This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF's deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

Sir Douglas Bader was a Royal Air Force hero in World War II, downing 23 German aircraft, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order, and being named the 5th deadliest fighter ace in the RAF.


Making his feats even more impressive was the fact that he did these things without legs.

 

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
Douglas Bader as photographed in 1940 with two prosthetic limbs but massive balls. Photo: Royal Air Force photographer Devon S A

 

Bader was known for being an athletic kid. His family faced money problems after his father died of injuries sustained in World War I. Bader had to earn athletic scholarships to attend school. His prowess on the field also helped him get a cadetship to the Cranwell Air Force Academy in 1928 where he earned a reputation for skill in the cockpit.

Two years later, Bader graduated and began flying in aerobatic displays for the RAF. In a 1931 show, he attempted a low-level display and crashed into the ground, sustaining severe injuries. Doctors decided they would have to amputate both of his legs beneath the knees to save him.

The charismatic pilot later wrote in his diary for that day, “Crashed slow-rolling near ground. Bad show.” He was a bit stoic.

Bader was forced out of the RAF by the injury but was promised that he could come back if war was declared. He spent the next few years learning to play sports with his tin prosthetics.

In 1939, he got his chance to re-enter the service and took it. He attended a pilot refresher course and was sent to Duxford, England in 1940. At Duxford, he was introduced to the Spitfire which he described as “the aeroplane of one’s dreams.”

Soon, he was flying combat missions. He participated in the evacuation at Dunkirk where he scored his first victory over a German aircraft.

 

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
Douglas Bader’s logbook show his first kill at the Evacuation of Dunkirk. Photo: Royal Air Force online exhibitions

 

With the English kicked out of Europe, Hitler quickly began laying the groundwork for an invasion of the kingdom and Bader was called on to help keep the Germans out of England. In Jul. 1940, the Battle of Britain was on. Bader and his commander, Trafford Leigh-Mallory, pioneered the Big Wing strategy that summer which envisioned squadrons of fighters descending on German bombers and their fighter escorts.

It was credited at the time with forcing the Germans to cease daytime bombing missions and postponing the potential invasion of Britain from 1940 to 1941. RAF pilots were heralded as heroes, Bader especially. Bader had racked up a stunning 23 aircraft kills, counting the one at Dunkirk. This made him the 5th most lethal pilot in the RAF.

 

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
Royal Air Force Spitfires, like the plane Douglas Bader piloted, fly in formation. Photo: Public Domain

 

Unfortunately for Bader, his luck ran out Aug. 9 when he was hit over northern France and forced to bail out. At the time, Bader thought it was due to a collision with a Messerschmitt 109, but historical research decades later pointed to the possibility that another British pilot may have shot him down on accident.

Regardless, Bader found himself in a plane going down but was stuck in the cockpit because a prosthetic had become trapped under the rudder pedal. Bader made it out of the plane, but his right prosthetic was torn off in the process.

When he hit the ground, he was quickly captured by a group of Germans. In the United Kingdom, the Battle of Britain pilots had become famous and the double amputee/wing commander/fighter ace was one of the best-known pilots on the Allied side. The Germans quickly realized who they had captured and attempted to give Bader a pretty easy run of it. They recovered his wrecked leg and repaired it as best as they could.

Bader immediately attempted to escape on the repaired leg, climbing down a rope made of blankets and running away. He was soon recaptured.

Despite Bader’s escape attempt, the Germans offered safe passage for a British bomber to drop a replacement prosthetic for the damaged leg, but the RAF knew that the Germans would use it for publicity. Instead, they sent the leg on a bombing mission and had a Blenheim bomber drop the leg onto the camp during an otherwise normal bombing mission.

Bader again attempted to escape once he got his new leg. The pilot was transferred from one camp to another, attempting to escape whenever he could until the Hitler finally sent him to Colditz Castle, a prison that was considered inescapable.

 

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
Colditz Castle as seen in 1945. The castle was used as a POW camp by the Germans until it was liberated in 1945. Photo: US Army

 

There, Bader’s attempts to escape slowed but he found ways to make life miserable for the guards. One day, he refused to go to the formation to be counted. When the guards arrived at his room to order him out, he engaged in a shouting match with the guards and eventually told them, “My feet would get cold in the snow. If you want to count me, come to my room and do it.”

The guard then drew his pistol on Bader who immediately changed his tact and infuriated the guard further. “Well, of course I’ll go if you really want me to,” Bader said before picking up a stool, dragging it out to formation, and sitting on it to be counted.

Bader continued his hijinks for the rest of the war. The RAF promoted him to group captain and Bader led a 300-aircraft victory formation over London after the Axis forces surrendered.

In 1946 he turned to a civilian career. He was knighted in 1973 for his work to help other amputees before dying in 1982 of a heart attack. His story was featured in the 1956 movie, “Reach for the Sky.”

Articles

These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

If fighting the well-defended Viet Cong on their home turf wasn’t dangerous enough, imagine having to crawl your way through a series of extremely tight and narrow underground tunnels to capture or kill them.


Armed with only a flashlight, a single pistol, or maybe just a knife, a “Tunnel Rat” didn’t have much in the way of defense.

“The most dangerous part would be psyching up to get into the tunnel,” Carl Cory says, a former 25th Infantry Div Tunnel Rat. “That was the part that was most frightening because you didn’t what you were getting into.”

Related: This video shows the ingenuity behind the Viet Cong tunnel systems

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
Sgt. Ronald H. Payne, a Tunnel Rat, bravely searches a tunnel’s entrance during Vietnam War. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

In 1946, the Viet Minh were the Viet Cong resistance fighters who began digging the tunnels and bunkers to combat the French, whom they would eventually defeat.

By the time the Vietnam War broke out, the Viet Cong had over 100-miles of tunnels with which to spring deadly ambushes on American and South Vietnamese forces before vanishing.

The numerous spider holes (as the tunnel entrances were sometimes called) were conveniently located and well camouflaged — nearly impossible to detect.

Also Read: American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

It was the duty of the brave Tunnel Rat to slide alone into the tunnel’s entrance then search for the enemy and other valuable intelligence. Due to the intense and dangerous nature of the job, many Tunnel Rats became so emotionally desensitized that entering a spider hole was just another day at the office — no big deal.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
Sgt. Ronald A. Payne searches a Vietnamese tunnel armed with only a flashlight and a pistol. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

With danger lurking around every corner, the Tunnel Rat not only had to dodge the various savage booby traps set by the Viet Cong, but typically only carried 6-7 rounds of ammunition with him even though the tunnels were commonly used to house up to a few dozen enemy combatants.

With all those physical dangers to consider, the courageous troop still needed to maintain a clear and precise mental state of mind and not let the fear get the best of him.

After completing a search, many American and South Vietnamese units would rig the tunnels with C-4 explosives or bring in the always productive flamethrowers to flush out or kill any remaining hostiles.

Articles

Sixty years ago the world got its first look at an AK-47

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
The dapper young Hungarian revolutionary named József Tibor Fejes holding a captured AK-47 in what is believed to be the first widely distributed photo of the weapon. (Public domain photo.)


Sixty years ago the weapon that became a symbol of Cold War guerrillas and current day insurgents made its debut in a most unlikely way.

The AK-47, arguably the most widely used assault rifle in the world, first appeared in the hands of both Communist troops and Hungarian revolutionaries during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The revolution against the nation’s communist government began on October 23 but was ruthlessly crushed by Hungarian secret police and Soviet troops by Nov. 10.

In particular, one photo from the revolution gained worldwide attention – and it is arguably the first time the Kalashnikov entered the public consciousness.

C.J. Chivers, former Marine Corps infantry captain and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, wrote in his book The Gun that nobody knows which Hungarian revolutionary first picked up a captured AK-47.

But a LIFE Magazine photographer snapped a picture of József Tibor Fejes – “22-years-old, fresh-faced, sharp-eyed, purposeful, and seemingly unafraid” – whose costume as an insurgent always included a bowler hat. “The Man in the Bowler Hat” was also hefting an AK-47, making Fejes the first known revolutionary carrying what became widely known as a revolutionary’s weapon.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
Fejes with other revolutionaries, still wearing his bowler and carrying a captured AK-47. (Public domain photo.)

“The AK-47 was destined to become a symbol of resistance fighters almost everywhere, a weapon with innumerable spokesmen,” Chivers wrote. “Fejes had nonchalantly assumed the requisite pose and begun to flesh out this historical role. He did so before Fidel Castro, before Yasir Arafat, before Idi Amin. He was years ahead of the flag of Zimbabwe, which would expropriate the AK-47 as a symbol. He was ahead of Shamil Basayev and Osama bin Laden, who would convert the product of an atheist state into a sign of unsparing jihad. József Tibor Fejes was the first of the world’s Kalashnikov-toting characters, a member of a pantheon’s inaugural class.”

Although the Soviet Union had first publically acknowledged the rifle’s existence in 1949, firearms experts and military intelligence analysts in the West knew little about the weapon.

In fact, it was not until 1956 that the Army’s Technical Intelligence Office issued a classified report about the AK-47 – a report that mistakenly labeled the rifle a submachine gun and led to Pentagon brass dismissing the effectiveness of the weapon.

Eventually, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and a host of Soviet satellites and licensees manufactured more than 100 million AK-47s. First encountered by U.S. fighting men during the Vietnam War, the robust construction of the weapon and its reliability soon made believers out of Americans who faced it in the hands of their enemies.

To this day, U.S. soldiers and Marines continue to face adversaries armed with some version of the Kalashnikov.

As for József Tibor Fejes, his fate was sealed. Charged with the execution of a State Security Forces officer by gunning him down in the streets of Budapest, a Hungarian court found Fejes guilty and sentenced him to death.

Despite an appeal, authorities hanged Fejes on April 9, 1959, his punishment for what the court said was an attempt to overthrow the Hungarian people’s republic, the murder of a police officer, and the theft of state property – namely an AK-47 assault rifle.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Arlington National Cemetery was owned by General Lee and confiscated for back taxes

Arlington National Cemetery is a well-known tourist spot in which soldiers and civilians alike can pay their respects. The military cemetery is known for the perfectly aligned headstones, the ceremony of guards and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These, of course, are only a few of the features of Arlington National Cemetery. It’s a massive 639 acres that was established during the Civil War. 

The U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” supports an Armed Forces Full Honors Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 25, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery /released)

How the land got its start, however, is far less known … yet extremely interesting. The acreage has an entire historical background of significance that the general public knows little about. 

General Lee occupies Arlington

After the death of Martha Washington’s first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, she was left in charge of five plantations, including the land that would eventually become Arlington National Cemetery. The land was passed down to her son (who died young) and later grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, when he turned 21, being conceived to be “of age” to become a landowner. 

A portrait of Martha Washington (Rembrandt Peale – Heritage Auction Gallery, Public Domain)

In 1802, he began building the Arlington House, naming it after his family’s original home, Arlington Gloucestershire in England. The estate was then left to Custis’s daughter, Mary Anna (Martha Washington’s great-great grandaughter), who happened to be married to Robert E. Lee. Mary Anna’s inheritance allowed her to live on the property, but gave no rights to sell the property or any of its parcels. 

The Lees occupied the land, living in what was known as the Custis-Lee Mansion for years, including during Lee’s time in the U.S. military. 

However, Lee resigned his post in April of 1861 upon the start of the Civil War, when he took command of military forces within the Commonwealth of Virginia, which later became the Army of Northern Virginia. 

The Lee estate is populated by the Union

General Robert E. Lee

At the start of the war, Confederate forces stayed upon the Arlington land and buildings. An order was put out by the Union forces to remove anti-Union military from Alexandria, Virginia. Under the impression that the home would soon be captured, soldiers retreated and Mary Anna Lee begrudgingly left her home. It’s said that she buried family treasures before leaving for her sister’s home in Fairfax County. The grounds of Arlington were then soon taken by Union forces. 

As the Civil War raged on, military cemeteries were filling up and the government was looking to acquire new land in which Union soldiers could be buried. With eyes on the Arlington land (it sat above flood plains and had a view of Washington D.C.), it was soon noted that the Lees had not paid their taxes. For Union forces, it’s said that the land fulfilled two boxes: 1) it was ideal for burial grounds and 2) it was a dig at General Lee to use his family land to bury the soldiers whose lives he’d taken. 

Around that time, Mary sent an agent to pay their taxes, as she did not want to appear in person — they owed $92.07 (more than $1,500 today), but the agent was sent away. Historians agree this was likely a political move to obtain the land. The government then hosted a tax sale, purchasing the land for $26,800 (nearly $450,000 in 2021 values). 

Military burials began in June of 1864, and the land was desegregated in 1948.

The Arlington Mansion, when it was known as Custis-Lee Mansion, seen with Union soldiers on its lawn on June 28, 1864

After the end of the war and the death of Mary and Robert Lee, the estate was willed to their eldest son, Custis Lee. He sued the U.S. government for ownership of the land, a case that made it to the Supreme Court. In 1882, they ruled 5-4 in his favor, deciding that “Arlington had been confiscated without due process.” The land was returned to Custis Lee. However, now covered in graves, he had no use for the property. In 1883 he sold the land back to the U.S. for $150,000 ($2.5 million today), wherein the cemetery was named part of a military reservation.

President Hoover held the first National Memorial Day in 1929, starting one of the area’s long standing traditions.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

During the Cold War, the Air Force and the Atomic Energy Commission (which was later folded into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) set out to create an all-new nuclear reactor that not only would be more efficient than the reactors we have today, but would propel aircraft in flight for up to 15,000 miles without stopping.


That would’ve allowed for a bomber that could fly from California to Moscow and back with enough miles left to grab ice cream in Greenland on the way home.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
The Air Force’s experimental nuclear reactor is flown in an NB-36 airplane. (Photo: Convair)

Starting in 1946, the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program aimed to make the idea a reality. A physicist named Alvin Weinberg helped lead the reactor development. Though he had previously invented and championed the liquid-water reactor that provides almost all nuclear power today, he thought LWRs were wrong for the airplane.

The LWRs are kept relatively cool at 572 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot, but not hot enough to superheat air for jet engines. The LWR design is also less efficient, relying on solid fuels which can only be about 3 percent consumed before the fuel must be changed out.

Instead, Weinberg turned to a design that got kicked around during the Manhattan Project, the molten salt reactor, or “MSR.”

In an MSR, the nuclear material is dissolved into superheated salts. They’re heated so high that they become a liquid, then that heat is maintained because of the continuing nuclear reaction inside the molten salts.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
The Heat Transfer Reactor Experiment-3 was the option selected by the Aircraft Reactor Propulsion Program to turn reactor power into jet propulsion for an aircraft. (Photo: U.S. Department of Energy)

 

In the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program’s final design, air traveled through a compressor and then through the reactor, picking up the reactor’s heat. The immense heat of the reactor, generally about 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, caused the air to rapidly expand and jet out the back of the plane, generating thrust.

The Air Force did fly with a different reactor on a modified B-36 bomber, but only to test the plane’s nuclear shielding for protecting the crew. During the tests, it was still powered by conventional jet engines.

President John F. Kennedy’s administration canceled the nuclear aircraft program in 1961 and sent the funds to the space race. But some scientists want to bring the reactor back, this time as a powerplant on the Earth’s surface for the generation of electricity.

Molten-salt reactors are much more efficient than LWRs and typically produce waste that is more stable and takes less time to become safe for handling — we’re talking hundreds of years instead of thousands.

And while the MSR in the B-36 was fueled by uranium, future MSRs could use thorium, a more stable fuel that is also very plentiful. Thorium is present in nearly any sample of dirt on the planet and is commonly extracted in rare Earth mining and discarded as waste. Or, MSRs could use uranium depleted in LWRs.

Either way, a bunch of waste products could be converted into plentiful energy thanks to a failed nuclear engine from the Cold War. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works is teasing a nuclear fusion reactor. If it works, it could fulfill the 15,000-mile promise of the Aircraft Reactor Propulsion Program.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 games World War I soldiers played in the trenches

100 years ago, our great-great grandfathers were in the trenches of France, and fighters on both sides of the war had to while away their time when they weren’t actively working or fighting. And it takes a lot to keep your morale up and your terror down when your work hours are filled with enemy mortars, artillery, and machine guns.

Here are six games and other activities they turned to:


(Note that this article uses information from the letters of British soldiers written in 1915. Unless there’s another link cited, the letters are pulled from this digital file from the British National Archives.)

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

A large crowd of World War One soldiers watching two boxers sparring in a ring during the boxing championships at the New Zealand Divisional Sports at Authie, France, in July 1918.

(Henry Armytage Sanders)

Boxing

Unsurprisingly, some of the top activities were a little violent, and boxing was a top activity. These could be tournaments where one company or platoon fought another, but they were also often just quick, relatively impromptu matchups. Soldiers talked about the fights in letters, and it seems that the more violent the fight was, the better. One British soldier wrote:

“We are having a good time here in the way of concerts, sports, boxing tournaments etc. The latter was great especially the bout between a Farrier Sergeant and a cook’s mate. They biffed at one another until neither could stand, it was awfully funny.”
This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

The “Christmas Truce” took place around Christmas, 1914, and included some sports events, like football matches.

(Illustration by A. C. Michael of the Christmas Truce created for “The Illustrated London News”)

Football (American and European)

Football was also popular, but was obviously a team-based event that lent itself well to one unit playing against another. American and European football were both played in the trenches, though it’s obvious that European football would be more popular everywhere but the American Expeditionary Force.

The famous Christmas Truce soccer game was part of this tradition, but games were commonly played between allies rather than adversaries. One soldier wrote in a 1915 letter that his unit played against a rival battery in an old cabbage patch. The patch made a bad football pitch, but the letter-writer won, so he wasn’t sore about it.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

World War I Gurkhas wrestle on the regimental transport mules.

(H. D. Girdwood, British Library)

Wrestling (sometimes on mules)

Wrestling, like boxing, was popular for the same reasons, but there is a special, odd caveat that wrestling matches were sometimes held on mules. Yeah, like the animals. This activity was featured during a special sports day in October, 1917, but it didn’t include details of the sport.

Likely, it consisted of two riders wrestling until one knocked the other off the gallant steed, but I like to imagine that the mules were combatants as well, because cartoons don’t become real as often as I would like.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

Scottish troops and other onlookers watch troops taking part in an organized sports day.

(British photo from the National Library of Scotland)

Wheelbarrow racing, pillow fights, and other improvised events

Other events on that sports day included pillow fights and “wheelbarrow” races. The events were organized to improve morale, but anyone who has spent time with troops in the field knows that games like these are common any time infantrymen get bored.

These games could include pretty much anything the soldiers could think of. The easier it is to play the game without specific gear, the better.

Plays and other performances

But when troops needed to entertain themselves in an organized way, they had more choices than just sports and fighting one another. Sometimes, this resulted in soldiers holding their own plays and concerts, but they could also enjoy performances by professionals when they came around.

Another British letter written in 1915 but digitized in 2014 was penned by a soldier who gave a short, blow-by-blow of the barracks activities. While he was writing, one soldier did a performance where he acted like a dancing monkey with a small cup for change and another soldier started playing the accordion.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

A 1929 edition of “Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht,” a game that led to the American game of “Sorry.” The German became popular in Central Powers trenches in World War I.

(Vitavia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

“Don’t Get Annoyed With Me” and other board games

Troops on both sides of the trenches used board games to pass the time because, obviously, video games weren’t a thing yet. Plenty of games were popular in the war. Checkers could be played with bits of metal or buttons on a hand-drawn board, or a travel game of Chess could be popular. And no war has been fought without playing cards since someone figured out how to paint faces on bits of paper.

But German troops could enjoy a game that had been invented just in time for the war, “Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht,” which translates to “Don’t Get Annoyed With Me.” Players moved game pieces around a board and tried to get them “Home,” but the opposing player could knock a piece off just before it reached safety and thereby piss off the other player.

If it sounds familiar, that’s because the game “Sorry” is a close descendant.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A storied Delta Force leader just suddenly died this week

One of U.S. Special Forces’ most legendary figures died suddenly and tragically on April 29, 2019. Eldon Bargewell, a 72-year-old retired Major General, was killed after his lawnmower rolled over an embankment near his Alabama home. His 40-year military career saw him serve everywhere from Vietnam to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and probably every hotspot in between.


This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

Bargewell as an enlisted recon troop in Vietnam.

He first joined the military in 1967, going to Vietnam for a year, going home, and then volunteering to return to Vietnam – in the same recon outfit he left a couple of years earlier. He was working areas outside of Vietnam, technically in Laos, monitoring NVA supply routes.

In an action for which he received the Distinguished Service Cross, he was hit by an AK-47 round in the side of his face but still managed to carry on the fight. Deep inside enemy territory, his unit was hit with two RPG rounds as a hail of enemy bullets overcame them. In minutes the entire recon team was wounded. Bargewell, carrying a Russian-made RPD machine gun (because he wanted to ensure he killed the enemies he shot), broke up an onslaught of charging NVA soldiers, numbering anywhere from 75-100 men.

“Very few people come through the path Eldon Bargewell did,” said Maj. Gen. William Garrison, commander of the Special Forces effort to capture a Somali warlord in 1993. “Starting out as a private, working his way as a non-commissioned officer, and then getting to the highest levels of leadership. Very few people can do that. He is the type of man, soldier, leader that we all want to be like.”

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

Major General Eldon Bargewell, U.S. Army.

The NVA sent wave after wave of men toward the Army Special Forces’ perimeter, and each was gunned down in turn by Bargewell and his 7.62 RPD. With the dead and wounded piling up, including Bargewell himself, the Americans needed to get out of the area in a hurry. They anxiously awaited the helicopters that would lift them to safety. When they finally arrived, Bargewell refused to be evacuated.

“He wouldn’t go up,” said Billy Waugh, Bargewell’s then-Sergeant Major. “He had the weapons that was saving the day… he was the last out and that’s what saved that team.” And it really was. Bargewell went through half of his 1000 rounds protecting the perimeter and defending his fellow soldiers as they boarded the helicopter. That’s when 60 more NVA bum-rushed him.

Bargewell went up with the next helicopter.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

“His selfless sacrifice touched so many,” said Lt. Gen. Lawson MacGruder III, one of the Army Rangers’ first commanders and a Ranger Hall of Famer. “In just about every conflict since Vietnam.”

After returning from Vietnam, he went to infantry officer candidate school, earning his commission. From there he commanded special operations teams in Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, the Middle East, El Salvador, Panama, Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and Afghanistan. In his last deployment, he was the director of special operations at Headquarters Multi-National Force-Iraq in Baghdad. He retired in 2006, the most decorated active duty soldier at the time.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why America’s first purpose-built nightfighter was named for a spider

In World War II, aerial warfare became a 24-hour-a-day thing. The bombers came first, carrying out devastating raids, like the December, 1940 bombing of Coventry or the Blitz over London. The British, of course, returned the favor by sending RAF Bomber Command over Germany at night.


Neither side liked having their cities bombed in the middle of the night, but stopping them proved incredibly difficult. The United States watched from afar and got technical briefings on radar during the Battle of Britain. The United States Army Air Corps turned to Northrop to help develop a specialized nightfighter, while also turning the existing A-20 into an interim nightfighter.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
A Northrop P-61 Black Widow at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (USAF photo)

What emerged was the P-61 Black Widow, named after the deadly spider that inspired its black coat of paint. The first thing that jumps out at you is the size. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, this fighter was about as big as some bombers! Like the P-38, it was a twin-engine plane. Its armament was very heavy: four Hispano 20mm cannon in the belly and four M2 .50-caliber machine guns in a turret on the top. It could also carry over three tons of bombs.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter had pilot, radar operator, and gunner. (USAF photo)

Despite the plane’s size and weight, it proved to be very maneuverable. By the time it reached the front in June, 1944, much of the Japanese and German opposition had been destroyed. Still, the Smithsonian Institute notes that the P-61 scored 127 air-to-air kills of enemy aircraft (plus 18 V-1s).

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

Despite being designed to kill enemy planes, the P-61 also proved to be very good at “night intruder” missions. In short, this plane proved very capable when it came to shooting up enemy airfields, trains, supply convoys, tanks, and other ground installations. But World War II had seen the rise of the jet age, and a month before the Korean War, the last P-61s were retired.

Learn more about this plane with a lethal bite in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZtg29VNTHM
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

6 Air Force pararescuemen who risked it all ‘that others may live’

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.

Troops headed into combat know that an entire medical chain exists to keep them alive and as healthy as possible for as long as possible if they’re hit. The goal is to get them out of harm’s way within the “Golden Hour,” the first hour after injury, to maximize their odds of survival and recovery. But while medics and corpsmen are the backbone of that chain, the Air Force has teams of specially trained personnel who exist solely to put their lives on the line to save others in the most dire of combat medical crises.


These Air Force pararescue personnel deploy forward with other elite forces and fly into combat to save troops already under fire. They live by the motto, “that others may live.”

Here are six of them that epitomized those words.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

(U.S. Air Force)

1. Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger

William Pitsenbarger was the first enlisted airman to receive the Air Force Cross, later upgraded to the Medal of Honor, and his sacrifice is still the standard to which modern pararescuemen strive to honor with service. Now, his amazing story is finally reaching the masses when The Last Full Measure hits theatres on January 24, 2020.

Check out the trailer below:

The Last Full Measure Official Trailer | Roadside Attractions

www.youtube.com

William Pitsenbarger embodied service. He volunteered for service in Vietnam, he volunteered to be lowered into a minefield to save a Vietnamese soldier, and, in April 1966, he volunteered his way into a massive firefight that would claim his life.

When an Army company stumbled into an ambush, the mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire came so quick and thick that the soldiers were soon unable to defend themselves while evacuating their wounded. Pitsenbarger recognized what was happening and got special permission to join them on the ground and prepare the wounded for evacuation. Pitsenbarger got nine of the wounded out on three flights before it became too dangerous for the helicopters to operate.

Still, he stayed on the ground, running ammo to American positions under fire. Sadly, due to at least two gunshot wounds, he was killed. He was credited with directly saving nine lives and with medical aid and battlefield actions that may have helped save dozens more.

His award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, making him the first airman to earn the award.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

(U.S. Air Force)

2. Chief Master Sgt. Duane Hackney

Duane Hackney is arguably the most decorated airman in U.S. history. We can’t go into all of his heroics here, but he served from Vietnam to Desert Storm and amassed an Air Force Cross, a Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts, and 18 Air Medals.

His first Purple Hearts came almost immediately after he arrived in Vietnam. A .30-caliber round struck him in the leg and he got a fellow pararescueman to treat it so he could stay in the fight. He was awarded the Air Force Cross for extracting a downed pilot from a fierce firefight, immediately getting shot out of his helicopter during extraction, and then doubling back to the crashed helicopter to check for survivors before finally evacuating again. He received that award in a ceremony where he also got the Silver Star for bravery during a completely unrelated rocket attack. In short, he’s built one hell of a resume.

Despite surviving a combat tour of Vietnam that started with a Purple Heart and ended with an Air Force Cross, Hackney volunteered to stay for another three years.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

(From left to right) Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham and Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown pose for a photo just weeks before March 4, 2002, where Miller and Cunningham would earn the Air Force Cross and Brown would earn a Silver Star.

(U.S. Air Force)

3. Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller

Pararescue specialist Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller was involved in the Battle of Takur Ghar in Paktia Province, Afghanistan. On March 4, 2002, he was inserting with an Air Force Combat Search and Rescue Team to rescue two service members that had become separated after their helicopter was shot up on the ridge. Miller’s team faced heavy fire while landing and was forced down, crashing onto the mountain.

Miller quickly led the establishment of a hasty defense and then began rendering aid to the wounded. Four of his team were killed almost instantly and five were wounded, but Miller re-distributed ammo to those able to fight and maintained the medical interventions on the wounded for the next 15 hours in bitter cold. He was credited with saving wounded men, allowing the soldiers and airman to keep fighting until rescued, and allowing for the successful recovery of seven sets of U.S. remains.

4. Senior Airman Jason Cunningham

Senior Airman Jason Cunningham was on the same MH-47E helicotper as Tech Sgt. Miller when it was shot down. Cunningham immediately began treating the wounded when they hit the ground and moved injured personnel from the burning helicopter. He was critically wounded while defending patients, but he kept doing everything he could to save others.

He directed the disposition of the wounded and handed their care over to a medic before succumbing to his injuries. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross on Sept. 13, 2002.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

(Video Still by Air Force Senior Airman Stephen Ellis)

5. Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz

On Dec. 10, 2013, pararescue craftsman Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz was attached to an Army Special Forces and Afghan Commando team for a raid in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. The nighttime operation met enemy contact almost immediately, and Ruiz’s team took out four insurgents. Ruiz moved forward with two others into a courtyard where the others were hit.

Rather than withdraw to cover, Ruiz laid down heavy fire, killing one insurgent and suppressing the others long enough for him to reach the wounded men. Despite heavy machine gun fire, grenades, and accurate rifle fire, Ruiz stayed exposed until other teammates reached him, then he gave lifesaving care to his buddies under fire.

He’s credited with saving their lives and helping to pin down and kill 11 enemy insurgents.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

(U.S. Air Force)

6. Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper

Pararescueman Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper was part of a call to rescue three members of an Army Pathfinder team trapped in an IED belt on May 26, 2011. One Pathfinder was severely injured and the other two were trying to keep him alive, but extracting them from what was essentially a minefield would be tricky.

As Culpepper was raising the second soldier to the helicopter, it suddenly lost power and entered free fall. Culpepper kept control of his casualty and the helicopter came to a stop just a few feet from the ground. They escaped the IED belt and made it home — the injured soldier, tragically, did not survive his wounds.

Culpepper later received the Distinguished Service Cross with Valor Device.

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here is the story behind John F. Kennedy’s Purple Heart

John F. Kennedy was born into privilege, graduated from Harvard, and did not have to fight in World War II, but he did — he insisted.


Related: 6 alternated names troops have for military awards

Ironically, Kennedy was not allowed to serve in the military on his first attempt. He was disqualified from entering the Army’s Officer Candidate School in 1940 because of a severe back injury. Historian and Kennedy biographer, Robert Dallek suggests his vertebrae started degenerating while treating his intestinal problems with steroids in the late 1930’s, according to the New York Times.

Thanks to his father’s political influence as the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain and the help of his friend, Captain Alan Kirk, the Director of Naval Intelligence, Kennedy got his foot in the door despite his back problems. He was commissioned as an ensign on October 26, 1941, and assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington D.C.

Not satisfied with simply serving, Kennedy made his way to the Naval Reserve Officers Training School at Northwestern University in Chicago, Il. After completing his training on September 27, 1942, he entered the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center in Melville, Rhode Island and promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) on October 10, 1942. On December 2, he received orders to his first command aboard PT-101 with Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Four in Panama.

His stint in Panama was short lived, in February 1943, he was transferred to the Island of Tulagi in the Solomons as a replacement officer to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Two. By April 1943 he was the commanding officer of PT-109, the boat that distinguished his Naval career and arguably his path to the White House.

 

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, USNR, (standing at right) with other crewmen on board PT-109, 1943. Image: Collections of the U.S. National Archives, downloaded from the Naval Historical Center.

After the sinking of PT-109 by a Japanese destroyer, he gathered the remaining survivors of his crew to vote on whether to fight or surrender. It was there that he famously said, “there’s nothing in the book about a situation like this. A lot of you men have families, and some of you have children. What do you want to do? I have nothing to lose.”

This American Heroes Channel video profiles John F. Kennedy’s actions that earned him the Purple Heart along with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.

Watch:

American Heroes Channel, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

When the enemy brought the war to America

Imagine the following scenario: A bloody war rages overseas as a fanatical, totalitarian ideology conquers entire countries. The U.S. government announces it will send military forces abroad to stem the tide of the aggression. Despite increasingly dire news headlines, however, life in America proceeds uneventfully.

After all, America is thousands of miles from the battlefields and surely far beyond the enemy’s immediate reach.

That sense of security abruptly ends only weeks later when the enemy suddenly launches a fearsome assault against the U.S. homeland itself. Thousands die as American cities witness explosions and raging infernos. Worse yet, the U.S. military seems powerless to stop the assault.


If that story sounds far-fetched, it shouldn’t. It isn’t the plot of Call of Duty– the scenario described above actually happened during World War II. December 1941 saw the U.S. finally join the war against Germany, Japan, and Italy. Many Americans understandably assumed that geography insulated them from any direct threat.

However, while U.S. leaders in Washington debated how to deploy their forces overseas, Adolf Hitler made the first move. In January 1942, Hitler’s forces began a massive naval offensive against the U.S. east coast.

The German navy, or Kriegsmarine, lacked a formidable surface fleet. What the Kriegsmarine did possess, however, was a technologically and tactically sophisticated submarine force: the infamous unterseeboots, or “U-boats.”

The U-boats had proven deadly in World War I, to include a limited number of attacks near the U.S. east coast, but the scale of the U-boat offensive against America in 1942 was without precedent. Only weeks after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, war had come to the American homeland.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

Rendition of the U-995

(oil painting by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau)

Cargo ships and even U.S. Navy warships began going down in flames. Many vessels were torpedoed within sight of coastal cities. Coastal residents saw the ships burning off the Jersey Shore and the Outer Banks. Debris and bodies washed ashore for months as the U-boats struck from New England to Texas.

U-boat commanders returning to port in occupied Europe reported that U.S. waters offered more targets than the U-boats had the means to attack. The easy hunting lead German crews to dub 1942 die glückliche zeit: “the happy time.”

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

(Alamy Stock Photos)

Compounding the fear and destruction was America’s apparent inability to stop it. A combination of factors limited the U.S. military’s ability to stop the U-boats. These included a shortage of warships suited to anti-submarine operations, a lack of convoy procedures, and a reluctance to implement nighttime blackouts of coastal cities to deny U-boat commanders the benefit of ship silhouettes to target.

While U.S. leaders debated how to stem the onslaught, the Kriegsmarine dispatched more waves of U-boats to North America. Hundreds of ships were sunk, and thousands died as desperately needed war material was sent to the bottom of the Atlantic.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

The U-123, one of the German subs that prowled the American coast in 1942.

(German Federal Archives)

Fortunately, 1942 would prove to be the apex of Hitler’s U-boat assault against America. The Allies began implementing convoys, and more American air and naval assets were allocated to anti-submarine duties.

These changes eventually led the Kriegsmarine to shift its priorities away from American coasts towards the mid-Atlantic. U-boats would continue to strike in American waters until the end of the war, but the scope and effectiveness of their operations steadily decreased. U-boat losses mounted too as the hunters eventually became the prey.

The U-boat fleet, considered one of the most prestigious assignments for a German serviceman, ultimately suffered the German military’s highest casualties: 3 out of 4 U-boat crewmen did not survive the war.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

The crew of the U-550 abandons ship after being crippled by a U.S. Coast Guard attack off Massachusetts in April 1944.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

U.S. waters today are littered with the wrecks of U-boats and their victims. Many of these wrecks have become popular sites amongst scuba divers. This chapter of World War II, however, has mostly disappeared from American public memory.

This is to our discredit, as the memory of Hitler’s naval assault against America bears several important lessons for a post-9/11 world. These lessons include the naiveté of assuming that large oceans can be counted on to deter foreign aggression and a sobering reminder of what a small but motivated and capable force can inflict on a much larger power.

The thousands of men lost during this forgotten campaign is a testament to the human cost of global conflict and its ramifications for national security in the 21st century.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 ways ninjas were nothing like they are in movies

Quick. Think of a ninja. If you imagined them as an honorable Feudal-Japanese assassin dressed entirely in black and throwing shuriken at their enemies, I’ve got some bad news for you.


This isn’t to say that they weren’t bad asses in their own right. They were definitely real and they definitely did many high-profile assassinations that continue to astound the world hundreds of years later. They just didn’t do things the way films, video games, and literature (in both the West and Japanese pop culture) depict them.

Much of their history is often shrouded in both mystery and myth, making actual facts about them sketchy at best and inaccurate at worst. What we do know about them comes from either the most high-profile, like Hattori Hanzo, or the very few verified sources.

1. They were never called “ninjas” in their time

The term “ninja” is actually a misreading of the Kanji for “Shinobi no Mono” or “the hidden person.” This was shortened when their legends grew to just “Shinobi” or “the hidden.”

“Ninja” became the more popular name for them after WWII for Westerners who found the word easier to pronounce than the actual name for them. Ninja eventually circled back and became the more used term in Japanese culture as well.

On a related note: This is also how the term “kunoichi” or “Female Shinobi” came about. There may not be historical evidence of women acting as deadly shinobi, but they could have been used for other ninja tasks. Which leads us to…

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
I know, Easy to mix up.

2. They would scout and collect intel more than kill

There were many tasks of a Shinobi. It is well-documented that high-ranking leaders hired Shinobi to assassinate their enemies, like Oda Nobunaga and everyone who tried to kill Nobunaga. But the most useful Shinobi were “monomi” or “ones who see.”

Their espionage skills were so revered that it’s said even Sun Tsu wrote about them in Art of War. Monomi would either hide in crowds or sneak into a meeting so they could eavesdrop on important conversations. Once they learned what they needed to know, they’d get out of there.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

3. They never wore the all-black uniform

To nearly every other fighter in the history of war, a uniform has been an advantage. Shinobi, like everyone else doing undercover work in plain sight, would be stupid to wear anything that screams out “Hey everyone! I’m not actually a monk. I’m a deadly assassin!” They wore whatever they need to to fit in.

The uniform that everyone thinks of comes from kabuki theater. The crew who would work behind the stage dressed in the all-black uniforms to not distract from the performance while they were rearranging the sets or setting off the special effects. Fans in attendance would occasionally catch a glimpse of a stage hand and joke that they were shinobi. The “joke” part gained momentum and it just sort of stuck.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
Traditional kabuki theater still uses the same get-up. (Screengrab via YouTube)

4. They used everything for weapons except throwing stars

Let’s be honest. Throwing stars aren’t that deadly? It’s just a sharp piece of metal. Want to know what they actually used? Bows, poison, primitive flamethrowers, and damn near everything else. This includes the least stealthy weapon in feudal Japan, guns.

They did use their iconic swords, but the most common weapon was an inconspicuous farming sickle attached to a chain. After Oda Nobunaga tried to ban swords in Japan, no one cared if a farmer still had a sharpened sickle, so it wouldn’t seem out of place.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain
Mortal Kombat isn’t too far off with Scorpion’s weapon. (Courtesy Photo)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Ranger fought in Mogadishu before becoming a country music star

On October 3, 1993, Task Force Ranger conducted a raid in the Black Sea neighborhood of Mogadishu, Somalia to capture high-ranking lieutenants of the Aidid militia. The task force was an all-star special operations team composed of elements from the 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st SFOD-D, 160th SOAR, Navy SEALs from DEVGRU, and PJs and CCTs from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron.


As Nightstalker MH-6 Little Birds inserted Delta Operators on the target building, Rangers fast-roped down from MH-60 Blackhawks to the building’s four corners to secure a perimeter. During the insertion, Pfc. Todd Blackburn missed the rope and fell to the street below. Undeterred, the rest of the Rangers fast-roped out of the Blackhawks to establish security. The last Ranger out of the Blackhawk in front of Blackburn’s was team leader Sgt. Keni Thomas. As he reached for the rope, Thomas turned to the Blackhawk’s crew chief who yelled to him, “NO FEAR!”

“SCREW YOU!” Thomas responded as he dropped into the gunfire below. In his mind, it was easy for someone to say “no fear” if they’re the ones that get to fly away from the bullets. But Thomas was a Ranger, one of America’s elite, highly trained warriors. He led his team and maintained the perimeter around the target building from the Somali militia who were shooting at them, but mostly missing by his account.

Thirty-five minutes later, the target individuals were secure, loaded up on the trucks, and everyone was ready to return to base. With everything looking good, Thomas’ thoughts drifted as he thought about how he was now a bona fide combat veteran and could qualify for a VA loan. It was then that CW3 Cliff Wolcott and CW3 Donovan Briley’s Blackhawk was shot down. What was supposed to be a quick mission on a day off had turned into a battle against an entire city; after all, an American Soldier will never leave a fallen comrade.

Super 61 went down about five blocks from the target building. As the Rangers stepped off to secure the crash site, Thomas’ squad leader was shot in the neck. As the medics treated the squad leader’s neck wound, the platoon sergeant came up to Thomas and told him, “You’re in charge now.”

“What do you mean I’m in charge sarn’t?” Thomas asked, not wanting the increased responsibility.

“Hey, hey, sarn’t Thomas,” Sgt. Watson snapped his fingers to focus Thomas’ attention. “You’re in charge.” It was then that Thomas’ NCO training kicked in and he rogered up. Taking his squad leaders’ radio, he reassigned positions in his own team and took lead of the squad. The Rangers continued to make their way to the crash site as they took fire from unseen enemies.

Suddenly, one of the Rangers spotted a hostile Somali. “He’s in the tree sarn’t! He’s in the tree!” Pfc. Floyd, Thomas’ SAW gunner, yelled out frantically.

“Well if you see him, why don’t you shoot him?” Sgt. Watson responded self-evidently. It dawned on Floyd that he had, in fact, joined the Army and was allowed to shoot at people who shot at him. But rather than firing in 3 to 5 second bursts, Floyd proceeded to let out a constant stream of cyclic fire until Thomas hit him and told him to stop.

With the barrel of his machine gun glowing from the heat, Floyd stood up, lifted his goggles, and asked naively, “Did I get him?”

As the tree fell over, cut down by Floyd’s gunfire, Thomas said sarcastically, “Floyd, I don’t know if you got him, but you got the whole tree.”

Thomas and his squad continued to fight their way to the crash site and defended it until the bodies of the crew were recovered the next day. Incredibly and in spite of their casualties, their chalk was the only one to return with everyone alive that day. Thomas credits this accomplishment to the skill of their medic and the leadership of Sgt. Watson.

After Somalia, Thomas went on to serve in the Ranger recon teams. He ended his military career in 1997 as a Staff Sergeant, having earned the Master Parachutist Badge, the Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, the Special Operations Diver badge, British and Belgian jump wings, and a Bronze Star for Valor with a “V” device.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

Thomas served in the Army with distinction (Photo from KeniThomas.com)

Upon leaving active duty, Thomas worked as a youth counselor and eventually became a motivational speaker, drawing on his experiences in the Ranger Regiment. He also served as a consultant on We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down where he was portrayed by actor Tac Fitzgerald. However, it was Thomas’ passion for music that he focused on most after the army.

Thomas formed the country music band Cornbread and began his music career by performing in and around Columbus, Georgia. By the late 90’s, the band started to make a name for itself, playing shows on college campuses like Auburn University. In the 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama, Thomas and Cornbread perform a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama as the movie’s featured song. To date, the band has released three albums as Cornbread and four under Keni Thomas’ name. Thomas has also performed several times at the prestigious Grand Ole Opry, with his most recent performance in May 2014.

Though he’s broken into the country music world, Thomas has not forgotten his military roots. He has performed overseas on USO tours during which he takes the extra time to connect with each servicemember that he meets and exchange stories. His favorite venues are the remote outposts where he performs for groups as small as a platoon. He also donates some of his proceeds to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a non-profit that provides scholarships and financial aid to the children of wounded or deceased operators.

This double-leg amputee was one of the RAF’s deadliest aces during the Battle of Britain

Thomas performing in Kuwait on a USO tour in 2006 (U.S. Navy photo)

From the streets of Mogadishu to the music halls of Nashville, Thomas has lived up to both the Soldier’s Creed and the Ranger Creed in never leaving a fallen comrade. He continues to tell the stories of his fallen brothers in his music and his motivational talks. Rangers like Thomas lead the way…all the way!

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