Teddy Roosevelt's prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

When you go to Sagamore Hill — the home (and now museum) that President and Medal of Honor recipient Teddy Roosevelt had on Long Island — you may see a .38-caliber Model 1892 Army and Navy revolver. This was a six-shot revolver chambered in .38 Long Colt.


As a standard revolver, many were produced, but Teddy’s gun was important to him. It had been recovered from the wrecked battleship USS Maine (ACR 1). He famously used the revolver to rally the troops (as seen in artwork about the charge up San Juan Hill), but he also pulled the trigger, taking out the enemy with it at least once during that charge.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
Photo: U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

 

Roosevelt kept the gun, and after his death in 1919, his house became a museum; the revolver remained in the home for display. It was stolen in 1963 and recovered, but according to a 1990 New York Times article, it was swiped again. Valued at $500,000 at the time, it had not been insured.

Oddly enough, for a revolver that was clearly inscribed “From the Sunken Battle Ship Maine” and “July 1st, 1898, San Juan, Carried and Used by Col. Theodore Roosevelt,” it was missing for 16 years until it was turned in to the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

 

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
Teddy Roosevelt’s M1892 revolver. (FBI photo)

The pistol is now back in the Dagamore Hill museum — presumably well-protected against theft. The thief who took the gun in 1990, though, is still at large.

Below is a video by Brad Meltzer about the gun’s history — and its 1990 theft.

Articles

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage

The recent release of Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia who was held for over a year for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel room, means that now three Americans are currently being held by North Korea. Warmbier suffered what some reports describe as extensive brain damage, and he is currently being treated.


But these are not the first Americans to have been held hostage. A 2017 list from USA Today before Warmbier’s release noted some other incidents dating from 2009 to the present. These cases have involved civilians. However, prior to 1996, when Evan Hunziker swam across the Yalu River, there had been some incidents where American troops were held hostage.

Here are four of them, from a 2003 Congressional Research Service report and other sources.

1. January 23, 1968

The environmental research ship USS Pueblo (AGER 2) was attacked and captured by North Korean Forces. One American was killed in the initial attack, while 82 others were held for 11 months. The vessel is still in North Korean hands.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
USS Pueblo (AGER 2).

2. July 14, 1977

A CH-47 Chinook was shot down by North Korean forces, killing three of the crew. The surviving crewman was briefly held by the North Koreans until he was released, along with the bodies of the deceased.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
A CH-47 in flight. (Photo: US Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

3. December 7, 1979

An American foot patrol strayed into a North Korean minefield. One was killed, at least two were wounded. While the wounded were able to return to friendly territory, the body of the dead American was held for a few days.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
Serving on the DMZ… just not during declared conflict.

4. December 17, 1994

A U.S. Army OH-58 Kiowa was shot down by the North Koreans. One crewman was killed, the other was held for 13 days.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo

Most returns took place at the Joint Security Area, near Panmunjom, the site where a village stood until the armistice that ended the fighting of the Korean War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Coast Guard ship was a Venus fly trap for Nazi subs

During World War II, The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard were tasked with ruining the days of any and every Nazi submarine they could find, but those underwater dongs of death were notorious for staying hidden until they spied a convoy of merchant ships and oil tankers moving on their own.


Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

The USS Big Horn fires Hedgehog depth charges, an anti-submarine warfare system.

(Navsource.org courtesy Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas L. Jordan)

How were the big, bad naval services supposed to counter the insidious “wolf packs?” By dressing up as sheep until the wolves got close, and then revealing themselves to be sheepdog AF.

The Navy purchased used merchant vessels, mostly oil tankers, and converted them for wartime service. Anti-submarine weapons were cleverly hidden across the deck while the holds were filled with additional ammunition as well as watertight barrels to provide additional buoyancy after a torpedo strike. The resulting vessels were known as “Q-ships.”

These were derivative of a World War I and World War II practice pioneered by the British, who built decoy “Queen Ships” for the same purpose.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

The USS Big Horn exposes its 4-inch gun at sea.

(Navsource.org courtesy Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas L. Jordan)

One Q-ship, the USS Horn, carried five large guns on the deck of which only one was typically visible. There was a 5-inch gun visible, four 4-inch guns concealed behind false bulkheads, and “hedgehogs,” depth charge systems that would quickly fire a series explosives into the ocean.

The ship commissioned into Navy hands in 1942 and served in the Caribbean before being sent more broadly across the Atlantic. During this time, it encountered numerous submarines and damaged at least one with its depth charges. The damaged sub was likely sunk.

In 1944, the ship was transferred to Coast Guard control and assigned to weather patrols, still heavily armed to challenge any U-boat that exposed itself. The new Coast Guard crew sailed across the Atlantic, looking for targets and relaying weather information until March 1945, when they were sent to actually move oil across the Pacific, supporting operations like the capture of Okinawa.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

U.S. Navy sailors conduct gunnery drills on the USS Big Horn.

(U.S. Navy)

Unfortunately, the Coast Guard crew never got to go on a true submarine hunting mission like their U.S. Navy brethren, but they were able to contribute to victory in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters by safeguarding convoys and moving oil to where it was needed.

All Q-ships were released from the fleets in the years following World War II. While the modern Coast Guard has some anti-surface capability, it lacks any weapons effective against long-endurance diesel-electric or a nuclear submarines. Either type could dive well outside of the cutters’ ranges, fire torpedoes, and sail away without ever exposing themselves.

Basically, if it’s more dangerous than a narco submarine, the Coast Guard has to be careful about attacking it.

There have been some calls for re-arming the Coast Guard for a true anti-submarine mission, but with the Coast Guard failing to maintain the budget for its current ships, it’s unlikely they’ll get the funds and crews for sub hunters in the near future.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this Civil War spy became a legendary lawman in the Wild West

Pop culture always tells the stories of the outlaws of the Wild West. Lying, cheating, drinking, robbing banks, holding up train cars, getting into shootouts at high noon — these are all objectively cool things that make for great tales, but they’re often overplayed for the sake of storytelling.

In reality, the Wild West was much tamer than most storytellers make it out to be. You were much more likely to die of some mundane and awful illness, like dysentery, than be gunned down in the streets as part of a duel. This is because the lawmen of the time were experts at what they did. And that’s all thanks to one former spy: Allan Pinkerton.


Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

Sometimes, it pays to help out a small-time lawyer with big aspirations.

(National Archives)

Allan Pinkerton first got into detective work before the Civil War. He was living in Chicago when he developed a grudge with the Banditti of the Prairie Gang. They suspected his home was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad, so they sacked it. In response, Pinkerton trailed the Banditti of the Prairie Gang, infiltrated their hideout, and observed their activities. He compiled a detailed report, handed it over to the Chicago Police Department, and they successfully took down the gang.

For his actions, he was given the title of Detective and went on to found the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. His first jobs mostly consisted of protecting abolitionist meetings, aiding John Brown during his raid of Harpers Ferry, and investigating a series of train robberies on the Illinois Central Railroad. His contact for the railroad gig was the company’s lawyer, a man by the name of Abraham Lincoln.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

If you look at the guy’s track record, pretty much all detective, security, and bodyguard work in America can all be tracked to Pinkerton. He was kinda like the real life Sherlock Holmes.

(White House photo by Chuck Patch)

Detective Pinkerton was the first man the then-President-elect Lincoln called when he caught wind of an assassination attempt on his life. The killers planned on striking when Lincoln was en route to his inauguration. But when he successfully made it there in one piece (albeit a bit late), Pinkerton’s skills got national recognition.

He was given command over the Union Intelligence Service, a predecessor of the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Command. Despite his high authority, he would often go out on spy missions in the deep South himself. Eventually, Pinkerton handed the reins to Lafayette Baker, who’d later also head the Secret Service (a Pinkerton product, as well).

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

Pinkerton was probably the last man on Earth criminals would want to piss off.

(Library of Congress)

When the war came to an end, Pinkerton went right back to working with the Pinkerton Detective Agency and set his eyes on the Western Frontier. Together with his agency, Pinkerton tracked down the Reno Gang, the Wild Bunch (which included Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and the James-Younger Gang, the outfit of the legendary outlaw, Jesse James.

One day, the James-Younger Gang robbed the Adams Express Company, a railroad fund out of Baltimore, and the Pinkertons were hired to recover what was stolen. The gang eluded the Pinkertons for a while, until Allan Pinkerton sent two of his best agents to infiltrate their hideout. Both of Pinkerton’s men were killed in a shootout with the outlaws, but not before taking a few of the Younger brothers with them.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

The Pinkerton Detective Agency is still active today, it’s just rebranded as “Securitas AB.”

(Securitas AB)

The railroad fund pulled the contract, but by that point, it had become a personal vendetta for Pinkerton. He personally led a raid in January, 1875, with nearly every agent at his disposal. They surrounded the homestead hideout and torched it when the gang started opening fire. They captured the gang members who were there, but Jesse James himself was missing.

The raid left the gang in such a terrible state that they were all but disbanded after they tried to recoup their losses with a failed bank robbery. Jesse James’ life as an outlaw was effectively ended with Allan Pinkerton’s raid. From then on, he’d live in hiding, sneaking out for the occasional robbery, until his eventual death at the hands of Robert Ford.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Epic tale of Rhodesian Commandos gets a reprint

It has been 32 years ever since Chris Cocks first published his acclaimed book narrating his experiences with the elite Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI). Now, five editions later, he is reprinting his masterpiece.

But it’s not just a reprint. Cocks has gone in and re-wrote the book to make it even better.


“Over the last three decades, the book has undergone around five editions with various publishers, some good, some not so good,” said Cocks “I decided, therefore, to re-write the book and take out a lot of fluff and waffle, and then self-publish.”

The Rhodesian Bush War (1964-1980) was a small but intense Cold War conflict. The Rhodesian government was faced by a Communist insurgency that had shrewdly sold itself in the international community as a liberation front aiming to end White-rule in the Southern African country.

Formed in 1961, the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) was an airborne all-white unit focused on direct action operations. (Most units in the Rhodesian military were mixed, usually Black soldiers led by White officers; the RLI and the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) were some of the few all-White outfits.) Three years later, in 1964, the unit was retitled to 3 Commando, The Rhodesian Light Infantry, to better reflect its Special Operations role.

The unit was broken down to four Commandos of 100 men each and a headquarters company. The majority of the RLI troopers were Rhodesian regulars or reserves. There was, however, a significant foreign presence (Americans, French, Germans, British, Australians, New Zealanders).

“As a 20-year-old lance-corporal, I found myself in command of a troop (a platoon),” he recalls. “As a junior NCO, I never lost a man in combat, but I think that was luck. But I’m still proud of that.”

The airborne capabilities of the unit paired with its lethality made the RLI the bane of the communist insurgents. It is estimated that as part of Fire Force missions, which were introduced in 1974, the RLI killed 12,000 insurgents. At some point during the Bush War, the operational tempo was so high, that RLI troopers were conducting three combat jumps a day. Rapid deployment of troops was key to the Fire Force concept. Jumps, thus, were made at 300-500 feet without reserve parachutes. Indeed, they were flying so low that as the last jumper of the stick exited the aircraft, the first hit the ground. To this day, an RLI trooper holds the world record for most operational jumps with an astounding 73.

Chris Cocks’ book provides an original account of the Rhodesian Bush War. Several pictures breathe life into the men and their feats. The illustrations on the Fire Force are elucidating. Perhaps what sets Cocks’ book apart from similar narratives is its dual nature: a lover of narrative history will gain as much as a student of military history. (I’ve personally used Cocks’ book as a primary source for a paper that was published in the West Point’s military history journal.)

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

The cover of the latest edition.

Dr. Paul L. Moorcraft, a British journalist and academic who has written extensively on the Rhodesian Bush War, said that “Cocks’s work is one of the very few books which adequately describes the horrors of war in Africa … Fire Force is the best book on the Rhodesian War that I have read… it is a remarkable account that bears comparison with other classics on war … a tour de force.”

Cocks first wrote the book in the mid-1980s. He sought to understand why so many had died (over 50,000 dead on both sides) and why Zimbabwe had fallen to Communism. “Essentially, we lost not only the war, but our country,” said Cocks. “For what? I needed to record that, somehow. To be honest, I just started writing, with no particular end point in mind. It all came tumbling out.”

This is a book worth reading. You can purchase it on Amazon.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.


Articles

This jet was the one of Navy’s deadliest fighters — for its pilots

Let’s face it, sometimes, the military gets stuck with bad planes. We’re talking real dogs here.


One of the worst jets was bought by the U.S. Navy and lasted just over a decade between first flight and being retired.

The plane in question was the Vought F7U Cutlass. To be fair, it was better than Vought’s last two offerings to the Navy. The F5U “Flying Flapjack” was a propeller plane that never got past the prototype stage. The F6U Pirate was underpowered and quickly retired.

But pilots grew to hate the Cutlass.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
A F7U takes off from USS Midway (CVB 41). (US Navy photo)

According to Air and Space Magazine, the Cutlass had such a bad reputation that a pilot quit the Blue Angels when he was told that was the plane they would fly. It was underpowered – and badly so. The Navy had wanted an engine providing 10,000 pounds of thrust – but the Cutlass engines never came close to that figure.

The nose gear also had a habit of collapsing. The hydraulic system had more leaks than you’d find in a nursery with low-cost diapers. Not mention that this plane was a bear to fly.

Over 25 percent of all Cutlasses ever built were lost in accidents, according to the National Naval Aviation Museum.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
A F7U comes in for landing. Note the overly long nose wheel. That got some pilots killed. (NASA photo)

Now, the Cutlass did achieve one significant milestone: It was the first naval fighter to deploy with the Sparrow air-to-air missile. That, combined with four 20mm cannon, made for a relatively well armed plane.

The Cutlass also was modified for ground-attack, but the order was cancelled.

Much to the relief of pilots who had to fly it, the F7U Cutlass was retired in 1959, replaced by the F8U Crusader, later to be known as the F-8 Crusader.

The Sparrow, the new armament for the Cutlass, went on to have a long career with the U.S. military, serving as a beyond-visual range missile until the 1990s, when the AIM-120 AMRAAM replaced it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

U.S. serviceman helped liberate Nazi concentration camp

For nearly four decades, Al Ungerleider dedicated his life to serving his country. He was an infantry officer who saw active combat in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, rising to the rank of brigadier general.

Ungerleider experienced a lot during his years in the military, including a landing amid the chaos on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. But nothing stirred his emotions like what crossed before his eyes in the waning days of World War II. At the time, U.S., Soviet and British forces were liberating Nazi concentration camps in Europe as Germany was close to surrendering, bringing to life the horrors of Adolph Hitler’s “Final Solution” to exterminate the Jewish people. The liberators saw emaciated corpses piled on top of each other and skeletal camp survivors, and they could smell the stench of death.


Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

Al Ungerleider (second row, farthest left, kneeling) landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day commanding Company L of the Third Battalion of the 115th Regiment of the 29th Division. This photo shows other commanders in the Third Battalion.

Army 1st Lt. Ungerleider, who died in 2011 at age 89, commanded Company I of the Third Battalion of the 115th Regiment, which separated into advance parties to scout routes and bivouac areas in central Germany. Ungerleider’s party came upon the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, the center of a vast network of forced labor camps in the Harz Mountain region. Prisoners at Dora-Mittlebau constructed large factories for the V-2 missile program and other experimental weapons.

Upon entering the camp 75 years ago on April 11, 1945, Ungerleider witnessed a level of cruelty that is “burned into my brain and my soul like nothing else in my life,” he said in a 1993 interview. “My men and I smashed through the gates and witnessed the site of dead bodies, of human beings in the worst state of degradation. There was absolute horror in what we saw. Then we asked, `What can we do to help?'”

`Literally starving to death’

Ungerleider, who was Jewish, spoke Yiddish to the survivors in the camp and grouped them together to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer to mourn the dead. Prior to the liberation, the Nazis had evacuated most of the prisoners at Dora-Mittlebau to the Bergen-Belsen camp in northern Germany to hide them from allied forces. Thus, only a few hundred prisoners remained at the camp, which once held as many as 12,000 by the time the Americans arrived.

“He and his unit were totally unprepared for what they found because they had no knowledge of the concentration camps,” said Ungerleider’s son, Neil Ungerleider. “The survivors were literally starving to death.”

Neil Ungerleider explained that his father spoke with German citizens who lived in the nearby towns and villages and who claimed ignorance of the atrocities. He said to them, `Go back and bring these people food,'” Neil Ungerleider said. “He threatened to imprison them if they didn’t do it, but they did. They brought them food.”

The Americans appeared to encounter minimal resistance as they scoured the camp. At one point, Al Ungerleider and Army Pfc. Billy Melander went to a building and found 10 crematorium ovens with the doors closed. Edward Burke, the captain of a tank destroyer battalion that accompanied Ungerleider’s unit in the assault on the camp, provided an account of what happened next:

Ungerleider told Billy to bring his M1 Rifle ready to fire as he opened the doors,” Burke once said. “Doors one, two, three and four were empty. Ungerleider said as he approached door five he felt a tingle all through his body. As he opened the door, there was a German trooper with a Luger pistol aimed at them. Fortunately, Billy was faster on the trigger, and he pumped eight shots into the German as fast as he could pull the trigger.”

Nightmares from what he witnessed

Like Al Ungerleider and his unit, many Americans were unaware of the German atrocities toward the Jews. Nearly 6 million Jewish people were murdered in Nazi concentration camps from 1939 to 1945 in what is known as the Holocaust.

Neil Ungerleider said his father experienced nightmares as a result of what he witnessed at Dora-Mittlebau. “This one traumatic event stuck with him for the rest of his life. He was able to cope very well with his war experiences, except for this one thing.”

Nearly a year before liberating the camp, Al Ungerleider led 50 men from the 115th Regiment ashore at Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944. They were in the second wave of U.S. troops who hit the beach in the Normandy invasion along the northern coast of France. The invasion changed the course of the war by leading to the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Germany’s control. “Being in the second wave, he didn’t experience the kind of slaughter that those who went in first did,” Neil Ungerleider said, “which doesn’t make it any less dangerous or any less heroic in terms of what he and his men did. But he did have close calls during the war.”

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

Al Ungerleider earned three Bronze Stars for his military service.

`He was a patriot’

Al Ungerleider was not wounded during the landing. But he suffered injuries not long after from shrapnel in France. The first wound to his arm wasn’t that serious. He was treated at a hospital in France before returning to combat. A wound to the leg was more serious. He was evacuated to England for treatment and returned to battle.

On June 6, 1994, the 50th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, Ungerleider was chosen to escort President Clinton for a wreath laying at the iconic site. Ten years later, he was one of 100 American Veterans who returned to Omaha Beach for the 60th anniversary. They received the French Legion of Honor, the oldest and highest honor in France.

In his distinguished military career, Ungerleider also commanded military bases in Korea and Vietnam. He was a three-time recipient of the Bronze Star, which is awarded to members of the military for heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone.

Over the years, Ungerleider remained modest about his recognition and service to his country. “He was a patriot who loved his country and did his duty,” Neil Ungerleider said. “After Pearl Harbor, my father enlisted because, as he put it, `We were all going. No one ever thought not to go.’ In his mind, he was doing nothing beyond what everyone else was doing. He never thought of himself as unique or special. The value he instilled in his children was this: Work hard, do your best and be modest about what you achieve. I cannot think of a better description of how he lived his life.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the exact moment that sparked the Cold War

On Sept. 5, 1945, a young Soviet cipher clerk in Ottawa, Canada packed his things to leave the office and go home for the day. It was a day like any other day, for the most part, except this time as he put on his coat, he also stuffed a number of top-secret documents underneath. It was just days after the end of World War II in Europe, and the young clerk was hoping these documents would buy him asylum in Canada.

Igor Gouzenko had evidence the Soviet Union was operating an extensive spy operation in Canada. It was the first time the West was forced to come to terms with the idea that the Soviet Union was not their friend.


Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

Igor Gouzenko would appear in television interviews with his identity hidden by a cloth bag.

The documents held by Gouzenko did indeed earn him asylum in Canada. Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were able to round up 11 of the 24 suspected spies as the Parliament began investigation and prosecution proceedings. Prime Minister Mackenzie King then informed the world about the raids and the spy operation. Gouzenko was subsequently interrogated by MI5, the British internal security service, and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, to whom Gouzenko was able to reveal the names of 20 or so spies.

Soviets spies had infiltrated universities, the military, and even the Canadian Parliament, all in search of nuclear secrets. Canada was playing a role in the Manhattan Project, the U.S. development of an atomic weapon, and the Soviets were looking for any clues that would give them an edge in duplicating the effort. The spy ring uncovered by the young cipher clerk extended all the way to Los Angeles.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

Gouzenko later wrote a book about the experience.

The documents Gouzenko provided were of so much value, many of them were still classified as of 2014. The young cipher clerk divulged all of the Soviet Union’s most sensitive military and intelligence codebooks, and even implicated MI5’s former chief Sir Roger Hollis as a Soviet agent. Worldwide, Soviet espionage activities suffered in the immediate aftermath. This was not only due to increased suspicion against their onetime allies and to root out suspected moles but also because the Soviets began to overhaul their own methods.

Soviet installations were suddenly crippled by new safety and reporting procedures, extensive screening processes for overseas stations that were more attractive than the Soviet Union. Even one of Stalin’s assassins who was reportedly supposed to kill Gouzenko had been in Canada so long, he didn’t want to leave. Rather than kill the traitor, he defected too, giving up information on all of the Soviet death squads in the country.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The “Souvenir King” was one of the best soldiers on the Western Front

War trophies and battlefield loot were especially common during the two World Wars. However, one allied soldier’s hijacking habits during WWI earned him the nickname the “Souvenir King”. Despite his lack of military discipline, the Souvenir King was also one of the bravest soldiers in the trenches.

Private No 2296 John Hines, also known as Barney, was born in Liverpool, England in 1873. From a young age, Hines was a rebel. At the age of 14, he ran away from home to join the Army before his mother caught him. Undeterred, he joined the Royal Navy two years later and served on a gunboat during the Boxer Rebellion chasing pirates in the China Sea. The next year, he was discharged and began a globetrotting expedition in search of gold.

While searching for his fortune in South Africa, the Boer War broke out. Unofficially, he served as a scout for many British units during the war. Afterwards, Hines continued his quest for gold in the United States, South America, and New Zealand. Coming up dry each time, he made his way to Australia and found work at a sawmill before WWI broke out in August 1914. Though he was now in his early 40s, Hines tried to enlist but was rejected for medical reasons. Still, he jumped from recruiting post to recruiting post until he was accepted in 1916 as part of a reinforcement for the Australian 45th Battalion.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
Soldiers pose with a Lewis Gun like the one that Hines used (Public Domain)

In France, Hines found a distaste for the standard-issue Lee-Enfield .303 rifle. Instead, with his large stature and immense strength, Hines preferred to go into battle with a pair of sandbags filled with Mills bomb hand grenades. Seeing the potential of a soldier like Hines, his commanding officer gave the Souvenir King a Lewis machine gun. This turned out to be a match made in heaven. “This thing’ll do me,” Hines assessed in his Liverpudlian accent. “You can hose the bastards down.”

Hines’ fearlessness and excitement on the battlefield also earned him the nickname “Wild Eyes”. “I always felt secure when Wild Eyes was about,” Hines’ commanding officer said. “He was a tower of strength in the line—I don’t think he knew what fear was and he naturally inspired confidence in the officers and men.” Of course, Hines’ strongest reputation was still as the Souvenir King.

Annoyed by the harassing sniper fire from a German pillbox, Hines charged the position, leapt on its roof and performed a war dance taunting the Germans to come out. When his taunts went unanswered, Hines lobbed a handful of Mills bombs through the gun port. Shocked and disorientated, the 63 German soldiers that survived came out and surrendered to Hines who proceeded to collect souvenirs of badges, helmets, and watches before marching them back to the Australian lines. Hines would squirrel away any battlefield loot that he could get his hands on.

On another occasion, Hines came across a heavily shelled German aid station. Ironically, the only survivor was a British soldier who Hines scooped up and bravely carried back to allied lines. Sadly, the Tommy died before they returned. After delivering his fallen comrade to friendly hands, Hines returned to aid station and looted it. Still, he set his sights higher.

At Villers-Bretonneux, Hines acquired a piano which he managed to hold on to for a few days before he was forced to give it up. Another large souvenir was a grandfather clock. However, after its hourly chimes started to draw German fire, Hines’ battle buddies ironically destroyed it with one of Hines’ favorite weapons—Mills bombs. At Armentieres, Hines found a keg of Bass Ale which he rolled back to friendly lines. However, he was stopped by military police who wouldn’t let him take the keg back to the trenches. In classic Hines style, he returned with a friend to drink the whole thing on the spot.

Perhaps Hines’ finest souvenir hunt came at Amiens. After disappearing for a few hours, Hines was caught by British soldiers looting the vaults in the Bank of France. The Souvenir King had already stuffed his pockets full of banknotes and packed another million Francs in a set of suitcases. Unable to press charges against an Australian soldier, the Brits turned him back over to the Aussies. Hines later boasted that, while the heist cost him 14 days’ pay, he had been allowed to keep the loot stuffed in his pockets.

Hines wasn’t invincible though. At Passchendale, he was the only survivor of a direct hit on his Lewis gun nest. Despite being thrown 20 meters and having the soles blown off of his boots, Hines crawled back to his gun and returned fire until he passed out from his leg wounds. At Villers-Bretonneux, Hines threw a trench party catered with champagne and tinned delicacies that he had looted. He and his friends even dressed up in top hats and dress suits. Take a wild guess as to how they got their hands on those. However, following the party, Hines was wounded above his eye, in his leg, and received a whiff of deadly gas. Despite his protests, the wounded and nearly blinded Souvenir King was taken to a hospital at Etaples.

Still, Hines continued to display unusual bravery and valor. A few days after he was admitted, the Germans bombed the hospital and caused over 3,000 casualties. During the bombardment, Hines crawled out of bed and found a broom for a crutch. Despite his own injuries, Hines spent the entire night carrying the other patients to safety. After the war, Hines was invalided and returned to Australia.

He lived in a lean-to made of cloth bags on the outskirts of Sydney. The lean-to was surrounded by a fence on which he hung his various souvenirs. He lived off of his Army pension and worked various odd jobs. However, Hines found renewed fame in the early 1930s when several magazines and newspapers published stories about his wartime exploits and current living conditions. Several veterans sent him money and the government doubled his pension. Still, the Souvenir King remained humble, donating a suitcase of vegetables from his garden to fellow soldiers being treated at Concord Repatriation Hospital in Sydney.

When WWII broke, despite being in his 60s, Hines volunteered for combat. When he was rejected, he tried to stowaway on a troop ship before his was found out and returned to shore. Hines died on January 28, 1958 at Concord Repatriation Hospital. The legacy of the Souvenir King lives on in the famous photo of him surrounded by his loot at the Battle of Polygon Wood.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
Hines counting stolen money at Polygon Wood. Note the looted German hat, weapons, and other personal equipment (Public Domain)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage

North Carolina’s Camp Mackall is not your average US Army training facility. It is home to the Nasty Nick Special Forces Obstacle Course, one of the toughest obstacle courses ever created. In order to complete Special Forces training, men and women must pass Nasty Nick, and it’s no cakewalk.

Who was Nasty Nick?

Nasty Nick is named after its creator, a Vietnam War veteran, the late US Army Special Forces Colonel James “Nick” Rowe. Col. Rowe was a Prisoner of War during the Vietnam War. He was held captive for over five years. Col. Row is one of only 34 American POWs to make it out alive. 

After that brutal experience, Rowe took all he knew about what it’s like to be a POW to make an obstacle course. Today, it serves as a survival, evasion, resistance and escape training program – SERE school. Since its creation, all Special Forces Soldiers have had to complete Nasty Nick before they are officially able to be sworn in. 

US Army photo

Phobias and the Special Forces don’t mix 

Nasty Nick includes 25 obstacles that span across two miles. They are specifically designed to confront candidates’ fear of confined spaces and heights, not to mention test strength and stamina overall, both physically and mentally. Additionally, without upper body strength, coordination, and balance, making it through the course is nearly impossible. The idea behind this training is to prove that they’d be reliable in real-life situations that those in the Special Forces are likely to encounter. 

One of Nasty Nick’s obstacles is a 50-foot wall that Special Forces candidates have to climb over with no safety rope. A fall could be deadly, but this is exactly the kind of test needed to make sure all Special Forces officers are prepared for the things they will inevitably have to face on the job. Fear of heights is just not compatible with the Special Forces. 

US Army photo

They don’t call it ‘Nasty Nick’ for nothing

Special Forces operations often occur in urban environments, meaning that Soldiers have to be ready for anything that comes at them. For instance, their hands should be on a weapon instead of holding on to something for balance. After all, there might be bullets flying at them, and they’ll need to defend themselves. 

Nasty Nick tests many of these more subtle abilities. Not only do Soldiers have to make it through the course, but it’s also timed. That means simply getting through isn’t enough. The method of getting through is important too. Crawling out of fear when you could be walking won’t cut it. Yet it’s all necessary to prove that any and all Special Forces will be able to perform accordingly when they need to.

Related: The intriguing history of the term special operator

MIGHTY HISTORY

Robert E. Lee may have lost Gettysburg because of a heart attack

In July 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee hatched an audacious plan to invade the North, defeat the Union Army, and force an end to the war – with a Confederate victory. Everything – perhaps the entire Civil War – depended on the outcome at Gettysburg.


So maybe Lee should have stayed home to recover from his heart attack.

A study from the National Institute of Health’s Center for Biotechnology Information reviewed the general’s medical history in 1992. Despite his relatively good medical condition from 1864 to 1867, by the end of the decade, he suffered from exertional (stable) angina – chest pain from blocked arteries caused by activity. By 1870, his angina became unstable and he died at age 63.

“It often was stated that the loss of the war broke the heart of Lee, but in view of our modern day understanding, it probably is more accurate to say that advancing coronary atherosclerosis was the culprit,” the NIH said.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

Harvard studies show the cardiac impact of six major risk factors: high total cholesterol, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and smoking. Anyone with two or more of these factors has a 69 percent chance of developing a cardiovascular disease – and 11 fewer years of life.

Lee had been suffering from what his doctors diagnosed as pericarditis since March 1863, which had a sudden onset and came with pain in his chest, back, and arms. It affected his ability to ride a horse and he was known to be anxious and depressed in the days and years after, both common conditions after heart attacks.

“It came on in paroxysms, was quite sharp,” he wrote. Doctors look at “my lungs, my heart, circulation, etc. and I believe they pronounced me tolerable sound.”

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

Pericarditis is an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart but the NIH study refutes that diagnosis because American doctors were unfamiliar with the idea of angina. The researchers proposed instead that Lee suffered from ischemic heart disease, which would keep blood and oxygen from getting to the muscles of the heart.

His heart disease may have affected his judgement in all areas of life, which would explain some of the inexplicable and uncharacteristic decisions he ordered that day, namely Pickett’s Charge.

Lee’s March 1863 episode was a heart attack, not Pericarditis. As the NIH diagnosis says, the loss at Gettysburg didn’t break Lee’s heart, it was broken when he got there.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This film is the beautiful story of a WWII romance told through love letters

On May 8, 1945, Navy Seabee Andrew Del Regno sent a letter to his wife from the front lines of the Pacific Front of World War II. It was one of some 600 letters the couple sent each other over the course of the war. His wife, Helen Del Regno, who was home in Nyack, New York, received it much later — after the end of the war in Europe. The war against the Japanese Empire would continue until September of that year.

Decades later, their son, filmmaker Vic Del Regno, would meticulously compile those letters to tell the story of his parents’ undying love for one another in the background of one of the most turbulent times in American history, World War II. That effort culminated with the younger Del Regno’s hour-long documentary, Till Then: A Journey Through World War II Love Letters.


Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

The books have a different title, ‘Who Knew?’

(Photo by Vic Del Regno)

Vic Del Regno found his parents’ correspondence in the garage of their New York home. He had them compiled in leather-bound books to preserve them for posterity. Upon finding them, he was inspired to retrace his father’s service in the Pacific Theater on a trip that took him to legendary places in American military history, including Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands.

In the book’s introduction, Vic Del Regno writes that he wanted to capture “the deep loneliness and hardship many couples experienced during the war, caused by being separated by thousands of miles and long periods of time. This is a real life story, taken from the letters, that ties together the elements of love, betrayal, forgiveness, tragedy, and hope.”

The book, entitled Who Knew? A World War II Journey Through Love Letters, was changed because Del Regno wanted the film’s title to reflect how his parents signed off their letters, with a reference to a popular song of the era by the Mills Brothers, ‘Till Then.’

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

The Del Regno’s original correspondence, saved and bound in 12 notebooks.

(Vic Del Regno)

The letters pull no punches, documenting the war’s grim realities, along with the pain and hardships of a relationship torn apart by a seemingly unending, brutal war. Despite their dismal situation, you can also see the hope brought by each letter and the importance of receiving correspondence from home for a sailor deployed thousands of miles away.

Vic Del Regno wanted to capture the sacrifices made, not just by his parents or by the soldiers and sailors who fought the war, but by all Americans at a time when victory was anything but assured. He also hopes that it might shed some light on the struggles faced by those troops (and their families) who are fighting today’s wars overseas.

“It reaches the many sides of war experienced by those who have served and those who were left behind,” writes Jack Sprengel of the Seabee Museum and Memorial Park. “History repeats itself in many ways and this film tells a story just as important as the battle stories told.”

Vic Del Regno’s untiring work is emblematic of the motto his Seabee father shared with his fellow veterans:

“With willing hearts and skillful hands the difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a bit longer.”

It took Vic Del Regno just five years and now, that labor of love – the letters of his parents – are preserved forever in the U.S. National Archives.

Articles

This is how one Marine earned a Navy Cross fighting in the ‘Punchbowl’

Intense firefights, mortar attacks, and rough terrain were just some of the many threats the Marines faced as they battled their way across the 38th Parallel of the Korean War.


In the fall of 1951, the infantrymen of 3rd Battalion 5th Marines dealt with overwhelming odds as they occupied an extinct volcano known as the “Punchbowl” located in the Taebaek Mountains.

While taking enemy contact, a Chinese mortar struck a Marine bunker near where replacement Marine Cpl. Salvatore Naimo was engaging opposing forces. From this position, he heard the screams of his wounded comrades coming from inside the newly-damaged area.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
Salvatore Naimo’s boot camp graduation photo. (Source: Salvatore Naimo)

Naimo, who joined the Marines to avoid being drafted into the Army, dashed over to aid his brothers, exposing himself to enemy fire.

Related: These ax murders along the DMZ almost started another Korean War

As mortars continued to destroy the surrounding area, Naimo spotted two severely wounded Marines and scooped up one of them up, protecting him with his own body. Soon after, Naimo dropped off the first injured Marine at the aid station and headed right back for the second man as waves of incoming enemy fire blanketed their position.

After returning to the aid station with the second wounded Marine, Naimo informed the corpsmen that he was going to head back to the bunker and continue to fight.

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later
Salvatore Naimo in Korea. (Source: Salvatore Naimo)

Upon his arrival at the unmanned bunker, he was lucky to discover the Marines before him had stockpiled it with machine guns, ammo, and extra grenades. As the next wave of Chinese attacks throttled, Naimo fired the arsenal of weapons into the enemy — who closed within 15 yards of his position.

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

Hours later, Marine Lt. Walter Sharpe came across Naimo’s bunker, where he found 36 dead soldiers from the 65th Army Group of Mongolian laid out. Sharpe decided to recommend Naimo for the Navy Cross but sadly was killed in action two days later. He never filed the proper paperwork to get Naimo his Navy Cross.

More than six decades after his heroic efforts, then-Lt. Bruce F. Meyers (who was injured in that same battle) filed the necessary paperwork to award Cpl. Salvatore Naimo the well-deserved Navy Cross.

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