A look at President Reagan's Star Wars program, 33 years later - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later


Thirty-three years ago, the Star Wars program was easily the most elaborate and complex defense system ever conceived.

“I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete,” President Ronald Reagan said on March 23, 1983. The speech announced the creation of a new missile defense called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which quickly became known as Star Wars.

It envisaged a vast network of laser-armed satellites, air-based missiles, and ground-based interceptors missiles and electromagnetic railguns. These would be used to intercept incoming nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Soviet Union and other enemies, all coordinated through advanced sensors linked to supercomputers, and protect the United States from direct nuclear attack. By being able to neutralize at least most of the incoming nuclear warheads, the U.S. hoped to show the Soviet Union that any potential nuclear confrontation was hopeless.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later
Graphic of how SDI would work.

The United States and the Soviet Union had flirted with anti-ballistic missile systems in the past.

The U.S. developed the Nike Zeus series of missiles in the early 1960s, which had some ABM capability, and the Soviet Union installed similar missiles around Moscow as protection against limited nuclear strikes. Neither could begin to effectively cope with large-scale nuclear attacks, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty of 1972 strictly limited the number of missile interceptors allowed. The U.S. closed its only missile defense system, called Safeguard, in 1976 after it had only been in operation for a few months and at enormous expense. But by the early 1980s, concerned with advancements in Soviet missiles, the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff revisited the idea, and presented it to Reagan. The idea of a defensive measure to nuclear war beyond simply building more nuclear warheads appealed to to the president.

The technical hurdles for a defense shield like Reagan proposed would be on a scale exceeding any defense project attempted before. The majority of the technology involved, such as weaponized lasers and electromagnetic railguns firing projectiles at extremely high speeds, did not even exist yet and might not be developed for decades. It entailed hundreds, if not thousands of advanced satellites and radars to even begin to aim all the weapons required to make a dent in the Soviet’s vast arsenal. Reagan himself admitted that SDI could easily take until the end of the century to be put into place.

The skepticism towards the program was intense from the beginning. Besides the clear violations of the ABM treaty such a system would represent, it would also extend the arms race even deeper into space.

Swarms of hunter-killer satellites and space-based lasers would be a frightening new frontier, and the Soviet Union would almost certainly try to respond in kind. The projected costs of the system ran into the hundreds of billions of dollars, and the inevitable cost overruns would balloon the Star Wars program to a huge percentage of the U.S. military budget. In the event of an a nuclear attack, unproven technology would have be coordinated on an unprecedented scale and work perfectly the first time. The hurdles involved were well-nigh insurmountable. Nevertheless, by 1987 more than $3 billion was being appropriated annually by Congress to start developing the technology, roughly $6.5 billion in today’s dollars.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

There has been much debate about what sort of affect the Star Wars program had running up to the end of the Cold War, but there is little doubt that the Soviet Union took the program very seriously, and were genuinely concerned about an expanded arm’s race which had immense costs they could not begin to afford. But by the end of the Cold War, a missile-defense system on the scale of SDI was still a pipe-dream. In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the idea was scaled back to a much more limited system capable of defending against small-scale strikes.

The simple fact was that the program was never going to be feasible against as many weapons as an opponent like the Soviet Union could put into play. By 1986 the Soviet’s had over 40,000 nuclear warheads stockpiled, including nearly a thousand ICBM’s with up to 10 warheads a piece that could shower and overwhelm any target within 30 minutes of launch. Soviet submarine’s armed with nuclear missiles could get close enough to U.S. coasts that their payloads could strike hundreds of targets faster than any conceivable system could detect and intercept them. Even if SDI could stop 90 percent of the Soviet’s warheads, the 10 percent that made it through would leave the United States in radioactive ruin.

Though scaled back, development on weapons envisaged in Star Wars continued throughout the 1990s. Its legacy can be seen in today’s Missile Defense Agency. The MDA has cost more than $100 billion since 2002, and the test results of its missile interceptors have been decidedly mixed.

After more than three decades of advances in technology, however more modest our nuclear defense program is now, it still might not be any more realistic than its Cold War forebears.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A baby girl is entombed on the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor

On the morning of December 7, 1941, USS Utah (BB-31) was moored off of Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. Utah was struck by two torpedoes during the infamous attack and quickly took on water. The order to abandon ship was given. Chief Watertender Peter Tomich stayed below decks to ensure as many of his shipmates could escape and keep the pumps going for as long as possible. Tomich would posthumously earn the Medal of Honor for his actions. Utah took only 14 minutes to capsize. Fifty eight men would perish on board the battleship and remain entombed there to this day. These men also stand eternal watch over an unexpected visitor, a two-day old baby girl.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later
USS Utah was in service for almost 32 years before she was sunk (U.S. Navy)

Chief Yeoman Albert Thomas Dewitt Wagner was one of the hundreds of men assigned to the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor during the attack. Four years earlier, on August 29, 1937, Wagner’s wife gave birth to twin girls while they were stationed in the Philippines. Nancy Lynne and Mary Dianne Wagner were born prematurely. Sadly, Nancy Lynne lived only two days. Her body was cremated and brought back to Hawaii when Chief Wagner was assigned to the Utah. Wagner was hoping to give his daughter a proper burial at sea and was waiting for a new chaplain to join the crew to perform it. Unfortunately, the ceremony was not to happen.

Wagner had just finished his breakfast when the Japanese surprise attack started. “Suddenly, the air was bent by a terrific explosion,” Wagner wrote in his journal. “Rushing to a porthole I saw a huge column of black smoke bellowing high into the heavens.” Wagner hurriedly rushed to his battle station on the third deck at the ship’s aft. Suddenly, Utah was rocked by a torpedo explosion that threw Wagner off of his feet. He was forced to abandon ship with his daughter’s ashes still in his locker in the chief’s quarters.

According to the surviving twin sister, Mary Dianne Wagner Kreigh, attempts were made to recover Nancy Lynne’s ashes. “Frogmen did go down about two weeks after the attack and tried to enter the quarters,” she recalled, “but it was too badly smashed to get in.” It was not until 1972 that Nancy Lynne and the 58 sailors about the Utah received a proper monument. The Navy erected a concrete pier and memorial slab and dedicated it to those that remain entombed aboard the Utah. “I don’t think there is a better tribute to my twin sister than to have all of those wonderful and brave men guarding her,” Kreigh said. “I could not have asked for anything better than for her to be tenderly, carefully looked after by America’s finest.” In 1990, Kreigh started a Thanksgiving tradition to visit the USS Utah memorial and place a lei in the water in her sister’s honor.

USS Utah next to the memorial at Pearl Harbor
Utah‘s rusted hull lays exposed above the water next to the memorial to those that remain entombed on board (U.S. Navy)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Indian military unit fought for the Nazis

During World War II, the military force aiming to install an Aryan master race over the world found potentially unlikely allies on the subcontinent of India where thousands of soldiers joined the “Free Indian Legion,” fighting on behalf of the Nazis against the Allied Powers from the China-Burma-India Theater to the Atlantic Wall on D-Day.


Hitler’s Indian Regiment

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Hitler’s Indian Regiment

India was a British colony during World War II that sent millions of loyal subjects to fight on behalf of King George VI, but the relationship between Britain and India was strained—to say the least—when the war started. India had been agitating for independence from the East India Company and then the British Crown for about a century.

Indian troops serving Great Britain fought valiantly and earned top awards for heroism in the battle against the Axis Powers, but not all Indian leaders thought the fight against fascism should trump the fight for Indian independence. Much like American patriots in the 1770s capitalized on Britain’s fighting with France, some Indian leaders thought Britain’s war with Germany was the perfect time to break away from the crown.

And the Nazis were happy to help. When they began to take Indian troops prisoner in Africa, they offered those men German uniforms, weapons, and training if they would take up arms against the British. The first 27, all seen as potential officers, were pulled out of German POW camps and sent to Germany for training in 1941. These were soon followed by thousands of others to fill out the ranks.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Let’s all agree that, regardless of motives or other accomplishments in your life, the photo of you shaking Hitler’s hand will never look good.

(Public domain)

An Indian independence leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, helped start the legion and got serious concessions from Germany on how the troops would be trained, deployed, equipped, paid, and more. Basically, the agreement was that the unit would be trained, paid, and equipped at the same level as any normal German unit.

But, the Indian troops could not be deployed like normal German units. The agreement that formed the unit would limit it to combat deployments focused on overthrowing British control of India. So Germany had to fund the unit like any German force, but they could only use it for Indian independence.

But still, the trade-off was seen as worthwhile by Germany as it struggled with how it would one day root British forces out of the jungles of Asia. This worry would prove well-founded when Britain and India began sending “Chindits” into the jungles to break the logistics chains and defensive lines of Japanese forces.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Soldiers with the Free Indian Legion fight side-by-side with other German soldiers in World War II.

(German Federal Archives)

So the Indian Legion was formed and given a distinctive badge of a leaping tiger. But, in direct contradiction of the agreement, Indian Legion troops would go on to serve almost exclusively in Europe during the war. This wasn’t some dastardly Nazi plot though. It was simply the reality of the battlefield.

Savvy World War II buffs will remember that, while the Axis Powers were triumphantly marching across much of the world in 1941 when the legion was first recruited, it was suffering serious setbacks just a year later.

While the Indian Legion was going through initial recruitment, organization, and training, America joined the war, Polish and French resistance gained strength against Nazi occupiers, England turned back the German tide in the Battle of Britain, and America began limiting and then defeating Japan in the Pacific.

Italy, meanwhile, crumbled under the Allied assault like it was an Olive Garden.

So the Indian Legion, still in Europe for training, was sent to the Netherlands and France to get experience guarding coasts in 1943 until Germany was ready to invade through either the Soviet Union or the Middle East into India. Some Indian Legion members were still on the French coast when the Allies launched the 1944 Operation Overlord, the invasion of Fortress Europe through France.

The Indian Legion saw some combat there, but was quickly pulled from the front lines as the men complained that they would likely be executed as traitors if captured by British forces. The legion continued operations across Nazi-occupied France and Belgium and maintained some presence on the Atlantic Wall.

It suffered a few casualties against French forces, but saw little combat overall until the last of its troops deployed in France were sent to join brethren already in Italy. It was there, in Italy, that the Indian Legion surrendered to the Allies. Indian Legion members generally opted to surrender to American and French forces, but they were handed over to British and Indian forces quickly after capture.

The Indian political climate after the war had little appetite for prosecuting Indians who had worked, albeit with the Nazis, for independence. And most of the soldiers who faced court-martial saw their charges dropped or commuted.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Navy diver lost his leg, but not his spirit

Carl Brashear was no stranger to adversity. A sharecropper’s son, he grew up on a farm in Kentucky and attended segregated schools his entire life. He enlisted in the Navy the same year that President Truman effectively ended segregation in the military by issuing Executive Order 9981. Brashear was told repeatedly that he couldn’t be a Navy diver: no black man ever had. His application was ignored and lost, over and over until 1954 when he made the cut. But those struggles paled in comparison to the mission that cost him his leg.


When Brashear enlisted, black sailors were only offered jobs like serving white officers meals or cleaning up. Brashear knew he was meant to do more. He wanted to be a Navy diver.

In addition to the physical attributes it takes to be a Diver, you also have to have a bit of smarts too. There is a science to diving and understanding it is a key prerequisite to becoming and advancing through the Diving hierarchy. Brashear had grown up in rural Kentucky and, because of the lack of education in segregated schools, had the equivalent of an 8th grade education. While he had become a salvage diver which was difficult in and of itself, in order to get to the next step, he had to pass a grueling science component.

It took him almost 9 years, but he was able to do so, and became a First-Class Diver in 1964. Braesher made history as the first African American to become a Navy diver.

Then the accident happened.

In January 1966, off the coast of Spain, two Air Force planes collided while attempting to link up to refuel. A B-52G Stratofortress Bomber collided with a KC-135A Stratotanker causing both planes to go down. All four of the refueler’s crew perished while three of the seven crew died on the bomber when their plane broke apart.

While the loss of life itself was devastating, the cargo of the bomber was cause of grave concern as well. Falling to the earth were four MK28 Hydrogen bombs.

Three of the bombs were found immediately in a Spanish fishing village. The fourth was believed to have fallen into the Mediterranean.

The Air Force asked the assistance of the United States Navy. After 80 days of searching, the bomb was finally located. It took over 20 ships, thousands of men and about 150 Navy Divers, one of whom was Carl Brashear.

Two months into the search, a tow cable snapped and sent a pipe into Brashear’s leg almost shearing it off. Brashear was medevaced to Germany and then Virginia. Despite all attempts to save his left leg below the knee, doctors could not stop the infections and necrosis that set in.

Brashear would have to lose his leg.

For most of us who served, this should have meant the end of his career and most certainly should have ended his time as a Navy Diver.

For Carl Brashear, that was not an option. His journey in the Navy had already been long and arduous, and he had his eyes set on something bigger. One of his personal beliefs was, “It’s not a sin to get knocked down; it’s a sin to stay down”.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

It should have been the end of his career. For Brashear it was just another fight he was going to win. The Navy set about the process to medically retire him.

Brashear refused to show up for his med-board meeting and instead went about proving to the Navy that he could be returned to active duty. As reported by the L.A. Times, Brashear said, “Sometimes I would come back from a run, and my artificial leg would have a puddle of blood from my stump. In that year, if I would have gone to sick bay, they would have written me up. I didn’t go to sick bay. I’d go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it — an old remedy.”

It took almost two years of determination, but in 1968, Brashear was able to be recertified as a Navy Diver.

Again, for most people this would have been a remarkable finale. For Brashear, there was one more major goal he wanted.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Master Diver.

Brashear pushed through the limitation of having a prosthetic leg and studied master the scientific criteria that was needed to get to the next level.

In two years, he did it. In 1970, he became the first African American to become a Master Diver in the United State Navy.

Brashear retired in 1979 as a Master Chief Petty Officer and Master Diver.

Through his career he told people, “I ain’t going to let nobody steal my dream”.

No one did.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

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MIGHTY HISTORY

Important events during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Hold onto your hats — we’re about to dive deep into a micro-portion of U.S. history. The Cuban Missile Crisis is undoubtedly an important part of American warfare knowledge. But now, with hindsight in our favor, we can look back and consider the situation with ease. The fact of the matter is, that when it took place, it was a terrifying time for all involved. The public was scared, and government officials worked round-the-clock to ease tensions of nuclear war.

Take a look at these important events and how they helped channel current events of the time. 

First things first, what was the Cuban Missle Crisis? 

The Cuban Missile Crisis took place in October of 1962, when the Societ Union placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. The fear of weapons sitting just 90 miles from U.S. boarders led to nationwide panic, and the launch of a Naval blockade of Cuba. The general public feared of a nuclear war. The event took place over 13 days and was dissolved when sitting president, John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev reached an agreement. The U.S. would not invade Cuba (secretly, JFK also agreed to remove missiles from Turkey), and the Soviet Union would remove missiles from Cuba.

Adlai Stevenson shows missiles to UN Security Council with David Parker standing. (Public Domain)
  • The addition of missiles to Cuba was widely fueled by the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. The event convinced Fidel Castro that a U.S. invasion was imminent, and it strengthened his position with the Soviet Union.
  • The U.S. learned about the missiles from aerial photos taken by a Lockheed U-2. Fearing that such planes would be shot down, it took a high-altitude pass over the country but was still able to take images.
  • We almost launched nuclear weapons. On October 27th, 12 Navy ships found a Soviet Submarine outside of Cuba and began dropping explosives that would force it to surface. Not having had communication in days, the Soviet submarine was unaware if the war had begun or not. Soviet protocol required agreement by three onboard officers in order to launch a nuclear weapon. The Submarine’s captain wanted to respond with a nuclear torpedo, however, another member, officer Vasili Arkhipov would not consent. The submarine surfaced and torpedo exchange was avoided. It’s widely agreed that having done so would have started a nuclear war. 
  • In the event of a nuclear war, it was estimated that there would have been 200 million deaths — 100 million each of Americans and Soviets. This number was found by the Belfer Center at Harvard. 
  • Before enacting a trade embargo with Cuba in 1962, JFK obtained more than 12,000 Cuban cigars.
  • The end of the crisis also ended Khrushchev’s political reign. The Soviets disliked backing down from an event they say their leader initiated. Khrushchev held office for two more years, but the event is said to have weakened his power and trust from the people.
  • Castro wasn’t consulted in the treaty. It’s worth noting that Khrushchev alone made the deal with JFK. This weakened the relationship between Cuba and the Soviets, with Casto angered he hadn’t been involved.
  • Because of the crisis, the White House added a phone line that went directly to the Kremlin, a fortified city in Moscow and where the Soviet party kept its headquarters. Today, the access operates by lightning-fast email/chat and is called Washington–Moscow Direct Communications Link. In popular culture, it’s known as “the red telephone.”
  • It was the only time the U.S. has been at DEFCON 2 — that’s Defense Readiness Condition. DEFCON 2 means the country is ready for nuclear war and can deploy and engage armed forces within six hours.

Featured image: An S-75 Dvina with V-750V 1D missile (NATO SA-2 Guideline) on a launcher. An installation similar to this one shot down Major Anderson’s U-2 over Cuba. (Wikipedia)

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you should know about ‘Anchors Aweigh’

Today’s U.S. Navy can trace its origins to the Continental Navy of the Revolutionary War. It boasts the largest, most capable fleet in history, proudly serving its mission of “…winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas.” America’s sailors are the finest in the world, and their rousing song — born in victory — suits them well.


Also read: The complete hater’s guide to the US Navy


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Even if you can’t sing along, you’ve probably heard the familiar tune, but here are five things you might not know about “Anchors Aweigh:”

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1. It was written at the U.S. Naval Academy

Bandmaster Lt. Charles A. Zimmerman served as director of the U.S. Naval Academy Band from 1887 until his death in 1916, and he wrote a march for each graduating class. But it was “Anchors Aweigh” would be the one ultimately adopted by the U.S. Navy as its official song.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

The Navy Midshipmen take the field in the 2012 Army-Navy game.

U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad Runge)

2. It helped shut out the Army

By 1906, Navy had not beaten Army on the football field since 1900. Midshipman First Class Alfred Hart Miles approached Zimmerman with a request for a new march — one that would lift spirits and “live forever.” According to legend, Miles and Zimmerman got to work at the Academy’s chapel organ. Later that month, the band and brigade performed the song and the Navy swept the Army in a 10-0 victory.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Sailors secure a line to the capstan while hoisting the anchor chain.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Finley)

3. It’s chock full of naval jargon, starting with the title

An anchor is “aweigh” when it is hoisted from the bottom, freeing the vessel. This event is duly noted in the ship’s log.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Nimitz Carrier Strike Group conducts an underway.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael D. Cole)

4. It evolved over time

It wasn’t until 1997 that the lyrics were finally revised (by the 8th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, John Hagan) to be a little less college football and a little more domination of the high seas.

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5. It boasts ancient lore — like 2300 BC ancient

The revised lyrics include some naval lore, such as a reference to Davy Jones, whose locker on the ocean floor is home to drowned sailors and shipwrecks, and the “seven seas,” an ancient phrase for all the world’s oceans.

Here are the proud lyrics (both original and revised):

Original Lyrics

[Verse 1]

Stand Navy down the field, sails set to the sky.

We’ll never change our course, so Army you steer shy-y-y-y.

Roll up the score, Navy, Anchors Aweigh.

Sail Navy down the field and sink the Army, sink the Army Grey.

[Verse 2]

Get underway, Navy, Decks cleared for the fray,

We’ll hoist true Navy Blue So Army down your Grey-y-y-y.

Full speed ahead, Navy; Army heave to,

Furl Black and Grey and Gold and hoist the Navy, hoist the Navy Blue

[Verse 3]

Blue of the Seven Seas; Gold of God’s great sun

Let these our colors be Till all of time be done-n-n-ne,

By Severn shore we learn Navy’s stern call:

Faith, courage, service true With honor over, honor over all.

Revised Lyrics

(It is verse 2 that is most widely sung)

[Verse 1]

Stand Navy out to sea,

Fight our battle cry;

We’ll never change our course,

So vicious foe steer shy-y-y-y.

Roll out the TNT,

Anchors Aweigh.

Sail on to victory

And sink their bones to Davy Jones, hooray!

[Verse 2]

Anchors Aweigh, my boys,

Anchors Aweigh.

Farewell to foreign shores,

We sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.

Through our last night ashore,

Drink to the foam,

Until we meet once more.

Here’s wishing you a happy voyage home.

[Verse 3]

Blue of the mighty deep:

Gold of God’s great sun.

Let these our colors be

Till all of time be done, done, done, done.

On seven seas we learn

Navy’s stern call:

Faith, courage, service true,

With honor, over honor, over all.

Articles

This mistress tried to get a future president to back Germany in World War I

President Warren G. Harding served for just over two years as president before dying in office. Before that, his administration was known more for back-door cronyism than sound public policy.


A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later
President Warren G. Harding. (Photo: Public Domain)

But Harding had a secret that wouldn’t come out until well after his death. He had a long-time mistress who was a deep and vocal supporter of Germany during the buildup to World War I, and she lobbied hard for her lover to gain similar sympathies.

Carrie Fulton Phillips was the wife of a store owner in Ohio. Phillips and Harding began their affair in 1905 when Harding was the lieutenant governor of Ohio. Harding spent the next 15 years sleeping with Phillips when possible and campaigning for various Republican offices when she wasn’t.

This included Harding’s time as a senator and his run-up to the presidency. During this period, Phillips wrote at length to Harding about the glories of Imperial Germany and her sympathies with the German people. Harding famously replied on official Senate stationery with descriptions of his penis.

Ironically, his nickname for his penis was “Jerry,” the nickname American troops gave to German soldiers.

Phillips’ support of Germany only became more open when Harding took office as a senator. Eventually, this led to surveillance by the Bureau of Investigation, now the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and rumors that she was a spy.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later
Carrie Fulton Phillips still wanted Americans charging on this hill, she just wanted them to charge the other direction. (Photo: Public Domain)

While the idea of Phillips convincing a rising senator and future president to support Germany in World War I makes for an interesting alternate history where Germany wins World War I or the two countries get the team back together for World War II, the reality was that Harding was never very pro-German.

A post on the National Archives and Records Administration blog says “Harding praised Phillips’s ‘perfect thighs’ and ‘beautiful form’ but found her pro-German sympathies less attractive.”

Phillips interrupted a session of lovemaking in April 1917, the same month America entered the war against Germany, to lobby on behalf of Germany and threaten Harding with exposure. The senator was angered by her arguments and later wrote of his shock at her actions.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later
President Warren G. Harding was surprised that he had to stop having sex. These U.S. soldiers on their way to the front in 1918 were probably more annoyed that their next president had a pro-Germany girlfriend. (Photo: Public Domain)

All of her lobbying largely failed. While America could have gone either way or stayed neutral early in World War I, the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 by a German sub had tipped the U.S. strongly against the Central Powers.

Harding voted in support of the America’s entrance into World War I in 1917 and most laws that paid for it. When he opposed a bill in 1918 that would have expanded the president’s powers, he had to deal with rumors that Phillips was changing his vote.

For what it’s worth, Phillips probably wasn’t a spy for Germany, just a fan of the country. Historians who looked into German records could find no evidence of a spy sleeping with a senator, something German spymasters in America would have reported as a major achievement.

And Phillips’ and Harding’s relationship ran cold before he took presidential office. While Harding was campaigning for the presidency, Phillips threatened him with exposure if he didn’t send her a large sum of money. Harding eventually agreed to $5,000 per month for as long as he was in public office. This amounts to $62,572.75 per month when adjusted for inflation.

Harding died of a heart attack in Aug. 1923, just over two years after taking office.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Peace we seek, peace we keep: Naval ship named in MoH recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams’ honor

Medal of Honor recipient Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, an infantry rifleman corporal with 3rd Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 21st Marine Regiment, Charlie Company during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, is having a United States naval ship commissioned in his honor on March 7, 2020 in Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.


Williams received a Medal of Honor from President Truman for his efforts as special weapons unit in a flamethrower demolition group in advancing US forces on Feb. 23, 1945.

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Williams was born in 1923 in Fairmont, West Virginia. He decided to join the Marine Corps in May 1943. During his time in the armed forces, Williams fought the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. Marine Corps history, and Williams was a pivotal component in The United States’ victory.

“When we arrived on shore it was really chaotic because the Marines of the 4th Division had been pinned to that area for days; two days at least,” said Williams. “Many of them had been wounded and evacuated so there were packs and rifles and jeeps blowing up and tanks stuck in the sand.”

Williams shared how the Marines would “belly out” and the tracks would turn but couldn’t get any traction because the sand was so loose. He recalls how when he first arrived from the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), or Higgins Boat, Marines that had been killed were rolled in their ponchos.

The goal was to destroy as many of the enemy’s pill boxes, or strategic bunkers that housed weaponry and allow protection from enemy forces. Williams used a flamethrower to take down the Japanese pillboxes for hours.

Upon his return home in 1945 he received a Medal of Honor award for his bravery by President Truman.

“From that day on, I took on a new life.” said Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, Medal of Honor Recipient and World War II Veteran. “I became a public figure that I had no plan whatsoever to be.”

He retired after twenty years in the Marine Corps Reserve and became the Commandant of the Veterans Nursing Home in Barboursville, West Virginia for almost 10 years. “It’s almost like a dream,” said Williams. “It’s something that I dreamed would never happened.”

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Williams discussed how a Marine saw a ship with a Medal of Honor recipients name on it 20 years ago and he wanted to have a ship named after Williams as well.

Williams was told that that there would be a petition to have a ship named in his honor, and for several years there were petitions and paperwork to vouch for Williams having a ship named after him. Williams did not believe that a ship could be named after a corporal, and believed that was something reserved only for presidents and generals.

“I never dreamed it would happen,” said Williams. “I never thought it was possible.”

The Department of the Navy called Williams and told him that the petition would be approved. Upon approval, Williams needed to find a sponsor for the ship.

In naval history, the sponsor is traditionally one woman, usually the wife of the person having the ship named after him. This tradition was broken because Williams did not want to choose between his two daughters, so the Navy allowed both of his daughters to be the sponsors of his ship because his wife is deceased.

After picking a sponsor, Williams was required to pick a motto for the ship. The ships motto will be: peace we seek, peace we keep.

“I fought for quite some time; I could not come up with anything,” said Williams. “One morning, at about two o’clock in the morning I woke up and there it was. I jumped up and wrote it down before I lost it.”

Williams describes how he never dreamed that the Navy would actually use those words. He concluded the interview by sharing the principles that he chooses to live by.

“Serving others gives you a satisfaction that you cannot get anywhere else.” said Williams.

This article originally appeared on All Hands Magazine. Follow @AllHandsMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a troop trying to kill himself accidentally saved the President

On Apr. 4, 1951, a Navy inductee burst into the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, blood gushing from his nose, doubled over in pain. There was no trauma, but the soon-to-be sailor could barely walk and was covered in blood. The doctors began to suspect poison was the culprit – and they were right.


The name of the would-be recruit was not recorded in the literature, but he was slated to join the Army during the Korean War. But he soon regretted his decision and tried to shirk his duties by shuffling off his mortal coil. His preferred method of self-inhumation was poison: rat poison.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Proving that US troops can and will eat anything.

The man had been so desperate not to deploy that he would rather have offed himself with rat poison. Eventually, while taking the load of rat poison he thought it would require to kill an adult male, his senses returned to him, and he decided that would not be the best course of action. It took him more than four days to realize that rat poison wasn’t going to kill him, but it was going to be a very painful experience. That’s when he went to the hospital.

How did he manage to survive a dose of poison that should have easily killed its intended target? The toxic substance he used was Warfarin, an agent derived from a notorious poison affecting livestock. Warfarin decreases the body’s ability to clot blood, and the colorless, odorless substance is used to kill rats and vampire bats by forcing internal bleeding.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

I’m suddenly okay with that.

Warfarin is in the powerful family of anticoagulants found accidentally by farmers who wondered why their livestock suddenly bled to death after eating slightly spoiled sweet clover. It turns out mold can reprogram a certain chemical in the clover. While the anticoagulant kills animals, it keeps humans from clotting in seriously life-threatening situations, like surgery and World War II – which is exactly how the substances in the clover were first used.

Researchers at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation derived more versions of the anticoagulants based on the chemical in sweet clover. One of them proved mighty useful in killing rats. That compound was dubbed “warfarin.” While America began to use it in pest control substances, researchers kept testing its blood-related properties. So when the sailor stumbled into the hospital with a belly full of Warfarin, the team was able to reverse the effect by dosing him with Vitamin K.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Attempted suicide is some hardcore skating.

And now that there was a tested, effective antidote, the team could go to work researching the effects on Warfarin on humans. On top of preventing fatal blood clots throughout the human body, they found the drug could restore blood flow in stroke victims. The FDA soon approved its use for treating blood clots. But the true test came after President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack.

He was in Denver in 1955 visiting friends and family when he suffered the attack. Doctors were concerned that errant blood clots throughout his body could soon cause a stroke, killing or incapacitating the 34th President. They gave him the newly-approved Warfarin, saving the President’s life and allowing him to serve two terms in the White House.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

“President Nixon” would just have to wait.

Because one depressed would-be sailor attempted suicide using rat poison and doctors were able to give him an antidote, thousands of tests were able to be conducted on the efficacy of the dangerous drug. Warfarin has since saved countless cardiovascular patients in the United States and abroad, including the man that led the United States into its mid-20th Century Golden Age.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 little-known times aggressors picked fights with the wrong enemy

Bigger isn’t always necessarily better. Military history is replete with examples of Goliaths falling to Davids. Sometimes the bigger army is the agent of its own failure, like the restrictions placed on American troops in Vietnam. Sometimes the hubris of a leader who seldom loses leads an otherwise formidable force to destruction the way Napoleon did against the Russians. And then some armies just bite off more than they can chew.


A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

At last try to stand up when you surrender your superior force after 18 minutes.

1. Mexico tries to put down Texian Rebellion; gets owned

In March 1836, the Mexican Army under the dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna attacked a rebel stronghold near San Antonio in an effort to keep Texas under Mexican domination. In an effort to send a message to the Texians, Santa Anna slaughtered the defenders of an old Spanish mission known as the Alamo, almost to a man. The next time the Texians met the Mexicans in a fight would be a month later at the Battle of San Jacinto. Outnumbered, the Texians took all of 18 minutes to defeat the Mexicans, killing, wounding, or capturing almost all of them – including Santa Anna himself. Texas was soon an independent nation.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

If you want to end French supremacy right, you have to do it yourself.

2. Frederick earns title “The Great” after ending three great powers

The Seven Years’ War was the first true “world war,” involving five major powers and a number of lesser ones, pitting a coalition of the British Empire and Prussia against France, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Austria, and many other German states. On the high seas and in North America, Britain reigned supreme, but on the battlefields of Europe, tiny Prussia would be forced to do battle almost alone and surrounded by opportunist enemies. Frederick struck neighboring Saxony first, before anyone was prepared. He then knocked the French out of the war in Continental Europe at the Battle of Rossbach, despite being outnumbered by more than two-to-one. When the Austrians failed to take the offensive, Frederick destroyed it despite being outnumbered two-to-one – using the same maneuver.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Oops.

3. Italy tries to create an empire in Africa; Ethiopia isn’t having it

Italy tried to trick the Ethiopians into becoming an Italian client state by using loopholes in the language of a treaty. When this didn’t work, and the Ethiopians decided they were done with Italian meddling, the Italians were already on the warpath, ready to subdue Ethiopia by force. Emperor Menelik II wasn’t someone who was just going to roll over for a European army because they had guns. Ethiopia was gonna go down fighting, if it went down at all. After a year of fighting, the Italians had failed to properly subdue the Ethiopians and decided to attempt a final showdown at a place called Adwa. In the ultimate bad idea, 17,000 Italians with guns took on 100,000 Ethiopians with guns. And horses. It was just a fight that should never have happened in the first place.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

That face when the child soldier you capture is twice the veteran you are.

4. China invades Vietnam; forgets about the French and U.S. invasions

You might think that the years China spent aiding and arming tiny Vietnam would be a hint that Vietnam had a well-equipped, battle-hardened army with a leadership that was well-versed in bringing down giants who tried to ruin their groove. You’d be wrong. When Vietnam invaded neighboring Cambodia to stop the Khmer Rouge from killing all the Cambodians, China saw an opportunity to attack Vietnam and impose their dominance on the young Communist country. Well, Cambodia collapsed like a senior with heatstroke, and Vietnam was able to quickly turn its attention back to those sneaky Chinese. Within six weeks, Chairman Mao was pulling Chinese troops out of Vietnam much faster than the French or Americans had.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Only in the Falklands.

5. Argentina thinks the U.K. won’t retake an island full of sheep; it’s wrong

In April 1982, Argentina invaded and occupied a series of islands off its coast that the British had occupied basically forever. Argentina didn’t see it as an invasion, really, just a decision to take what was rightfully theirs. Besides, the UK wouldn’t make such a fuss over a few fisherman and some sheep. It would be an easy win, but for one thing the Argentines didn’t count on.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

In Argentina, “Thatcher” means “buzzsaw.”

Once Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided to respond with force, she was all a-go. The U.K. dispatched a naval task force of 127 ships immediately to retake the islands. In less than 20 days after setting sail, British Special Air Service commandos and Royal Marines were on South Georgia. Less than a week later, the Marines controlled the island, and so it went. The Argentinian fleet and air force were crippled in just over two months, the Argentinian dictatorship collapsed, and Margaret Thatcher won a new term as Prime Minister.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The childish origins of the word ‘infantry’

In the days of antiquity, being in the cavalry was a privilege specifically reserved for those who ranked higher in the social order than the common people. Those who were too young, too inexperienced, or too poor to have a horse, usually ended up in a type of combat unit specifically named for them: the infantry.


From the early days of warfare on up through the Middle Ages and beyond, war was a socially stratified activity, just like anything else. The leaders of a country needed able-bodied men to fight the wars, and they needed those men to already have the skills and experience necessary to fight wars. The problem is that most of those men definitely did not have the skills and experience necessary to fight wars. If a country didn’t have a standing professional army and used mostly the rabble picked from its towns and cities, chances are good, it was filled with infantry.

The word “infantry” is just as its root word suggests. Derived from the latin word infans, the word literally means infancy. Later versions of the word became common usage in French, Old Italian, and Spanish, meaning “foot soldiers too low in rank to be cavalry.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

The last thing you see when you’re too poor to own a horse and no one thought to bring pointy sticks.

As if walking to the war and being the first to die from the other side’s cavalry charges wasn’t bad enough, your own cavalry referred to you as babies or children. Another possible Latin origin of the phrase would also describe infantry just as well. The word infantia means “unable to speak” or perhaps more colloquially, “not able to have an opinion.” The latter word might describe any infantry throughout history. As a conscript, you were forced into the service of a lord for his lands and allies, not given a choice in the matter.

In the modern terminology for infantry, this is probably just as true, except you volunteered to not have an opinion. At least now, you get healthcare and not cholera.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This European city has been destroyed by invaders 44 times

“War ends only when it has carved its way across cities and villages, bringing death and destruction in its wake,” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Americans are pretty lucky when it comes to where they are on the map. Only a handful of times in the country’s history has war ever come home to its cities and villages.

The Revolution, the British burning Washington, DC, the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 are just a few attacks on American soil that come to mind — luckily, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended without that kind of a conflict. The aforementioned attacks are also spread out across the nation’s nearly 250-year history.

Other nations aren’t so lucky.


A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Here’s an ink drawing from the 1600s.

Belgrade, the capital and largest city in Serbia (the former Yugoslavia), is one of those who has not enjoyed such luck. Its location on the crossroads of the Sava and Danube Rivers and its fertile valleys means it will always be an attractive area to any potential invader.

But it’s also right on the path from European Turkey into the heart of Western Europe. You can’t invade the Middle East from Europe without going through Belgrade and, as logic would have it, you can’t invade Europe from the Middle East without passing Belgrade either. All told, the city has been completely destroyed and rebuilt 44 times and has seen 115 different wars.

It’s amazing just how many different art styles throughout the years depict the destruction of Belgrade.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Here’s an Ottoman miniature of another Siege of Belgrade.

Flashback to pre-historical times: As mentioned, a land so well suited for growing crops is going to be settled rather quickly by the early Slavic farmers of Europe. The area’s inhabitants were first known as Thracians and Dacians before the area was conquered by Celts, who ruled for more than 200 years.

Until Belgrade was captured by Rome.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

To be fair, Attila razed cities like it was his job. Because it was.

Rome held the city for some 400-plus years until the Roman Empire was split in two. Roman Dacia was on the edge of the Eastern Roman Empire and they could not protect it properly. In 441, the city we call Belgrade was captured and razed by Huns, who sold its population off into slavery.

The Huns held the city for more than ten years before the Romans could come recapture it, but it was soon taken again, this time by Ostrogoths. It was quickly captured and retaken in succession by the Eastern Romans, Avars, and later, Attila the Hun.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

“Here they come… Shit, there goes the city. Again.”

After Attila, the Romans (now called Byzantines) wrestled for control over the city with Avars, Gepids, Hungarians, and Bulgarians for some 400-plus years. The city saw armies of the first, second, and third crusades march through it as the Serbian Empire began to establish itself in the area. That empire was relatively short-lived, however, and Belgrade was firmly in Hungarian hands.

Until it wasn’t. The site became a focal point for the ongoing Ottoman-Christian struggle in the Balkans. Eventually, the Ottomans captured the city, destroyed it, and sent its Christian population to Istanbul in chains. But it thrived under Turkish rule and became an appetizing target for the rising Hapsburg Empire based in Austria.

The two powers fought over the city of Belgrade all the way through the First World War, even though Serbia was an independent kingdom for much of the time.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

Who not only mine the streets, but also spray paint the old buildings. Good work, a-hole.

After World War I, Serbia becomes part of the greater Yugoslavia, which was great for Belgrade until Yugoslavia joined the Axis pact. The citizens rebelled and declared the twenty-something (and anti-Axis) Peter II the rightful king and the one calling the shots on Yugoslavia’s foreign relations. The only answer the Axis had was to bomb the sh*t out of Belgrade and invade with literally every Axis power available.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

“Leave us alone, literally everyone ever!”

Of course, this means the city had to be retaken by the Allies, who decided to bomb the city into oblivion… on Easter. It was then captured by the Red Army and Communist Partisans under Josip Broz Tito. The city (and Yugoslavia) remained firmly in Tito’s good hands until the Balkan Conflicts of the 1990s, where it was bombed by NATO forces.

And the locals have not forgotten.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how ‘Ripley at the Bridge’ became a Marine Corps legend

It’s impossible to describe John Ripley’s most famous action in a single headline. This Marine dangled from the Dong Ha Bridge for some three hours as North Vietnamese soldiers took potshots at him. He took his time attaching 500 pounds of explosives to the bridge, singlehandedly halting an advance of 20,000 Communists during the Easter Offensive.


A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later
Think about that when you have trouble getting out of bed for PT.

Then-Captain John Ripley was an American advisor in the northern regions of South Vietnam in 1972. He was at Camp Carroll, a firebase between Khe Sanh and Dong Ha, advising South Vietnamese troops. It was his second tour in Vietnam and things were mostly quiet…until they weren’t.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later
That second trip though…

The NVA had been testing the U.S. defenses at firebases in his area but they would quickly disengage. One day in March 1972, they didn’t stop. Enemy artillery started raining shells on the firebases in the area. The NVA was throwing everything they had at South Vietnam, 14 divisions and 26 independent regiments. The Easter Offensive had just begun.

As Camp Carroll was overrun and its ARVN garrison surrendered, Ripley and another American escaped on a CH-47 Chinook. But the helicopter took on too many fleeing ARVN troops and was forced to crash land on Highway 1, near Dong Ha.

At Dong Ha, close to the DMZ that separated North and South Vietnam, he found a number of South Vietnamese Marines who had no intention of surrendering. He also found some 200 North Vietnamese tanks and self-propelled artillery backed up for six miles – and ready to cross the Cam Lo River.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later
The tanks would drive down Highway 1 and into Saigon unless someone did something about it… SOME body… hmm…

“We didn’t have the wherewithal to stop that many tanks. We had little hand-held weapons. And we certainly didn’t have anything on the scale that was needed to deal with the threat. Originally 20 tanks had been reported.” Ripley chuckled softly at the memory years later.

With the monsoon season limiting American air support and the North Vietnamese controlling one half of the bridge, Ripley decided he had to blow up the bridge. By himself, if necessary.

Another American, Maj. James Smock drove him to the bridge in a tank and Ripley headed below where he found five ARVN engineers trying to rig the bridge to blow. They had 500 pounds of TNT. The problem was the way the explosives were laid out; the bridge wouldn’t be completely destroyed and the NVA would still be able to cross. They’d have to be rearranged.

By hand. With tanks and guns shooting at those hands.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later
And the Marine attached to those hands.

Meanwhile, 90-pound South Vietnamese Marine-Sergeant Huynh Van Luom dashed onto the bridge in what Ripley called “the bravest single act of heroism I’ve ever heard of, witnessed or experienced.”

Huynh fired two M72 light antitank assault weapon rounds at the lead NVA tank. The first shot missed, but the second hit the tank turret, stopping it cold. The entire column was stopped. It couldn’t move and couldn’t turn around.

The ARVN engineers below the bridge took off as Ripley climbed over the razor wire barrier designed to keep people from doing what he was about to do. He climbed hand over hand as Smock pushed the explosives out to him. Ripley grabbed the box and moved it to a better location.

“I would hand-walk out, then swing up to get my heels into the “I” beam,” Ripley said, recalling that he was still wearing all his web gear and slung rifle. “Then I’d swing down on one T beam and then leap over and grab another T beam.”

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later
Think about that when you have trouble getting out of bed for PT.

For nearly three hours, Ripley dangled under the Dong Ha Bridge, rigging it to blow, and frustrating the enemy trying to kill him. To make matters worse, Ripley had no blasting caps, so he had to use timed fuses — fuses with an unknown time, set with his mouth.

Smock moved to rig the railway bridge to blow at the same time and moved back to friendly lines. The 500-foot bridges blew up just minutes later. The armored column became sitting ducks for the Navy’s ships offshore and South Vietnamese A-1 Skyraiders.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later

His effort on the bridge that day may have been the decisive factor that kept the North from taking Saigon until three years later.

Colonel John Ripley died in 2008 at the age of 69, but not before making a trip back to Dong Ha with some of his buddies from L/3/3 Marines in 1997.

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later
Colonel John Ripley, hanging out in Dong Ha, one more time.

(Cover Photo: Painting by Col Charles Waterhouse, USMCR (Ret.) captures the spirit of Ripley at the bridge at Dong Ha.)

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