In 1977, Star Wars took the country — and the world — by storm. One of its most iconic scenes was the trench run, during which X-Wing and Y-Wing fighters defy the odds to put proton torpedoes down a thermal exhaust port, running a gauntlet of Imperial fighters and gun emplacements to do so. Well, that scene wasn’t exactly original.
That’s right, folks. George Lucas lifted that scene from a 1954 movie, The Dam Busters — and if you’ve seen them both, it’s painfully obvious. Some dialogue from the classic film was lifted nearly word-for-word and put directly into Star Wars.
But the 1954 film that Lucas cribbed from portrayed an actual mission flown by real bombers.
That bomber was the Avro Lancaster. The Lancaster was RAF Bomber Command’s primary bomber in the latter part of World War II. The Lancaster entered service in 1942, had a crew of seven, packed a total of eight .303-caliber machine guns for self-defense, and could haul a lot of bombs — up to 22,000 pounds of high-explosive candygrams. These included special bombs, including the anti-dam bomb developed by Barnes Wallis, and earthquake bombs.
Outside of the 1943 “Dam Busters” mission that inspired the 1954 film that later inspired George Lucas, the Lancaster takes credit for sinking the German Bismarck-class battleship Tirpitz and for hitting a number of heavy fortifications. But it wasn’t all gloom and doom — the plane was also used to drop food to civilians in German-occupied territory.
The Avro Lancaster had a top speed of 275 miles per hour and a maximum range of 2,529 miles. Almost 7,400 of these planes were produced. They saw action over Germany but, in 1948, the Lancaster also took part in the Berlin Airlift, turning back Josef Stalin’s effort to get the Western Allies to abandon West Berlin.
Learn more about this British bombing workhorse in the video below.
When Erich “Bubi” Hartmann died in 1993, he was still the most successful fighter pilot in the history of aerial warfare. With an astonishing 352 kills, his record is all but assured until World War III comes around. He’s not the only former Nazi Luftwaffe pilot whose name is at the top of the list. In fact, the top ten pilots on that list all have German names, including Gerhard Barkhorn (301 kills), Günther Rall (275), and Otto Kittel (267).
How did one of the most notably absent air forces in history rack up such impressive kill counts?
Hint: They had to be good because their bosses were so bad at their jobs.
The reason German pilots scored so high is a combination of skill and time in the air. There’s probably also a dash of luck in there, if they managed to survive the war. Since the Luftwaffe saw its best successes at the beginning of the war, taking on obsolete and unprepared air forces in enemy countries, Nazi pilots were fighting for years before American pilots. When the war came home, the number of German pilots dwindled, and enemy targets over Germany rose.
A skilled pilot could rack up quite a kill count in that time, especially if they had to fight until the whole war was over, or they were killed or captured.
And they did.
In contrast, American pilots would be sent home, or rotated out after a certain amount of time spent in the air. At the height of World War II, allied fighter pilots were required to spend at least 200 hours behind the stick of a fighter aircraft before being eligible to be rotated home. American pilots dutifully fought the required amount of time and went home for some RR.
Even Richard Bong, the Army Air Forces’ highest-scoring ace – the “Ace of Aces” – scored 40 kills in the Pacific Theater from September 1942 until December 1944. His stay was extended because he was also training pilots in the Philippines. He ended up spending much longer in the area, leading missions and training pilots. Even though he wasn’t allowed to seek combat opportunities, Bong still racked up an astonishing 40 kills against the Japanese.
It seems being one the top aces of any war is just a matter of time… and not getting shot down.
Hindsight is a cruel mistress. After Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, nearly every corner of the globe was drawn into a conflict — and the enormous loss of life that ensued was tragic. There were so many participants in the brawl that you couldn’t just name the war after its location or its combatants — after all, the “French-British-German-Austrian-Hungarian-Russian-American-Ottoman-Bulgarian-Serbian War” doesn’t really roll off the tongue (nor is it a complete list). So, the people of the time called it, simply, “The Great War.”
In some rare instances, the war was referred to as the “First World War,” even before the advent of the second. Ernst Haeckel, a columnist for the Indianapolis Star, called it that because it escalated beyond the scope of a “European War” — it was truly international.
Others, however, took a more optimistic approach by calling it, “The War to End All Wars.” As history has shown, this was certainly not the case — but some plucky, upbeat civilians genuinely believed it would be rainbows and sunshine after the dust from the global conflict settled.
You wouldn’t think the guy that wrote about aliens destroying humanity would be such an optimist…
(Illustration by Alvim Corréa, from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds.’)
English author H.G. Wells — the genius behind The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds — wrote in an articles to local newspapers that this global struggle, this Great War, would be “The War That Will End Wars” as we know them (full versions of his articles were later transcribed into a book entitled The War That Will End War).
In his articles, Wells argued that the Central Powers were entirely to blame for the war and that it was German militarism that sparked everything. He believed that once the Germans were defeated, the world would have no reason to fight ever again.
We know today that these statements were far from true, but for the people who were living in constant fear mere miles away from the front line, it was the optimism that they needed to keep going. By 1918, the term “The War to End All Wars” had spread all across Europe like a catchphrase and was synonymous with hope for a better future.
He was a eloquent speech writer, but he was a few years too late to come up with the phrase.
Despite the fact that the phrase had been used in Europe for years, it’s most often attributed to President Woodrow Wilson. This is particularly strange because the President only once used the term — and never did so in any congressional address. Wilson did once refer to the end of the war as the “final triumph of justice,” but he seldom used the phrase for which he later became known.
If there was a single human being who knew war best, it was, without a shadow of a doubt, General of the Armies Eisenhower.
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor and British statesman, was a loud opponent to the phrase. Mockingly, he said that The Great “War, like the next war, is a war to end war” — and, of course, he was right. To the shock of absolutely nobody, conflicts persisted around the world after the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.
Wells, who originally coined the phrase, later backtracked on his statements, insisting that he, too, was being ironic. He joined in with everyone else in making fun of his statements — and later claimed it was the “war that could end war.”
In 1950, General Dwight D. Eisenhower put it plainly and finally.
“No one has yet explained how war prevents war. Nor has anyone been able to explain away the fact that war begets conditions that beget further war.”
Joseph John Rochefort, the man whose decoding of the Japanese codebook led to the American victory at the Battle of Midway, had enemies other than the Empire of Japan. His feats at cryptanalysis were phenomenal, but not universally appreciated, particularly by the codebreakers in Washington, D.C. Naval jealousy and internal machinations would rob Joseph Rochefort of the honor that was due to him for his brilliant work in predicting where the Japanese fleet would strike after Pearl Harbor.
Rochefort, who had not gone to the Naval Academy, was an outsider from the beginning of his naval career. He was still in high school when he enlisted in the Navy in 1918 with the goal of being a naval aviator. He claimed to have been born in 1898 so that he would seem old enough for a military career, and didn’t even have a high school diploma when he was commissioned as an ensign after graduating from the Navy’s Steam Engineering School at Stevens Institute of Technology.
He wasn’t looking for a career in codebreaking. He served as a staff officer for senior admirals and and enjoyed doing crossword puzzles. Years later, when Commander Chester C. Jersey was posted to Navy Headquarters in Washington, D.C., he remembered Rochefort’s affinity for crossword puzzles. It was 1925 and the Navy was looking for people who could work with codes. The newly created codebreaking outfit of the Navy, OP-20-G, at that time consisted of one man, Lieutenant Laurance F. Stafford, today credited as the father of U.S. Navy cryptology, who had been assigned to develop new codes for the Navy. Rochefort showed up and Safford conducted a six-month cryptanalyis course: Safford provided him with cryptograms to solve and Rochefort solved them. But when Stafford was assigned to sea duty the following year, Rochefort, just twenty-five years old, was the officer in charge of a staff of two.
By June 1941, Rochefort was at Pearl Harbor. By this time, the codebreaking unit had more people and, more relevance. The Japanese didn’t know that their code had been broken years before when a previous American Director of Naval Intelligence used a secret naval intelligence slush fund to finance break-ins during the early 1920s at the Japanese consulate in New York City. The Japanese Navy’s code book was furtively photographed and, over the years, translated. By the time he was sent to Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor, Rochefort had the codebook. But he didn’t have the additive tables, which the Japanese frequently changed. Rochefort’s assignment was to create an accurate additive table using the raw messages that went out over the airwaves by the Japanese Navy.
Joseph John Rochefort.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was a devastating blow to the Navy, but it also galvanized the nation and its military forces into the war effort. Restoration began immediately on the naval fleet. But in order to defeat the Japanese and their intention of becoming the dominant naval power in the Pacific, the Navy knew that codebreaking was a crucial priority. Fortunately, in Joseph Rochefort, they had a codebreaker who worked tirelessly to decipher the messages of the Japanese.
Joseph Rochefort and his crew had been given the order to begin the decryption of JN-25, the central Japanese communications system. As it turned out, breaking the Japanese code would prove easier than addressing the friction between Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor and OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Captain Edwin Layton was the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence officer. But, because OP-20-G had given Rochefort the assignment and was more or less overseeing the network of the intercept stations, there was a turf war between Rochefort and Washington, D.C. The D.C. office wanted central control over all of the radio intelligence units.
Rochefort, who was not always as tactful as might have been politic, believed that he answered solely to Admiral Nimitz, who had been named commander of the Pacific Fleet. Layton had a great deal of respect for Rochefort’s factual reports and hard work; he, like Rochefort, was fluent in Japanese and Layton knew how much work was going into the messages that were being translated. In fact, of the five hundred to one thousand messages per day that were being deciphered, Rochefort was personally translating more than one hundred of them. Layton trusted Rochefort’s translation and his assessment, so when Rochefort called Layton on May 14, 1942, to say that he had translated part of a message which included the words “invasion force”, Layton knew it was legitimate. But the message also include an unknown reference, AF, indicating a location. But where was AF? Rochefort was convinced that the location was Midway.
Nimitz agreed with Rochefort’s analysis and ordered three aircraft carriers to return from the South Pacific. Midway was covertly warned of the threat. The Seventh Air Force at Hawaii was placed on alert, its B-17 bombers loaded with bombs ready to strike enemy ships.
Commander John Redman, who commanded OP-20-G, refused to believe that Midway was the next Japanese target, disputing Rochefort’s assertion that AF was Midway. OP-20-G said the target was more likely to be the Hawaiian Islands but thought that the real target was the American West Coast and everything else was merely a decoy.
Captain Edwin Layton.
But Nimitz had complete confidence in Rochefort’s analysis. If Rochefort was wrong, Nimitz’s career would be imperiled. Rochefort devised a plan that would confirm that Midway was the target. The radio operators at Midway were instructed, via undersea cable, to send an uncoded message that the island’s distillation plant, which was responsible for the desalination of the island’s water supply, had broken down. Two days after the message was sent, the Japanese reported that the AF Air Unit needed to be resupplied with fresh water.
The Navy intercept unit in Australia informed Washington that AF was now confirmed to be Midway. Rochefort spent the night before Nimitz’s May 27, 1942 staff meeting reviewing all the messages. He showed up at the meeting to let them know that HYPO had broken the final piece of the JN-25 puzzle; he had a message dated for May 26 ordering the destroyer escorts for the Japanese troopships to arrive at Midway on June 6. Another decoded message said that the air attacks would begin northwest of the island several days before.
Rochefort’s reports came in the nick of time. On May 27, both the code books and the additive tables were changed and radio silence was imposed by the Japanese, denying American codebreakers access. Fortunately, Nimitz had his cues, knowing where and when the Japanese would strike.
Nimitz was not a codebreaker, but he had an instinct for the future of naval warfare and he held the radical view that carriers, and not battleships, would lead to victory. Instead of relying on the few battleships that had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, he focused on the ability of the carriers to deliver hit-and-run attacks against the enemy. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the mastermind of the December 7 ambush, had an elaborate plan for the Midway attack.
Nimitz had a simpler approach: get there first and surprise the Japanese. The tactics worked. As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, formerly First Lord of the Admiralty, put it, “The annals of war at sea present no more intense, heart-shaking shock…the qualities of the United States Navy and Air Force and the American race shone forth in splendour”.
After the victory, Station HYPO celebrated for what Rochefort described as a “drunken brawl” for three days. The codebreakers then returned to work to decode JN-25’s new codebook and additives. They had done splendid work that had resulted in a gamechanging victory at sea. But Washington was not so charitable in its response. Rochefort was resisting Redman’s crusade to place all the radio intelligence under the control of OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Although both HYPO and OP-20-G had been vigorously involved in the codebreaking, it was HYPO which had performed the analysis that had led to victory. As author Stephen Budiansky points out in his book Battle Of Wits: The Complete Story Of Codebreaking In World War II, if Nimitz had followed Washington’s direction, the Japanese would have had a much greater chance of winning at Midway.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.
When Nimitz told Joseph Rochefort that he wanted to nominate him for a Navy Distinguished Service Medal for the role he played in the victory, Rochefort was not encouraging. It would only make trouble, he told Nimitz.
John Redman claimed that Midway was solely the achievement of OP-20-G. Because of that, he could not, would not accede to Nimitz’s intentions of awarding the Distinguished Service Award to Rochefort. Redman’s brother Joseph Redman was the Director of Naval Communications and he took exception to the fact that, in his words, Station HYPO was under the command of someone who was not technically trained in naval communications.
Instead of Rochefort, Captain Redman said, HYPO should be commanded by a senior officer who was trained in radio intelligence. The Redman brothers were effective in their behind-the-scenes efforts and Rochefort did not receive a medal because he had only used the tools that had been provided. It was Washington, not HYPO, the Redmans asserted, that had evaluated the intentions of the Japanese.
Over his desk, Rochefort had a sign which read We can accomplish anything provided no one cares who gets the credit. But no one could have expected that Washington would so completely steal credit from those who deserved it.
The battle for centralization of the radio intelligence units continued. Nimitz authorized his embattled codebreaker to send a memo that Rochefort answered only to Nimitz, not to Washington. A month after he sent the memo, Rochefort was ordered to the Navy Department for temporary additional duty that quickly became permanent. Nimitz was enraged at John Redman, who at this time was now the fleet communications officer for Nimitz. The excuse was that Rochefort’s advice was needed, but Rochefort was no fool. He had told Nimitz that he would not be allowed to return to HYPO.
Rochefort never again worked in coding. At the end of his career, he was placed in command of the San Francisco floating dry dock ABSD-2. Rochefort died in 1976, but the battle to reward him for his work did not end with his death, and Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, responding to renewed efforts to honor the codebreaker who helped to win the Battle of Midway, supported those efforts. Joseph John Rochefort received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal almost a decade after his death, on November 17, 1985.
This article originally appeared on Argunners. Follow @ArgunnersMag on Twitter.
Just like today, when it comes to leave, the leadership will reluctantly approve leave only when they’ve run out of excuses not to. In ancient Rome, if commeatus (leave) is granted, it affected the readiness of the army. Essentially, the needs of the army come first. The troops of ancient Rome had to accept that visiting families was not guaranteed. However, as much as the empire tried to prevent their soldiers from having human needs, they couldn’t stop nature.
When anyone receives leave of absence (commeatus), and for how many days, it is noted down in lists. For in antiquity (referring here to the early empire) it was difficult to be given unless for very good approved reasons. It seemed incongruous that a soldier of the Emperor, maintained in uniform and pay and rations at public expense, should have time to serve private interests.
Translated from Epitoma rei militaris, Book II, section XVIII
How dare you have a life outside the legion? Having feelings is bad, legionnaire. What does the emperor pay you for? Also, we’re extending your service from 16 years to 25. – Some Roman general probably.
Worst case scenario of granting leave
Once a troop is allowed to go on leave, the world is still not a safe place. War stops for no one and the road home also had its fair share of dangers. For the troops staying behind it meant lowered security with dire consequences.
The bridge was now complete, and the hills in front were occupied, […] with a speed and a display of strength which induced the Parthians to drop their preparations for invading Syria and to stake their whole hopes upon Armenia; where Paetus, unconscious of the coming danger, was keeping the fifth legion stationed far away in Pontus, and had weakened the rest (the fourth and twelfth legions) through unrestricted grants of leave, until he heard that Vologeses was coming with a large and threatening army.
Tactitus Annals Book XV
Commanders had good reason to deny leave because of the threat of fighting the enemy with a smaller force. Similarly, in today’s military leave can be denied due to important training. It is at the discretion of the commanding officer to consider if will not affect crucial training.
Best case scenario of granting leave
The Roman troop on leave would attend financial and administrative tasks at home. The best time to request leave, just like today, would be during a holiday season. Saturnalia was practically the purge with less murder. A troop would go on leave, have fun, and return when he said he would.
Originally celebrated on December 17, Saturnalia was extended first to three and eventually to seven days…All work and business were suspended. Slaves were given temporary freedom to say and do what they liked, and certain moral restrictions were eased. The streets were infected with a Mardi Gras madness; a mock king was chosen (Saturnalicius princeps); the seasonal greeting io Saturnalia was heard everywhere.
Lupercalia was another holiday that Romans looked forward to on February 15. It was tied to the founding of Rome myth and promoted fertility. The holiday would start with a ritual sacrifice called the Comitium at a cave named Lupercal at the foot of Palatine Hill. Roman priests would then run naked through the streets and slap women on the breast with bloody bits of goat hide to promote fertility. Additionally, men and women would be paired at random during the festival and there would be a great feast. The holiday consisted of lovemaking and copious amounts of wine. ‘I need my leave approved for…reasons, sir.’
A Roman soldier on leave is not on vacation
While on leave any number of things could happen such as a volcano explosion causing the mass evacuation and destruction of a major city. Normal stuff in the ancient Roman Empire. One Roman soldier on leave experienced the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and found himself with a tough decision to make – save himself or save civilians. At an archeological site at the ancient Herculaneum marina reveals a daring last stand of a Roman soldier attempting to keep order and cross civilians as the world around them burned. When A roman soldier went on leave he could either tend to his family, party like an animal, or take charge of a life or death situation. The following video shows the bravery of solider against impossible odds.
A female munitions worker explains to HM Queen Elizabeth how fuse caps are made, during a royal visit to the Royal Ordnance factory. (Wikimedia Commons)
Queen Elizabeth II is Britain’s longest reigning monarch. However, she was breaking barriers even before the crown became hers. Elizabeth was also the first female of the Royal family to be an active duty member of the British Armed Forces. This also makes her the last surviving head of state to have served during World War II.
When Elizabeth was born in 1926, she was not destined for the throne. Her father, Albert, was the second son of King George V. It wasn’t until 1936, when Elizabeth was 10, that her world was turned upside down. It was in this year that her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in the name of love and her father became King George VI. This made 10-year-old Elizabeth the heir presumptive.
It wasn’t until World War II that King George VI found his footing as the leader of Great Britain. During this time, despite the repeated aerial attacks by the Nazi air force, the King refused to leave London. The British government urged the queen to take her daughters to Canada, however. She refused stating, “The children won’t go without me. I won’t leave without the King. And the King will never leave.” Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret did end up leaving the city, though, just like thousands of other children who were evacuated at the time. The girls spent much of the war at Windsor Castle in Berkshire.
HRH Princess Elizabeth (centre) with officers of the ATS Training Centre. (Wikimedia Commons)
As the war continued, Elizabeth, like many other young Britons, yearned to do her part for the cause. Her very protective parents refused to allow her to enlist. Elizabeth was head-strong though, and after a year of debate her parents relented. In early 1945, they gave the then 19-year-old Elizabeth their permission to join the Armed Forces.
In February 1945, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). ATS provided key support during the war. Its members were anti-aircraft gunners, radio operators, mechanics and drivers. Elizabeth attended six weeks of auto mechanic training at Aldershot. During this training she learned how to deconstruct, repair and rebuild engines. By July of that year she had risen in the ranks from Second Subaltern to Junior Commander. For the first time, Elizabeth worked alongside her fellow Brits, and revelled in the freedom of it.
She took her ATS duties very seriously. However, the future queen repairing automobiles proved to be irresistible to the press. Her enlistment made headlines around the world as they applauded her commitment to the war effort. The Associated Press deemed her “Princess Auto Mechanic.” In 1947 Collier’s Magazine wrote, “One of her major joys was to get dirt under her nails and grease stains in her hands, and display these signs of labor to her friends.”
Elizabeth was still serving in the ATS when Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. She and Margaret famously snuck out of Buckingham Palace to join the celebrations in London. Her military service officially ended when Japan surrendered later that same year.
Later, Elizabeth once again overcame objections from her family when she married Philip Mountbatten, a Greek-born officer in the Royal Navy, in November 1947.
Her father, King George VI, led his country through its darkest hour, but the war coupled with a life-long smoking habit left him in poor health. On February 6, 1952, King George VI died in his sleep after a long-suffering battle with lung cancer. This meant that at 25 years old, Elizabeth became Queen.
Even now in her 90s, Elizabeth maintains a love of automobiles. She can still be found behind the wheel of one of the many cars in the Royal collection. She’s also been known to jump at the chance to diagnose and repair faulty engines, just as she trained to do more than 70 years ago. She also holds on to her pride in the journey that brought her from military mechanic during World War II to the Crown.
For four months in 1538, 600 Portuguese troops were holding back an attempt to capture the Indian City of Diu against 22,000 combined enemy troops. Most of those came from the Sultanate of Gujarat, but there were also 6,000 troops from the hated Ottoman Empire. Portugal had been engaged in a series of conflicts with the Turks since 1481. Diu was just a valuable possession.
Portugal’s soldiers would be damned if they were going to let some Ottoman Turk take their Indian jewel.
And no Gujaratis neither.
The Ottomans had been trying to force Portugal out of its possessions all over Asia, from the Red Sea to India, and would partner with anyone who would help them. The Sultanate of Gujarat was just one more enemy aligned against them. Portugal controlled the flow of valuable spices to Europe through Diu, and the Turks were ready to take it from them, sending the largest fleet it ever sent to the Indian Ocean.
Portugal had a few things going for them the Indians didn’t have when Portugal first took control of Diu. The Portuguese built a fortress to protect the city, and its commander, António da Silveira, was an experienced fighter of Gujarati forces. Though the Portuguese would eventually win the confrontation, there are a few noteworthy things about this battle, not least of all the most provocative reply to a surrender demand ever sent when Silveira wrote a note to Suleiman Pasha in response to his second demand (keep in mind, I had to remove the worst parts of it):
“I have seen the words in your letter, and that of the captain which you have imprisoned through lie and betrayal of your word, signed under your name; which you have done because you are no man, for you have no balls, you are like a lying woman and a fool. How do you intend to pact with me, if you committed betrayal and falsity right before my eyes?… Be assured that here are Portuguese accustomed to killing many moors, and they have as captain António da Silveira, who has a pair of balls stronger than the cannonballs of your basilisks, that there’s no reason to fear someone who has no balls, no honor and lies…”
“António da Silveira, has a pair of balls stronger than the cannonballs of your basilisks.” – António da Silveira
In response to that surrender demand, the Turkish commander ordered an immediate assault on the Portuguese fortress, bombarding it for nearly a month with cannons from the land and from his ships at sea. He then ordered a full assault of a small fortlet that stood in the mouth of the nearby river. Inside, just a handful of Portuguese troops were holding out against hundreds of enemy troops, some of them the feared Ottoman Janissaries.
Inside one of the bastions, a Portuguese soldier believed he was the only survivor of the fortlet. He was out of ammunition but still had the powder necessary to kill the oncoming enemy. The Turks, fully believing the man was indeed out of ammunition were surprised to get shot while trying to enter the bastion, anyway. According to a Dutch priest who was present, the man ripped his own tooth out and loaded it into his weapon so he could keep fighting.
Actual photo of Turkish Galleys in retreat.
Though various Indian forces would attempt to retake Diu over the coming centuries, they would not be able to control the city until the Portuguese relinquished it to the Indian government in 1961.
“The only way they could capture the beach was to blast the Germans out of each pillbox… and that’s what they did,” wrote Jay Kay, a U.S. Navy ensign who piloted a landing craft filled with American troops during the D-Day invasions of June 6, 1944. Ensign Kay survived the war and would move to Florida to become a dentist in the postwar years, leading an ordinary life for a man who did an extraordinary thing.
Kay was just one of thousands of American, British, and Canadian troops who did their job assaulting Hitler’s vaunted Fortress Europe and then wrote home about it. Now, thanks to AARP and the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University, we have a chance to watch the memories of Kay and others come alive with the help of award-winning actor Bryan Cranston.
AARP has taken original 35mm film footage of D-Day, from preparation to landing and beyond, and digitized it to full-quality 4K footage. This captivating imagery was then skillfully edited and narrated by the Emmy-award winning actor, whose credits include the acclaimed shows Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad, as well as the Broadway hit Network and many, many film credits.
In three vignettes created by AARP, Cranston reads the words written by American troops, officer and enlisted alike, who supported the landings at Normandy that day. From the sea, he reads the words of Ens. Jay Kay, who piloted landing craft. From the air, the words come from Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, who was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Distinguished Unit Citation after the war. On the ground, the words are from PFC. Dominick “Dom” Bart, part of the first wave of Operation Overlord.
The three videos recount the feelings shared by the men who jumped into occupied France, who drove other men onto the beaches through mine-filled waters, and the men who risked everything on those beaches to free the millions of Europeans who lived and died under the Nazi jackboot.
At times, they are equally hopeful and heartbreaking, a recollection of a rollercoaster of horrors and anticipation felt by those who fight wars. They are filled with the memories of young men who are encountering war and death, often for the first time, in a trial by fire that took them through one of history’s most extraordinary events, a battle that signaled the beginning of the end for one of the world’s most sinister monsters.
Arlington National Cemetery is a well-known tourist spot in which soldiers and civilians alike can pay their respects. The military cemetery is known for the perfectly aligned headstones, the ceremony of guards and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These, of course, are only a few of the features of Arlington National Cemetery. It’s a massive 639 acres that was established during the Civil War.
How the land got its start, however, is far less known … yet extremely interesting. The acreage has an entire historical background of significance that the general public knows little about.
General Lee occupies Arlington
After the death of Martha Washington’s first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, she was left in charge of five plantations, including the land that would eventually become Arlington National Cemetery. The land was passed down to her son (who died young) and later grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, when he turned 21, being conceived to be “of age” to become a landowner.
In 1802, he began building the Arlington House, naming it after his family’s original home, Arlington Gloucestershire in England. The estate was then left to Custis’s daughter, Mary Anna (Martha Washington’s great-great grandaughter), who happened to be married to Robert E. Lee. Mary Anna’s inheritance allowed her to live on the property, but gave no rights to sell the property or any of its parcels.
The Lees occupied the land, living in what was known as the Custis-Lee Mansion for years, including during Lee’s time in the U.S. military.
However, Lee resigned his post in April of 1861 upon the start of the Civil War, when he took command of military forces within the Commonwealth of Virginia, which later became the Army of Northern Virginia.
The Lee estate is populated by the Union
At the start of the war, Confederate forces stayed upon the Arlington land and buildings. An order was put out by the Union forces to remove anti-Union military from Alexandria, Virginia. Under the impression that the home would soon be captured, soldiers retreated and Mary Anna Lee begrudgingly left her home. It’s said that she buried family treasures before leaving for her sister’s home in Fairfax County. The grounds of Arlington were then soon taken by Union forces.
As the Civil War raged on, military cemeteries were filling up and the government was looking to acquire new land in which Union soldiers could be buried. With eyes on the Arlington land (it sat above flood plains and had a view of Washington D.C.), it was soon noted that the Lees had not paid their taxes. For Union forces, it’s said that the land fulfilled two boxes: 1) it was ideal for burial grounds and 2) it was a dig at General Lee to use his family land to bury the soldiers whose lives he’d taken.
Around that time, Mary sent an agent to pay their taxes, as she did not want to appear in person — they owed $92.07 (more than $1,500 today), but the agent was sent away. Historians agree this was likely a political move to obtain the land. The government then hosted a tax sale, purchasing the land for $26,800 (nearly $450,000 in 2021 values).
Military burials began in June of 1864, and the land was desegregated in 1948.
After the end of the war and the death of Mary and Robert Lee, the estate was willed to their eldest son, Custis Lee. He sued the U.S. government for ownership of the land, a case that made it to the Supreme Court. In 1882, they ruled 5-4 in his favor, deciding that “Arlington had been confiscated without due process.” The land was returned to Custis Lee. However, now covered in graves, he had no use for the property. In 1883 he sold the land back to the U.S. for $150,000 ($2.5 million today), wherein the cemetery was named part of a military reservation.
President Hoover held the first National Memorial Day in 1929, starting one of the area’s long standing traditions.
Before taking office as POTUS, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a white house of his own — a smaller, less notable white house, located in Warm Springs, Georgia. Now a museum of all things FDR, the late president built the house in 1932. He first came to this location of West-Central Georgia in 1924, while seeking treatment for his polio in the natural buoyant waters.
It was a combination of warm mineral water — sitting at a year round 88 degrees — and physical exercise that helped ease his symptoms. Into his presidency, FDR used the Little White House as a vacation retreat, where he’s said to have visited a total of 16 times, often for weeks with each stay.
In fact, it’s said that FDR drew many of his ideas for the New Deal from his small town visits, specifically the Rural Electrification Administration.
Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation
In 1927, FDR purchased the land that hosted its popular warm waters. Formerly known as Bullochvile, the area had become a tourist destination for residents of Savannah and Atlanta, including those with symptoms of yellow fever. Through his ownership, he rebuilt the area’s “ramshackle” hotel that housed pools of natural mineral waters, and began bringing in polio survivors to bask in these healing waters.
FDR became so interested in hydrotherapy that he eventually founded the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. It was funded by the Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, known today as the March of Dimes. Their rehab efforts were available for a wide variety of ailments, including post-polio syndrome, amputation, spinal cord injuries, brain damage, and stroke.
The area is preserved as the Warm Springs Historic District, where buildings have been maintained to their looks from the Roosevelt era, with the exception of a cottage that burned down in 2001 due to a suspected lightning strike.
Visitors can head to the Little White House for a trip back in time; the space is said to be preserved as it was the day Roosevelt died. (Yes, you can even see the very room where he passed.) Other highlights include his custom Ford convertible and the Unfinished Portrait, a painting that was being made of FDR when he suffered a stroke.
Take a feel of the warm waters by hand on your tour, or plan ahead for a swim; the springs are open to public swimming once a year on Labor Day weekend.
Though his service in the military preceded the formation of the Navy SEALs by nearly twenty years, Navy Lt. j.g. Jack Taylor is thought to be the first U.S. commando to operate in the sea, air, and land. His exploits in World War II included boat operations off the coast of Greece, land operations in Central Albania, and a parachute drop into Austria. He also experienced life in the Mauthausen, Austria extermination camp and was a victim of war crimes there.
An orthodontist becomes a commando
Taylor was an orthodontist in Hollywood, Calif. when the U.S. joined World War II. He joined the Navy, originally expecting to teach boat handling skills to U.S. and Allied service members. But he certified on the Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit — a SCUBA device adopted by the Office of Strategic Services in 1942 — and was ordered to serve in the OSS.
In the Maritime Unit, Taylor personally commanded fourteen missions into the enemy-occupied Greek and Balkan coasts. He and his team delivered spies, weapons, explosives, and other supplies to friendly forces from Sep. 1943 to March, 1944.
For three months during this period, he commanded a team on land in Central Albania, reporting important information like enemy troop movements and the locations of enemy fortifications, supply dumps, and artillery positions. The team was nearly caught by enemy search parties at least three times, but Taylor and his men slipped the net each time. He was nominated for an Army Distinguished Service Cross by Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan for this service, but received the Navy Cross instead.
Parachuting into Austria
As Allied forces made their way through Europe in 1944, they were assisted by partisan groups in countries occupied by German forces. Allied planners realized they had no contact with partisan groups in Austria, and Taylor was chosen to lead a four-man team into Austria to find allies and collect intelligence ahead of the advance north from Italy.
Taylor parachuted into Austria with three Austrian corporals liberated from a POW camp. It was on this troubled jump that Taylor satisfied the “air” requirement of a sea, air, land commando and became the first U.S. service member to conduct commando missions in all three domains.
Unfortunately, the “Dupont Mission” ran into trouble early when the pilots were unable to drop the team’s radios and other equipment. Taylor was injured while the team retrieved what equipment did make it to the ground and one of the Austrians became very ill in the first days.
Taylor was warned by another prisoner with experience at Mauthausen and other camps that Mauthausen was one of the worst. The prisoners arrived at the camp by ferry on April 1, 1945. Though it was a violation of the Geneva Convention and his rights as a prisoner of war, Taylor was dressed and treated as a political prisoner. He was also beaten and witnessed the executions of fellow prisoners.
Scheduled execution and eventual liberation
Taylor was twice scheduled for execution. The first time, he was rescued when a friendly worker in the camp’s political office saw his papers in a stack of prisoners to be executed. The worker removed Taylor’s papers and burned them.
The Nazi guards eventually realized Taylor was supposed to have been executed and again ordered his death. Only a few days before the sentence was to be carried out, the 11th Armored Division liberated the camp. A few hours after the camp was liberated, an American film crew documenting the camps arrived at Mauthausen and recorded Taylor’s description of life in the camp.
Taylor would go on to testify at the Nuremberg Trials and other court proceedings against Nazi perpetrators of war crimes. His testimony is credited as being the most damning for the camp personnel at Mauthausen, leading to the convictions of all 61 defendants.
The Americas were not “discovered.” We all know this by now. However the natives arrived in the “New World,” the very fact that there were natives here means the idea of “discovery” is absurd. They had well developed societies and one of the largest cities in the world. the American wilderness was full of Giant Chestnut trees, millions of Native Americans, and Bison. It was ripe for the plucking.
Many in the “Old World” would attempt to do the plucking. Many would fail. Some would themselves be plucked by the New World, like a bizarre “Twilight Zone” episode. It’s alright, though… all’s well that ends well.
Long before Christopher Columbus was even born, Viking sailors set sail Westward on boats with a single sail. The expedition’s leader, Leif Eriksson, came from a long line of Vikings who were thrown out of their homelands to found new ones. Eriksson’s father, Erik the Red, founded the settlements on Greenland after being thrown out of Iceland. His grandfather was similarly thrown out of Norway. You have to be a pretty rowdy bunch to be thrown out of settlements whose youth games included horsefighting.
Eriksson’s expedition eventually landed in what is believed today to be Canada’s Newfoundland province. They spent the Winter there because only Vikings would Winter in Canada. They took timber and grapes back to Greenland, and returned a number of times. They never settled permanently because of the hostility of the natives in the area. That would have had to be one angry bunch of natives to scare Vikings away.
The Knights Templar
A Canadian author who claims to be descended from Templars, presents a lot of evidence in his book The Knights Templar in the New Worldthat a Scottish prince associated with the Templar religious order sailed to the Americas a century before Columbus. The idea was to preserve the Templar order from the persecution at the hands of the French king that was underway in the Old World. Using indigenous accounts, some excavation evidence and the evidence of architecture in both Nova Scotia and in Minnesota, William F. Mann attempts to make a case for a medieval settlement of the New World, but the evidence is all anecdotal.
New Netherland was a series of trading posts up and down what is today the U.S. Atlantic Coast. From Kingston, New York (originally Wiltwyck) in the North, Albany, New York (originally Fort Orange) in the West, and down to New York City (New Amsterdam) in the South, the Dutch experience in the New World was a quick sixty or so years, notable for its profitability and a few of the great Dutch leaders who led the colony. It was also the first time people got conned out of a potential fortune in Manhattan.
The main reason the French never really had staying power in the Americas can be summed up in two words: The British. The French held on for quite a while, though. Their influence can be seen all over North America and the Caribbean. St. Louis, Detroit, Green Bay, and New Orleans are all based on French influence.
The French would eventually cede most of their holdings in North America to the British and the Americans, though they would hold it for a very long time. Unlike the Spanish and English, the French embraced the native, even declaring converted Natives “natural Frenchmen,” and embracing their culture.
“Ce succès, que le froid de la glace/Michelle Pfeiffer, que l’or blanc.”
Frankly, its a good thing the French were here, because what would the New World be if the Marquis de Lafayette had never been to the Americas? Answer: it would be British.
The colonists with the most staying power, the British were never really expelled from the Americas, but they sure lost an important chunk of it, didn’t they?
Though Canada is a pretty great lasting legacy to leave behind, the Brits didn’t really have it so easy. There were many failed attempts by British colonists to establish a permanent settlement in the New World before the Jamestown colony of 1607. In the 1580s, colonists at Roanoke Island “mysteriously disappeared,” which is a nice way of saying “went to go bang the local tribe.”
The colony at Jamestown seemed due to failure in much the same way, except this time, the locals were more apt to slaughter the colonists, until John Smith, took the hit for the colonists and married into the local tribe, via the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas. The colony thrived when they started selling tobacco to the natives in exchange for food, and a horrible precedent was set, ensuring the survival of the British experience in America.
While barely any American helicopters served in World War II and few flew in Korea, Vietnam was a proving ground for many airframes — everything from the venerable Huey to Chinooks sporting huge guns.
One of the most dangerous helicopter assignments was a tiny scout helicopter known as the “Loach.” Officially designated the OH-6 Cayuse, these things were made of thin plexiglass and metal but were expected to fly low over the jungles and grass, looking for enemy forces hiding in the foliage.
They were usually joined by Cobra gunships — either in hunter-killer teams where the Loach hunted and the Cobra killed or in air mobile cavalry units where both airframes supported cavalry and infantrymen on the ground.
In the hunter-killer teams, the Loach would fly low over the jungle, drawing fire and then calling for the Cobra to kill the teams on the ground.
In air mobile teams, a pilot would fly low while an observer would scan the ground for signs of the enemy force. Some of them were able to tell how large a force was and how recently it had passed. They would then call in scouts on the ground or infantrymen to hunt for the enemy in the brush while attack helicopters protected everyone.
Queer John was famous not just for crashing, but for keeping the crew safe while it did so. An Army article written after John’s seventh crash credited it with surviving 61 hits from enemy fire and seven crashes without losing a single crew member.
While Loachs were vulnerable to enemy fire, they were famous for surviving crashes like John did. A saying among Army aviators was, “If you have to crash, do it in a Loach.”