This isn’t the Guard’s first pandemic response - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This isn’t the Guard’s first pandemic response

The last time that the United States faced a national health crisis as deadly as the COVID-19 pandemic, antibiotics did not exist. 

Neither did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When the first case of the Spanish flu arrived in the United States at an Army camp in Fort Riley, Kansas, in the spring of 1918, World War I dominated the headlines. 

That pandemic resulted in roughly 50 million deaths worldwide in 1918-19, and about 500 million people were infected. Approximately 675,000 Americans died.  

“The flu was a disaster,’’ said Carol Byerly, author of “Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I.’’ “It killed more people in the military than the war did, and so they tried to understand it. They didn’t understand viruses at the time.’’ 

More than 1,400 National Guard Medical Services personnel were sent overseas, leaving only 222 NGMS officers at home to assist with controlling the spread of influenza and pneumonia, according to the National Guard Bureau. (By comparison, a high of 47,000 National Guard members supported the COVID-19 response in May.) In 1918, most of the National Guard’s members — more than 12,000 officers and nearly 367,000 soldiers — served in World War I. 

“[In] 1918, the pandemic hit, and most of the medical services were deployed overseas,’’ said Dr. Richard Clark, historian of the National Guard Bureau. “The National Guard mobilized its medical forces to augment stateside military forces to help with the military bases.’’ 

The National Guard previously had not assisted with such a widespread health emergency. For more than three months, beginning in September 1858, the New York National Guard helped alleviate a disturbance during a yellow-fever quarantine on Staten Island. In late 1910 and early 1911, the Michigan National Guard enforced a quarantine of smallpox patients at a state asylum. Those missions did not provide medical support, though.  

The thought of using [the National Guard] in a medical capacity to respond domestically had not really been thought about until that point,’’ Clark said. 

The military’s role in spreading the Spanish flu is undeniable. As soldiers moved between camps in the U.S. or were deployed to France, the number of infections increased. Some Army camps, such as Camp Devens near Boston, were particularly hard-hit. When ships carrying troops returned from overseas, more soldiers got sick.  

War-bond parades left citizens susceptible to infection, too, including one in Philadelphia, attended by 200,000 people, that resulted in a spike of cases. Despite the rising totals, the pandemic was downplayed. 

“Every day, you read the newspaper, and a couple of cases were developed in the city, and officers were saying, ‘It’s no big deal,’’’ Dr. Alex Navarro, the assistant director for the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. “[Then] there would be hundreds and hundreds of cases, and this is something very serious. Very rapidly, they had to deal with the threat. 

This isn’t the Guard’s first pandemic response

The one major issue was that there was a shortage of doctors and nurses, as well as some medical supplies like surgical gauze and masks, so the war effort definitely hindered that medical response.’’ 

Some preventive measures, including social distancing and mask laws, were put into place. The military tried quarantining camps and limiting troop mobilizations, but those restrictions were not sustainable during wartime, Navarro said. They even stopped the draft in October, a month before World War I ended, Byerly said.  

“They didn’t want to stop the draft,’’ Byerly said. “They didn’t want to reduce crowding on the ships and in the training camps. They didn’t want to send more nurses and doctors to the soldiers, but that is what you have to do in order to take care of your personnel.’’ 

A total of 43,000 U.S. service members died because of the pandemic. More than a quarter of the Army’s soldiers, about 1 million men, became infected, and at least 106,000 Navy sailors were hospitalized, according to Byerly. The National Guard has no records of how many of its members died or were infected. 

While the National Guard’s role in combating the Spanish flu a century ago was minimal, a valuable lesson came out of that pandemic, Clark said. Officials began preparing to offer more support during national health emergencies. The wisdom of that decision is being felt a century later. 

“We’re not going through something new,’’ Clark said.  

“History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it rhymes, so the lessons of the past should not be taken as a one-for-one example or a guide to what we need to do today. Many of the details, much of the context is very, very different, but what you can use the past as a guide for is for critical thinking about the situation. … What is the same, and what is different?’’ 

This article originally appeared on Reserve + National Guard Magazine. Follow @ReserveGuardMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Army built this computer simulation of Stalingrad to teach its future leaders

It was one of the most devastating urban fights in history, inflicting nearly 2 million casualties and leaving a city in shambles.


For eight months the battle of Stalingrad raged, with the Red Army and German Wehrmacht delivering horrific blows to each side — sometimes gaining only yards of territory with each engagement.

 

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(WATM Archive)

Though fought nearly 75 ago, Army researchers say the battle has lessons for its combat leaders even today.

That’s why the Combined Arms Center based in Leavenworth, Kansas, has created a “virtual staff ride” of the wartorn city in hopes of preparing soldiers for the kinds of warfare they may see again today.

“Through digital rendering of Stalingrad as it existed in 1942, the historic battlefield comes to life, allowing leaders at all levels to study timeless lessons on tactical, operational, and strategic aspects of war,” the Combined Arms Center says. “This virtual staff ride also provides important insights into military operations, leadership, and the human dimension of warfare through focused study and detailed analysis of one of the most significant battles of World War II.”

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Stalingrad’s 140,000 building were left in shambles after the battle, making it difficult for Army researchers to simulate what the city would look like. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers used a wide range of imagery, documents and news reel footage to build the Stalingrad scenario, which is included in the Army’s Virtual Battlespace 3 gaming platform. One of the challenges included how much of the city to build into the simulation since much its 140,000 buildings were destroyed during the fight, with software builders settling on a city that was about 50 percent destroyed.

The simulation includes “more than 150 pages of information including instructor notes, battle timeline, vignettes, character studies, maps, photos, and other data.”

Another cool thing about the virtual Stalingrad battle scenario is that the software can be used for a variety of unit formations — everything from a corps or division-sized maneuvers to company-level engagements.

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The German army quickly made it to the center of the city in Stalingrad, but it was eventually cut off from resupply and forced to surrender in early 1943. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

“For example, units can follow the 14th Panzer Division as it advanced on the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory,” the Combined Arms Center says. “Also, leaders of battalion- and company-size units can focus on the tactical elements of urban combat such as the week long fight for the grain elevator.”

“Free movement through the dense urban terrain of Stalingrad allows leaders at all echelons to understand the decisions, doctrine, and logistics that shaped the battle for both the Soviet Red Army and the German Army,” the researchers added.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Women can vote thanks to these 16 milestones

By this November, thousands of Americans will have exercised their right to vote for the next president of the United States. With just over half of that population as female (50.8%), women have a huge say in how that election turns out. But as we all know, that wasn’t always an option. Who has had the right to vote has changed over time, including those of different races, genders, and those who had certain assets.

Go back in time with us as we look at some of the most important events that led to women’s voting rights.


1776: The New Jersey Constitution Grants Women the Right to Vote

These trailblazers provided women with the right to vote via their state constitution through 1807.

1838: “School suffrage” voted into effect in Kentucky

This special amendment was created for widows who had school-age children, it allowed them to vote on school-related issues.

1848: First convention to discuss women’s rights

After a two day meeting held in New York, a convention was called for women to talk about their rights. Held in Seneca Falls, New York, the event was considered successful with signatures from 68 women and 32 men on the “Declaration of Sentiments.” It included the country’s first “formal” demand for women’s voting rights, with:

“It is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”

1850: The first National Woman’s Rights Convention takes place

After taking over conventions for themselves — men were kicked out of planning or helping with events — this largest event to-date took place in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was attended by more than 1,000 people.

National conferences were held annually through 1860, with the exclusion of 1857.

1853: The first feminist newspaper is printed

The Una, “A paper devoted to the elevation of woman” was printed in Providence, Rhode Island.

1861: Kansas allows school election votes

The state of Kansas allowed women to start voting in school board elections.

1866: Documents are presented to Congress

After receiving 10,000 signatures, suffragist leaders presented the document to Congress, requesting women’s votes.

1868: The 14th amendment is ratified

With the 14th amendment, more Americans are given the right to vote, but it includes the word “male,” prohibiting females from securing their rights.

1870: Wyoming grants female votes

Citing territorial status, Wyoming is the first state — or future state — to allow women to vote. When it became a state in 1890, it was the first official state to grant female votes.

1871: The Anti-Suffrage Party was created

Wives of prominent men, including those of Civil War generals, gather to found this movement.

1872: Women head to both sides of the ballot

The first female presidential candidate, Victoria Woodhull runs for president. Later that year, 16 women voted in New York, including Susan B. Anthony. She was arrested and fined, but refused to pay.

1878: A suffrage movement is introduced

An amendment addressing women’s suffrage was first brought to congress. It wasn’t passed until 1920 as the 19th amendment.

1910: Washington state grants women’s rights

In its third attempt, the amendment was passed, granting rights to Washington women. Washington is followed in subsequent years by many states.

1915: The largest women’s suffrage parade

The year hosted the largest suffrage parade of its kind. Some 40,000 women marched down Fifth Avenue to as much as a half-million viewers. It’s still known as the largest parade in NYC.

1918: President Wilson addresses Congress

After having personal petitions dropped on him, President Wilson personally stands up to Congress for women’s votes?

1920: The 19th amendment is passed

After being sent to the states for ratification in 1919, the amendment granting women’s rights was finally passed into law.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How 87 paratroopers captured one of the world’s strongest forts

Belgium’s Fort Eben-Emael was the crown jewel of the country’s defense from invasion, boasting huge gun emplacements, defensive ditches and canals, and hundreds of artillery troops, all to protect the heartland and capital.


And the whole thing fell to 87 German paratroopers after barely a day of fighting from May 10-11, 1940.

The fort was built in the early 1930s to prevent the exact situation it faced in 1940: an invasion of the country from the east. It had large guns to sweep fire across three key bridges that would be vital to an invasion. The bridges were also wired for demolition in case the defenders and the fort couldn’t keep the enemy from them.

 

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The defensive canals at Fort Eben Emael were massive but the Germans simply flew over them. (Photo: German Bundesarchiv CC BY-SA 3.0)

Defensive canals, barbed wire, and anti-tank ditches made a land assault nearly suicidal, especially since the thick steel and concrete walls could shrug off most munitions launched by artillery or tanks of the day.

A few anti-aircraft guns were present on top of the fort and cupolas — guns with large domes to protect the crews — could fire across the top and kill any attackers who landed there.

Also read: 5 of the most badass snipers of all time

But the fort was vulnerable to airborne assault. It had been constructed by digging into an existing large hill, and the miles of tunnels and thick walls made it tough to assault on foot, but did almost nothing to protect it from the sky.

And that’s how the Germans got in. A special force of 420 paratroopers trained for six months in absolute secrecy to take the three bridges and the fort. The highly complex operation was risky but could save the German Army weeks or months of fighting if successful.

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A German Gotcha Go-242 glider in flight. (Photo: U.S. War Department)

Three assault forces would hit the bridges and attempt to take them from the defenders while a fourth would hit the fort and prevent the guns from firing on the others. The assault force hitting the fort was carrying a new weapon of war to cut through the defenses, shaped charges.

But, the highly trained and well-armed commandos at the fort would be outnumbered nearly 10 to 1.

The Germans landed on the fort in gliders specially modified to stop in the short space, and German paratroopers rushed out to hit the defenders. Belgian gun crews, who knew a probable assault was coming, quickly opened fire — but they didn’t have the canister shot that could quickly decimate the paratroopers.

Instead, the paratroopers were able to rush improperly maintained machine guns as they misfired and other gun crews as they reloaded. One of the defensive guns was taken out when a paratrooper threw a stick of dynamite through a small opening. Two others were destroyed by the special shaped-charge explosives. One crew was killed by a flamethrower.

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The defensive works at Fort Eben-Emael were impressive, but were not well situated to deal with an airborne assault. (Photo: U.S. Army Master Sgt. Crista Mary Mack)

And there were less defenders than there should have been. The fort relied on conscripts to flesh out its ranks, and many had finished their period or been pulled away to positions in the Belgian Army. Other troops were sick or on leave.

The fort was supposed to have 1,200 men but was being defended by closer to 750.

Within the first 10 minutes, the paratroopers had taken out nine defensive positions and forced many of the defenders to go underground behind barriers. Within 15 minutes, the Germans had neutralized the major defenses that threatened the fort attackers, as well as many of the guns that could hit the bridges.

The Belgians didn’t accept this laying down, of course. Soon after the attack began, the fort commander ordered nearby artillery to fire on the fort, killing some of the German attackers.

But the Germans sheltered in the wrecked cupolas and other positions and rode out the worst of the artillery.

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(Photo: Public Domain)

As the Luftwaffe sent planes to silence the Belgian guns, the paratroopers used their shaped charges and other weapons to seal off exits from the fort and to wreck the few remaining positions that could fire outside.

And the bridge crews had successfully captured two bridges intact and one more that was damaged but repairable. Only 28 hours after the start of the attack, the road into Belgium was open.

The paratroopers had suffered six dead and 15 wounded by the time that the Belgian troops began surrendering.

The attackers all received high awards for valor and Hitler captured the country soon after.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Nazis designed a crazy, one-man, spherical tank

During World War II, Nazi engineers designed and built a number of revolutionary super or “wonder weapons” (wunderwaffe), including a wide array of aircraft, guns, and ships. Among these weapons is a mysterious small, round tank named the Kugelpanzer (literally meaning “spherical tank”). This odd little tank was never seen in the European theater, and very little is definitively known about its purpose.

What is known is that it was made in Germany and shipped to Japan, and then later captured by the Soviets in 1945, probably in Manchuria. Today, the only one known to exist can be found in the Kubinka Tank Museum in the Odintsovsky District, Moscow Oblast, Russia.


Powered by a single cylinder, two-stroke engine, Kugelpanzer has a slit in the front (presumably a driver’s view port), and a small arm and wheel in the rear (perhaps for stability and/or maneuvering). Its hull is only 5 mm (.2 in.) thick, and it isn’t fully clear what type of metal comprises its armor (no metal samples are currently allowed to be taken from it).

Popular theories of its purpose include reconnaissance, as a mobile observation post for managing artillery fire, and as a cable-laying vehicle; however, there is little evidence to support any of these hypotheses, since there has never been any documentation found that explains the vehicle or its design.

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The Kugelpanzer.

Given the dearth of evidence, as you would expect, speculation is rampant, and one intriguing theory even posits that it was commissioned by the Japanese as part of their kamikaze strategy of suicide missions.

By August 1944, the ailing Japanese military had been at war in the Pacific for 7 long years, beginning with the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. During this period, rather than being captured, and wanting to get in one last lick, some Japanese pilots had begun the practice of crashing their mostly disabled planes into enemy positions (and killing themselves in the process).

Through most of the Pacific War, this was an informal, voluntary act; however, as the war was winding down, the desperate Japanese command (who were running out of qualified pilots and whose aircraft at this point in the war were outdated) decided that they would get the most out of their unskilled personnel and obsolete machinery by incorporating planned suicide missions into their battle strategies. As such, in the fall of 1944, Japanese forces began a series of kamikaze strikes. (Click here for more on the origin of the kamikaze and how pilots were chosen for this duty.)

In addition to improvised devices, such as simply strapping bombs onto existing aircraft, the Japanese military began manufacturing specialized equipment. These included the aircraft Ohka (“cherry blossom”), as well as suicide boats, such as Shinyo (“sea quake”). Even tiny submarines were made, including a modified torpedo named Kaiten (“returning to heaven,”) and Kairyu (“sea dragon”), a two-manned craft.

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A Japanese Ohka Model 11 replica at the Yasukuni ShrineYūshūkan war museum.

Given this mindset of many Japanese military leaders, it has been theorized by some that the Kugelpanzer was a part of this plan, with a few key points often put forth to support this theory. First, like all of the other suicide machines, it was small and designed to be operated with a limited (1-2 man) crew; second, it wasn’t equipped with any apparent offensive weaponry, though it has been speculated that it was meant to have a machine gun mounted in the front; and third, its hull was rather flimsy (5 mm thick) when compared to that of other armored vehicles, but on par with that of at least one other suicide craft.

For instance, the Type 97 Chi-Ha, said to be the “most widely produced Japanese medium tank of World War II,” had 26 mm thick armor on the sides of the turret and 33 mm thick armor on its gun shield. On the other hand, the Long Lance torpedo from which the Kaiten manned torpedo was developed had a comparably thin shell at 3.2 mm (.13 in.) thick – much closer to the width of the Kugelpanzer outer housing, than the strong armor of the Type 97 tank.

For further reference, the thickness of a common World War II helmet (the M1) was at .035 to .037 inches (just under 1 mm), sufficient to (at least sometimes) stop a .45 caliber bullet. So, essentially, the 5 mm thick walls of the tank would have been sturdy enough to relatively reliably stop many types of enemy bullets from getting in, but thin enough to give way easily from a blast within, to do maximum damage. At least, so this particularly theory goes.

Whatever its intended use, the Kugelpanzer certainly has gone down as one of the more unique weapons developed during WWII.

Bonus Facts:

  • The aforementioned Japanese one manned torpedo-like submarines called kaitens were just modified torpedoes that allowed the person inside to control them. They also featured a self destruct mechanism if the person failed in their mission. This was necessary as there was no way for the person inside to get out of the torpedo once sealed in. Early models did include a mechanism to escape once the torpedo was aimed correctly, but not a single soldier seems to have ever used this feature, so it was quickly abandoned. Each person who died as a kaiten pilot would earn their family ¥10000 (about 0 today). Kaitens were ultimately not very successful primary because they could not be deployed very deeply and were stored on the outside of the submarines. This isn’t so much a problem for the kaitens as it was for the submarines carrying them who would have to stay very near the surface. This resulted in an average of about eight submarines carrying kaitens being destroyed for every two ships destroyed by the kaitens. Each kaiten was about 50 feet long; could reach a maximum speed of about 30 miles per hour; and contained a warhead at the nose.
  • The Japanese were not alone in making suicide attacks a part of their 20th century battle strategy. During the Sino-Japanese War, Chinese soldiers of the “Dare to Die Corps” effectively detonated suicide bombs at the Battle of Taierzhuang (1938), the Defense of the Sihang Warehouse (1937) and the Battle of Shanghai (1937).

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

Articles

This colorized German war footage shows why Stalingrad was hell on Earth

It was the pivotal battle that most historians believe turned the tide against the Nazis for good in World War II, resulting in a cascade of defeats as the Wehrmacht beat its retreat to Germany from the Soviet Eastern Front.


But it wasn’t always that way, and in the opening months of Operation Barbarossa the German army seemed poised for a stunning victory against the Red Army.

As part of its push to secure the southern Caucasian oil fields, the German 6th Army was ordered to take the city of Stalingrad in September 1942, a move some historians believe was strategically irrelevant as the Nazis were already well on their way to Baku.

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The German army quickly made it to the center of the city in Stalingrad, but was eventually cut off from resupply and forced to surrender in early 1943. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

But many believe Adolf Hitler wanted to capture the city as a thumb in the eye to Soviet leader Josef Stalin, for whom the city was renamed.

Initially, the German army was able to push well into the city, taking the Univermag department store at its center. But the Red Army dug into the city’s industrial areas along the banks of the Volga river and the battle ground down into a brutal street-by-street slugfest.

One of the Red Army’s most accomplished generals, Marshall Georgi Zhukov, hatched a plan to surround the 6th Army and cut off its supply lines. And by mid-November, the Soviets began to squeeze the Nazis inside the city.

As winter descended, the Germans were running out of food, ammunition and other supplies, and when a rescue mission launched by Field Marshall Erich Von Manstein failed to break through, the Nazi’s fate was sealed. The German forces under the command of Gen. Friedrich Paulus eventually surrendered in early February 1943.

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While the Soviets lost nearly 500,000 men in the battle, the Wehrmacht surrendered 91,000 soldiers and lost nearly 150,000. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

It was a horrific battle waged on a titanic scale in a battlefield unlike any seen in modern times. In all, the Germans lost about 147,000 men in the battle while surrendering 91,000. The Soviets took even more catastrophic losses, with 480,000 dead and 650,000 wounded. An estimated 40,000 civilians were killed in the fighting.

Watch some of the extraordinary footage sent back by German photographers of the battle for Stalingrad culled from historical archives and colorized for a more vivid portrayal from FootageArchive.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This wooden jet fighter showed just how desperate Germany was

By early 1944, the Germany and the Luftwaffe were in a bad state. Allied bombing had a devastating effect on oil supplies and the new P-51 Mustang was killing German pilots faster than they could be trained. Though Germany was developing the twin-engined Me 262 jet fighter to combat the allied bombers, Hitler’s constant interference and the strain on resources delayed the program. Luftwaffe Supreme Commander Reichmarschall Hermann Göring and Armaments Minister Albert Speer proposed the alternative solution of a single-engined jet fighter that was cheap and easy to produce and could be flown with very little training. Their idea was approved and a contract was issued for the Volksjäger, or “People’s Fighter”.

The Volksjäger requirements called for a single engine to reduce cost and construction complexity. Its airframe would be made primarily of wood and non-strategic metals since Germany’s reserve of war materials was dwindling. Moreover, the design had to be simple and able to be constructed by semi and non-skilled labor, including slave labor. The contract also required that the plane be easy to fly with very little experience, though this was more a sign of Germany’s desperation. “[The] unrealistic notion that this plane should be a ‘people’s fighter,’ in which the Hitler Youth, after a short training regimen with clipped-wing two-seater gliders like the DFS Stummel-Habicht, could fly for the defense of Germany, displayed the unbalanced fanaticism of those days,” recalled the plane’s designer, Dr. Ernst Heinkel, after the war.

Heinkel’s design, the He 162 Spatz (Sparrow), was selected on September 25, 1944. Incredibly, the first prototype flew less than 90 days later on December 6. Though the first flight was successful, it was noted that some of the glue holding the wooden frame together started to fail. The second test flight on December 10 saw a similar glue failure that caused the aileron to separate from the wing and resulted in a crash that killed the pilot. Still, Germany was desperate and testing pressed on without addressing the glue issue.

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The Hinterbrühl facility was captured in April 1945 (German Federal Archives)

Though the He 162 was supposed to be flown by Hitler Youth, the aircraft turned out to be too complex and required a more experienced pilot at the controls. A small number of training gliders were built and delivered to a Hitler Youth squadron at Sagan. However, the unit was in the process of forming when the war ended and did not undergo any training.

Despite the need for trained pilots, production of the He 162 began at Salzburg and the underground facilities at Hinterbrühl and Mittelwerk. The first operational unit received the He 162 in February 1945. Despite heavy allied bombing of German industry and air bases, I./JG 1 (First Fighter Wing) began training on the new jet in March and saw their first action with it the next month.

On April 19, the He 162 scored its first kill when Feldwebel Günther Kirchner shot down an RAF fighter. While on approach to land, the vulnerable jet fighter was shot down by another RAF fighter. Both the plane and pilot were lost. Though more victories were scored in April, I./JG 1 lost 13 He 162s and 10 pilots. However, only two were actually shot down. The other planes were lost due to mechanical failure, structural failure, or running out of fuel.

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A captured He 162 in France and later brought to the U.S. (U.S. National Archives)

On May 5, the squadron was grounded following the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands, Northwest Germany, and Denmark. Unlike other German squadrons with experimental aircraft, I./JG 1 did not destroy their planes. Rather, they turned them over to the British on May 6 who distributed them among the other allied nations for evaluation.

After the war, allied research found that the He 162 was actually a capable and well-designed fighter. Its inherent problems were the result of its rushed production. If the Germans had the time and resources for proper testing and evaluation, the plane could have been a serious threat to allied air superiority.

Today, many examples of the He 162 survive in museums including the RAF Museum in London and the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

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The He 162 at the National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian Institute)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the Bolsheviks concealed the cowardly murder of the Czar royal family

Like many heads of state who reach power through blood rather than merit, Czar Nicholas II was utterly unprepared to rule Russia as it headed into the 20th century. He made one unpopular decision after the next. His loathed intimacy with the notorious mystic Grigori Rasputin was another reason he was unpopular. The turmoil agitating the country and the world at the turn of the century proved too much for this monarch who did not want to be a Czar. In early 1917, Russia was swept over by the Revolution and the Czar deposed, signing the end of a 300 years old imperial dynasty. That was not enough for the Bolsheviks to take over Russia; they needed the royal family murdered and kept secret, but why?

Nicholas II in 1912 (Public Domain)

The House of Special Purpose

After Nicholas’s removal from power, he was taken into custody along with his family by the Provisional Government. They were stripped of any title and placed under house arrest, first at the Alexander Palace, then in Tobolsk, Siberia, in August 1917. After the Bolsheviks came into power in October 1917, the Romanov’s conditions of detention deteriorated significantly. Finally, they were moved to Yekaterinburg’ Ipatiev House in the first half of 1918. There, they were openly considered as hostages.

All those under arrest will be held as hostages, and the slightest attempt at counter-revolutionary action in the town will result in the summary execution of the hostages.

Announcement in the local newspaper by Bolshevik War Commissar Filipp Goloshchyokin, in charge of the family’s incarceration in Yekaterinburg

In July 1918, pro-royalist soldiers from Czechoslovakia, called “Whites”, had been advancing through the country and closing on Yekaterinburg. The Bolsheviks feared they would try to rescue the Romanov and support the renewal of monarchy in Russia. So, on the evening of the 16th July 1918, during dinner, the entire family and their servants were ordered to go down to the cellar. There, amid a chaos of screams, escape attempts and bullets, they were summarily executed. Those who survived the shooting were dispatched with bayonets or the butts of guns. Over the next couple of months, many relatives and allies were assassinated around the country. The swift eradication resulted in 27 deaths in 84 days.

Bolsheviks controlled the media circus

A few days later, the murder of the former czar was publicly announced by the Bolsheviks, calling him “the personification of the barbarian landowner, of this ignoramus, dimwit and bloodthirsty savage” in the official party newspaper. However, the assassination of his family was kept secret. Although rumors began to spread, the official version was that Alexandra and her children had been moved for their protection. To prevent any recognition, the bodies were mutilated, burned with acid, and buried in a secret place in the forest. So why were the Bolsheviks happy to endorse the murder of Nicholas, but not that of his family?

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1920 Bolshevik Party meeting: sitting (from left) are EnukidzeKalininBukharinTomskyLashevichKamenevPreobrazhenskySerebryakovLenin and Rykov
(Public Domain)

It’s speculated that it was mostly an image issue. The Red Revolution already struggled with a brutal reputation outside of the country. The violent repression of any hint of opposition made the revolution quite unpopular with many governments. Socialist and communist ideas were thoroughly mistrusted by the ruling class. Moreover, king George V of England was Nicholas’s first cousin and enjoyed a friendly relationship with the former monarch. Nicholas’s murder was received with sorrow, but the massacre of the entire family might have prompted a political and military response that would have overthrown the still unstable Bolshevik government.

The cover up

The “whites” and other enemies of the communist revolution tried to use the rumors flying around on the disappearance of the family to defame the movement and its famous leader, Lenin. If speculations had turned to facts, proving the massacre beyond the shadow of a doubt, Lenin’s image as a wise and fair leader would have been severely damaged. There is no historical evidence that Lenin was the one who gave the order for the assassination. In fact, he seemed in favor of a trial, with Leo Trotsky as the main accuser.

Even a biased trial could have been used as propaganda of justice of the new regime. However, the murders, if supported by evidence, could have been laid at the leader’s door — whether he was truly implicated or not, in an attempt to weaken his newly acquired position. In addition, the mysterious fate of the family led many European monarchs on a manhunt to rescue the last Romanov. Thus squandering resources and keeping their attention away from the fate of the Russian people under Bolshevik rule.

That is why the fate of the last heirs of the Russian imperial family was kept officially hidden for decades. The truth would lay hidden until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The bodies were eventually recovered and five of the family members have now been laid in state, resting together in the St. Petersburg Cathedral.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of Vietnam’s ‘Boat People’ is now an Air Force officer

The “boat people,” as they came to be known, are an oft-forgotten footnote at the end of the Vietnam War. In the years following the U.S. withdrawal and the subsequent fall of South Vietnam to the Communist north, refugees packed ships leaving the southern half, bound for anywhere but there.


Between 1975 and 1995 some 800,000 people faced pirates, traffickers, and storms to escape the grip of Communism and make it to a new life in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, or elsewhere. Images of boat people adrift on any kind of ship routinely made the nightly news. Rescued refugees would be resettled anywhere they would be accepted, many of them ending up in the Western United States. One of those people was Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Asan Bui.

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Vietnamese “Boat People” being rescued while adrift at sea.

Asan Bui was born on one of those vessels, adrift in the ocean, bound for nowhere, some 44 years ago. He was a citizen of no country. His father took his then-pregnant mother out of Vietnam because he had served in South Vietnam’s army as an artilleryman. Against all odds, he, his wife, and five children all escaped the iron curtain as it came crashing down.

Bui, like many who fought for anti-Communist South Vietnam, faced persecution and execution at the hands of the oncoming Communists in 1975. The fall of the southern capital at Saigon was imminent, and many were looking for a way to flee. Asan Bui’s father took his family by boat.

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Air Force Reserve, Lt. Col. Asan Bui was born at sea 44 years ago while adrift in the ocean aboard a wooden boat.

(U.S. Air Force Reserve photo by Senior Airman Brandon Kalloo Sanes)

Bui’s family was just the tip of the iceberg. The fall of Saigon caused 1.6 million Vietnamese people to flee South Vietnam. The elder Bui was not happy to leave and wanted to fight the Communists every inch of the way. His sense soon got the better of him, though. If he were captured, he would likely have been tortured and killed.

“Anyone that fought alongside the United States would be killed or imprisoned in re-education camps,” Bui told the Air Force Reserve. “I have personally spoken with individuals that have gone through this brutal ordeal and survived. Some were not released for over a decade and still carry the traumatic scars.”

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Lt. Col. Bui’s father, Chien Van Bui, calls in artillery fire during the Vietnam War.

(Photo provided by Lt. Col. Asan Bui)

If they did survive the capture and torture, Southern fighters could look forward to hard time in Communist labor camps, re-education centers, or worse. Instead of all that, Chien Van Bui fled with his family. When the family was rescued, they were taken to Camp Asan in Guam, naming their newborn child after the camp they called home.

Asan Bui joined the United States Air Force in his mid-twenties, now serving his 19th year for the country that took him in and allowed him to start a family of his own. Lt. Col. Asan Bui is the commander of the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick AFB, Fla. He is dedicated to continued service.

“I want to honor those (military and sponsors) that have sacrificed so much for my family and the Vietnamese refugees,” said Bui. “Especially the Vietnam veterans.”

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These presidents were all (distantly) related to each other

Power — even political power — doesn’t fall too far from the family tree when it comes to the U.S. presidency … then again, sometimes it comes several branches over. At least, that’s the case for many former U.S. presidents, including those that are as far as 10th cousins, twice removed, like George W. Bush and Barack Obama. (Is your head spinning?!) 

Cousins!President of the United States Barack Obama with George W. Bush and Michelle Obama shortly after boarding Air Force One for the trip to South Africa on 9 December 2013.
Pete Souza

Take a look at this list of U.S. presidents and their relations to other former presidents for a new way to look at our leaders who have served as Commander in Chief.

Closely related

George W. and George H.W. Bush were father and son, respectively. No surprise there. They served as the 31st and 43rd presidents of the U.S.

President George W. Bush and former President George H.W. Bush sit on stage at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing Friday, Aug. 8, 2008, during dedication ceremonies. Both are scheduled to attend opening ceremonies scheduled for later in the evening.
White House photo by Eric Draper.

Another father and son duo came in John Adams and John Quincey Adams who served as the second and sixth presidents, respectively. 

William Henry Harrison, ninth president, was the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president. 

Meanwhile, James Madison, fourth president, was second cousins with Zachary Taylor, the 12th president. 

FDR is related to 11 presidents

Next comes Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president, who was related to 11 — yes ELEVEN — other presidents. Five of them through blood and the remaining six by marriage. This was determined by a study done by multiple genealogists. (There is even controversy that he’s related to a 12th former president.)

They include:

  • Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president, FDR’s fifth cousin 
  • John Adams
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Ulysses Grant
  • Henry William Harrison
  • Benjamin Harrison
  • James Madison 
  • William Taft
  • Zachary Taylor
  • Martin Van Buren, third cousins, four-times removed
  • George Washington 

He was also reportedly related to Winston Churchill and Robert E. Lee. Woah!

Distantly related cousins

The search for distant relatives becomes deep when it comes to former U.S. presidents, practically unending. With generations between them and blood and marriage bonding many in office, the list of distant cousin only continues to grow.

  • James Madison and James K. Polk, second cousins once removed
  • Zachary Taylor and James K. Polk, second cousins once removed
  • Martin Van Buren and Theodore Roosevelt, third cousins three-times removed
  • John Adams and Calvin Coolidge, third cousins, five-times removed
  • James Madison and Barack Obama, third cousins, nine-times removed
  • John Tyler and William Henry Harrison, fourth cousins, once removed
  • Ulysses Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth cousins, once removed
  • John Adams and Millard Fillmore, fourth cousins, three-times removed
  • John Quincy Adams and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth cousins, three-times removed
  • Zachary Taylor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth half-cousins, three-times removed
  • James Garfield and George H. W. Bush, fourth cousins, three-times removed
  • Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama, fourth cousins, three times removed
  • John Quincy Adams and Calvin Coolidge, fourth cousins, four-times removed
  • Franklin Pierce and Calvin Coolidge, fourth cousins, four-times removed
  • James Garfield and George W. Bush, fourth cousins, four-times removed
  • John Adams and William Howard Taft, fourth cousins, five-times removed
  • Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover, fourth cousins, five-times removed
  • Millard Fillmore and George H. W. Bush, fourth cousins, five-times removed
  • Millard Fillmore and George W. Bush, fourth cousins, six-times removed

And on on on and on, all the way up to 10th cousins, four-times removed. Are they still even related at that point?? 

This is an interesting look into the genealogy of the American president and how families long ago are even distantly related to modern U.S. presidents. 

Featured photo: Presidential portraits taken from Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain

MIGHTY HISTORY

Uncle Sam is a real guy and his poster is a self-portrait

In 1917, artist James Montgomery Flagg created his most famous work, a recruiting poster for the U.S. Army featuring a white-haired, white-whiskered man in an old-timey (even by the standards of the day) top hat, coat, and tie in bold red, white, and blue colors. Inspired by similar recruiting posters in Europe at the time, the poster was adapted to appeal to everyday Americans, along with their sense of individuality and patriotism. It has become one of the most enduring symbols of the United States military.

And it’s basically a portrait of Flagg himself.


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And that’s how you achieve immortality.

Flagg’s stock in trade was creating cartoons, illustrations, and drawings for publications of all sorts. He worked for advertising firms, newspapers, book publishers, and other creators who required illustrations such as Flagg’s. He was commissioned to create the cover for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1916. It was a weekly publication that pioneered the use of early photography to illustrate American life during its 70-plus year run, and he used himself as a model. Hearkening back to the early days of the magazine, he chose to depict himself as an older gentleman in an outdated, if colorful outfit.

The headline of that week’s issue was “What Are You Doing For Preparedness?” He decided to make the poster a reference to a then-famous recruiting poster for the British Army, one that depicted the famous Field Marshal Lord Herbert Kitchener, pointing at the viewer and telling them they’re wanted in the British Army, using the likeness of Uncle Sam in the place of Kitchener.

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As for the origin of Uncle Sam, the true origin is disputed. A resolution from Congress in 1961 declared that an Upstate New York meat inspector named Sam Wilson was the original Uncle Sam. Wilson was a Continental Army veteran from Troy, New York, who provided rations to the Army during the War of 1812. It’s not known whether Wilson’s appearance was the inspiration for the rest of Uncle Sam’s appearance, but Flagg’s depiction of himself as Uncle Sam certainly stood the test of time.

Flagg’s painting was reused again as a recruiting tool during World War II, and the notoriety from his work earned him a place as one of the top illustrators of the day, working for the best magazines and newspapers who could afford work like his. He even went on to paint portraits of famous Americans that would end up in the National Portrait Gallery, such as Mark Twain and boxer Jack Dempsey. Flagg died in 1960, the year before Congress decided to honor Sam Wilson as the true “Uncle Sam.”

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This brave turret gunner faced 200 German aircraft

Army Air Corps Tech. Sgt. Ernest Merle Hancock was the top turret gunner in a B-17 bomber flying into Nazi Germany from Italy in the third of three American bomber groups. The German forces at the target offered some resistance to the first two bomber groups, but they held the real fireworks for the third group.


The B-17s had no fighter cover when 200 German fighters, some of which were the feared Focke Wulf-190, rose up to attack the mere 27 B-17s in the American formation.

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Staff Sgt. Maynard Smith mans a machine gun in a B-17 in a promotional photo during World War II. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Despite the long odds, Hancock and the other gunners opened up with everything they had. Hancock’s plane was struck by Messerschmitt 109 and Fw-190 fire and Hancock himself suffered injuries from the enemy guns.

Still, Hancock fought on, firing into the fighter formations. He managed to down three, at least one of which was a Fw-190. The tail gunner on the plane knocked out a fourth.

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This Boeing B-17F had its left wing blown off by an Me-262 over Crantenburg, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A fire spread through the bomber, but Hancock stayed at his post until ordered to bail out. He finally exited the burning plane as it flew near the German border with France. Unfortunately, he was captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war as a POW.

A Silver Star was approved for him in 1945, but Hancock didn’t learn of the award until 2015.

You can watch Hancock tell his own story in the video below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

Audie Murphy: American war hero, actor, advocate

Audie Murphy was an American actor known for his Western films. However, his initial claim to fame came from being the most decorated U.S. combat soldier of World War II. He was born in 1925 in a small Texas town to poor sharecroppers. Murphy joined the Army in 1942 after falsifying his birth certificate to ensure he could enlist before he was eligible.

During WWII, Murphy was credited with killing 240 members of enemy forces and capturing or wounding many others. In his three years of active service, he became a legend among the 3rd Infantry Division, and is considered one of the best fighting combat soldiers of this or any other century. The U.S. Army has declared that there will never be another Audie Murphy. That is most likely the case too, with modern day technology and modern warfare, it is unlikely any soldier will ever live up to the legend of Audie Murphy.


Murphy became the most decorated soldier of WWII by earning 33 awards and decorations. He was awarded every decoration for valor the United States offers, some more than once. These awards included the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery that can be given to an individual. His awards from the war also included five decorations from France and Belgium.

Audie Murphy was released from active duty on September 21, 1945. After his release, he went to Hollywood at the invitation of actor James Cagney who had seen his picture on the cover of Life Magazine. After years of hardship, struggle to find work and sleeping in a local gymnasium, Murphy finally received token roles in his first two films.

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(Wikimedia Commons)

Murphy’s first starring role came in 1949. In 1950, he received a contract with Universal-International (now known as Universal). He starred in 26 films over the next 15 years, 23 of which were Westerns. Murphy also filmed 26 episodes of a Western television series which went to air on NBC in 1961. Despite good reviews, Murphy’s series was deemed too violent. Only 20 episodes were aired before it was cancelled.

Audie Murphy suffered from what is known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He was plagued for years by insomnia and depression. By the mid-1960s, Murphy became dependent on a prescribed sleeping medication, Placidyl. When he realized he had become addicted to the medication, he locked himself inside of a motel room, stopped taking the pills and suffered through the withdrawal symptoms for a week.

Murphy used his fame to help advocate for the needs of U.S. veterans. Unlike most during that time, he chose to speak out about his experiences and struggles with PTSD, known as “Battle Fatigue” at the time. He called out the U.S. government to look closer at and study the emotional impacts of war and urged them to extend health benefits to address PTSD and other mental health issues of returning war veterans.

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(Wikimedia Commons)

On May 28, 1971, while on a business trip, Audie Murphy’s plane crashed just outside of Roanoke, Virginia. He and five others, including the pilot, were killed in the crash. Murphy was 45 at the time of his death.

On June 7, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. His gravesite, which is near the amphitheater, is the second most visited grave at Arlington, surpassed only by John F. Kennedy’s grave.

Audie Murphy remains a legend among the members of the U.S. Army. While he was well known for his work as an actor in Hollywood, his memory will live on as a true American hero.

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