The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

A teenager (or kid) running away from home happens all too often, and not just in light-hearted film plots; while most real-world cases never get much further than the best friend’s house, there can be severe consequences to such a flight.


In 1988, 16 year-old Suzanne Twomey of Cork, Ireland, took it to an extreme by stowing away on board a United States Navy warship.

According to a 1988 AP report, Twomey hid on board the guided-missile destroyer USS Conyngham (DDG 17), a Charles F. Adams-class vessel, after a port visit to the city of Cobh following some NATO exercises.

A UPI report from the time noted that Twomey had previously run away from her home in the Emerald Isle to Spain, from which she returned just ten days prior to stowing away on the Conyngham. She’d also run away to London in the past, “living on her wits” according to Irish authorities interviewed by the Washington Post.

 

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
USS Conyngham underway in 1975. (U.S. Navy photo)

Twomey was found the day before the Conyngham arrived in her home port of Norfolk. She was suffering from seasickness and dehydration after hiding away for nearly ten days. The Post reported she was found in a 30-inch wide, 15-foot long, and three-foot high compartment that also had pipes and electrical wiring.

Eight sailors were ultimately disciplined for aiding Twomey, either helping her get on board or stay hidden for that timeframe. The AP reported that six sailors received non-judicial punishment at a captain’s mast. Seaman Apprentice Paul D. Davidson received 30 days in the brig and was forced to forfeit two-thirds of his pay for a month.

Navy authorities ultimately charged Seaman Apprentice David G. Peters with hiding an illegal alien and aiding her entry into the United States. He pled guilty at a court-martial and received 70 days in the brig, in addition to a suspended bad conduct discharge.

As for Miss Twomey? She was returned to Ireland after two brief hospital stays (one to treat her dehydration and seasickness, one after she had convulsions on a flight), escorted by two agents of the Naval Investigative Service — the forerunner to NCIS. According to a 2012 discussion thread on the forums at PeoplesRepublicofCork.com, she had died “some years back.”

As for the Conyngham, she suffered a major fire in her engine room on May 8, 1990, that killed one sailor and injured 18. The ship was decommissioned later that year, then sold for scrap in 1994.

Articles

This is how the 1/9 Marines became ‘The Walking Dead’

In the annals of Marine Corps history there are many famous units and numerous famous men. There are tales of valor and loss.


But one unit truly exemplifies these traditions through its actions and its enduring nickname: the Walking Dead.

Through nearly four years of combat in Vietnam, the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines earned its place in Marine Corps history.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Lance Cpl. Spencer Cohen, rifleman with 1st platoon, Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, traverses a path for his team through rocky terrain during a mechanized assault as part of a live fire range in Djibouti, Africa, March 29. (Photo by Sgt. Alex C. Sauceda)

The 1st Battalion first arrived in Vietnam in June 1965 as part of the troop increase and escalation that year as U.S. forces took over most combat operations from the South Vietnamese. By August they were involved in offensive combat operations as part of Operation Blastout — a search and clear mission.

More missions continued throughout 1965 and into 1966. In their first year in Vietnam the Marines of 1/9 would conduct hundreds of company-sized or larger missions. The Marines of the 1st battalion, as part of a greater effort by the 9th Marine Regiment, also developed the SPARROW HAWK concept. This was essentially a heliborne quick reaction force that could be called in to help win a fight in which Marines on patrol had found themselves. The 1st Battalion, 9th Marines then rotated out of Vietnam for a few brief months beginning in October 1966.

When the unit returned in December 1966 the operations tempo greatly increased. The 1st battalion Marines started 1967 with the anti-climactic Operation Deckhouse V. From there operations picked up in the 9th Marines tactical area of responsibility. This area just south of the Demilitarized Zone became known as “Leatherneck Square” for the high number of Marine casualties. The Marines there swore the wind, rather than blowing, made a sucking sound. It was in this area that the 1st Battalion 9th Marines became the legendary Walking Dead.

The battalion participated in three phases of Operation Prairie within Leatherneck Square. Casualties were heavy as the Marines conducted search-and-destroy missions. In less than a month through mid-1967, Marine casualties during Prairie IV were 167 killed, and over 1,200 wounded.

In July, 1/9 participated in Operation Buffalo, a clearing mission up Highway 561. On the first day of the operation, July 2, the Marines of A and B companies encountered strong NVA resistance. The fighting was bitter. The NVA used flamethrowers to burn the vegetation and force the Marines into the open. An NVA artillery round wiped out the entire company headquarters for B company.

Soon the commander of 1/9 sent in C and D companies to relieve the battered Marines. With significant support they were finally able to force the NVA to break contact. The battalion suffered 84 Marines killed and 190 wounded. The next day only 27 Marines from B company and 90 from A company were fit for duty.

A combination of the remnants of Companies A and C several days later was able to get some payback on the NVA, inflicting 154 enemy killed. By the middle of July Operation Buffalo came to an end. Almost immediately the men of the 9th Marines were back in action as part of Operation Kingfisher in the Western portion of Leatherneck Square. This operation drug on until the end of October 1967. The sporadic but intense combat saw another 340 Marines killed and over 1,400 wounded in Leatherneck Square.

January 1968 found the battalion reinforcing the infamous Khe Sanh Combat Base just south of the Demilitarized Zone and west of Leatherneck Square. The Marines at Khe Sanh not only held the base but also fought in the hills surrounding it. Just over a week before the Tet Offensive began on January 30, 1968, the North Vietnamese began laying siege to Khe Sanh. Some 6,000 Marines, including 1/9, would endure daily shelling and close-combat for 77 days before being relieved. In all, 205 Americans were killed and over 1,600 wounded defending Khe Sanh. A further 200 Marines died in the bloody fighting in the hills surrounding Khe Sanh.

The lifting of the siege was hardly the end for the Walking Dead though. Immediately upon relief of duty from the defense of Khe Sanh they began Operation Scotland II to clear the area nearby. Following the conclusion of Scotland II, the Marines of 1/9 returned to the Con Thien area and took part in Operation Kentucky. This action would last until near the end of 1968.

In early 1969, the 1st battalion, as part of the larger 9th Marine Regiment, launched Operation Dewey Canyon, the last major Marine Corps operation in Vietnam. During this time the Marines swept through the NVA controlled A Shau valley and other areas near the DMZ. In a heroic action on February 22, 1968, then-Lt. Wesley Fox earned the Medal of Honor. The Marines suffered over 1,000 casualties during the operation. The entire regiment was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their extraordinary heroism during Operation Dewey Canyon.

The Walking Dead — along with the rest of the 9th Marines — redeployed from Vietnam in the summer of 1969 to Okinawa.

The name “the Walking Dead” was originally used by Ho Chi Minh talking about the Marines in the A Shau valley. Later, after the 1st Battalion suffered extraordinarily high casualty rates, they used the term to describe themselves. Of a standard battalion strength of 800 Marines, the battalion had 747 killed in action with many times that number wounded. They also were in sustained combat operations for just short of four years. Both of these are Marine Corps records.

The unit was disbanded in mid-2000, reactivated for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, then was disbanded again in 2015.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the 5 weirdest presidential elections in American history (so far)

Every presidential election has memorable moments — some inspiring, some questionable. And then some are just plain bizarre.


If the possibility of a reality TV star becoming president sounds outlandish, history proves that crazier things have happened. One thing is for sure; there’s never a dull moment when electing the leader of the free world.

Related: That time the US Army attacked veterans because they wanted their benefits

1. That time the president ran against his vice president

 

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale in 1800 via White House Historical Association. John Vanderlyn portrait of Aaron Burr, 1802, Creative Commons via Wikimedia

Before the election of 1800, the electoral college picked the president and vice president by voting for their favorite candidate. Whoever got the most votes became president and the runner-up became vice president. But in 1800, the “two-vote” practice led to a tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. It took over a week to sort the mess out, with Jefferson eventually becoming president. The ordeal resulted in the creation of the 12 Amendment, which eliminates the possibility of another draw from happening again.

2. That time a president attended his rival’s funeral

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley. Photos by Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs division.

The presidential election of 1872 sounds like it came out of an episode of the “Twilight Zone.” President Ulysses S. Grant was running for his second term in office against New York Tribune founder Horace Greeley, who died before the electoral college vote.

Greeley was running as a Liberal Republican, a party started by Republicans who were dissatisfied with Grant and his radical Republican supporters. Despite his new found party and the additional support of the Democratic Party, he lost in a landslide and died three weeks after his defeat. Grant attended Greeley’s funeral.

Other noteworthy candidates were Victoria Woodhull of the People’s Party—the first woman to run for president—and her running mate abolitionist Fredrick Douglass, the first African-American to be considered for the vice presidency.

3. That time a socialist ran his presidential campaign from prison

Eugen V. Debs was the Socialist Party’s front-runner through five presidential elections — from 1900 to 1920. He ran his last campaign as prisoner 9653 from an Atlanta Federal Penitentiary while serving ten years for opposing World War I.

4. That time Ronald Reagan stole President Carter’s debate notes

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Photos by U.S. federal government.

 

“Debategate” happened in the final days of the 1980 presidential election. Someone stole Jimmy Carter’s briefing papers he was using in preparation for the debate with Reagan from the White House and turned them over to the GOP team. Reagan’s camp used the notes to destroy Carter in the debate and swipe the presidency.

No one knows for sure who the culprit was but Craig Shirley—a Reagan biographer—gathered enough evidence to suggest it was Paul Corbin, a Democrat, and one time Kennedy family confidant, according to Politico.

5. That time a president lost the popular vote but captured enough states to win the electoral vote

 

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
George W. Bush and Al Gore. Photos by U.S. federal government

 

The 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was one of the closest in U.S. history. The presidency hinged on the Florida vote, whose margin triggered a mandatory recount. Litigations ensued, and various counties started additional recounts, ultimately involving the Supreme Court. The grueling 36-day recount battle seemed like an endless election. When the high court finally announced its contentious 5 to 4 decisions for Bush, no one was happy. Depending on which side of the aisle you were in, the belief was that the Supreme Court handed the presidency to Bush, or took it away from Gore.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Germany scuttled its own navy in sneaky scheme

In June 1919, the bulk of the German High Seas Fleet was sitting at anchor at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. The cruiser Emden sent out the message, “Paragraph 11; confirm.” Then, all 74 of the warships in the natural harbor attempted to scuttle themselves en masse, and 52 successfully destroyed themselves before British sailors were able to beach them or stop their sinking.


21st June 1919: The German fleet is scuttled at Scapa Flow

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It’s important to remember for this story that wars have two ending points. There’s the armistice that stops the actual fighting, and then a lengthy peace process will usually result in a full treaty ending the war. After the armistice ended World War I fighting on Nov. 11, 1918, a large portion of the German navy was interned for the treaty process.

The navy had been largely sidelined during the war thanks to a British blockade, so it was largely intact that November. And the Allied powers, in order to ensure that Germany went through with the peace process, demanded that the nation’s most powerful and modern fleet be sequestered at a neutral port.

But, no nearby neutral port agreed to accept the ships, and so 70 of Germany’s best vessels were sent to the British harbor at Scapa Flow, a natural harbor that housed one of the British fleets. Four other German ships would later meet them there.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

Three German ships, the Emden, Frankfurt, and Bremse, enter Scapa Flow on November 24, 1918.

(Royal Navy)

When the German ships were officially handed over on November 21, literally hundreds of ships and thousands of people were present to watch the event. Over 190 Allied ships escorted the first batch of 70 German ships to surrender, making that day the largest concentration of naval power in the history of mankind, even if 70 of the ships had breech blocks in their guns to prevent a sudden return to hostilities.

But the fleet languished there for months. Morale on the German ships was bad during the war and worse while they were confined to ships on short rations in British territory. And the German commander had an order from his superiors to prevent the seizure of the ships by any means necessary.

The German navy seems to have believed that the ships would eventually be returned, Britain wanted to see them scrapped, and the rest of the Allies wanted to divvy them up. But as the negotiations in France made it clear that Germany would not get the ships back, German Adm. Ludwig von Reuter planned for how to destroy his own fleet.

A German destroyer largely flooded at Scapa Flow in 1919.

(Royal Navy)

He knew that the deadline for Germany to sign the treaty or face a resumption of hostilities was June 21, 1919. So, at 10:30 a.m., after he saw the bulk of the British fleet at Scapa Flow depart for maneuvers, he sent out the innocuous-sounding signal to scuttle the fleet, “Paragraph 11; confirm.”

He didn’t know that the deadline had been extended to June 23, but this actually worked out well for him. The British commander had plans to seize the German ships on June 23 if the German diplomats still hadn’t signed the treaty by then.

And so the ships suddenly began to sink. The German sailors raised their German navy flags from their masts for the first time since they had arrived in the harbor. British sailors in the harbor quickly alerted their own fleet as to what was happening, and the fleet rushed back to save what it could.

The sight they met when they re-entered the harbor was surreal. As Sub-Lieutenant Edward Hugh Markham David said when he wrote to his mother of the events:

A good half of the German fleet had already disappeared, the water was one mass of wreckage of every description, boats, carley floats, chairs, tables and human beings, and the ‘Bayern’ the largest German battleship, her bow reared vertically out of the water was in the act of crashing finally bottomwards, which she did a few seconds later, in a cloud of smoke bursting her boilers as she went.

The German admiral proceeded to the British flagship and declared that he had “come to surrender my men and myself. I have nudding else.”

British sailors were quickly dispatched to the sinking ships to re-close the valves and pump water out. Some British sailors nearly drowned in this endeavor, but they saved 22 of the ships as 52 settled into the mud at the bottom.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

A salvage crew works on the largely underwater German battleship Baden after the Scuttling at Scapa Flow. The partially submerged ship at the left is the cruiser Frankfurt.

(Royal Navy)

The British sailors were under orders to only kill those Germans who refused to close valves when ordered or who resisted British actions to save the vessels. Nine German sailors were killed, but there is some controversy over whether all these sailors had resisted or not.

Still, it was the single largest loss of naval power in one day in human history, even though it was a calm day and no battle had actually taken place.

Salvage operators bought some of the ships in the later decades. One man, Ernest Cox, successfully ran the salvage of 30 ships before calling it quits. But many of the vessels sunk that day still remain on the harbor floor where they are now popular spots for divers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time ocean liners fought an old-time naval battle

It was a classic naval deception move. In 1914, just after the outbreak of WWI, the German navy cruiser Cap Trafalgar hid its figure and flew under a false flag, pretending to be the British armed merchant HMS Carmania. The goal was to lay in wait for other British ships, lure them in close, then fly the German flag and wreak havoc.


It worked, she was soon face-to-face with… the actual HMS Carmania.

Admittedly, it would have been a great tactic if they pulled it off.

Cap Trafalgar and Carmania were both converted ocean liners with orders to raid enemy shipping. Carmania’s skipper knew the Cap Trafalgar was operating in the area, though he may not have known the German ship was disguised as his own. What can be certain is that once he encountered the fake Carmania, a ferocious naval battle ensued.

Ships’ guns in The Great War had a lot more range than in previous conflicts, especially those in the age of sail. These converted liners could have fought from a distance, and in fact the battle began with the two ships four miles apart. These two ocean liners were vicious.

 

But as each tried to gain the advantage on the other, they ended up much closer than they had to. Cap Trafalgar realized it fared much better at closer ranges as Carmania took more and more damage.

The German captain moved to close the gap.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
He probably should have started sooner.

Blasting into each other’s hull from distances more akin to cannon from the age of sail, Carmania and Cap Trafalgar went to work. Carmania took 79 shots, causing 304 holes, nine dead, and 26 wounded. Cap Trafalgar fared much worse, even though she took fewer hits. Hit by 73 shots and having 380 holes, the ship began to list to the starboard (right) and sank ten minutes after the captain gave the order to abandon ship.

The German cruiser lost 16 sailors, including her captain, and more than 270 were captured by the Royal Navy for the duration of the war.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

Carmania lost use of her guns and, with her bow in flames, had to be escorted into a nearby Brazilian island by the HMS Cornawl.

Articles

Army Legend Hal Moore Dies at 94

Legendary retired Army Lt. Gen. Harold “Hal” Moore of “We Were Soldiers” fame died Feb. 10. The commander of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of Ia Drang was days short of his 95th birthday.


The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

According to a report by the Opelika-Auburn Tribune, Lt. Gen. Moore had suffered a stroke on the evening of Feb. 9 and was “hanging tough,” according to a family member.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Then-Lt. Col. Hal Moore and Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley in Vietnam. Plumley died in 2012.

Moore gained immortality from the book, “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young,” co-written with reporter Joe Galloway, about the battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam. The book was used as the basis for the 2002 film “We Were Soldiers,” in which Academy Award-winning actor Mel Gibson portrayed Moore.

Moore served 32 years in the Army after graduating from West Point, and his decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross and four Bronze Stars.

According to an official after-action report, the three-day battle left 79 Americans killed in action, and another 121 wounded. None were left behind or missing after the battle. American forces killed 634 enemy troops, and wounded at least 1,200.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Soldiers of the U.S. Amry 1/7th Cavalry disembark from a Bell UH-1D Huey at LZ X-Ray during the battle of Ia Drang. (US Army photo)

While preparing to film the epic movie — which made over $78 million at the United States box office, according to Box Office Mojo — Gibson would develop a deep friendship with Moore. This past summer, while headlines noted that Gibson and Vince Vaughn had eaten at Hamilton’s, an Auburn-area restaurant, what hadn’t been known then was that Moore’s family had recommended the eatery to the A-list superstars.

Below, here are some of the more iconic moments from “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson as Hal Moore.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

Unless you are a member of special ops, most U.S. military members these days are not allowed to rock a beard. Which is a damn shame, because it wasn’t always this way.


After shaving every day of their time in, some veterans make growing a beard their first order of business once they get out of the military. But there were times — we’ll refer to them as “the good ol’ days” — when you could grow a beard. In fact, it was often encouraged.

For about the first 66 years of its existence, the Navy didn’t really have much of a standardized grooming standard. Many sailors during the Revolution opted for clean shaves, until sideburns became a thing around 1812. The Navy finally implemented grooming standards in 1841 that mandated “hair and beards had to be cut short,” according to the US Naval Institute.

In the early years of the Army, beards were expressly forbidden and soldiers were required to shave at least three days per week, according to this article at Defense Media Network. This of course dramatically changed during the Civil War, when everyone from Pvt. Joe Schmoe to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was seen rocking face armor.

 

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
I’ll try and shave when I’m not too busy beating the hell out of the Confederacy.

The Navy slightly modified its rules in 1852 to ban officers from wearing mustaches and imperials — a larger ‘stache featuring whiskers styled upward over a man’s cheeks — but it was later relaxed to allow “neatly trimmed” beards. Much like the Army during the Civil War, there was some pretty interesting interpretations of “neatly trimmed.”

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
I trimmed this very neatly, I swear.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
My beard is certainly neat, and I trimmed it two years ago.

Many sailors of the late 19th and 20th century followed the prevailing fashions of the day, dropping their beards for the mustache and goatee, according to Navy History. Some continued to wear beards, which was generally allowed as long as they were trimmed.

There were some notable exceptions: Sailors operating in colder climates could have full face jackets, and those on submarines didn’t have to shave more as a necessity, since fresh water was usually scarce.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Sailors on the USS Pensacola give their best Popeye impressions, 1944. (Photo Credit: USNI)

 

For soldiers on the ground, the death of the beard came along with the need for gas masks. The first World War saw the widespread use of chemical weapons, and gas masks needed to maintain a proper seal against the skin to be effective. Having whiskers didn’t exactly inspire confidence when chlorine gas was involved.

“They were eliminated in the US military in WWI due to the need to wear gas masks,” Penny Jolly, a professor of art and art history, told the BBC. “Razors were issued in GI kits, so men could shave themselves on the battlefield.” The clean-shaven soldier eventually became the norm for the World Wars and beyond.

Although some didn’t really get the memo, like one unit of soldiers stationed in the Phillipines in 1941 which actually held a beard-growing contest. They are all winners, in our eyes.

Still, the reasoning against soldiers having beards has often boiled down to maintaining a uniform appearance and keeping a good seal on a gas mask, and it continues to this day.

In 1970, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt came in and basically said to hell with grooming and uniform regs in attempt to raise morale. Zumwalt — a wearer of his own sweet set of sideburns — issued one of his famous “Z-grams” in Nov. 1970, which directed the Navy to “adapt to changing fashions” of the day, which meant beards, mustaches, and sideburns, my man.

Beards were a staple of the Navy for quite a time, although even Zumwalt figured out his changes to the regs were a bit too permissive, USNI notes:

It did not take long before Navy ships began to look like they were crewed by hippies who had crashed their bus into a military surplus store. Even Zumwalt realized that the liberalization of grooming standards had gone too far and needed to be scaled back. Hair and beards were ordered to be neat while “eccentricities” such as mutton chop sideburns were outlawed.

Besides the surface fleet, Navy SEALs operating in Vietnam were allowed to rock beards, and the “Vietnamese regarded beards as a reflection of wisdom gained with age,” wrote Maury Docton at Quora.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

 

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the beard (even on submarines) became a thing of the past under Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James D. Watkins, who outlawed them in Dec. 1984. Beardos were outraged at the time: “‘It’s rotten,” Petty Officer Richard New told The New York Times. “I don’t think they can tell you everything to do.”

It turns out they can, and the order still remains in effect today. Across all the military services, beards are no longer allowed and even mustaches need to be trimmed within the corners of the mouth — a look so terrible even Hitler would say “what in the hell?”

The only men lucky enough to be allowed beards now are special operations units such as Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs (as long as they are in Afghanistan at least).

MIGHTY HISTORY

The macabre history of Unit 731 will make you ill

At the dawn of World War II, although biological and chemical weapons had been used previously in warfare, little was known of precisely how they worked on the human body. Curious, certain Japanese researchers in its army unit 731 conducted a series of indescribably cruel experiments testing the limits of the human body when subjected to harsh conditions, poisonous substances and lethal diseases.


The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Building on the site of the Harbin bioweapon facility of Unit 731. (Photo: 松岡明芳)

History of Unit 731

Building from the ashes, literally, of a previous program, the “Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army” (Unit 731 for short) was authorized in 1936. Bases were established at various places in China (occupied by Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War), including at Pingfang and Hsinking.

Referring to their victims as maruta, meaning logs, the researchers experimented on, apparently, anyone they could get their hands on: Chinese, Russians, Koreans, Mongolians, Pacific Islanders, other South East Asians and even a few American prisoners of war all fell victim to the doctors at the camps.

Taking the scientific method to new lows, the researchers in unit 731 conducted a variety of experiments:

Effects of Lethal Diseases

Victims were purposely infected with fatal, contagious diseases like the bubonic plague so researchers could learn exactly how the diseases affected the human body; because they feared that decomposition (which begins immediately once a person dies) might corrupt tissues, they dissected their victims alive.

Likewise, because they worried that drugs might blemish their findings, the victims were given no anesthetic. Rather, they were vivisected while fully conscious of what was happening.

Limb Amputation

The scientists wanted to learn the limits of the human body, and, so, conducted a number of tests on their victim’s arms and legs. Sometimes, the limbs were frozen and thawed in order to study how frostbite and gangrene developed. At other times, limbs were cut off and sewn back onto the other side of the body. In a few experiments, when the limbs were removed, researchers just observed the loss of blood.

Sundry Other Nefarious Tests

Many victims had all or part of their organs removed, and some even had organs detached, then re-attached, in unique ways nature never intended. Experiments were also conducted with high pressure, poisonous chemical exposure, centrifuges, burning, blood infusions from animals, burying and x-rays.

Of course, since the purpose of these tests was to determine how much a body could withstand, the experiments would continue until the test subject was dead.

It is not known how many victims fell prey to these types of tests. However, estimates of the deaths at Pingfang (called by some the Auschwitz of the East) range from 3,000 to 12,000. Victims included women and men, as well as children and babies.

Biological Weapons Testing

One of the fruits of unit 731’s labor was the development of bombs capable of delivering anthrax and the bubonic plague; these were tested in various places throughout China. In addition, fleas infected with the plague were dropped from airplanes in Manchuria as well as the Chinese cities of Changde and Ningbo.

Furthermore, ponds and wells were seeded with typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. Estimates of Chinese dead from these various experiments go as high as 200,000.

Attacks on the United States

In late 1944 and early 1945, the Japanese lofted thousands of incendiary balloons across the Pacific with the intention of starting massive forest fires on the West Coast. Luckily, only a few landed, causing nearly no damage (although six people died when a child inadvertently set one off).

It has often been speculated that these balloons were, at least in part, an attempt to determine the viability of using balloons to send plague-infected rats and fleas across the Pacific to the U.S.

The balloon idea was rejected, but the lure of using biological weapons remained. In fact, to thwart an American planned offensive on Saipan in the Mariana Islands in 1944, the Japanese loaded a submarine with biological weapons to be deployed in the battle. It sank before the weapons could be unleashed.

Next up was “Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night”, a plan that involved filling planes with plague-infected fleas and having kamikazes crash them into American assets in San Diego (home of a large air base and major naval repair yard).

The attack was set for September 22, 1945. It is unknown if the plan was ever viable, since Japan’s surrender on September 2, 1945, following the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rendered such a biological attack moot.

Cover Up

At the end of the war, unit 731 scientists destroyed much of the evidence of the program. According to reports, however, some infected test animals were released; it is believed that at least 30,000 people died from the plague in the Pingfang area within the first three years after the war.

Like the German rocket scientists and engineers who were folded into military and other governmental programs at the end of World War II through Operation Paperclip, unit 731’s scientists were given immunity from prosecution and their atrocities were covered-up in exchange for exclusive access to their findings.

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Bonus Facts:

  • While the experiments done by these researchers were horrific, a small amount of good did come of it.  For instance, with the frostbite experiments, they discovered the best known treatment for condition – rather than rub the affected area, immerse it in warm water (between 100-120F).  Not much consolation to the victims, but something at least…
  • By some accounts, the atrocities committed by the Japanese researchers in China were not limited to unit 731’s scientists. In 1995, a Japanese doctor told Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times that, in 1942 as a medical student, he and his colleagues traveled to China where they practiced vivisection, amputation and other operations on Chinese victims before euthanizing them.
  • An often forgotten bit of WWII history is that Japan engaged in significant operations along the West Coast of the United States. In 1941 and 1942, nearly a dozen Japanese submarines harried American ships up and down the coast from the Baja peninsula to the Aleutian Islands. In fact, the Ellwood Oil Field near Santa Barbara, California, as well as Fort Stevens, Oregon, were each bombed on February 23 and June 21-22, 1942, respectively.
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11 best-ever nicknames of military leaders

A lot of people get nicknames in the military, usually something derogatory. But not these guys. These 11 military leaders got awesome nicknames by doing awesome stuff.


Here’s what they are and how they got them:

1. Group Capt. Sir Douglas “Tin Legs” Bader

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
(Photo: Royal Air Force photographer Devon S A)

Group Capt. Sir Douglas Bader was a Royal Air Force hero of the second World War known for his exploits in the air and frequent escape attempts as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. He did all of this despite the fact that he lost his legs in 1931 in an air show accident. He was drummed out of the service due to disability but returned when Britain entered World War II. He wore two prosthetic legs and earned his insensitive but inarguably awesome nickname.

2. Capt. Michael “Black Baron” Wittmann

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Capt. Michael Wittman was an evil Nazi with an awesome nickname. (Photo: German military archives)

 

Michael Wittman was an SS-Hauptsturmführer, the SS equivalent of an army captain, in command of a tank crew in World War II. From his time as a young enlisted man to his death as a captain, he was known for his skill in tanks and scout cars. As the war ground on, Wittman became one of the war’s greatest tank aces, scoring 138 tank kills and 132 anti-tank gun kills.

He was recognized with medals and a message of congratulations from Adolph Hitler. He was giving the nickname “The Black Baron” as an homage to the World War I flying ace, “The Red Baron,” Manfred Von Richtofen.

3. General of the Armies John “Black Jack” Pershing

 

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
(Photo: US Army)

General of the Armies John “Black Jack” Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces through World War I and became one of America’s highest ranked officers in history, second only to President George Washington.

Pershing’s nickname was originally a horrible epithet given to him by students while he instructed at West Point. They angrily called him “[N-word] Jack” in reference to his time commanding a segregated unit. The name was softened to “Black Jack” and has become a part of his legacy.

4. Gen. Norman “The Bear” Schwarzkopf

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
(Photo: US Army)

 

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf is probably best known for his leadership of Desert Storm. He sported two colorful nicknames. He didn’t like the most famous one, “Stormin’ Norman,” probably because it alluded to his volatile temper. But he seemed to have a fondness for his second, “The Bear,” an allusion to his 6ft., 4in. height and nearly 240-pound size.

In his autobiography, he described his wife as “Mrs. Bear” and he named one of his dogs “Bear” as well.

5. Lt. Gen. James “Jumpin’ Jim” Gavin

 

 

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
U.S. Army

Lt. Gen. James Gavin is probably best known for the same achievement that gave him his nickname, commanding one of America’s first airborne units and literally writing the book on airborne operations, FM 31-30: Tactics and Technique of the Air-Borne Troops.

Even after he rose to the rank of general officer ranks, he kept conducting combat jumps with his men. He landed in Normandy as a brigadier general and jumped in Operation Market Garden as a major general, earning him another nickname, “The Jumping General.”

6. Gen. Sir Frank “The Bearded Man” Messervy

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Imperial War Museum

Gen. Sir Frank Messervy was a successful cavalry officer in the British Indian Army in both World Wars and later served as the first commander of the Pakistan Army. In garrison, he had the appearance of a stereotypical, well-groomed Englishman. But he famously neglected to shave during battles, leading to a thick beard when he was engaged for more than a few days.

7. Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
U.S. Marine Corps

 

One of the greatest heroes of the Korean War, Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller tried to join World War I but the conflict ended just before he could ship out. Instead, he fought in anti-guerilla wars, World War II, and the Korean War. But for all of his battlefield exploits, he received a nickname for his physical appearance. His impeccable posture and large frame made him look “chesty,” so that became his name.

8. Maj. Gen. Smedley “The Fighting Quaker” Butler

 

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
U.S. Marine Corps

Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler was born into a Quaker family in Pennsylvania in 1881. Despite the Quakers’ aversion to violence, Butler lied about his age to become a Marine Corps second lieutenant in 1898, developed a reputation for being fierce in a fight, and made his way to major general while receiving two Medals of Honor in his career.

Butler also received a brevet promotion to captain when he was 19 for valorous action conducted before officers were eligible for the Medal of Honor. In recognition of his huge brass ones, his men started calling him “The Fighting Quaker.”

9. “The Constable” Gen. Charles de Gaulle

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Wikimedia Commons

Gen. Charles de Gaulle was the highest ranking member of France’s military in World War II and led Free French Forces against the Nazis after the fall of France.

De Gaulle gained the nickname “The Constable” on two occasions. First, in school where he was known as the “Grand Constable.” After the fall of France, the nickname was bestowed anew when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called him “The Constable of France,” the job title of ancient French warriors who served Capetian Kings until the 10th century.

10. Staff Sgt. William “Wild Bill” Guarnere

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Photo: US Army

Staff Sgt. William Guarnere fought viciously against the Germans as a paratrooper in Europe and gained a reputation for it, leading to his nickname “Wild Bill” and his portrayal in Band of Brothers.

Because of his exotic last name, he also gained the unfortunate nickname of “gonorrhea.”

11. Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

 

Brig. Gen. Francis Marion was best known for leading guerilla fighters through the woods and swamps of the southern colonies during the American Revolution. After repeatedly being harassed by Marion and his men, the British sent Col. Banastre Tarleton to hunt him down.

Marion evaded Tarleton over and over again. When a 26-mile chase through the swamps came up empty, Tarleton complained that he would never find that “swamp fox” and the name stuck.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Thousands more died so World War I would end at 1100

“I may be one of the few people in this room who remembers when Veterans Day was called Armistice Day, commemorating the armistice that ended the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year in 1918,” Reagan said in 1982, repeating the memorable line about the end of World War I, a war so horrible that it was known for decades as “The War to End All Wars.”


The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

British troops man their artillery piece while defending against German attacks during the Spring Offensive, a failed German advance.

(Imperial War Museum)

But that tidy line, “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year in 1918,” came at a cost. Thousands more soldiers, 1,100 of them in one unit, would die during the morning before the Armistice took effect.

See, the end of World War I, like the end of most large wars, was clear for months before it actually came. With the introduction of the tank in 1916 and of American troops in 1917, the stalemate in Europe turned slowly but inexorably in favor of the Allies. The Central Powers, including Germany, were doomed to eventually drown under the industrial might it faced.

But they would fight on for over a year after America entered the war, attempting counter attacks and bloody defenses in order to improve their position at the bargaining table. It was a messy and futile business. The creeping crush of American and Allied steel slowly slaughtered its way east.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
British troops hold the southern bank of the River Aisne in May 1918 during Germany’s Spring Offensive.
(Imperial War Museum)

By October, 1918, the writing was on the wall. Germany hadn’t achieved a major victory since February, and the Spring Offensive that was supposed to shift the tide back in their favor had been utterly defeated. Berlin was starving under a British blockade and the front lines were quickly approaching the German border. Turkey surrendered at the end of the month and Austria-Hungary did so on November 3.

On November 7, 1918, the Germans sent a three-car delegation to the front lines and played a loud bugle call through the forest. The Germans informed some very surprised French troops that they were there to discuss terms of surrender with the French commander.

This is the first point where the top French and American officers, Field Marshall Ferdinand Fochs and Gen. John Pershing, could have slowed their advance. They could have ordered subordinate commanders to avoid costly advances against terrain or defenses that favored the Germans. In a war that generated over 2,000 deaths per day, a relatively calm November 7-11 could have saved thousands.

But Pershing and Fochs didn’t know, for sure, that Germany would actually go through with the surrender. The Germans had already committed a number of acts during the war that would’ve been beyond the pale before the conflict. They had introduced chemical gasses to the conflict, killed thousands of innocent, civilian ship passengers with their U-boats, and ignored multiple treaties and other legal agreements in their prosecution of the war.

So, the leaders resolved to continue fighting until the last legal moments and then see whether German forces actually stopped fighting. Fochs and the German delegation met in train cars in the Ardennes Forest, and Fochs quickly made it clear that he wasn’t looking to negotiate nicely. When the German delegation approached his car he ordered his interpreter to ask what the gentlemen wanted.

They said they had come to hear the Allies’ proposal for surrender. Fochs replied that he had no proposals. Count Alfred von Oberndorff of the German foreign ministry told Fochs in French that his men sought the conditions for the Armistice. Foch replied, “I have no conditions to offer.”

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

The German and French delegation pose at Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch’s rail car after the November 11, 1918, armistice ending World War I was signed.

The Germans would have to beg, or Foch was prepared to push the front on to German soil. And so the German delegation, with added urgency as riots broke out in Berlin amid the ever-worsening food situation, begged. And it turned out that Foch did have conditions, and they were tough.

First, Germany had to cede dozens of ships, hundreds of submarines, and massive tracts of land to France including land then under control of German troops. And, Germany would have to give up massive amounts of transportation equipment, from planes to train locomotives to railway cars. When it came to the submarines and railways cars, France was actually asking for more than Germany physically had.

And the German government had to agree to the deal before November 11 at 11 a.m., or the offer would be withdrawn.

But Foch was unmoved by German pleas. In his and Pershing’s minds, the idea of stopping the war short of German soil was insane. If Germany was allowed breathing room, it could only serve German interests. Either they would be allowed to quit the war without suffering at home the way the French people had, or they would simply use the armistice to re-organize their forces and then resume their attacks without agreeing to a full treaty.

Finally, just after 5 a.m. on November 11, 1918, the German delegation agreed to the terms. They would later seek, in some cases successfully, to negate the most onerous terms of the agreement during the treaty process, though many of them stuck.

But that left the long morning from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., Foch’s original deadline for an agreement and the legally binding time that the agreement would go into effect. Until then, the war was still raging.

If the ceasefire had taken place immediately after the agreement was signed, then hundreds would have still died as word made its way to the trenches — but the alternative was worse. Commanders were told that an armistice had been signed and that it would take effect at 11 a.m. They were given little or no instructions on how to spend the remaining hours.

For some, the answer was obvious: you don’t get your men killed to capture ground that you can walk safely across in a few hours or days. But for others, this was one last chance to punish the Germans, one last chance to improve France and America’s place at the peace table, one last chance at glory, awards, and promotions.

And so, after the armistice was signed, some Allied forces launched new attacks or decided to continue ongoing ones. Marine Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall ordered the 5th Marine Regiment to conduct a contested crossing of the Meuse River, acknowledging, as he briefed his officers, that he would likely never see them again.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Two American soldiers run towards a bunker in a classic photograph that may have been staged after the actual fighting.
(Library of Cogress)

When word came down that the armistice had been signed, the general left his men on the attack, notifying them only that they must cease attacking at 11. And so they continued. Eleven-hundred Marines died at the crossing before the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month arrived. The artillerymen on each side reportedly increased their fire when they learned, at 9 a.m., that the war was almost over.

The 157th Brigade kept fighting, as well, when they learned about the armistice at 10:44. With only 16 minutes left in the war, the American brigade still had a chance at taking a tiny, insignificant French village back. The general gave the order that attacks would continue until 11.

A supply soldier assigned to the brigade went forward with the 313th Regiment and took part in an attack through the fog against a German machine gun. Most of the Americans stopped short as the first German rounds zipped overhead, but Pvt. Henry Gunther pressed on.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
A captured German machine gun team moves their weapon.
(National Library of Scotland)

The German gunners, aware that the war would end in mere minutes, attempted to wave him off. They yelled, but Gunther came on. So, finally, the German gunner gave one, last tug on his trigger, sending a burst into the charging private. Gunther was killed, the last official American casualty of the war.

Another town was attacked, and successfully captured, in the final minutes. Stenay was taken by the 89th U.S. Division at the cost of 300 casualties.

Up and down the front, artillery batteries fired until the last seconds. All-in-alll, the belligerents suffered an estimated 2,738 deaths on the final morning. American forces are thought to have suffered over 3,500 casualties of all types. Congress would later look into the “inefficiencies” of American troops being sent to their likely deaths in the final hours of fighting.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer
Americans celebrate the signing of the armistice that ended World War I.
(Chicago Daily News, Public domain)

But, it’s important to remember that military leaders couldn’t be sure the war was actually over, and they saw Germany admitting weakness as a sign it was time to press home the final attack in order to guarantee peace. If the Allies had rested, it might have allowed Germany to solidify their forces and improve their defenses.

The Allied leaders had heard only rumors or nothing at all about the events eating Germany from the inside. The Kaiser had abdicated and fled into exile. German sailors were in mass mutinies that crippled the already under-powered fleet. The aforementioned riots in Berlin were threatening to overwhelm the new republic, only days old and formed in crisis.

But that doesn’t restore to life the thousands lost in the final days to ensure victory, men whose brave sacrifices didn’t gain a much ground, but did cement the peace that ended mankind’s worst conflict up to that point in history. Their sacrifice may feel more tragic, but is no less noble than the millions lost before November 11.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happens when a special operator is caught up in a terrorist attack

In September, 2013, four masked men entered the Westgate Shopping Mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. In the terrorist attack that ensued, 71 people died, including 62 civilians, five Kenyan troops, and the shooters themselves. More than 200 others were wounded in the attack, which included the collapse of a significant part of the building after a three-day siege. Caught in the attack were oil workers from an international firm who stopped for lunch.

That firm’s security service just happened to include an ex-Special Air Service operator and a former Irish Ranger. The two men weren’t in the mall, but they immediately began to organize a rescue operation.


The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

Attackers inside the Westgate Mall.

(BBC)

The oil company’s staff were in a second-floor sushi restaurant when their security personnel back at the office learned of what was originally reported as a robbery. Given their background, the two men (their names were never given) immediately identified it as more – it had to be a terrorist attack. They were right. That day, four militants from the Somali terror group, al-Shabaab, infiltrated their way into Kenya and into the mall carrying assault rifles and grenades. The two men headed over to the mall to rescue their embattled comrades.

In their first efforts to get into mall via basement delivery ramp in the parking garage, they ran into a hail of bullets and were forced to double back. On their way back, they ran into 100 people cowering behind an armored car. They rallied the civilians and helped guide them to the safety of the main road in front of the mall. As they exited, they could see bloody hands waving for help as shots were fired on the roof of the car park. The hand disappeared into a mall coffee shop. The SAS veteran enlisted two Kenyan plainclothes policemen and two Kenyan policemen with assault rifles to help them attack the fire escape.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

Onlookers during fighting at the Westgate Mall area.

(Anne Knight)

When the six men arrived at the coffee shop, they found 20 dead and 100 more sheltered in place. As one of the officers watched the stairs, the men persuaded the others to climb down the fire escape. There was a “bloodbath” in the adjacent car park rooftop. As the civilians went down the fire escape, the 18-year SAS veteran and the Irish Ranger split up. The SAS operator went out onto the rooftop as the Ranger continued on toward the sushi restaurant where his charges were held.

The SAS paired injured people with the uninjured to hasten their retreat and covered the bodies of the dead. Meanwhile, the Ranger had come under fire from the militants, and his two Kenyan policemen returned fire. He bolted toward the restaurant, where he found the oil company staff hiding in a storeroom, then convinced them to race back to the coffee shop while the policemen held the terrorists at bay. The two men reconnected in the cargo area, hustling the oil company’s staff into a company car. With their charges safe, they pleaded for the Kenyan police to assault the car park, but were rebuffed. The police were waiting on a SWAT team and would not advance without them.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

Inside the Westgate Mall after it reopened.

The Brit and the Irishman couldn’t wait. With the help of a uniformed Kenyan soldier and a Sikh civilian who had already escaped the mall, they went back into the fray. They found a Red Cross ambulance that was struggling to remove the dead and wounded people from the roof of the car park. The men worked for an hour with the emergency medical personnel before doctors could arrive. They were about to leave when they got a text from another friend inside the mall.

They went in to retrieve him, too. The three remaining men exited via the trusted route of the fire escape just three hours after the terror attack began. The men rescued all of their personnel and friends, along with hundreds of trapped civilians, aided in the triage of the wounded, and exited the danger zone without any injury to themselves. By the time they left the mall, the police had still not cordoned off the local area. The siege of the mall would last almost two more full days.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how early World War II cluster bombs worked

The Joint Direct Attack Munition gets a lot of attention for its ability to strike within 30 feet of a target, no matter what the weather is like. But with all that attention, other bombs get short shrift it seems. Take, for instance, the cluster bomb.


The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

The German SD2 bore a resemblance to a butterfly, getting the nickname “Butterfly bomb.”

(U.S. Army)

JDAMs can’t do everything

The truth is that cluster bombs can do things that JDAMs simply can’t. In fact, the bombs are so useful that, this past December, Secretary of Defense James Mattis decided to reverse the Obama Administration’s plan to ditch these valuable weapons. Despite recent controversy and efforts to ban their use, systems like these have been around for decades.

The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

The CBU-103 is a modern cluster bomb, able to hit within 85 feet of its aimpoint with 202 BLU-97 submunitions from 10 miles away.

(U.S. Air Force)

Germany’s lethal “butterflies”

Cluster bombs first saw widespread use by both sides in World War II. The Germans used a version called the “Butterfly bomb,” also known as the SD2, which carried a number of “bomblets,” or four-and-a-half-pound submunitions. One attack in 1943 on British cities used over 3,000 of these bombs — some were set to go off immediately, others had a delayed detonation.

The system proved effective, so the United States made copies of that bomb: the M28 (100lbs) and the M29 (500lbs). The Americans added a proximity fuse to some of the bomblets, making them even more devastating to troops caught in the open.

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Modern cluster bombs are more lethal

Today, modern cluster bombs, like the CBU-97, make attack planes like the F-15E Strike Eagle or strategic bombers like the B-1B Lancer capable of wiping out dozens of tanks in a single pass. Other cluster bombs opt to replace the boom with the ability to knock out a country’s electrical grid.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch sailors fight off World War II kamikaze attacks in amazing 4K

By 1944, the tides of the war in the Pacific had turned against the Japanese Empire. The United States and its allies repelled the Imperial Japanese Navy in critical battles like Midway, Milne Bay, and Guadalcanal. The stage was set for the U.S. to retake the Philippines in 1944, but the Japanese were getting desperate. Low on ships, manpower, and material, they turned to the one thing they had in abundance — zeal for the Emperor.


That zeal led to the surprise kamikaze attacks that have come to define the war in its closing days. The amazing video producers at AARP are dedicated to keeping the memory of veterans of every American war alive and their latest offering is the story of Phil Hollywood aboard the USS Melvin at the Surigao Strait in incredible 4K video.

The Melvin was a Fletcher-class destroyer, part of the U.S. 7th Fleet Support Force moving to help the Allied landing at Leyte. But first, they had to get through the 47-mile Surigao Strait. Waiting for them was a fleet of Japanese battleships ready to halt their advance and stymie the allied landing — and the famous return of General Douglas MacArthur to his beloved Philippine Islands.

Phil Hollywood was a young sailor who enlisted after Pearl Harbor at age 17. He was aboard the Melvin at Surigao and talked to AARP about his role as a Fire Controlman 2nd Class during what would become the last battleship-to-battleship combat in the history or warfare. The Melvin was his first assignment, a ship made of, essentially, engines, hull, and guys with guns.

“It was everything I ever wanted in a fighting ship,” he said. “Facing the enemy was everything. I didn’t think of anything else.”
The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

Former U.S. Navy FC2 Phil Hollywood, a World War II Pacific veteran, looking at photos of destroyers from that era.

(AARP)

The Melvin was supposed to be looking for flights of Japanese planes via radar and alert the main landing area at Leyte. It was not safe to be on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II, even by the standards of that war. Some 77 destroyers were lost in the war and 17 of those were from kamikaze attacks. Hollywood’s battle station was at the top of the director, moving guns on target.

“There were moments I was afraid, not sure if I was going to live or die,” he told AARP. “But one thing’s for certain, I wanted to fight and save our ship. The patriotism was raging in my blood.”
The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

World War II veteran Philip Hollywood enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old. He was just 19 when he took part in one of history’s greatest naval battles.

(AARP/Phil Hollywood)

Hollywood recalled what it was like to face the kamikaze pilots in battle. The pilots were not well trained. For many, it was their first and last flights, and the planes were loaded up with weapons so traditional flight profiles weren’t really able to be used by the enemy pilots. It was a frightening experience. It seemed like no matter how much they threw at the pilots, they kept coming.

“During a kamikaze attack, being in the main battery directory, we were on telescopes,” he recalled. “It looked like he was coming down our throats. I was frightened, my heart was pounding, one looked like it was gonna hit us. We kept hitting him and hitting him… until I could see the flex of his wings breaking up.”

That was the moment he looked death in the face. Luckily, the plane crashed into the ocean. For Hollywood, it was both a sigh of relief and a moment to think about. Maybe the first thought other than avenging Pearl Harbor – which says a lot for the salty combat sailor Hollywood was by this time.

“It was a new experience,” he said. “Trying to kill an opponent who only wanted to kill you and not survive. Anyone at that time who says they weren’t scared… I don’t think they’re telling the truth.”
The time a teenager stowed away on a Navy destroyer

The Destroyer USS Melvin.

The Battle of Surigao Strait was really a part of the greater Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in military history. It put 300 American ships against some 68 Japanese ships. The Japanese had always believed that one great naval battle could knock the United States out of the war and win it for Japan. This was a must-win battle for both sides, and it showed. The fighting at every level was intense but only one side could come out on top, and it wasn’t the Japanese.

Surigao was just the beginning of the greater battle, and sailors like FC2 Phil Hollywood and the crew of the Melvin started off the biggest naval battle of all time, a battle that would rage on for three full days.

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