The Israeli pilots were given clearance to fire, and they started off with a Sparrow engagement. The first Sparrow shots missed, then the F-15s closed.
Moshe Melnik, in the second of the four F-15s, took on the enemy fighters. He selected his infra-red guided missiles for the attack. It wasn’t an American-made Sidewinder, though. The Israelis had their own dogfight missile, the Python 3. Melnik selected one, and fired.
The missile tracked in, taking out one of the Fishbeds. It was thirty seconds into the engagement.
Melnik had secured a place in history as the first pilot to shoot down an enemy plane with the F-15 Eagle. Since then, between small-scale engagements and major conflicts like the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot and Operation Desert Storm, the F-15 has dominated the skies, only yielding as the premiere air-to-air platform when the F-22 Raptor entered service.
Okay, the Raptor is pretty cool, too. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alejandro Pena)
Ironically, while Melnik would make history, he would not be considered the hero of the engagement where the F-15 scored its first kill. That honor would go to another Israeli pilot, Eitan Ben-Eliyahu.
On a cold afternoon in early January, 1948, control tower operators at Godman Army Airfield in Fort Knox, Kentucky, became aware of the presence of a mysterious object floating in the skies of the base. Reports from nearby highway patrol officers who also saw the UFO were enough to prove to the controllers that they weren’t just seeing things.
After a number of senior officers, including the base’s commanding officer, were called up to the tower in an attempt to make sense of what they were seeing, though none were able to actually clarify what exactly they saw through their binoculars. Military personnel at bases in southern Ohio were also able to see the UFO, which remained hovering over a spot before descending to the earth and the rapidly rising out of sight.
Around the same time of the UFO sighting, a four-ship flight of F-51 Mustangs led by Capt. Thomas Mantell of the Kentucky Air National Guard were on their way to Godman. Mantell, a decorated former Army Air Corps transport pilot with combat time during D-Day in 1944, was notified by the control tower about the UFO, and was soon ordered to fly over and identify the peculiar floating object.
Three of the four Mustangs in the flight banked towards the UFO, while one returned to base thanks to a low fuel readout. Pushing their throttles forward, the three F-51 pilots with Mantell in the lead raced to the object.
One F-51 had to break off the pursuit, due to low oxygen levels. The second remaining F-51 pilot from the flight was also unable to continue with the chase, ending his run at 22,500 ft before returning to base. Mantell doggedly carried onwards, punching through the clouds.
Controllers attempted to communicate with the 25-year-old fighter pilot, but to no avail. Mantell’s Mustang was last seen in a death spiral, dropping from the clouds like a rock until it impacted earth, shattering into pieces. The young captain was killed on impact, his wristwatch stopped at precisely the time of his demise.
The Air Force’s investigation into the incident was immediate. The UFO had disappeared, and a fighter pilot had been killed — the general public was already frenzied at the prospect of malignant extraterrestrials from other worlds attacking the one they lived in.
Initially, investigators theorized that Mantell was killed “trying to reach the planet Venus.” As crazy as that sounds, the theory held some weight. F-51 pilots had been fooled into thinking that the planet Venus, unusually bright in the night sky at that time of year, was a UFO and had given chase just weeks prior to the Mantell incident.
Though this was the official explanation after Mantell’s crash, astronomers at the Ohio State University disproved this hypothesis in the years after, as the sky was still too bright and hazy in the day for Venus to be clearly observed and followed by the four F-51s of the Kentucky air guard.
A second, more plausible theory, was put forward. Mantell might have actually been pursuing a Navy Skyhook weather balloon. At the time, the Skyhook was part of a highly-classified observation program which neither Mantell and his fellow F-51 pilots nor the Godman airfield controllers would have been read into.
The shape, size and general look of a Skyhook with sunlight glinting off its surfaces would have been similar to what the controllers and pilots saw that fateful day in 1948. Mantell’s loss was partially blamed on his inexperience with the Mustang, though he had accumulated over 2,000 flight hours during his service as a military pilot.
His unwillingness to give up chasing the UFO, even when faced with the potential for oxygen deprivation and starvation in the unpressurized cockpit, caused the pilot to black out after experiencing hypoxia. Only one F-51 in his flight was equipped with an oxygen system – Mantell’s lacked such gear. His Mustang then fell back to earth without him in control.
As plausible as the official statement on Mantell’s untimely passing was, the general public took what happened with a massive air of suspicion. Details on the F-51’s crash didn’t add up, and the fact that the UFO was visible from other military bases and surrounded locales and roadways led many to believe that it was part of a government cover-up.
Though the Air Force’s official explanation for the Mantell incident has remained unchanged over the years, many still question it today, and have since viewed the service’s mad dash to come up with answers as a sign of the military hiding the existence of alien life forms.
Every service member knows the result of not living up to the expectations placed upon them by donning the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States. Most will never receive a punishment beyond Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, non-judicial punishment. For repeat offenders, the threat of “turning big rocks into little rocks” at Fort Leavenworth looms large.
Actually being sent to the Kansas-based U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth is, in reality, a tall order. The facility houses only the worst offenders. It’s the only maximum-security facility in the U.S. military and hard time there is reserved for commissioned officers, enlisted personnel with sentences longer than ten years, and those who are convicted of crimes related to national security. It’s reserved for the worst of the worst — which includes those on the military’s death row.
Since the end of World War II, the facility has executed some 21 prisoners, including more than a dozen Nazi German prisoners of war convicted of war crimes. The last time an American troop was executed for his crimes was in 1961, when Army Pfc. John Bennett was hanged for the rape and attempted murder of a young Austrian girl after spending six years on death row. There are currently four inmates awaiting execution at Leavenworth, but these four will not face the gallows.
Executions for military personnel will likely be by lethal injection and performed at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
In 1986 and 1987, then-Specialist Ronald Gray was a cook stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., when he committed the series of crimes that landed him on the military’s death row. Gray raped and murdered four women, both on Fort Bragg and in the area around nearby Fayetteville. He was sentenced to death in 1988 and his execution was approved by President George W. Bush in 2008. He has since filed a petition to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was turned down, meaning Gray might soon be the first prisoner executed by the military in over 50 years.
His first victim was 27-year-old civilian Linda Jean Coats and his second was also a civilian, 18-year-old Tammy Cofer Wilson. He next turned his attention to female soldiers, abducting, raping, and murdering 18-year-old Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay. Vickery-Clay’s body was discovered a block from her home on Fort Bragg. He then raped and attempted to kill 20-year-old Pvt. Mary Ann Lang Nameth, stabbing her in the throat after entering her barracks room, but leaving her alive. She was able to identify him as her attacker when Gray was arrested for another crime.
Just three days later, he raped and murdered another civilian, 23-year-old Kimberly Ann Ruggles. It was this crime that would lead to his capture and conviction. Ruggles was a taxi driver dispatched to pick up a “Ron” at Gray’s address. Her body was discovered later that night near her empty cab. Police identified the gag on Ruggles’ body as one belonging to Gray after holding him for another crime just hours before. Gray’s fingerprints were all over the cab and Ruggles’ prints were on money Gray was holding during his arrest.
Gray was tried and convicted in both civil and military courts in 1988. Civilian courts sentenced Gray to eight consecutive life sentences. His military court martial sentenced him to die. He is currently the longest-serving death-row inmate at Fort Leavenworth.
In March, 2003, just days after U.S. troops initially crossed into Iraq, Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar was at Camp Pennsylvania, a rear-staging area for the invasion of Iraq, located in Kuwait. In the early morning hours, Akbar lobbed fragmentation and incendiary grenades into the tents of sleeping officers, then assaulted other members of his unit with his issued M-4 rifle. He killed Army Capt. Christopher Seifert and Air Force Maj. Gregory L. Stone. and wounded 14 other service members.
Even though his defense team cited repeated attacks and insults on his Muslim faith from fellow soldiers as a primary motivator for the attack, it was later discovered that Akbar decided to plan and execute the attack once he was in Kuwait, writing in a journal on Feb 4, 2003:
“As soon as I am in Iraq, I am going to try and kill as many of them as possible.”
Hasan was convicted of two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted premeditated murder. The commander of the 18th Airborne Corps affirmed the death sentence and an appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals is pending.
In 1985, a mother and two of her children were found murdered in their Fayetteville, N.C. home. Kathryn Eastburn was stabbed to death with two of her three daughters while her husband, an airman, was training in Alabama. The family was getting ready to move away from the country and put an ad in the paper to sell their dog. Timothy Hennis was a Fort Bragg soldier who admitted to police he responded to the ad. An eyewitness identified Hennis as a man who left the Eastburn home in the early morning hours after the killings would have taken place.
Hennis was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die in North Carolina civilian courts but that verdict was later overturned and Hennis was acquitted in a retrial. As a free man, Hennis returned to the Army and retired as a Master Sergeant in 2004. But the Army wasn’t done with the Hennis case. Semen samples taken from Kathryn Eastburn’s body were analyzed as DNA evidence that wasn’t available in the original case.
The Army again charged Hennis with the crime, this time framing the evidence to the matching DNA samples. In 2010, A military court finally found Hennis guilty of the crimes, stripped him of rank and pay, and sentenced him to death.
Also known as “The Fort Hood Shooter” Hasan was an Army officer, a psychiatrist stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas. On Nov. 5, 2009, Hasan entered the Soldier Readiness Center, pulled a handgun, and, for 10 minutes, began shooting at the personnel there. He killed 13 people and injured another 30 before being shot himself by Fort Hood’s Army Civilian Police. The gunfight rendered Hasan paralyzed from the waist down.
The Army charged Hasan with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder, with the Army announcing early on that Hasan was eligible for the death penalty and that the Army would seek that sentence. Hasan defended himself at the trial and in doing so was found guilty of all charges. He was unanimously sentenced to Fort Leavenworth to await execution.
Snipers are undoubtedly the most lethal shooters on the battlefield, able to take out targets from hundreds and hundreds of yards away, without their marks being alerted to their presence.
They are experts at blending into the environment, masters of patience, physically developed and always well-trained. But snipers still can’t take the shots they they’re known for without a decent rifle in their hands, capable of helping them reach targets at longer-than-normal ranges.
Over the past 50 years, records for the longest kill-shots in history have been made and broken repeatedly by some of the greatest snipers the world has ever seen. These are the four guns they have used to break and set these records on confirmed kills at unimaginably far distances:
4. Browning M2 ‘Ma Deuce’ Heavy Machine Gun
A WWII-era machine gun used as a sniping system doesn’t exactly evoke any images of precision shooting, but it’s exactly what a 24 year-old Marine by the name of Carlos Hathcock used in early 1967 to take out a Vietcong militiaman pushing a bicycle loaded with weapons and ammunition. Built to fire the .50 BMG round, the M2 had exactly the range and stopping power Hathcock wanted in a gun that would allow him to hit targets at distances far beyond what a standard-issue sniper rifle permitted.
With an Unertl scope mounted to a custom-made bracket crafted by Hathcock himself, and the M2 in single-shot mode, the gun could engage targets at distances over 1600 yards. The machine gun was balanced on an M3 tripod and kept in place with sandbags.
His record-breaking February 1967 kill was made using this setup at 2500 yards, creating a record for the history books which would stand until the War in Afghanistan in 2002.
3. Barrett M82A1 Special Application Scoped Rifle
According to Chris Martin in his book, “Modern American Snipers,” Sgt. Brian Kremer currently holds the American record for the longest sniper kill in Iraq, while serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment. The M82 SASR is every bit the beast it looks, firing a .50 Browning Machine Gun round at effective ranges up to nearly 2,000 yards. Weighing in 30 pounds, and measuring 48-57 inches long depending on the barrel used, the M82 is without a doubt one of the most fearsome small arms on the battlefield.
The M82 was originally put into service with the US military in 1990, and has been used in every conflict since. Though smaller-caliber sniper rifles are typically unable to hit targets behind cover, American snipers have been able to use the M82 and the Raufoss Mk 211 .50 caliber round to simply shoot their way through obstacles at great distances to reach their marks. Kremer’s shot reportedly measured 2,515 yards.
2. Accuracy International L115A3 Long Range Rifle
In 2009, British Army sniper Craig Harrison set a new world record for the longest confirmed kill in history with his L115A3, the standard long-range marksman’s rifle of the British military. During an ambush on a convoy he was attached to, Harrison hit a pair of Taliban machine gunners using 10 carefully-placed shots at a range of 2,707 yards, beating out the previous record by 50 yards.
Known in civilian markets as the Arctic Warfare Magnum, the L115A3 is chambered to fire the .338 Lapua round — a devastating bullet with phenomenal range. Known for its armor-piercing abilities at long distances, the .338 is now extremely popular among military snipers and marksmen across the world.
1. C15 Long Range Sniper Weapon
Commercially known as the McMillan Tac-50, this is the rifle which has broken the world record for longest kill on three separate occasions over the last 15 years.
In March 2002 during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, Canadian sniper Arron Perry broke Carlos Hathcock’s 35-year record with a confirmed kill at 2,526 yards. Later that month, another Canadian sniper, Rob Furlong, topped Perry with a shot ranging 2,657 yards. Recently, it was reported that yet another Canadian set and holds the world record — now at a mind-blowing 3,540 yards… that’s over half a mile longer than Furlong’s 2002 kill!
The C15, like its commercial name suggests, is built to fire .50 caliber rounds, and has seen service with a number of elite military units, including the US Navy’s SEAL teams, Canada’s Joint Task Force 2, and Israeli special forces.
This monster of a weapon weighs 26 pounds on its own, and measures 57 inches from stock to barrel.
Chaplains have long held a special place in many troops’ hearts. In fact, at times, they become legends. In the Army, the first chaplains were authorized on July 29, 1775. They’ve been with the troops on the front lines ever since.
Some chaplains have made the ultimate sacrifice. The most famous instance was that of the “Four Chaplains” who were on board the transport SS Dorchester when it was torpedoed by U-223 at 12:55AM on Feb. 3, 1943.
According to HomeofHeroes.com, when the transport was hit, the four chaplains, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Rev. George L. Fox, Rev. Clark V. Poling, and Father John P. Washington promptly began to aid the troops who were on the stricken vessel.
One sailor was heading back to his bunk for gloves, but Rabbi Goode instead handed his over. Despite a loss of power, they got some of the troops to the deck. Then, they began handing out life jackets, even as the Dorchester was rapidly headed to a watery grave.
Finally, when the life jackets ran out, they gave up their own. They were among the 668 who went down with the Dorchester, but many of the 230 men who were saved owed their lives to the Four Chaplains, each of whom received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.
In the Korean War, two other chaplains notably made the ultimate sacrifice. Chaplain Emil Kapuan, a Catholic priest, was captured during the Chinese offensive of 1950 — and shortly after his capture, he shoved a Chinese soldier who was trying to execute an America.
Then there was the case of Chaplain Herman G. Felhoelter, also a Catholic priest, who, during the initial salvos of the Korean War, offered to stay behind with a medic to help the wounded. As he was providing comfort, North Korean troops attacked and wounded the medic, who escaped.
The North Koreans then proceeded to carry out what became known as the Chaplain-Medic massacre, killing the wounded Americans and the chaplain. Felhoelter received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for his actions.
These cases only begin to scratch the surface of why the troops love their chaplains.
It may seem weird that another country would just show up to war to have a look, but it used to be a fairly common activity, one the United Nations still practices. A military observer is a diplomatic representative of sorts, used by one government to track the battles, strategies, and tactics used in a war it isn’t fighting, but may have an interest in watching — and learning from.
Professional soldiers were embedded within fighting units, but were not considered diplomats, journalists, or spies. They wore the uniform of their home country and understood the importance of terrain, technology, and military history as it played out on the latest battlefield. The Civil War had no shortage of interest from the rest of the world.
England, France, and Germany all sent observers to both sides of the fighting as early as 1862. They were concerned with the technologies related to metallurgy, rifling of cannons, explosive shells, cartridge calibers, and, of course, the new observation balloons used in the war. German observers were concerned with the power of militia and volunteer forces in the face of a standing, professional army. These observations formed many of the tactical developments used in later conflicts, especially World War I.
General Helmuth von Moltke the Elder had strong opinions on the U.S. Civil War.
The Prussians, with an aforementioned interest in the superiority of professional armies, didn’t think much of the armies fighting the war. While noting the tactics used by American fighting men, Prussian observers thought the New World’s way of war was inferior to the Prussians’.
One Prussian captain, Justus Scheibert, divided the war into three phases. The first was made up of the disorganized skirmishes. At this point, neither side had really come to grips with the war and their own strategic capabilities. The second phase, which ran from 1862 through the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, was defined by a refinement in battlefield formations, which were used to great effect by both sides. After Gettysburg through to the war’s end, the fighting became defensive for both sides, where belligerents fought for inches of battlefield instead of mounting a great retreat or advance.
Scheibert believed that the construction of defensive fortifications that allowed officers time to make careful decisions replaced the skill of trained professional officers in quick decision making. Like many historians in the decades following the war, he cited Union manpower and industrial output as the chief tools of victory for the war while praising Confederate General Robert E. Lee for his innovations that allowed Confederate troops to stay relatively fresh and punch above their weight class, even when outnumbered.
Despite proclaimed neutrality, thousands of British citizens volunteered on both sides of the conflict.
The British, meanwhile, were horrified at the war’s destruction and bloody death toll. The British government wanted the horror to stop and felt compelled to pressure the United States to accept a negotiated, two-state solution. London could not understand Lincoln’s motivation for keeping the Union together by force in a democracy where people are supposed to be able to determine their own futures by voting. Neither Britain nor France understood why the North and South both rejected publicly making the war about its central cause: slavery. They simply did not understand the politics of the U.S. as well as President Lincoln and did not understand the Confederate government’s chief fears as Jefferson Davis saw them.
London was also turned off by the Confederate threat of an embargo of cotton exports to Great Britain. It turns out they played this hand much too early, as British merchants would seek alternatives and replacements for Confederate cotton as early as 1861. But as the level of death and destruction rose, both Britain and France began to plan to intervene for the South. Even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation angered European powers, who saw the limited emancipation as nothing more than an attempt to incite a mass slave uprising to save face in losing the war.
The only thing that saved the Union from a combined French-British intervention was the risk or war with the United States and that the South had not yet proven that it could fight the Union Army to a greater defeat on the battlefield.
British observer Arthur James Lyon Fremantle visited much of the Confederacy in 1863. His exploits were well-documented.
One British observer actually visited nine of the eleven Confederate States during the war. Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, just 25 years old, took leave of the British Army to travel to Texas via Mexico, moving through nearly the whole of the Confederacy, He met Generals Lee, Bragg, and Longstreet, to name the most important, along with Confederate officials, including President Jefferson Davis. After observing the Battle of Gettysburg (where he met the Prussian Captain Scheibert), he crossed the lines and moved north to New York, where he left for home.
The Britisher remarked that Texas was the most lawless state in the Confederacy, that even Confederate generals were notably impoverished, but were in such good humor that they could ride their confidence into battle. As for the generals themselves, he thought it was amazing that a general like Longstreet would lead men into full-frontal assaults, and that a man like General Lee would speak to individual troops while taking responsibility for the losses on the field.
Unidentified; State Department Messenger Donaldson; Unidentified; Count Alexander de Bodisco; Count Edward Piper, Swedish Minister; Joseph Bertinatti, Italian Minister; Luis Molina, Nicaraguan Minister (seated); Rudolph Mathias Schleiden, Hanseatic Minister; Henri Mercier, French Minister; William H. Seward, Secretary of State (seated); Lord Richard Lyons, British Minister; Baron Edward de Stoeckel, Russian Minister (seated); and Sheffield, British Attache.
The French were interested in a Union loss and the creation of a new republic, carved from the remnants of the United States because they were determined to recoup the losses suffered at the hands of the British during the colonization of the new world. France’s criteria for intervention were much the same as Britains, but were dashed after the Union victory in the war and any preparations made to use Mexico to capture former French territory west of the Mississippi were scrapped.
Though the world’s other powers didn’t think much of the war and its fighting for the duration, the preparations they all made throughout the war and in the years immediately following shows the lasting impact it had on global politics. In all, visitors from Germany, Britain, Italy, France, Russia, Nicaragua, and Austria all visited various battles of the war. The lasting legacy of this impact is the continued debate over what might have been, even more than 150 years later.
Few figures in American history loom as large as Teddy Roosevelt. The man embodied the can-do American spirit and the gritty resolve of the American fighting man.
But when the former “Rough Rider” was offered up his first military command, the gutsy Roosevelt initially demurred.
Theodore Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy when war with Spain broke out in April 1898. As soon as Congress authorized three volunteer cavalry regiments, Secretary of War Russell Alger offered command of one of those regiments to Roosevelt.
A former frontiersman and staunch advocate for American intervention in Cuba, Roosevelt was eager to join the fight. But as ready as Roosevelt was to go, he had no idea how to lead men in combat, as he explained in his recollection of the war:
“Fortunately, I was wise enough to tell the Secretary that while I believed I could learn to command the regiment in a month, yet that it was just this very month which I could not afford to spare, and that therefore I would be quite content to go as Lieutenant-Colonel, if he would make [Leonard] Wood Colonel.”
The next month, Roosevelt resigned his position in the Navy Department to join his friend Leonard Wood in raising the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. The original recruiting plan called for nearly 800 volunteers from New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and the Indian Territory. However, the regiment was allowed a strength of 1,000 men drawn from anywhere. So Roosevelt recruited his old acquaintances from Harvard as well as other Ivy League men from Princeton and Yale.
The regiment would eventually consist of cowboys, ranchers, and miners from the territories, former lawmen and soldiers, college scholars and athletes, as well as Indians and even a few foreigners. Considering the diversity of his volunteers, Roosevelt was often worried discipline would be an issue. But in the end, he was “agreeably disappointed.”
The men gathered in San Antonio, Texas, to begin preparations for war. It was around this time that the term “Rough Riders” was first applied to the unit. Though Wood and Roosevelt initially fought against it, they eventually embraced the name.
While Wood had the military wherewithal to lead the men, it was Roosevelt’s connections that made it all possible. Roosevelt used his political connections to ensure his people received the same equipment as regular army units. Wood, knowing the system, expedited the requests through the ordinance and quartermaster departments. Roosevelt then greased the wheels in Washington to make sure their equipment arrived promptly.
The regiment issued the Krag-Jorgensen .30-caliber carbine and Colt .45 revolver to its troops. The regular army equipment was vital, as it meant the Rough Riders could link up with regular army cavalry units and share supplies. Roosevelt’s affluence and family ties also garnered a pair of M1895 Colt machine guns from a wealthy donor.
Finally, the unit adopted a uniform appropriate to its nickname. The Rough Riders’ uniform consisted of a slouch hat; blue flannel shirt; khaki trousers; leggings; boots and a handkerchief tied loosely around the neck. It was “exactly as a body of cowboy cavalry should look.”
Once equipped and outfitted with the necessities, the unit set about training as a standard cavalry unit. Wood was mostly engaged in acquiring the equipment necessary to deploy the regiment. This left much of the training in the hands of Roosevelt. Though most of the men were already excellent horsemen, they drilled in shooting from horseback and fighting in military formation. After some deliberation, Roosevelt decided to neither train nor arm the men with the standard cavalry saber, as they were wholly unfamiliar with it. Instead, their secondary weapon would be the revolver, a weapon the cowboys knew well.
By the end of May, with scarcely a month of training, the men departed San Antonio for Tampa, Florida, where they would embark for Cuba. A transportation shortage meant only eight of the regiment’s 12 companies would make the trip – with no horses. Those companies arrived in Cuba on June 23, 1898, and were assigned to the Cavalry Division, Fifth Army Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. William Rufus Shafter.
The very next day, the Rough Riders saw their first action at the Battle of Las Guiasimas. Led by Gen. ‘Fighting Joe’ Wheeler, a former Confederate officer, the Rough Riders – along with the 1st and 10th Cavalry Regiments and Cuban units – advanced against a Spanish outpost. In the excitement of the fighting, Wheeler is said to have exclaimed “Let’s go boys! We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run again!” confusing his time in the Civil War over 30 years prior.
This small fight brought initial fame to the Rough Riders when the stories hit newspapers back home. But the Rough Riders were not done yet. A week later, the unit would go down in history its their part in the battle of San Juan Hill.
On July 1, the bulk of Fifth Corps advanced on Santiago de Cuba. A bloody fight broke out at San Juan and Kettle Hills outside the city. Roosevelt was now leading the Rough Riders after Wood’s promotion to Brigade Commander. Disturbed by the inaction and slow pace of orders being given by Shafter, Roosevelt pressed his men forward under heavy Spanish fire. Roosevelt felt the orders to progress slowly were inadequate to take the hill. He ordered his men into a full frontal assault.
The Rough Riders, joined by surrounding units who were encouraged by their tenacity, surged forward in a series of rushes against the Spanish trenches and blockhouses. They succeeded in taking the position, though casualties were high. Roosevelt’s leadership during the battle earned him the Medal of Honor in 2001.
After the battle of San Juan Hill, the Rough Riders assisted in the siege of Santiago and the final defeat of the Spanish in Cuba. During the campaign, the Rough Riders suffered 23 killed in action and just over 100 wounded. On September 18, 1898, just four months after its initial formation, the Army disbanded the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry.
John Glenn may be one of the United States Marine Corps’ most epic alums. And that’s saying a lot (he’s in good company).
In his 95 years on planet Earth — and his time off the planet — Glenn racked up accomplishment after accomplishment, feat after feat, do after derring-do.
It’s no wonder the U.S. and the world hail the Ohioan as a legend. He was a decorated war hero, astronaut, and senator — but he was so much more.
Here are a few interesting things you may not have known about the first American to orbit the Earth.
1. The documentary about his life was nominated for an Oscar.
The 1963 short film “The John Glenn Story” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. That was before he was elected to the Senate.
His life was already so epic it warranted its own movie, and even then, he was far from finished.
2. He and his wife were married for 73 years.
Glenn and his wife, Anna, were married in April 1943. They had two children and two grandchildren. Anna had a severe speech impediment and he protected her from the media because of it.
3. He was also the first man to eat in space.
The first meal in space was applesauce. And it was a big deal because scientists thought humans might not be able to digest in zero gravity. He also ate pureed beef and vegetables. Other famous space feats include being the oldest man in space (age 77) and the first man to carry a knife (a 9-inch blade in a leather sheath).
4. His Korean War wingman was also famous.
Glenn flew several missions with “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived,” baseball hero Ted Williams. Williams flew half of his 39 combat mission over North Korea with Glenn.
Glenn called Williams “one of the best pilots I ever knew.”
5. Bill Clinton sent two emails as President: One was to John Glenn.
The internet as we know it was in its infancy during the Clinton Administration, yet as President, Bill Clinton sent two: one to U.S. troops in the Adriatic, and the other to Glenn, then 77 years old and in orbit around the Earth.
6. Glenn was almost an excuse to invade Cuba.
Operation “Dirty Trick” was planned if Glenn’s capsule crashed back to Earth. The Pentagon reportedly wanted to blame any mishap on Cuban electronic interference, and use his death as an excuse to invade Cuba.
7. Glenn’s Marine Corps nickname was “Magnet Ass.”
He flew a F9F Panther jet interceptor on 63 combat missions, twice returning with over 250 holes in his aircraft. His aircrews all thought he somehow attracted flak.
8. John Glenn was the last surviving Mercury 7 astronaut.
The next to last one died in 2013. Also, the five sons of Jeff Tracy in the kids show “Thunderbirds” were named after the first five American astronauts into space through the Mercury project: Scott Carpenter, Virgil Grissom, Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper, and John Glenn.
9. President John F. Kennedy barred Glenn from further space flights.
Glenn found out by reading Richard Reeves’ biography of President Kennedy decades later.
In 1814 the War of 1812 was rising in intensity and the young American nation found itself struggling to mount a serious defense against the British juggernaut. Compounding America’s problems of short-manning and a limited supply of weapons was the fact that officers kept killing each other in duels over matters of honor, Donald R. Hickey said in his book, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict.
“One in twelve American navy officers who died on active duty before 1815 were killed in duels, eighteen in all,” Stephen Budiansky wrote in Perilous Fight; “easily twice that number had fought a duel, and every officer lived with the knowledge that his reputation for courage was always liable to be tested on the field of honor.
A Smithsonian.com article noted an even grimmer statistic saying, “Between 1798 and the Civil War, the Navy lost two-thirds as many officers to dueling as it did to more than 60 years of combat at sea.”
It got so bad that in 1814 the War Department threatened to discharge duelists in a failed attempt to bring the practice to an end.
This would have been a direct reversal of common military culture at the time. In 1813, a regimental commander refused a duel from one of the doctors in his unit. The doctor was later convicted of insubordination but immediately pardoned.
Abraham Lincoln, before he was president, nearly cut down Army officer James Shields. Lincoln had ridiculed Shields in the press and Shields demanded the chance to defend his honor. Lincoln chose broadswords as the weapon and, on the dueling ground, used his much larger arms to cut down a branch that was over Shields’ head.
With the encouragement of the crowd, the men called off the duel. During the Civil War, then-Brig. Gen. Shields defeated Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Kernstown, an important victory for the Union.
Although generally frowned upon, duels still happened until after the Civil War.
The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) held a commemoration ceremony for the 100th anniversary of the first combat firing of the naval railway gun, Sept. 6, 2018.
The ceremony took place at Admiral Willard Park at the Washington Navy Yard where on display is a naval railway gun still mounted on a railway carriage.
Master Chief Yeoman Nathaniel Colding, senior enlisted leader at NHHC, was the master of ceremonies for the event and shared the history of the naval railway gun with the guests in attendance.
Upon entering World War I in April 1917, the Navy was already developing long-range artillery primarily to counter the German army’s heavy guns capable of bombarding the English Channel ports used by the Allies.
The Navy’s initial idea was to employ several 14-inch 50-caliber Mark IV naval rifles, with a complete train of equipment for each gun, on railway mountings behind British lines in France. However, changing military conditions prevented British authorities from stating definitively at which port these batteries were to be debarked.
The Navy ultimately offered the guns to General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, who readily accepted them.
“In the summer of 1918, five U.S. naval railway guns made the journey across the Atlantic Ocean for use in France during the First World War,” said Colding. “Although they were assigned to the First Army’s Railway Artillery Reserve, the guns operated as independent units under the command of Rear Admiral Charles P. Plunkett. In early September 1918, Battery Number 2 went into action with a bombardment of a German-occupied railroad hub more than 20 miles away.”
Retired Rear Adm. Sam Cox, director of NHHC, was the guest speaker for the commemoration ceremony and spoke about why this event is important for us to remember today.
British 12-inch howitzers on top-carriage traversing mounts.
“The U.S. Navy was able to provide a quick solution using guns that were normally intended for battleships,” said Cox. “The key point of the U.S. Navy’s participation in the war was that although we only lost about 430 Sailors during the entire course of the war, we were able to get two million U.S. Army troops to France a lot faster than the Germans ever thought was possible. The Navy did this without any losses to U-boats, ending a war that at that point was the bloodiest in human history.”
While the naval railway guns were in operation, the crew had no support from the Army should the Germans unit advance on them and they were expected to “fight alone.” They did not have to face that fate, however; the Germans were in retreat throughout their period of service.
“The increased use and effectiveness of aircraft, particularly bombers, with their greater flexibility and mobility, meant that the naval railway battery would not be a mainstay in future wars,” said Conrad. “Nonetheless, its development and deployment highlights the U.S. Navy’s ability to think innovatively and create and deploy new and effective programs quickly. That skill is transferable and is a hallmark of the U.S. Navy in the twentieth century.”
Although the naval railway guns operated well behind the front lines and were not subject to the constant bombardment received by more forward positions, the U.S. naval railway batteries were hardly immune from enemy fire. Many of the units took counter-fire from German artillery. German observation planes flew above their positions during the day, and bomber aircraft were active at night. The units lost only one Sailor to enemy fire and other battery personnel were wounded.
French 370 mm railway howitzer of World War I.
According to Dennis Conrad, Ph.D., a historian at NHHC, 530 officers and men made up the Naval Railway Guns command. The unit was subdivided into six groups, one for each battery and these groups were further subdivided into crews: a train crew, a construction crew and a gun crew.
The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy’s unique and enduring contributions through our nation’s history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, ten museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.
On November 30, 1950, the United States was deeply entrenched in the Korean War after suffering a surprise attack on its troops. On this day, President Truman issued the thinly veiled threat of using the Atomic Bomb against North Korea.
The devastating effects and impact following the dropping of the ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ nuclear weapons during World War II was still reverberating throughout much of Asia in 1950. Although the White House would issue a statement following the comment by the president about always considering the use of the Atomic Bomb against North Korea, it did little to backtrack. Instead, it reiterated that the United States would use any means necessary.
While most historians agree that the bombs swiftly ended the war in the Pacific, the cost on humanity was heavy. Over 200,000 people died as a result of both bombs, the majority of whom were civilians. These numbers don’t even include those maimed and forever damaged by the effects of the bomb. One of the pilot’s responsible for dropping one of the bombs recorded a raw message in his logbook after it was dropped: “My God, what have we done?” The initial reaction to the bombing from Americans was mostly in favor but has since fallen. In the 1950s there was a sharp rise in objection against the use of nuclear weapons. Despite acknowledging the horror brought on by using these weapons against the innocent, the president didn’t discount its possible use once again during the Korean War.
How did the United States fall into war so soon after the horrors of World War II? A line in the sand started it all. Following World War II, Korea was split into two. The northern region was occupied by the Soviet Union and the south, America. When the United Nations pushed for an election and unified country, the Soviets installed a communist regime instead. In June of 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. It wasn’t long after that when President Truman ordered a military response by air and sea, swiftly followed by boots on the ground. 15 countries would follow them and join the fight.
What threw everyone off was when China entered into the fray – on the side of North Korea. They violently attacked American and United Nations forces beginning November 26, 1950. It would be their forces that would push American and allied troops out in an embarrassing retreat. This appeared to come as a shock as the United States and China had what was considered a good relationship at the time. While initially believing all troops would be home by Christmas, the surprise attack by the Chinese swiftly ended that hope.
It was that attack which led to President Truman’s threat of reusing the atomic bomb, though he stated he thought it was a terrible weapon. In the end, it wasn’t used against North Korea and the war itself ended in a sort of stalemate. Although the country wasn’t unified as hoped, South Korea was able to establish a democratic society while the North continued their dictatorship and communist establishment. To ensure the safety of the border and South Koreans, American troops remain along its demilitarized zone still to this day.
Ending nuclear weapons has long been a goal of those who oppose war but these days their voices are joined with a larger majority. Around 49 percent of Americans think the United States should eliminate its nuclear weapons while 32 percent believe new treaties should be ignored and it should hold onto its weapons.
North Korea has been working on nuclear weapons since the Korean War ended, which took the lives of 2.5 million people. 37,000 of them were Americans. The lessons of the previous wars are still fresh in the minds of many older generations of Americans who lived through them. But as they pass on, their stories die with them. It is vital that new generations of Americans not only learn the history of its wars but also the ever present treat of new ones lurking on the horizon.
Although the Atomic Bomb has not been used since World War II, its threat of absolute devastation has never been more real.
In 1928, the Army asked itself how it could make its rifles, and therefore its riflemen, more lethal in case all those building tensions in Europe and Asia eventually boiled over and triggered a new world war. After years of study and design, they came up with a rifle design that some leaders thought would be capable of tipping battles, but it never saw combat.
This allowed the weapon to fire reliably, and it allowed infantrymen and cavalrymen to maintain a high rate of fire. A demonstration of the weapon pleased senior Army leaders, and they asked when they could take prototypes to the field for testing.
But the Pedersen did have some drawbacks. The weapon was very precisely machined, and even small errors could throw off its operation. Also, its rounds had to receive a thin coating of wax to guarantee that they’d properly feed through the weapon. Finally, its clips could only be fed in one direction into the rifle, meaning riflemen reloading under fire would have to be careful to get it right.
So, other weapon designers thought they had a chance to win the Army’s business. Other .276-caliber designs entered competition, including the Garand.
The Garand could take a beating, was easier to manufacture, and didn’t need lubricated rounds. The Pedersen was still the frontrunner in many eyes, but the Garand posed a real threat to it.
Shooting a .276 Pedersen PB Rifle
An even greater blow to the Pedersen was coming. As the move to a .276-caliber continued, the Army Ordnance Department was putting up fierce resistance. The department didn’t want to have to set up the whole new supply chain, get the new tools, or prepare the new stockpiles of ammunition required to support the switch.
The Ordnance Department argued, successfully, to Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur that the change would be expensive and present logistics challenges. MacArthur ordered that any new rifle had to use the .30-caliber ammunition already in use by the Army.
Most of the competitors, including Pedersen, didn’t think they could re-configure their weapons quickly to accept the larger ammunition, but the Garand team could. They quickly swapped in new parts, and entered a .30-caliber Garand and it won the competition, going on to become the M1 Garand of World War II legend.
But it’s easy to imagine an alternate history where the Pedersen or the .276-Garand went into production instead. The .30-caliber ammunition and older weapons would’ve still seen action, sent forward with Free French, British, and Russian forces under the Cash-and-Carry system and then Lend-Lease.
Meanwhile, American troops would’ve carried a slightly lighter rifle and much lighter rounds, giving them the ability to more quickly draw their weapons and the ability to sustain a higher rate of fire with the same strain on individual soldiers and the logistics chain.
And, best of all, more lethality per hit. The .30-caliber rounds, the same size as 7.62mm, are more likely to pass through a target at the ranges in which most battles are fought. But .276-caliber rounds are more likely to tumble a time or two after hitting a target, dispersing their energy in the target’s flesh and causing massive internal bleeding.
So, if the 1928 Ordnance Board and the modern minds behind 5.56mm and the potential 6.8mm weapons were right, each successful rifle hit by American soldiers was more likely to cause death or extreme wounding.
The destroyer USS Ward (DD 139/APD 16) is famous for being the first American ship to sink a Japanese vessel, a mini-sub, just hours before the main attack on Pearl Harbor. But less famous is the first American ship to sink a Nazi U-boat. That impact of that ship’s kill, incidentally, would reverberate over six decades later.
USS Roper shortly after she was commissioned in 1919. (US Navy photo)
That vessel was USS Roper (DD 147), a Wickes-class destroyer. Wickes-class destroyers were built during World War I and carried four four-inch guns, a single three-inch gun, and a dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes. These vessels were feeling their age as World War II bubbled up on the horizon but were pressed into service to hold the line until newer vessels came into the fleet.
According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the Roper had taken part in a variety of deployments in the peacetime Navy between World Wars. The vessel had been off Cape Cod when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After a quick refit, she was escorting convoys. Then came the fateful encounter.
On March 31, 1942, USS Roper rescued 70 survivors, including this mother and child. (US Navy photo)
U-Boat.net reports that on April 14, 1942, the Roper detected U-85 on the surface, about 20 miles from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, two weeks after rescuing 70 survivors from a sunken merchant ship. First, the destroyer opened fire, scoring a number of hits. As the fatally stricken U-boat slipped beneath the surface, the destroyer unleashed a salvo of depth charges to ensure a kill. None of U-85’s crew survived.
After that kill, the Roper still served, doing a number of convoy runs. Then, she was converted to a destroyer transport and re-designated APD 20. In 1945, she was damaged by a kamikaze. Repairs were still underway when Japan surrendered. She was sold for scrap in 1946.