The story of the slave who survived the Alamo - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo

The attack on the Alamo in 1836 was not a 13-day siege and slaughter as often portrayed in film and television. Don’t get me wrong – the defenders of the mission-turned-fortress were killed en masse as Mexican troops stormed the structure. It’s just that not everyone inside the Alamo died that day.

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
Maybe standing in the open wearing the brightest clothes isn’t the best idea.

That’s how we came to know of Joe — just Joe, any other names he had are lost to history now. Joe was the slave of William B. Travis, the commander of the Alamo during Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s siege of the Texian fort. But no one knows exactly how Joe got there. No matter how he ended up there, he was one of many slaves and free blacks who fought or died at the Alamo.

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Joe was a stalwart defender alongside Travis and other Texians. When the din of the fighting died down and the Mexicans firmly controlled the fort, Joe was shot and bayoneted, only to be saved by a Mexican field officer. Because Joe could speak Spanish, he was able to be interrogated afterward.


All that is known about Joe after the Alamo is that he was questioned by Santa Anna and then later questioned by the Texas Cabinet. A little more than a year later,
Joe escaped to Mexico on two stolen horses.

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
One supposed photo of Joe, the slave and survivor of the Alamo.

That’s where attorney-turned-author Lewis Cook picked up the story. His first book, called
Joe’s Alamo: Unsung, is a fiction-based-on-history account of what came next, after the Alamo, and after Joe escaped.

Cook was waiting to go to medical school when he discovered Joe’s story and was compelled to write about the Alamo. Cook discovered the Alamo was more than a bunch of white, male landowners fighting for Texas. The fort was full of women, minorities of many color, and followers of many religions. So, he set out to tell the story of the Alamo, a story that, he believes, belongs to all of us through the diversity of its defenders.

In his book, Cook tells a different story from what is commonly told in textbooks, film, and TV shows. It includes recently discovered facts about William Travis, Susana Dickinson, Davy Crockett, and Joe himself.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

9 women have been awarded the silver star

Here are their stories.

The year 1932 was interesting for military decorations. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur successfully revived Gen. George Washington’s Badge for Military Merit of 1782, which became known as the Purple Heart, a medal given to those wounded or killed in combat. 

That same year, the Citation Star was converted into the Silver Star. The Citation Star was a 3/16-inch silver star worn on the ribbon of the service medal for the campaign the service member distinguished themselves in. Exclusively an Army award until 1942, the Silver Star is the third-highest medal of valor behind the branch equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor. Members of all branches are now eligible to receive it.

Dating back to when it was called the Citation Star, nine women have been awarded the Silver Star for acts of valor and heroism during war.

JANE RIGNEL, LINNIE LECKRONE, AND IRENE ROBAR

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
Chief nurse Jane Rignel, highlighted holding the dog at left; Irene Robar, middle; and Linnie Leckrone, right; each received the Citation Star before it became the Silver Star medal. Composite by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

These three nurses of World War I became the first female recipients of the Citation Star, the predecessor to the Silver Star, for their efforts along the front lines in France.

Jane Rignel was the chief nurse of Mobile Hospital No. 2 attached to the 42nd Division, stationed in Bussey le Chateau. She had 22 nurses under her command on July 14, 1918. That night, the nurses followed closely behind the unit they were supporting as the first impact of an artillery barrage landed at 11:40 p.m. The first ambulances started to arrive at 2 a.m. Rignel led eight operating teams to treat 75 patients in the shock ward, and although artillery seriously damaged two triage and surgical areas, killing five, Rignel’s leadership and bravery prevailed through the chaos and saved many lives that day.

Linnie Leckrone and Irene Robar were both in the Army Nurse Corps and volunteered for Shock Team No. 134, which arrived on July 28, 1918, at the 32nd Division’s 127th Field Hospital near Chateau-Thierry. The role of nurses operating in a shock team was to resuscitate wounded soldiers who had lost too much blood and were unlikely to survive immediate surgery. Leckrone and Robar remained at their stations even after they were targeted by artillery and were subsequently awarded for their gallant efforts under fire.

THE ANGELS OF ANZIO

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
Feb. 21, 1944, Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas, CG, VI Corps, awarded three Silver Stars to nurses, with the first citation honoring a 56th Evacuation Hospital Army Nurse Corps officer, 1st Lt. Mary Roberts, left. Beside her are likely 2nd Lt. Elaine Roe, wearing glasses; and 2nd Lt. Rita Rourke. A fourth recipient, 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth, was honored posthumously, having died from her injuries six days after the attack. Photo courtesy of the WW2 US Medical Research Centre.

More than 59,000 women served in the US Army Nurse Corps during World War II. Within their ranks, 16 nurses were killed as a result of enemy conflict, 67 nurses were taken prisoners of war, and more than 1,600 nurses were decorated for bravery or meritorious service. Only four were awarded the Silver Star: 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth, 1st Lt. Mary Roberts, 2nd Lt. Elaine Roe, and 2nd Lt. Rita Rourke.

The little city of Anzio, located just 33 miles south of Rome, today is a blossoming resort town known for its seaside harbor setting. In January 1944, the Allies launched Operation Shingle, an amphibious invasion to drive the Germans out of Rome. Along the Anzio beachhead were large field hospital tents belonging to the 56th Evacuation Hospital Unit and other medical units. Despite being marked with red crosses, the tents were frequent targets of strafing planes and artillery barrages. The violence was so intense, the troops began calling it “Hell’s half-acre,” favoring the safety of a foxhole instead.

On Feb. 7, 1944, the hospital tents were dive-bombed by a German Luftwaffe pilot. The bombs killed 28 and critically wounded 28 more. Ironically, after the Luftwaffe pilot bailed from his plane, which was shot down by a British Spitfire, the pilot was brought to the hospital tent and treated as if he were any other patient.

The most devastating attack, however, came only three days later. For 30 minutes, a German long-range artillery barrage targeted the Anzio beachhead. “I wanted to jump under the operating table, but first we had to lower litter cases to the floor,” Roberts told the Dallas Morning News on Feb. 23, 1944. “Pieces of steel already were ripping through tents. There were four litters. I saw a patient on the operating table had his helmet near him so I put it over his head to give him that much protection.” 

Roberts was the chief nurse of the operating tent and instead of diving for the little cover that was available to her, she chose to protect others. While Roberts kept the operating table in operation, Roe and Rourke cut the electrical wires and used flashlights to evacuate 42 patients. Ainsworth was also there when the barrage began. A large piece of shrapnel struck her in the chest, but she continued on to assist in the evacuation. Six days later she succumbed to her wounds. These nurses became known as the Angels of Anzio.

LEIGH ANN HESTER 

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
After receiving the Silver Star for valor in Iraq, Leigh Ann Hester became a police officer for the Franklin Police Department in Tennessee and later deployed to Afghanistan as a Cultural Support Team member. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Chomphel/US Department of Veteran Affairs.

The most famous female Silver Star recipient in US military history is Leigh Ann Hester, the only woman to receive the award for engaging the enemy in combat. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, occurred right before Hester left her Nashville home for basic training. In July 2004, her Army National Guard unit received orders to Iraq. For months Sgt. Hester worked as a military police officer in Baghdad, protecting critical supply routes.

“Basically, we would go out in our Humvees and we would clear the route for [improvised explosive devices] or insurgents before the convoys would start coming through,” Hester told NPR in a 2011 interview. 

Getting shot at in Iraq was the norm. Hester estimates it was a daily occurrence, even if women weren’t allowed to be assigned to units where their primary mission “is to engage in direct combat on the ground.” 

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
Leigh Ann Hester later served as a Cultural Support Team member in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of the Tennessean/Leigh Ann Hester.

But there was one firefight she would never forget. It was the morning of Sunday, March 20, 2005, and she was supporting a convoy east of Baghdad. As they traveled 3 miles down the road, their convoy got hit. An RPG slammed into one of their vehicles as it was turning down the road, and bullets rained in from nearby insurgents all around them.

Three members of Hester’s team were immediately wounded, and Hester directed the gunner operating an MK19 grenade launcher to fire grenades into a nearby irrigation ditch containing a dozen enemy fighters. Then she and Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein sprinted to a nearby trench line and threw two hand grenades before returning fire. 

“It’s not like you see in the movies,” she said. “They don’t, like, get shot and get blown back 5 feet. They just take a round, and they collapse.”

Hester personally engaged with three enemy combatants with her M4 assault rifle, and after 45 minutes of close-quarters combat, 27 insurgents were declared killed in action, six more were wounded, and one was captured alive. Every member of Hester’s unit survived that day. 

She became an instant hero, but Hester felt there was more to accomplish in her service. She returned home and became a police officer and detective for the Franklin Police Department in Tennessee. In 2014, she rejoined the National Guard and deployed to Afghanistan as a Cultural Support Team member — women who are often attached to special operations forces to interact with and gather intelligence from the women and children on target. In 2017 she was sent to the Virgin Islands as part of the international humanitarian effort in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

Thinking about the day she earned the Silver Star in 2005, Hester said, “You know, it’s just something that happened one day, and I was trained to do what I did, and I did it.”

MONICA LIN BROWN 

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
Monica Brown gets awarded the Silver Star at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, by Vice President Dick Cheney for her actions on April 25, 2007, during a combat patrol. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Two years after Hester’s actions in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Pfc. Monica Lin Brown was thrust into the spotlight for her life-saving actions during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. On April 25, 2007, Brown was serving as a combat medic with the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, in Afghanistan’s southeastern Paktika province. While on patrol, the trail vehicle in her convoy struck a pressure-plate improvised explosive device.

“I only saw the smoke from the vehicle when suddenly we started taking small-arms fire from all around us,” Brown said. “Everyone was already out of the burning vehicle. But even before I got there, I could tell that two of them were injured very seriously.”

Brown sprinted through a hail of Taliban gunfire with her medic bag to reach the injured American soldiers. She knelt alongside them and shielded their bodies from exploding shrapnel, counting more than a dozen mortar rounds. Adding to the chaos, the extra ammunition in the burning HMMWV — including bullets, 60 mm mortar rounds, and 40 mm grenade rounds — started to cook off due to the flames’ heat.

“There was small arms coming in from two different machine-gun positions, mortars falling … a burning Humvee with 16 mortar rounds in it, chunks of aluminum the size of softballs flying all around,” Lt. Martin Robbins told the Washington Post in 2008. “It was about as hairy as it gets.”

Although Brown saved the lives of fellow Americans that day, the Army pulled her out of the remote camp where she was serving with a cavalry unit because of Army restrictions on women serving in combat roles. 

“We weren’t supposed to take her out [on missions] but we had to because there was no other medic,” said Robbins, a platoon leader with Charlie Troop, 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, whose men Brown saved, according to the Washington Post. “By regulations you’re not supposed to,” but Brown “was one of the guys, mixing it up, clearing rooms, doing everything that anybody else was doing.”

Brown was presented the Silver Star in 2008, becoming the second woman since World War II to receive the honor.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

It was the fourth day of the 1995 Gordon Bennett Cup, one of the world’s most prestigious balloon races and one of the most challenging as well.

Alan Fraenckel, 55, and John Stuart-Jervis, 68, were over the skies of Poland before dawn on September 12, 1995, heading toward Belarus with a real chance of winning.

The two Americans, residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands, were excited by the prospect of flying over the former Soviet republic, which was mostly off limits until gaining independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Race organizers said Belarusian authorities had been informed about the Americans’ plans and had cleared them, along with four other American racers who were also planning to fly over Belarus in two other balloons.

However, as Fraenckel, an airline pilot by profession, and his copilot, Stuart-Jervis, headed into Belarus, they were tracked for more than two hours by Belarusian air-defense system before a military helicopter sprayed the balloon – which was filled with some 900 cubic meters of highly flammable hydrogen — with machine-gun fire, sending it crashing into a forest in western Belarus and killing both men.

Belarusian authorities said the balloon – registered in Germany as D-Caribbean — had strayed too close to a military airbase and missile-launch site and had failed to respond to radio calls or warning shots.

The International Aeronautical Federation would later say that Belarusian authorities had known about the race since March, had authorized the balloon of Stuart-Jervis and Fraenkel as well as those of J. Michael Wallace, Kevin Brielmann, David Levin, and Mark Sullivan. Moreover, race officials said the pilots had provided specific flight plans during the race.

Belarus did express regret over the tragedy, but stopped short of issuing a formal apology. Washington slammed Minsk for dragging its feet on notifying them of the incident and was further incensed when Belarusian authorities issued fines of $30 to the other balloonists – who had been forced to land — for not having visas.

“This is a farce,” said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns at the time. “We expected an apology from the Belarusian government and instead we got a bill.”

The incident came a year after Alyaksandr Lukashenka — a former collective farm manager who cast himself as a crime and corruption buster — had been elected president of Belarus, a post he would hold for decades as he erected an authoritarian system much like the former Soviet one, crushing all opponents who stood in his way.

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (center) with his American and Russian counterparts, Bill Clinton (right) and Boris Yeltsin, shortly after he came to power in 1994.

Spirits High

Hours before tragedy struck, Fraenckel and Stuart-Jervis were in radio contact with Wallace and Brielmann, who were only 20 kilometers away after more than 60 hours of flight.

“We have 12 bags [of ballast] left,” said Fraenckel, “and all our water. We’re going to do a fourth night.”

“If you can’t find your crew,” answered Wallace, a close friend of Fraenckel’s, “you could still land now. My guys are right under you.” Half joking, half serious, Wallace was aware that the other balloon stood a good chance of winning if it stayed aloft.

“I don’t think so,” chuckled Fraenckel.

The Gordon Bennett Balloon Race, named for the millionaire sportsman and owner of the New York Herald newspaper, is the premier event among balloon racers. In principle, it is a simple event — the winner is the balloon that flies the furthest from the starting point without landing.

But it is literally a killer, and dozens have fallen victim to it over the years. In the 1923 race, which was held in Europe, five balloonists were killed by lightning, and a half dozen more were seriously injured in storms.

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
The 1995 Gordon Bennett Cup, which Stuart-Jervis and Fraenckel had high hopes of winning before tragedy struck.

In 1995, the year of the Belarus tragedy, German balloonists Wilhelm Elmers and Bernd Landsmann set the race record for longest flight time, remaining aloft for more than 92 hours before touching down in Latvia on September 13.

That year, the race began on September 9 when 17 balloons lifted away from the starting point at Wil, Switzerland. By the evening of September 10, six of the balloons had landed in various locations in Western Europe, ending their bid for the trophy.

Witness To A Tragedy

As the Americans were traversing the skies of western Belarus, Vasil Zdanyuk, editor in chief of the Belarusian newspaper Svododnye Novosti and a correspondent for the Moscow-based Military Journal, sat down for an interview in his Minsk office with Belarusian Air Force commander Valery Kastenka.

“About 20 minutes into our interview, the operative on duty at the Air Defense Forces called and said: ‘We have the following situation: an unidentified object has appeared not far from our facilities, not far from an airfield.’ There is a military airbase nearby,” recounted Zdanyuk to Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

In fact, according to Zdanyuk, Kastenka was at that moment explaining the nuisance that low-flying probes — mostly weather balloons — posed for Belarus’s air defenses.

“Kastenka recounted how one of these balloons flew right over Minsk and almost caused a panic, although there was no danger,” he recalled. “And he says, ‘See how lucky you are. We are discussing it, and there is a balloon in the air.'”

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
The gunship that shot down the balloon was a Russian-made Mil Mi-24 combat helicopter. (file photo)

Kastenka ordered a military helicopter – a Mil Mi-24 — up in the air to check out the object.

As the military gunship got closer to D-Caribbean, Kastenka flicked on the speakerphone, letting Zdanyuk hear the conversation between Kastenka and the helicopter commander.

“After five more minutes, when the helicopter had flown around [the balloon], the operative asked: ‘What should we do with it?’ ‘What should we do? Let’s shoot it down,’ [Kastenka] added a few tough expletives. And I’m sitting there, doing the interview, and all of this is being recorded,” Zdanyuk said.

Zdanyuk said he could even hear the fusillade of machine-gun fire as Kastenka allegedly boasted to him: “You see, this is how we work. This is how we serve.”

The bodies of Fraenckel and Stuart-Jervis were later found in a forest near the town of Byaroza, after having fallen some 2,000 meters.

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
The balloon Stuart-Jervis and Fraenkel were traveling in was shot down near the town of Byaroza in western Belarus.

Zdanyuk told Current Time in his December 2019 interview that he was confident Kastenka did not know the balloon was manned, speculating things may not have taken a tragic turn had Kastenka waited some 20 minutes until the other two American balloons appeared.

“Then he would have been more cautious: Why are they flying one after another,” Zdanyuk said. “And it would have become clear that a world ballooning championship from Switzerland was taking place.”

The Other Americans

Of the two remaining U.S. balloons, the first to land was the N69RW, navigated by David Levin and Mark Sullivan.

“At first we stuck to a more northern route: we headed to a small part of Russia near Latvia and climbed over the Baltic. But when in the morning the balloon began to rise due to solar energy, we turned east to Belarus,” Sullivan later recounted.

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
Competitors line up a the start of the Gordon Bennett Cup in September 1995. Stuart-Jervis and Fraenkel’s balloon can be seen in the foreground.

Two hours before crossing the border, the balloonists tried to contact the Minsk air traffic control center. Their signal was confirmed, but they were answered in Russian, although English is normally used in international aviation communication.

Wallace and Brielmann landed in Belarus after being ordered to do so by the Belarusians. Levin and Sullivan ignored a similar order, but also landed in Belarus because of deteriorating weather.

A Mockery?

The Belarusian government expressed regret for the incident but stopped short of offering a formal apology.

“We would call upon the Belarusian government to get its act together and to make sure that all the entities of the Belarusian government…begin to understand that the way they are handling this incident and the way they are treating American citizens is really a mockery,” the State Department’s Burns said on September 16, 1995.

“Whatever the circumstances may have been, and whether or not the balloon was able to answer radio calls from the Belarus military, the shooting was absolutely indefensible,” he said. “Moreover, the Belarus government took 24 hours even to notify us of the incident. We are strongly protesting and demanding a full investigation by the Belarus government.”

The Interstate Aviation Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) — a loose grouping of former Soviet republics — investigated the incident with representatives of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and German aviation authorities also participating.

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo
Balloonist John Stuart-Jervis in 1986.

In its final report, the committee concluded the causes of the shooting were: “Unauthorized flight into the airspace of [Belarus] by an unidentified balloon, with no radio communication [between the balloon crew and Belarus air traffic control (ATC)0],” and “errors by [Belarus] anti-aircraft defense elements in the identification and classification of the airship that violated [Belarus] airspace.”

Yury Sivakou, head of the Belarusian Security Council at the time of the incident, defended Belarus’s actions, telling Current Time in 2019 that any country under similar circumstances would have done the same.

“If an unidentified aircraft appears in foreign space — in any country — first they negotiate with it, then they raise the appropriate air defense forces, which either enter into communication or force it to land,” said Sivakou, now blacklisted by the EU for his alleged role in the abduction and killings of opposition leaders in Belarus in the 1990s. “Even if radio communication does not work, there is a whole range of various [actions]: flapping wings and so on to force it to land, or indicating manually, ‘Follow me.’ In this case, the balloon did not react at all, and that was very strange at the time.”

According to Sivakou, the military assumed there could be “anything” in the balloon gondola. They came to this conclusion because there was an air base and other military facilities nearby.

He dismissed reports that the crew involved in the downing had been awarded medals as “speculation and rumors.”

“People died – it’s a tragedy,” he said. “Who awards anything in such cases? This was no act of aggression. It was just an accident.”

‘Forgive Us’

While families of the victims have never received a formal apology or any compensation from Minsk, many ordinary Belarusians expressed sorrow and shame for how its government had acted.

Alyaksandr Artsyukhovich, studying at a U.S. university at the time, expressed hope the shooting would be the last such tragedy.

“My country is a mess now,” he wrote at the time. “Millions of people feel themselves manipulated and frustrated. I only hope that the [recent] incident [will] be the only tragedy. Only removal of the artificial barriers built by the West to our integration into the world’s community can normalize things in Belarus.”

On the first anniversary of the tragedy, activists in Belarus placed a simple stone at the crash site with a cross, the date of the accident, and the phrase in Belarusian: “Forgive us.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Russia tried to join NATO

NATO, as we know it today, is a de facto bulwark against Russian (née Soviet) expansionism into Western Europe and potentially elsewhere. It must have come as a complete surprise when France, Great Britain, and the United States all received letters of intent from the Soviet Foreign Ministry about joining the alliance.

Against themselves.

Originally a political alliance in Western Europe when it was formed in 1949, NATO became a solid military alliance as well when the Korean War made the idea of Communist expansion by force all too real. The same year the Soviets detonated their first nuclear weapon, the West formed an alliance to neutralize that threat. But before the Soviet-dominated countries of Eastern Europe formed the Eastern Bloc in 1955, Russia made an attempt to join NATO.


The story of the slave who survived the Alamo

Guess who’s coming to dinner.

Longtime Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin finally died in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev was the new communist sheriff in town. So in 1954, when Soviets sent the letters of intent to NATO members, there was a renewed spirit of easing tensions. The Soviets reasoned that the aggressive nature of the NATO alliance would be much less dangerous to world peace if their former anti-Hitler ally were allowed to be a member.

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo

Forgot about An-dre.

But in order to join the alliance, the Soviet Union would have to allow NATO to dictate its military planning and allow the basic tenets of democratic freedoms to bloom in all areas under its control. The debate about potentially allowing Russia to join reminded the member states that the alliance was formed to address threats to world peace when the UN couldn’t — usually because of Russia’s veto power on the Security Council.

Allowing the Russians to have a say in NATO affairs would neutralize NATO the way they neutralized the UN Security Council.

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo

Can’t blame them for trying.

NATO told the Russians exactly that when the alliance rejected Russia’s application for membership, urging it and other Soviet satellites to allow the UN to do its job in keeping the world secure. It was not an unexpected response for the USSR.

“Most likely, the organizers of the North Atlantic bloc will react negatively to this step of the Soviet government and will advance many different objections. In that event the governments of the three powers will have exposed themselves, once again, as the organizers of a military bloc against other states and it would strengthen the position of social forces conducting a struggle against the formation of the European Defense Community,” Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov wrote.

Nine days later, Russia and those satellites formed the Warsaw Pact, its Eastern Bloc counter-alliance. Europe was officially split for the next 40-plus years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A French village was abandoned and rebuilt so no one would forget a Nazi war crime

In April 1944, an American B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down by flak over occupied France. Its navigator, Raymond J. Murphy landed relatively safely, and with the help of some Frenchmen, he was able to evade the Germans until August when he was able to make it back to England. 

When he was debriefed by his leadership, he mentioned coming upon a village just a four-hour bike ride away from the farm where he was hiding. The village was eerily quiet and Murphy quickly discovered why. He saw more than 500 men, women, and children who had been massacred by the retreating Germans. 

The village was Oradour-sur-Glane, a hamlet with a population of just under 650. Weeks prior, the townspeople became victims of the Nazi SS as they retreated in the face of the Allied invasion of Normandy.

village
The village has since been opened to the public. (Davdavlhu, Wikipedia)

On Jun. 10, 1944, SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann of the 1st battalion, 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment was told by informants that a captured SS officer was being held in a village nearby, along with other items intended to fight the Nazis in France.. 

The tip came from the Milice, an internal security force operated by Nazi collaborators in the Vichy French government. 110 soldiers of the “Der Fuhrer” Waffen SS tank Regiment approached the town and prepared to raid it, going house by house. They were looking not just for a German officer, but also a supposed arms and ammunition cache being concealed in the bourg by the French Resistance. Things were about to go from bad to worse for the people of Oradour-sur-Glane.

The women were herded into a church and locked inside. The men were taken to a barn, where they were mowed down by machine guns, covered in fuel and then set on fire. The church was set ablaze as well, with the women locked inside. Six men managed to escape from the barn, and only one woman survived the church.

The SS soon departed but returned later to destroy the rest of the village. Survivors of the massacre had to wait days to come back and bury their neighbors. 

Even the Germans were shocked at the atrocity. Both the Nazi military command and the French Vichy government opened an investigation into the incident, but Diekmann would never face a courtroom. He was killed as the Allies advanced into France. Much of the battalion was killed as well. 65 more were charged years later, but many were safe behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany.

In 1983, one surviving member of the unit who escaped justice was finally caught by the East German secret police and brought to trial in Berlin. Then 63, Heinz Barth was given a life sentence, of which he served 14 years. 

After the war, President Charles de Gaulle ordered that the village never be rebuilt, in case the rebuilding should conceal what happened there. A new village called Oradour-sur-Glane was built near the massacre site. 

Today, the village sits the same way it did in 1944, half-destroyed but lying in state as a permanent memorial to the 642 people who died there. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Soviets fired this secret heavy cannon while in orbit

If you’ve ever wanted to be a space shuttle door gunner, pay attention: the weapon you might be operating could look something like this monster – the only projectile weapon designed for and fired in orbit around the Earth. Of course, it was the Soviet Union during the Cold War, who else would do that?


The story of the slave who survived the Alamo

These are the people who taught terrorists to hijack planes just to be dicks to the West.

Despite some initial successes, the Soviet Union ended up losing the Space Race in a big way. Their loss is exemplified by the fact that the same day the Americans put men on the moon, the Soviets failed to land a probe there. So after a while, the disparity in technology irked the Soviet Union.

Most important to the USSR was the idea of American spacecraft being able to literally get their hands on Soviet satellites. Anti-satellite operations were something both powers prepared for, but the idea that the satellite itself would need protection up there all alone prompted the Soviets to arm one of theirs, just to see how that would go.

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo

This is how that would go.

The Soviets built a station code-named “Almaz,” a space station that held spy equipment, radar, and the R-23M, a 37-pound 14.5mm automatic cannon that could fire up to 5,000 rounds per minute that was accurate up to a mile away. There was just one problem: aiming the cannon. The cosmonauts in the station would have to rotate the entire space station to point the weapon.

It was supposed to be the first manned space station in orbit, but the Russians were more concerned with developing the weapon than they were other aspects of the capsule, like sensors and life support. So instead of building their grand space station, they slapped together what they had with the R-23M and a Soyuz capsule, called it the Salyut before launching it into space in 1971.

The story of the slave who survived the Alamo

All this space station and not one Death Star joke.

The CIA knew about every iteration of the Soviet Salyut spy stations, but what they – and much of the world – didn’t know is that they actually fired the R-23M while in orbit. On Jan. 24, 1975, Salyut 3 test fired its weapon before the station was supposed to de-orbit. The crew had not been aboard for around six months at this point. While the Soviets never released what happened during the test, the shots and the station were all destroyed when they re-entered the atmosphere.

Firing a gun in space would be very different from firing on Earth. First, there is no sound in the vacuum of space, so it would not go bang. Secondly, the Soviets would have had to fire some kind of thruster to balance out the force exerted on the capsule by the weapon’s recoil; otherwise the Salyut would have been pushed in the opposite direction. The weight of the projectile fired would determine how fast you would fly in the opposite direction.

Not to mention that shooting the weapon into Earth’s orbit could cause the bullets to hit the station itself from the opposite direction.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what happened to the USS Constitution’s original guns

If you visit the USS Constitution in Boston these days, the cannons you’ll see on her gun deck aren’t the originals launched with the ship. The guns aboard the ship are replicas, and only two of them are capable of firing salute charges. Even when the sailors aboard Constitution fire salutes, it’s a far cry from the way cannons were loaded and fired when Old Ironsides was first laid.

In fact, they’re inaccurate replicas, with 18 of them even bearing the Royal Cipher of King George II.


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The creator thought the ship’s original guns were confiscated from the British. He was wrong.

(USS Constitution Museum Collection)

USS Constitution was first launched in 1797 and saw action against the Royal Navy during the War of 1812. She took down five British warships, victories that stunned not only the Royal Navy, but the rest of the world. Her most famous victory was against the HMS Guerriere, the victory that earned her the nickname “Old Ironsides” when the Guerriere’s 526-pound broadsides bounced off Constitution’s hull as if it were made of iron. But the 30 24-pounder long guns and 20 32-pounder carronades it launched with weren’t captured from the British during the Revolution.

The guns aboard Constitution were never designed to stay solely aboard the ship, as weapons at that time were moved as needed. Shortly before the Civil War, she took an illegal American slaver as a prize off the coast of Angola and was decommissioned. The ship was turned into a training ship for Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. Eventually, she was turned into housing for sailors until the turn of the 20th Century.

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The Constitution being refitted as training ship for Midshipmen.

It was around 1906 that Congress decided to restore Constitution to her former glory. After public outcry against the ship being used for target practice by the Navy halted its planned sinking, 0,000 was appropriated to restore the ship as a museum. This included new casts of cannon for her decks. Some 54 guns were going to be cast for the restoration. But the Naval Constructor in charge of the armaments, believing there was no documentation about the original guns, used a French design instead. So rather than long guns and carronades, the designer saved money by using the same gun on every deck.

In 1925, the Navy rectified this and went all-out in restoring Constitution. The new restoration scrapped all of the 1906 guns for being historically inaccurate. After four years in drydock, the guns the Navy used to replace the 1906 guns were also inaccurate. These were the aforementioned British-style weapons – but at least they represent the kinds of weapons found on the gun decks and spar decks. Two of them even fire salutes.

The two saluting guns aboard Constitution were retrofitted to fire 40mm shells of black powder just in time for the United States Centennial in 1976. On Nov. 11, 1976, the commanding officer of the ship decided to fire the salute guns in the morning and in the evening from the ship’s mooring in Boston Harbor – a tradition it has carried on ever since.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 things you didn’t know about the easiest medal you’ll ever earn

When young men and women join the military, the majority of them dream of making a huge impact, day one, on America’s armed forces — if not the world. From the moment we touch the training grounds of boot camp to the graduation ceremony, we show up ready to make our mark on history by earning different accolades.


Those accomplishments are represented in form of certificates, letters of recommendation, and, of course, ribbons and medals.

Although some of those distinguishments are tough-as-hell to earn, others get pinned on our chest just for making it through boot camp.

One of those earnings, the National Defense Service Medal, or NDSM, is one of the simplest medals you’ll earn.

Related: 5 things you didn’t know about the Navy’s Medal of Honor

Here’s what you didn’t know about the NDSM:

4. Its origin

The NDSM was inked into existence when former President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10448 on Apr. 22, 1953. It was to serve as a “blanket” campaign medal for service members who honorably served in the military during a period of “national emergency.”

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President Eisenhower, 1954. (Photo under public domain)

3. You actually earned the medal?

Since the medal’s establishment, there have been periods of time in which the U.S. isn’t been involved a major conflict. Many veterans who served during those times don’t rate to wear this medal since they didn’t serve during “national emergency” periods.

Those who served during the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the Global War on Terrorism all rate to wear the ribbon above their heart if they’ve served for more than 89 days — including boot camp.

2. The medal’s front design

The medal features an eagle perched on a sword and palm branch. The eagle, of course, is the national symbol for the United States, the sword represents the armed forces, and the palm branch is symbolic of victory.

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Also Read: 5 reasons why the Volunteer Service Medal is the most ridiculous medal

1. The meaning behind medal’s reverse side

The center showcases the great seal of the United States, flanked by laurel and oak, which symbolize achievement and strength.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave

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

Saturnalia was the timeth to party.

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.

Britannica.com

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

So…no paid sick days?

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.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The creator of ‘Amazing Grace’ was a sailor with a foul mouth

John Newton was not what you’d call a lucky man. One day, he went off to visit some friends in London and was caught up along the way by a press gang – Royal Navy troops sent just to force people into serving aboard the king’s ships. He found himself a midshipman on the HMS Harwich, a position he of course tried to desert immediately. But he was found out, flogged in front of the ship’s company and even attempted suicide.

But the hard luck doesn’t end there. The man who penned the hymn “Amazing Grace” sure lived a life that would inspire such work.


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If you ever have a bad day, remember John Newton through his autobiographical writing.

John Newton’s luck was bad even before his impressment. He was practically an orphan; his mother died of tuberculosis when he was six and he was forced to live with a cold, unfeeling relative. After joining the Navy, Newton renounced his faith and plotted to kill his shipmates. He was so difficult to work with, the crew of the Harwich decided to transfer him to the HMS Pegasus en route to India. The Pegasus was a slave trader, but the change in ships did not suit Newton’s temper. The Pegasus decided to leave him in West Africa during one of its slaving missions.

Not quite marooned but not far from it, Newton connected with an actual slaver. He joined the crew of a slave ship and openly challenged the captain by creating catchy songs about him filled with curses and language unlike anything anyone had ever heard. Sailors were known for their foul mouths, but Newton’s was so bad the slaver’s captain almost starved him to death for it.

That’s when a large storm hit their ship.

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Life aboard a British slaver in the mid-1700s.

The storm nearly sunk the ship, but Newton and another crewman tied themselves to the ship’s pumps and began to work for 11 hours to keep it from capsizing. After their miraculous escape, Newton saw the storm as a message from God. He began to work harder, eventually commanding his own slaving ship and sailing between ports in Africa and North America. Eventually, the man collapsed from overwork. He returned to England and never sailed again.

It was in his adopted home of Olney where he wrote a series of autobiographical hymnals, including the well-known “Amazing Grace” as we call it today. In this work, Newton learned how he was a “wretch” due to his participation in the North Atlantic Slave Trade. In life, he set out to help abolish it in England. Newton new connected with William Wilberforce, the British Parliamentarian who led the charge against slavery in Britain and ended it in the Empire in 1807.

MIGHTY HISTORY

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Kim Il-Sung, the founder and patriarch of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – known to many as North Korea – went by a lot of names, including General Secretary of the Korean Workers Party, President, Premier and Supreme Leader.

And those are just the titles he earned while he was alive. In death, Kim Il-Sung is still the leader of North Korea, as the country’s constitution was amended to proclaim him the Eternal President and de jure head of state. Forever.


Before Kim earned his “Eternal” presidency in 1994, however, he was the victim of a celebrity death hoax that got way out of hand. To this day, no one knows why.

It all began at the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the 38th Parallel that has separated the two Koreas since 1953. For years, the two sides blasted propaganda at one another over large loudspeakers.

The North talked about the superiority of North Korean Communism and about Kim Il-Sung in particular. The South blasted information about the superiority of democracy and capitalism. It was an ongoing exchange every day for years.

One day in 1986, it all stopped. The North Koreans started playing music, with no words. The South Koreans were puzzled by this until the speakers began to speak: Kim Il-Sung was dead and Kim Jong-Il. The North Korean flag was lowered to half mast.

When anything major happens in the North (like a Kim dying), the South goes bonkers. !986 was no different. They never know who might take power, what their politics might be and if another Korean War is about to happen. Naturally, the South Koreans went on high alert, waiting for the outcome of the death of North Korea’s first Communist leader (and the only one since the end of World War II).

Rumors poured out of intelligence agencies, with none of the intel vetted or confirmed. Kim Il-Sung had been shot and killed. He was killed in a coup by his generals. North Korean officials around the world were being recalled as the offending officers were escaping to China. Vietnamese officials were told the elder Kim was dead as the North was rising up against Kim Jong-Il.

For almost two days, rumors around the world flared and died as everyone speculated what might happen next. Then, according to NK News, Kim Il-Sung showed up, alive and well. He met a Mongolian delegation at Pyongyang airport, as if the whole world hadn’t been talking about how he was shot and killed in a coup.

Neither Kim nor any state media agency has ever discussed the issue or reported the motivation behind the event. The only thing they know is Kim Il-Sung didn’t die from a gunshot wound in 1986, instead dying from a heart attack in1994.

Articles

The ‘Chosin Few’ gather to dedicate a monument to Korean War battle

It’s a measure of the men who are the “Chosin Few” that they all stood when the Marine Corps color guard trooped in with the American flag.


Now all well into their 80’s, as young Marines and soldiers they fought in one of the toughest and most iconic battles in American history — the Chosin Reservoir Battle in North Korea in 1950.

There was a row of wheelchairs and walkers for these men as they gathered to dedicate the Chosin Few Battle Monument in the new Medal of Honor Theater in the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Yet, when the flag trooped in, they struggled out of their chairs and steadied themselves on their walkers in respect to the flag. Not one remained seated.

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford speaks to South Korean media before the dedication of the Chosin Few Battle Monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., May 4, 2017. (DoD photo by Jim Garamone)

‘The Toughest Terrain’

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke of that dedication in his remarks. Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford knows the story of the battle, as all Marines do. The 1st Marine Division, two battalions of the Army’s 31st Infantry Regiment and British Royal Marines from 41 (Independent) Commando were attacking north, chasing a defeated North Korean Army up to the Yalu River, when an estimated 120,000 Chinese Communist troops attacked and surrounded the force around the Chosin Reservoir.

Also read: These 7 Korean War atrocities show how brutal the fighting really was

It was a battle “fought over the toughest terrain and under the harshest weather conditions imaginable,” Dunford said, and Marines since that time have been living up to the example the Chosin Few set in 1950.

“It is no exaggeration to say that I am a United States Marine because of the Marines who served at Chosin,” Dunford said. “In all sincerity, any success I have had as a Marine has been as a result of attempting to follow in their very large footsteps.”

One set of footprints belonged to Joseph F. Dunford, Sr. who celebrated his 20th birthday while carrying a Browning Automatic Rifle with the Baker Bandits of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in the ridges over the reservoir Nov. 27, 1950.

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This blown bridge at Funchilin Pass blocked the only way out for U.S. and British forces withdrawing from the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea during the Korean War. Air Force C-119 Flying Boxcars dropped portable bridge sections to span the chasm in December 1950, allowing men and equipment to reach safety. (U.S. Air Force photo)

“He spent the night in close combat as three regiments of the Chinese 79th Division attempted to annihilate the 5th and 7th Marines,” the general said.

Growing up, Dunford’s father never discussed how he spent his 20th birthday. “He never spoke of the horrors of close combat or the frostbite that he and many Marines suffered on their march to the sea,” he said. “I was in the Marine Corps for seven years before we had a serious conversation about his experiences in the Korean War.”

The Legacy of Chosin

Still, even as a youngster, the general knew what pride his father felt in being a Marine and a member of the Chosin Few and vowed to join the force. “I am still trying to get over the bar that he set many, many years ago,” Dunford said.

So, his father was his reason for joining the Marine Corps, but it was another Chosin veteran that was responsible for him making the Corps a career.

Also read: 14 amazing yet little-known facts about the Korean War

Dunford served as the aide to Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Stephen Olmstead on Okinawa, Japan, in the early 1980s. Olmstead was a private first class rifleman at Chosin in G Company 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. “I would say that to a young lieutenant, there was something very different about General Olmstead — his character, his sense of calm, a father’s concern for his Marines, a focus on assuring they were well-trained, well-led, and ready for combat. He knew what they might have to experience.”

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Marines at Hagaru perimeter watch Corsairs drop napalm on Chinese as Item Company 31/7 moves around high ground at left to attack enemy position. (Photo: US Marine Corps)

Olmstead’s example was a powerful one for young Lieutenant Dunford, and he started to think about making the Marine Corps a career. “I wanted to serve long enough to be a leader with the competence, compassion, and influence of General Olmstead,” he said.

The Chosin Few have this effect on the Marine Corps as a whole, Dunford said. Their real legacy is an example of valor, self-sacrifice, and camaraderie that units hand down as part of their DNA, he said.

The battle was a costly one, with U.S. forces suffering more than 12,000 casualties — including more than 3,000 killed in action. The nation awarded 17 Medals of Honor, 64 Navy Crosses, and 14 Distinguished Service Crosses to Marines and soldiers for heroism in that battle. 41 Commando received the same Presidential Unit Citation as the Marines of the 1st Marine Division.

Young Marines all learn about the battle, from recruits in boot camp to those striving to be officers at Quantico.

Now they have a monument to visit.

Articles

This pilot was saved when the enemy shot him in the bullet

Walter Chalaire was an American newspaper reporter turned British pilot during World War I whose life was saved while he was being shot down thanks to the enemy bullet becoming lodged in a round on Chalaire’s cartridge belt.


The lucky pilot was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1895 and went to college in New York. During school, he made money as a reporter while studying law before graduating in 1916. That was just in time to head to Europe and fight the Germans.

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Cadet Walter Chalaire, at right, later became a Royal Air Force lieutenant and was saved during a pitched aerial fight when this cartridge belt stopped a German round. (Photo: PhotoBucket/njaviator)

Chalaire joined the military and was soon assigned to the newly formed Royal Air Force’s No. 202 Squadron, a reconnaissance and bombing unit that operated predominantly over Belgium and France on the Western Front.

On August 14, 1918, Chalaire was piloting a De Havilland DH-4 on a mission near Ostend, Belgium, and got separated from the other observation plane. Chalaire and his observer, a British sergeant, were alone in contested skies when they spotted two flights of German planes. The first was above them and the second was below and behind.

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The De Haviland DH-4 was a common plane in World War I. (Photo: Public Domain via San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The Germans turned on the sole English plane and started peppering it with fire. Chalaire and his observer returned fire, downing two of the enemy. But the Allied crew was outgunned and rounds flew through the plane, cutting cables, puncturing the tank, and wounding the observer seven times.

Chalaire was still trying to fight his way east when a German burst hit him. One round went into his shoulder but the other was caught by his cartridge belt, driving its way into one of Chalaire’s unused rounds.

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Royal Air Force Lt. Walter Chalaire’s cartridge belt and goggles were photographed after he returned to friendly lines. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

That was when the American finally bugged out as hard as he could, sending the plane into a steep dive and praying that the damaged plane didn’t collapse as the air rushed over it.

Chalaire made it to the coast before setting it down and then rushed to find help for his observer who survived. The pilot’s goggles and ammo belt were photographed and his story was reported in American newspapers. He survived the war and became a prominent lawyer before passing away in 1971.

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