October 25, 2016, but was fondly remembered by his admirers and friends in the aviation community, including Buzz Aldrin, who tweeted:

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China

Arthur Tien Chin was born in Portland, Oregon in 1913. He would die there in 1997, but not before being recognized for the incredible life he led. 

The man would spend much of his life as an everyday postal worker started his adult life as a skilled fighter pilot and the first American ace of what would become known as World War II – he would even be recognized for his contributions.

Chin was born to Cantonese parents who immigrated to Oregon from Taishan, in China’s Guangdong Province. When the Japanese Empire invaded Manchuria in 1931, Chinese-Americans were shocked and outraged. From the safety of their new country, they decided something had to be done.

Chin began flight school with a class of  around a dozen other Americans of Chinese descent, paid for by the Chinese expatriate community in Oregon. The only stipulation was that the students return to their homeland to fly against Japanese aggression. 

He returned to  Guangdong and joined the provincial air forces, as much of China was ruled by warlords at the time and many provinces had their own armies.  He soon defected to the Kuomintang central government’s air force and was selected for advanced fighter training, from the Nazi German Luftwaffe

Before the Axis Pact split the world into Axis and Allies with Germany and China on opposite sides, China was a major buyer of German weapons, especially aircraft. Upon his return to China, he was training other pilots in the use of the planes China actually had, outdated as they may be. 

Chinese pilots were still fighting with fabric-covered Curtiss biplanes with open cockpits and rifle-sized machine guns in 1937. That’s the year Japan began a full-scale war with China. Chin and his fellow Americans went to work, despite the technological disadvantage of fighting against modern bombers and fighters.

A plane similar to the one used by Arthur Tien Chin
A Curtiss biplane similar to the one used by Chin.

His first kill came that year when he took down a Japanese Mitsubishi G3M2 twin-engine bomber, on his first day at an airfield near Nanjing. But the plane he was flying took heavy damage and he was forced to the ground. His second kill against the same bomber came the very next month, September 1937.

By February 1938, Chin and company were flying British Gloster Gladiator fighters, which were still biplanes but not cloth covered. Chinese fighter pilots were able to down significant Japanese Imperial planes at first, but when the Zero, the Mitsubishi A6M, was introduced to the skies over China, the Gladiator’s days were numbered. Despite the Gladiator’s shortcomings, Chin would score 6.5 kills in its cockpit.

Chin himself would be shot down by intercepting Zeros while flying an escort mission in Guangxi. Outnumbered and outgunned, he rammed his biplane into one of the Japanese fighters, taking it down. He flew his failing plane back to friendly territory and landed in a rice paddy. His face now badly burned from the incident, he waited until friendly troops came by to return to base.

He and his family were bombed shortly after, as Chin recovered from injuries sustained during his shootdown incident. When his Liuzhou home was bombed by the Japanese, his wife was killed as she covered his body to protect him from shrapnel and debris. He was moved to Hong Kong to recuperate.

But no rest came. It wasn’t long before Japan came for Hong Kong too. He was evacuated and moved to New York City for skin grafts. He left the Chinese military after he recovered in 1945. After a stint promoting the purchase of war bonds, he was sent back to China, this time as a civilian aviator. His mission to fly supplies over “the hump” – an air route over the Himalayas from India into China. 

At the time, it was one of the most dangerous air routes in the whole war. But when the war ended in 1945, he returned to the US. Since he couldn’t find work as a pilot back in his home state of Oregon, so he became a postal officer. 

In 1995, the United States recognized Chin as a veteran of World War II, awarding him the Distinguished Service Cross and the Air Medal for his service. A month after his 1997, he was inducted into the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame of the Commemorative Air Force Airpower Museum for his 8.5 kills, making him America’s first fighter ace of World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An old Saxon poem depicts Jesus as a viking warrior chief

When Christianity was getting its start, the religion didn’t exactly spread like wildfire. In its early days, the world was a tough place to be spreading new ideas. To create converts, Christians had to appeal to many, many different kinds of people for centuries. Selling the “Prince of Peace” to the Germanic-Saxon tribes of Northern Europe was particularly hard, so Christians framed Jesus in a way the locals could better understand.


Saxons were pretty much forced to take on Christianity in the 8th and 9th Centuries after a guy named Charlemagne rolled across Northern Europe with a giant sword he named “Joyous” and forced everyone there to take Communion or take three feet of steel.

But that didn’t mean they were thrilled about it.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals
“New Rule: Everyone who says anything about Valhalla gets sent there immediately.”

So, to make the idea of accepting the Christian god more amenable to the erstwhile pagan northerners, Jesus was recreated in a Saxon poem called Heliand, an epic poem that incorporated the Christian ideals with the Germanic warrior ethos – and that’s what caught on like wildfire. Not only did the Saxon warriors begin to accept the tenets of the new religion, the mix of cultures became the foundation of Medieval Europe and the culture of knighthood.

From there, the budding religion blossomed in the north and became widespread among the Saxons and beyond.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals
“Excuse me sir, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and savior?”

But it wasn’t just that the idea of God’s son being a warrior chieftain that appealed to the northerners. It was actually just a really rockin’ good poem for the time. It was so popular, in fact, that multiple copies of Heliand still survive. If we’re being honest with ourselves, no matter what we think of the Christian religion, the stories are pretty good. Of particular interest in the Heliand are the stories of Genesis, the Revolt of the Angels, the story of Cain and Abel, and the Destruction of Sodom.

Imagining the same characters from these Biblical stories in a different setting would changes the way we see Christianity, even today.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals
All I’m saying is I would read more of the Bible if all the characters were vikings.

Another reason it caught on so fast was that it was written in a way familiar to the Saxons. It’s the largest known work ever written in the Old Saxon language and it was written in the epic poem style that was already popular with those people at the time. Jesus became a chieftain, prayers became runes, and the last supper became “the last mead hall feast with the warrior-companions.”

The poem still exists in many forms, with manuscripts being held by the British Museum, the Catholic Church in Vatican City, Germany’s Bavarian State Library, and more. You can buy an English-language copy of the Heliand on Amazon, which includes lines from the life and times of Jesus like:

The Chieftain of mankind is born in David’s hill-fort.
• The three foreign warriors present their gifts to the Ruler’s Child.
• John announces Christ’s coming to Middlegard.
• Christ the Chieftain is immersed in the Jordan by His loyal thane John.
• The Champion of mankind fights off the loathsome enemy.
• Christ, the might Chieftain, chooses His first warrior-companions.
• The mighty Rescuer calls twelve to be His men.

Now admit that Christmas and Easter just got a whole lot cooler.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy’s most successful World War II sub also killed an enemy train

The Gato-class, diesel-powered US Navy submarine USS Barb is known for a lot of things. In 12 war patrols, she sank the third most tonnage in World War II, had eight battle stars, and fired the first submarine-based ballistic missiles on Japan. It earned her crew a Presidential Unit Citation, among numerous other awards and decorations.

But one of its proudest moments was also its most daring. Crewmembers aboard the Barb were also the first American combatants to set foot on Japanese home soil — in order to “sink” an enemy train.

They did all of this without losing a single man.


On Jul. 23, 1945, eight members of Barb‘s crew landed on mainland Japan under intense cloud cover and a dark moon. Their mission was to rig a Japanese train track to explode when a train crossed a switch between two railroad ties. Immediately, their best-laid plans went right out the window, forcing the crew to improvise.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

The USS Barb off the coast of Pearl Harbor, 1945.

The mission of the USS Barb was to cut the Japanese fleet’s supply lines by sinking enemy ships out of the island of Karafuto in the Sea of Okhotsk. This was the ship’s 12th war patrol, and the fifth for her skipper, then-Commander Eugene Fluckey. They could see as Japanese shipments moved from trains on the island to the ships. Once the ships were at sea, they were easy pickings for crews like the Barb’s.

But why, Fluckey thought, wait for the ships to get to sea? Why not just take them out before the trains ever reach the port? That’s exactly what Fluckey and his crew set out to do.

They couldn’t just place charges on the tracks, it would be too dangerous for the shore party once the Japanese were alerted. Instead, the U.S. Naval Institute tells us how Engineman 3rd Class Billy Hatfield devised a switch trigger for an explosive that, when set between the rails, would go off as the train passed over it.

That was the goal as the crew manned their boats and made it ashore that night, but they accidentally landed in the backyard of a Japanese civilian. So, they ended up having to struggle through thick bulrushes, cross a freeway, and even fall down drainage ditches on their way to the railway. Once there, a crewman climbed to the top of a water tower — only to discover it was a manned lookout post. Luckily, the guard was asleep and their work continued.

They dug holes for the 55-pound bomb as quickly and as quietly as possible, even having to stop as a freight train rumbled by. But they did it, put the pressure switch into place, and booked it back to the ship as fast as possible. At 1:47 am, a 16-car train hit their planted explosive and was shot into the sky. Five minutes after that, the crew was back aboard the Barb.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

The Battle Flag of USS Barb, the train is located bottom middle.

Barb’s battle flag could now boast one enemy train “sunk” in combat, along with six Navy Crosses, 23 Silver Stars, 23 Bronze Stars, and a Medal of Honor earned by members of its crew.


MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Australian special forces spent 10 days in Vietnam without saying a word

Navy SEAL and Vietnam veteran Roger Hayden spent ten days with the Australian Special Air Service during a mission in Vietnam. Hayden, then with SEAL Team One, invited the Aussies to go out in their area of responsibility. They had a blast Hayden told fellow Navy SEAL vet Jocko Willink on his podcast.

But for the entire ten days, the Aussies didn’t say a word. They just used hand and arms signals.


Some people may not be aware just how far back SEAL history goes. SEALs were first birthed during World War II, so by the time of the War in Vietnam, the use of Naval Special Operations was a lot more perfected than it was in its earliest days. The United States wasn’t the only country to have special operators in Vietnam. Many are surprised to discover the Vietnam War was fought by a handful of countries who also believed Vietnam was the front line of the ideological war pitting capitalism versus communism. One of those countries was Australia, which sent (among others) its own special operators.

For Australia, it was the largest force contribution to a foreign war in its history and for the longest time, remained its longest war. It was also just as controversial for Australian civilians at home as the war was for American citizens at home.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

Australian soldiers from 7 RAR waiting to be picked up by U.S. Army helicopters.

(Vietnam Forces National Memorial, Canberra.)

For Vietnam-era Navy SEAL Roger Hayden, the Australian SAS were some of the best he’d ever seen. He went to Army Ranger School, Raider School, and others, but he says he learned more about reconnaissance in his ten days with the Australians than he did anywhere else in the world.

“In UDT (underwater demolition teams), you just didn’t have the fieldcraft to be out in the jungle looking for people,” Hayden said of the SEALs at the time. “Their [the Australians’] fieldcraft was so good… and you gotta have your sh*t together.”

According to Hayden, they lost a lot of SEALs because of their lack of fieldcraft preparation.

Hayden and his fellow SEALs took over from those they replaced the very same day they arrived in country, with little to no preparation or turnover. They had to start completely brand new, flying into a South Vietnamese base near the U Minh Forest, today called U Minh Thượng National Park. Hayden says they were doing dartboard ops – where they would throw a dart at the map, going to wherever it hits.

“We didn’t have intel, we didn’t have sh*t,” Hayden says. “We were pretty isolated out at a Vietnamese base camp in BF-Egypt, you know what I mean?”

His time with the Australians was a rare run in the jungle, as he and fellow SEALs normally conducted riverine inserts for ambushes, intel gathering, and enemy observation.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The awesome story behind the Commander-In-Chief’s desk

After taking office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter moved a new desk into the White House. It had been briefly used by President Kennedy, but Johnson moved it out after taking office. Carter’s new desk was known as the Resolute Desk, and was made from the timbers of a British warship that was abandoned in the icy waters of Canada. That was not the ship’s final fate, however.


How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

The ship was originally part of an expedition sent to track down explorer Sir John Franklin, who left England in 1845 to look for the long-fabled “Northwest Passage.” Franklin and his crew were lost, all dying of starvation and exposure, not to mention the seaborne illnesses of the era. But England didn’t know that, and Franklin’s ships weren’t discovered until 2016, so the Royal Navy sent a squadron out to discover the fate of Franklin himself. The HMS Resolute was just one of the ships in that squadron.

The expedition to find Franklin was as disastrous as Franklin’s own expedition. Eventually, the thick sea ice would force the Navy to abandon at least two of the ships, including Resolute. An American whaling crew found the Royal Navy ship adrift in the waters off Canada, crewed her, and took her to New London. Instead of turning her into an American ship, the United States had other plans.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

The “special relationship” between England and the United States is a relatively recent development. In the days before the 20th Century, the two countries routinely butted heads and almost went to war on a number of occasions. At this time, the two were embroiled in border disputes, territorial arguments, fishing rights, and whatever else countries can go to war over. The U.S. decided to give the Resolute a complete American overhaul and refit, then present the ship to Queen Victoria as a peace offering. It worked.

The ship remained in England’s home waters until she left the service in 1879. But the wood from Resolute was to become legendary. Three desks were made, the first for the widow of Henry Grinnell, an American merchant from New York who helped search for Franklin’s lost expedition, the second for Queen Victoria herself. The third and largest one was presented as a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

The desk remained in the White House until the assassination of President Kennedy, when Lyndon Johnson allowed it to go around the country on a traveling expedition and then sending it to the Smithsonian Institution. The desk has been modified twice, the most significant was the addition of a door panel in the front which bears the Presidential Seal. Franklin D. Roosevelt had this added to hide his leg braces from the press. That seal is only one of three that features the eagle’s head turned toward the 13 arrows on its talon, instead of the olive branch.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Five Air Force officers volunteered to be nuked and survived

Unless there is a lead-lined refrigerator lying around, we’re guessing none of you reading this would be too keen on standing at ground zero of a nuclear blast. But it turns out this is exactly what six men chose to do with their afternoon in July of 1957 — five of them even volunteered, with the sixth not told what he’d be ordered to do that day until he showed up to work… So who were these men, why were they there, and what happened after?

As the Cold War began heating up and the U.S. and Soviets were each attempting to set a record for money spent stock piling thousands of weapons not intended to be used, the general public were getting a little nervous about both the testing of said weapons and what would happen if one of the two super powers decided to take things to the next level, particularly as rockets and missiles tipped with nukes started to become a thing. Despite assertions that there was nothing inherently dangerous about a rocket with a nuclear warhead detonating directly above you, the citizens of the United States weren’t buying it.


Putting their money where their mouths were, Colonel Arthur Oldfield of the Continental Air Defense Command decided to prove the assertion, ordering to have just this sort of thing filmed happening. This particular test, named John, was a part of the five month long Operation Plumbbob series of nuclear tests.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

(National Nuclear Security Administration)

Besides the men involved with John, these tests also included over 18,000 other members of the military being put in relatively close proximity to nuclear blasts, with the point being to determine how troops would react in battle with nukes detonating nearby. The tests also included over a thousand pigs being used to study the biological effects of the detonations when the subjects were much closer to the blasts than officials were comfortable putting humans. (Squeal piggy!!!)

The five men who volunteered to insert themselves into John were Colonel Sidney Bruce, Lt. Colonel Frank P. Ball, Major Norman “Bodie” Bodinger, Major John Hughes, and Colonel Donald Lutrell. The sixth individual was a cameraman named Akira “George” Yoshitake — simultaneously the only one who did not volunteer for the gig and the only one who had a job to do during the blast. His job, of course, was to capture the entire event for a nice little propaganda film to demonstrate that these nuclear tipped rockets were perfectly safe to use in air combat scenarios above populated regions.

And so it was that on July 19, 1957, the five exceptionally brave men and one cameraman, no doubt re-evaluating his career choices and decision making paradigm, found themselves standing around 70 miles northwest of Las Vegas as the crow flies, or about 100 miles by road, in the Yucca Flats in the Area 10 Test Site. Next to them was a sign that read “Ground Zero. Population 5”, casually disregarding the key contributions of Yoshitake, which has been a theme for the few hundred filmmakers who were so critical to these nuclear tests and data gathering, yet have been largely ignored by history.

Genie Missile Test

www.youtube.com

Soon enough an F-28 jet flew overhead, shooting a Genie rocket equipped with a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead. This was actually the first test of a live nuclear tipped Genie rocket, but, thankfully for the men, the unguided rocket did not malfunction and instead flew straight for about two and a half miles at a height of around Flight Level 180 (about 18,000 feet or about 5.5 km). It then detonated almost directly above them.

Said Major Bodey as it happened, “We felt a heat pulse. A very bright light. A fireball it is red. The sky looks black about it. It is boiling above us. It is rapidly losing its color…”

Then a massive blast sound could be heard, at which point Bodey stated, “There is the ground wave! It is over folks, It happened! The mounds are vibrating. It is tremendous! Directly above our heads! It is a huge fireball. … Wasn’t that a perfect, perfect shot.”

Seemingly remembering the whole thing was to be a propaganda film showing it was just good family fun to stand under a nuclear blast, Colonel Bruce then stated, “My only regrets right now are that everyone couldn’t have been out here at ground zero with us.” Shortly thereafter he no doubt thanked the Academy and noted he felt humbled to be there.

You might at this point be thinking that while the blast itself didn’t do them any harm, other than maybe a stubborn case of tinnitus — the little talked about silent killer associated with nuclear blasts — surely these men must have been exposed to copious amounts of ionizing radiation. But this turns out not to have been the case. It was later determined they were exposed to negligible amounts of such radiation. In fact, less than the pilot of the F-89 jet and significantly less than the pilots ordered to fly through the region of atmosphere the blast occurred at a mere ten minutes later.

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

A formation of three F-89Ds.

(US Air Force photo)

The blast occurring reasonably high in the atmosphere also ensured that no ground materials were sucked up, thus no large cloud of radioactive particles was present. And as for the radioactive materials from the bomb and any dust already in the atmosphere nearby, these would have spread out quite widely before coming down.

Ironically, however, while the whole thing was meant to show the safety of such nuclear rockets detonating high over head, radioactive particles from these tests frequently settled on nearby towns, even as far away as Utah. As you might expect from this, the U.S. government has paid a pretty penny, to the tune of around a billion dollars to date, to the inhabitants of these regions who later had health problems possibly related to being exposed to high amounts of ionizing radiation during the tests.

All this said, it is noted that every one of these six brave men did later in life get cancer at one point or another. However, it’s not thought this test in particularly probably contributed much to that. All of them were involved in a number of nuclear tests, many of which saw them exposed to far more ionizing radiation, with the cumulative effect of it all probably also not helping matters.

In the end, Major Hughes lived to the age of 71, dying of cancer in 1990. Lt. Col. Ball lived until 2003, dying at the ripe old age of 83 of cancer. Colonel Bruce actually made it to 86, dying in 2005 of, you guessed it, cancer. Major Bodinger also died of cancer, we believe in February of 1997, though it’s not clear here as his grave is not listed in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs grave site locator. But we found a grave in Oklahoma for someone that appears to match up with what we know about Bodie. Next up, Colonel Lutrell at one point got colon cancer, though it isn’t clear whether this is what he died of. Whatever the case, he seems to have shuffled off this mortal coil in 2014 at the age of 91. As for the cameraman George Yoshitake, while he did have to battle stomach cancer to do it, he lived to 84, dying in 2013 of a stroke.

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

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