The first World War was a horrific time to be a soldier on the frontlines. Nations were in a rush to quickly develop and implement the newest and most effective tools of destruction. Before the war, troops had no idea of the true devastation that a tank, fighter pilot, or the various gas canisters could bring. And then there were evil darts.
Flechette darts that — thankfully — never really took off. To be frank, they sound a little silly. They’re just oversized versions of the darts that troops would toss around at their local pub — what’s the big deal? In reality, they were more like something out of a freakin’ horror movie.
The darts were also mostly silent. One minute, you and your platoon are fine in the trenches. The next, you’re all being turned into pincushions.
(Illustration from the Petit Journal, August, 1915)
First, let’s talk about the physics behind these darts from Hell. They were roughly five inches long, weighed just over a pound, and were made of sharpened steel. When they were dropped from hundreds of feet above the ground, they’d strike the ground with enough force to pierce helmets and even vehicles.
If you filed grooves into the top or added a bird’s feather to the dull end, the dart would always land pointy-side down. Now consider the fact that a single pilot could release a canister filled with around 250 of these darts at a time and you can understand the sheer terror that these things wrought.
The Italians invented the darts before the war, but soon, countries on both sides of No Man’s Land were dropping them on opposing trenches. They were also extremely cheap to make and implement, which means they were used constantly — although the Royal Flying Corps felt they were “unsportsmanlike.” The Germans, on the other hand, were very keen on using the darts on the French. In fact, they had them specially imprinted with the text, “invention Française, fabrication Allemande.” Which roughly translates to, “a French invention, German made.”
The flechette darts didn’t last past the early years of the war when bombs were deemed more effective. But the design of sharp darts being used for war later resurfaced with the flechette rounds used in shotguns and the infamous Beehive artillery round used in the Vietnam War.
To learn more about the flechette darts, check out the video below.
Given we know that even Neanderthals would bury their dead (even including objects with the bodies) and various human hunter-gatherer groups likewise used to bury or cremate people at specific sites that functioned as sort of pilgrimage locations for these nomads, it should come as no surprise that since the dawn of known warfare soldiers have pondered the question of what to do with the bodies of their fallen comrades and enemies. So what did various groups actually do throughout history?
A thing to note before we continue is that there is a definite gap in the memory of history in regards to this one specific matter and historians only have sparse reports of what happened to the dead of many groups after battles. You might think solving this problem would be simply a matter of locating famous battle sites and doing some digging to glean a little more insight, but it turns out even this is notoriously difficult as we’ll get into shortly.
That caveat out of the way, on the more definitive front, it’s noted that the ancient Greeks made an effort to respect the usual burial customs of the dead after a battle and collecting the bodies of the fallen wasn’t uncommon. For example, following the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC between Philip II of Macedonia and the Athenians, both sides buried their dead in accordance with the religious customs of the period; this was seemingly done both out of respect for the valor the dead showed in battle and to appease the gods.
With the exception of the Spartans, most ancient Greek societies also made efforts to bury their dead near the city they hailed from if time allowed it, though for the sake of practicality, mass graves or the like were sometimes utilizedinstead. In this case, cenotaphs were sometimes erected near their home city in honor of the fallen.
As noted, an exception to this are the Spartans who often buried fallen soldiers on the battlefield they were killed. Also somewhat unique was that rather than stripping the dead of valuables, as per Spartan tradition, each fallen Spartan was buried with their weapons and armor and their final resting place was marked by a simple tombstone with their name and an inscription that read (translated) “In War”.
This was a special honor among the Spartans. If one were to die outside of battle, no such tombstone would be given and the person would simply be buried in an unmarked grave. The one exception to that was if a woman died in child birth, she too would be given the honor of a tombstone.
As for the Romans, most soldiers paid a small stipend each month to pay for funeral expenses should they fall in battle. As you might expect from this, the Romans made a conscious effort to recover the bodies of those who died and, if time allowed it, would bury or cremate them individually. If this wasn’t possible, the bodies of soldiers killed in battle would be collected and given a mass cremation or burial. In the event the bodies couldn’t be recovered, a cenotaph would be erected to serve as a monument to the individual.
The same cannot be said of later wars where there seems to have been an almost callous disregard for the fallen, and looting of the dead and dying was commonplace. For example, the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings in 1066 shows soldiers piling up the bodies of the dead and stripping them of their valuables. It’s believed that following this the bodies were quickly cremated or buried in nearby mass graves.
It should be noted here, however, that with the rise of Christianity, mass cremation, at least for a time, seems to have gone the way of the dodo in some regions, in favor of mass graves.
That said, despite the countless battles that occurred throughout Medieval Europe, archaeologists have had an extraordinarily difficult time actually finding any of the bodies. As one paper published in the Journal of Conflict Archeology, aptly titled “Where are the dead of medieval battles?“, notes:
Only a handful of mass graves from late medieval battles in Western Europe have been subject to large scale excavation to modern standards. The principal reason is that these, and indeed even early modern battlefield graves, have proven extremely elusive, most being identified by chance. Despite a few successes, no combination of prospecting techniques yet provides a consistently effective method of locating such small archaeological features set almost anywhere within a site covering many square kilometres…
Looking at much better documented times, looting of the dead was also extraordinarily common during the extremely deadly Napoleonic Wars, with soldiers and locals alike pilfering what they could find after battles. For example, consider this account from a British general following the Battle of Heilsberg in 1807:
The ground between the wood and the Russian batteries, about a quarter of a mile, was a sheet of naked human bodies, which friends and foes had during the night mutually stripped, although numbers of these bodies still retained consciousness of their situation. It was a sight that the eye loathed, but from which it could not remove.
And yes, as noted there, the severely wounded weren’t spared the indignity of being robbed of their worldly possessions as they lay dying. And worst of all, this was done not just by their enemies, but comrades as well. In fact, there are firsthand accounts from wounded soldiers who went on to survive their injuries detailing the shock of waking up completely naked.
Illustration of Battle of Heilsberg.
Here’s a snippet of one such quote from a French soldier called Jean Baptiste de Marbot:
Stretched on the snow among the piles of dead and dying, unable to move in any way, I gradually and without pain lost consciousness…. I judge that my swoon lasted four hours, and when I came to my sense I found myself in this horrible position. I was completely naked, having nothing on but my hat and my right boot. A man of the transport corps, thinking me dead, had stripped me in the usual fashion, and wishing to pull off the only boot that remained, was dragging me by one leg with his foot against my body. The jerk which the man gave me no doubt had restored me to my senses. I succeeded in sitting up and spitting out the clots of blood from my throat. The shock caused by the wind of the ball had produced such an extravasation of blood, that my face, shoulders, and chest were black, while the rest of my body was stained red by the blood from my wound. My hat and my hair were full of bloodstained snow, and as I rolled my haggard eyes I must have been horrible to see. Anyhow, the transport man looked the other way, and went off with my property without my being able to say a single word to him, so utterly prostrate was I.
After being stripped of their belongings the dead, and occasionally still barely living, would often be buried in mass graves (sometimes with bodies from both sides unceremoniously thrown in). In general, this was either accomplished via the soldiers themselves doing it, or in many cases members of the local populace given the gruesome task. However, there are accounts of battles where thousands of bodies were simply left to the elements. For example, General Philippe de Ségur states in 1812:
After passing the Kologa, we marched on, absorbed in thought, when some of us, raising our eyes, uttered a cry of horror. Each one instantly looked about him, and there lay stretched before us a plain trampled, bare, and devastated, all the trees cut down within a few feet from the surface, and farther off craggy hills, the highest of which appeared misshapen, and bore a striking resemblance to an extinguished volcano. The ground around us was everywhere covered with fragments of helmets and cuirasses, with broken drums, gun-stocks, tatters of uniforms, and standards dyed with blood. On this desolate spot lay thirty thousand half-devoured corpses…
It should also be noted here that beyond any possessions the bodies may have had on them before being stripped, the bodies themselves were also of value. For example, human scavengers would come through and rob the dead of their teeth, which would then be used to make dentures.
The Napoleonic Wars, and in particular the Battle of Waterloo, were such a boon to the British dental industry in this way that dentures were known as “Waterloo teeth” in the UK over a decade after it ended. Teeth from soldiers were highly sought after owing to predominately coming from relatively young men who still had reasonably good teeth, unlike many others that came from the more wizened dead.
In one account, one Astley Cooper met just such a tooth hunter and noted:
Upon asking this Butler, who appeared to be in a state of great destitution, what might be his object, he said it was to get teeth…but when I came to question him upon the means by which he was to obtain these teeth, he said, ‘Oh Sir, only let there be a battle, and there’ll be no want of teeth. I’ll draw them as fast as the men are knocked down.
Even more grimly, the bones of the dead of some of these battles were later collected and pulverized into fertilizer which was sold for a modest price across Europe. To quote an article from the The Observer written in 1822:
It is now ascertained beyond a doubt, by actual experiment on an extensive scale, that a dead soldier is a most valuable article of commerce; and, for aught known to the contrary, the good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread. It is certainly a singular fact, that Great Britain should have sent out such multitudes of soldiers to fight the battles of this country upon the continent of Europe, and should then import their bones as an article of commerce to fatten her soil!
The remains of soldiers were also sometimes collected for use in souvenirs of major battles. For example, poet Eaton Stannard Barrett wrote, “I know one honest gentleman, who has brought home a real Waterloo thumb, nail and all, which he preserves in a bottle of gin.”
Battle of Waterloo, 1815.
Moving across the pond and slightly more recently in history, markedly more respect was shown for the dead during the American Civil War where teams of soldiers were tasked with burying the dead of both sides in simple mass graves, with great care being taken to ensure most soldiers received a proper burial.
Finally, to discuss WW1 and WW2, individual units were largely responsible for the disposal of their own dead with both Axis and Allied forces having their own rules for how this should be handled. For example, during WW2 Colonel Walther Sonntag of the Wehrmacht’s Casualty Office issued a comprehensive guide for military graves officers detailing how mass graves should be constructed.
Amongst other things the guidelines indicated that mass graves should be made as close to railway lines as possible and feature pathways with the intention being that they’d eventually be turned into war cemeteries. As the war raged on, these guidelines were largely ignored for the sake of practicality, leading to, as Der Spiegel puts it, “a surfeit of grave steles”.
As for the Allies, during WW2 burying the dead largely fell to individual soldiers, but some units dedicated to the task did exist, for example the United States Quartermaster Graves Registration Service. Tasked with finding and burying every fallen American soldier, the Quartermaster Graves Registration Service have been hailed as some of the unsung heroes of the War due to the general lack of recognition they’ve received since it ended.
Graves Registration units were exceptionally committed to their task and undertook their duties with a solemn sense of duty and determination, going to extraordinary lengths to identify bodies and perform the appropriate burial rights depending on the fallen soldier’s religious affiliation. When appropriate, GRS units would bury civilian, allied and axis casualties they came across, making sure to bury them in well-marked graves, the locations of which would be passed onto the relevant authorities.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The first woman to lead a military op might not meet your stereotype. Instead, envision the Civil War, and a woman who has been working as a spy for the Union Army. She has been gathering valuable information to help the Union turn the tide in the war. She has come to be relied on by generals for the information that she supplies. And with that, she is given the opportunity to lead a military operation called the Combahee Ferry Raid.
Do you have the woman pictured in your mind?
Her name is Harriet Tubman and you might have learned her story as one of the leaders of the Underground Railroad. Even referred to as the “Moses of her people,” but being a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad is just part of her story.
Harriet was born into slavery between 1820 and 1825. In 1844, even though it wasn’t allowed, she married a free, Black man named John Tubman. She was ready to escape slavery in 1849, but her husband did not want to leave Maryland. She left anyway and eventually he remarried in 1851. It was after she was freed from slavery that she began to go back countless times to help other slaves find their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad. She is remembered in history for never being caught or losing a passenger on the road to freedom.
But this is only the beginning of her story.
Because of her extensive knowledge of the South due to the Underground Railroad, Tubman became a key informant for the North (Union Army). She knew the towns and transportation routes of the South and long before GPS or reliable maps, this made her insight an invaluable tool. Not only would she dress up as an aging woman and wander Confederate streets and talk to enslaved people and gather information such as troop movement/placement and supply lines, but her work made her a respected guerrilla operative. So much so that in 1963 she began to plan a military operation under the command of Colonel James Montgomery.
The Union officers knew that the people of the South didn’t trust them, but did trust Harriet. Her demeanor and way with people were just part of the asset she provided to the military. Although she was illiterate, she was able to capture intelligence with her memory. To make the Combahee Ferry Raid a success, they traveled upriver in three boats: the John Adams, Sentinel and Harriet A Weed. They relied on Harriet’s memory where the slaves were at strategic points to collect the fleeing slaves while also using those points as places; they could destroy Confederate property. She also helped them navigate around known torpedoes.
At around 2:30 AM on June 2, they were down to two ships as the Sentinel had run aground early on in the mission. The two remaining ships split up to conduct different raids. Harriet Tubman led 150 men on the John Adams toward the fugitives. Once the signal was given, there was chaos. Slaves running everywhere. Angry slave owners and rebels tried to chase down the slaves, even firing their guns on them. As the escaped slaves ran to the shore, black troops waited in rowboats to transfer them to the ships. In the chaos, Tubman broke out into popular songs from the abolitionist movement to help calm everyone down. That night, more than 700 slaves escaped. The troops also disembarked near Field’s Point, torching plantations, fields, mills, warehouses, and mansions. Overall, it was a huge success and caused a humiliating defeat for the Confederacy.
The first story written by a Wisconsin State Journal noted Harriet as the “She Moses,” but didn’t actually include her name. A month later Franklin Sanborn, the editor of Boston’s Commonwealth newspaper picked up the story and named Harriet Tubman, a friend of his, as the heroine.
Even with the mission’s success, Harriet was not paid for her contribution. She petitioned the government many times and was denied because she was a woman.
After the war, she dedicated her life to helping impoverished former slaves and the elderly. She also continued to petition for recognition from the military with a military pension. She also remarried a Black Union soldier, Nelson Davis. And eventually, Tubman received military compensation after his death. Although she often found herself in financial constraints, she was always giving her time and money.
If you would like to learn more about Harriet Tubman you can check out these resources and books:
When Allied troops landed in Normandy, Gen. George Patton had two jobs. One had been to lead the fictional First United States Army Group, a part of Operation Fortitude, to deceive the Germans as to the Allies’ actual intentions against Normandy. His second was training his real unit, Third Army.
Once the Allies had secured a beachhead, Patton took Third Army to Northern France where it became operational on August 1, 1944. By the time Third Army went into action, the Allies had spent nearly two months fighting for a breakout to no avail.
The thick Norman hedgerows and stiff German resistance had slowed progress to a crawl. Patton had other ideas.
As Third Army broke free of the restrictive hedgerows, Patton showed that he was truly a master of maneuver warfare and combined arms tactics.
Patton would use armored reconnaissance scouts to range ahead of his forces to find the enemy. Once found, he used his armored divisions to spearhead the attacks. Armored infantry, supported by tanks and self-propelled artillery, would attack in force.
Every breach in German lines was exploited by more armor which kept the Germans from being able to effectively regroup.
Patton also pioneered the use of tactical air support, now known as close air support, by having tactical fighter-bombers flying cover over his advancing columns. This technique is known as armored column cover and used three to four P-51s or P-47s, coordinated by a forward air controller riding in one of the tanks on the ground.
Patton’s Third Army headquarters also had more staff dedicated to tactical air support and conducting air strikes against the enemy than any other formations in Europe.
Making the best of these new techniques, much like the Germans had with the Blitz, Patton’s first moves were to drive south and west to cut off the Germans in Brittany and open more ports on the coast to Allied shipping.
Using speed and aggression, Third Army had reached the coast in less than two weeks.
Those forces then turned around 180 degrees and raced east across France.
The 28th Infantry Division on the Champs Élysées in the “Victory Day” parade on 29 August 1944. Photo under public domain.
Patton’s forces moved so fast that normal tactics were insufficient.
Light aircraft that normally served as artillery spotters were pressed into the airborne reconnaissance role.
To keep up with his troops, the 4th Armored Division’s commander, Maj. Gen. John Wood, would often task one of his aerial artillery observers, “Bazooka Charlie” Carpenter, to fly ahead to his armored columns so he could personally deliver orders.
Carpenter was famous for mounting bazooka’s on his light aircraft and attacking German armor – just the kind of fighting man Patton wanted in his army.
As Patton’s troops pushed east, they continued to drive the Germans back. Along with actions by the Canadians and Poles to the north, they were beginning to form a pocket around the German Army Group B.
The neck of the pocket was closing at Falaise, which was held by the Canadians. Patton was driving his men hard to effect a link-up and trap Germans attempting to retreat from Normandy.
Much to Patton’s dismay, Gen. Omar Bradley, commander of the Twelve US Army Group, called him off. Due to the fact that his forces were fighting the Germans all over Northern France, Patton could only commit four divisions to blocking German escape to the south. Bradley was worried that stretching Patton’s line further could lead to him being overrun by German forces desperate to escape the trap.
Undeterred, Patton consolidated his forces and continued his drive out of Normandy.
With the Germans retreating from the area, Patton set his Third Army to give chase.
Depleted German units were easily overcome.
The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, recalled to England the month before, lamented that Patton continually overran their drop zones and kept them out of the action.
On August 25, 1944, the 4th Infantry Division, a lead element of Patton’s Third Army, arrived at the outskirts of Paris. Allowing the French 2nd Armored Division to take the lead in the liberation of their capital, the division moved into the city.
Just five days later, Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Northern France, was declared over.
Patton, however, was not done. He had his eyes set on Germany and continued to push his forces.
As Third Army drove hard towards the French province of Lorraine, they finally outran their supply lines. On August 31, Patton’s drive ground to a halt. Patton assumed that he would be given priority for supplies due to the success of his offensive, but was dismayed to learn that this was not the case.
Eisenhower favored a broad front approach and allocated more incoming supplies to Montgomery for his bold plan – Operation Market Garden.
Despite their success in defeating German units all across France and driving further than any other force, the men of Third Army would have to wait for their chance to drill into Germany.
With the news that Army Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster has been chosen to serve as National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, this marks the fourth time an active-duty military officer has filled this position.
Here is a look at the previous three.
1. Air Force Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
Brent Scowcroft was active-duty for less than a month while serving as National Security Advisor to President Gerald Ford, taking the job on Nov. 3, 1975, and retiring on Dec. 1, 1975. Still, he is technically the first active-duty military officer to serve in this position.
Scowcroft served for the remainder of the Ford administration, then was tapped to serve as National Security Advisor for a second stint under George H. W. Bush – holding that post for the entirety of that presidency. During his second run as NSA, Scowcroft’s tenure saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, Operation Desert Storm, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
2. Navy Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter
Perhaps the most notorious active-duty officer to hold the position due to his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, Poindexter was National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan during the 1986 Freedom of Navigation exercises in the Gulf of Sidra that turned violent, Operation El Dorado Canyon, and the Reykjavik Summit in October, 1986.
Poindexter was initially convicted on five charges connected with Iran-Contra, but the convictions were tossed out on appeal. In 1987, he retired at the rank of Rear Admiral (Upper Half).
3. Army Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell
Probably the most notable active-duty officer to serve in the post, Colin Powell served as National Security Advisor from November 1987 to the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term. While he was in that position, the U.S. and Iran had a series of clashes culminating in Operation Praying Mantis and the downing of an Iranian Airbus by the guided-missile cruiser USS Vincennes (CG 49).
After his tenure as National Security Advisor, Powell went on to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – then was Secretary of State during George W. Bush’s first term as president.
As a note for the fashion-watchers, while all three predecessors wore suits, We Are The Mighty has learned from a source close to senior Trump staffers that incoming Nationals Security Advisor McMaster has been given the option to wear his uniform while holding the post.
A spokesperson for Scowcroft noted, “It is not against the law but it is not usually done.”
Neither Powell nor the White House Press Office responded to a WATM request for comment by post time.
Hamilton and Burr are now friends. More accurately, the descendants of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr are. Burr shot Hamilton in what has become probably the most famous duel in American history — and now you can watch their five-time great-grandchildren reenact the event.
The two Founding Fathers of the United States drew down on each other on July 11, 1804 in Weehawken, New Jersey. It was rumored that Hamilton, formerly the first Secretary of the Treasury, said some disparaging things about Burr during a society dinner. After a series of strongly-worded letters were exchanged and Hamilton refused to apologize, the two decided to settle it the very old-fashioned way.
Burr wasn’t the same after that.
Burr, a former Vice-President, fled the site and infamously tried to raise a personal army and cut out a piece of the nascent United States for himself after sparking a war with Spain in Florida. President Jefferson got wind of the scheme and had him arrested for treason. Burr was acquitted and lived in self-imposed exile in Europe for awhile. Alexander Hamilton died the day after the duel.
And Vice-Presidents stopped shooting people.
If you’re ever interested in seeing just how the Hamilton-Burr Duel went down, the good news is that now you can. In 2004, 200 years later, Douglas Hamilton, a fifth-great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton and Antonio Burr, a descendant of Aaron Burr’s cousin, met to re-enact the famous duel.
On Dec. 20, 1860, the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union, leaving military personnel stationed there in a state of confusion. What belonged to the United States, what belonged to South Carolina, and who was going to be loyal to which side was all unclear. On Apr. 12, 1861, after a long siege, South Carolina Militia commander P.G.T. Beauregard fired the opening salvo of a barrage of cannon fire that would last 34 hours.
In return, Federal Captain Abner Doubleday ordered his men to fire on the South Carolinians. The exchange sparked four years of bloody Civil War in the United States — but not a single man died in combat that day.
When the state seceded, there were actually only two companies of federal U.S. troops in South Carolina. The decision for who would be loyal to who actually turned out to be fairly simple. The rest of the American troops defending South Carolina were actually state militiamen. That’s who Beauregard manned on Charleston’s 19 coastal defense batteries.
But the Federals weren’t actually stationed at Fort Sumter, they were land bound on nearby Fort Moultrie. It was only after the base commander Maj. Robert Anderson feared an attack from state militia via land that the Federals were moved into Charleston Harbor and the protection of Fort Sumter.
Anderson was right. South Carolina state forces began to seize federal buildings, arms, and fortifications almost immediately, and Fort Moultrie was among those buildings. That left the garrison at Fort Sumter as the sole remaining federal possession in South Carolina. And the Carolinians demanded their surrender. Some 3,000 rebel troops laid siege to the base and, by the time of Lincoln’s inauguration, it was one of the last remaining federal holdouts in the entire south.
President Lincoln announced in March, 1861, he would send three ships to resupply and relieve Fort Sumter, so the pressure on Beauregard to take the fort soon increased. On Apr. 11, Beauregard demanded the fort’s surrender and warned he would fire on the fort if the Federals did not comply. They didn’t. That’s when Beauregard fired a punishing barrage at the defenders.
Rebels poured 3,000 cannon shots into the fort over the next 34 hours. The Federals didn’t just take it, they returned fire with everything they had, literally. The U.S. troops were running low on powder and ammunition by mid-afternoon the next day. With their walls crumbling and the fort burning around them, Maj. Anderson reluctantly ordered Fort Sumter’s surrender.
Amazingly, no one was killed in the exchange on either side.
When the time came to lower the Stars and Stripes, Federal troops — soon to be known as Union troops — gave the flag a 100-gun salute as it came down on Apr. 14. But an accidental discharge from one of the fort’s cannons caused an explosion that killed Pvt. Daniel Hough of the 1st U.S. Artillery, the first death of hundreds of thousands to come.
In the days that followed, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee also seceded from the Union and both sides of the conflict began to mobilize for the next meeting, which would come on July, 1861, in Manassas, Virginia.
In 1972, Ho Van Thanh was a soldier stationed near his hometown in North Vietnam. After American bombs hit his home and killed his mother and two sons, he grabbed his one-year-old son and ran off into the jungle. He stayed put there, found by neither side of the war, until 2013.
Thanh was in his early 80s when he was convinced to come back from his self-imposed seclusion. His son was in his 40s.
The younger son of Ho Van Thanh, who ran away from Vietnam to live in the jungle 40 years ago.
Their home was a small, roughly seven square foot thatched roof hut at the base of a large tree on A Pon Mountain. Their only visitor was Ho Van Tri, a man Thanh didn’t realize was also his son. For decades, Tri was their only visitor as he carried supplies of salt, kerosene, and knives to his relatives. He implored them to come home, but his father never believed it was safe enough to return. Even as the young baby became a boy and then a man, the two stayed put. Tri was the only visitor they trusted.
Other villagers tried to bring them supplies, but the two men only hid. The supplies they brought were hidden in the hut, never used. For food, the men foraged in the jungles but also planted crops they took from fields on the outlying edges of the jungles. The two wild men also captured small animals for meat, mostly mice, and stored the dried meat in the hut throughout the winter months. They wouldn’t spend the rest of their lives in the jungle, however.
Their original hut in the jungle.
The two men were finally coaxed to return to society in August 2013, some 40 years after Thanh ran into the jungles during the Vietnam War. The government put them in a new home and gave them preferential treatment due to his status as a Vietnam War veteran. Despite the comfort of their new lives, the two never really felt at home in the concrete jungle. They often missed the hut by the tree that afforded them protection for so long.
Thanh would often go to the jungle for hours at a time, no matter what the weather was like. Doctors said he suffered from a mental illness. His son would also visit the forest for hours, even restarting his farm after feeling as though the two men had become a burden to their family. He didn’t know what to do with his newfound free time anyway, so growing rice and cassava seemed like a good use of his time.
The younger man working his fields at his new home.
Eventually, the younger wild man moved out of the new house and back to a hut near his crops. He never got accustomed to the life of a modern Vietnamese man. He thought about starting a family but determined that no woman would want him in the state the forest left him. His father suffers a wide range of health problems aside from his mental illness. He lost an eye in the jungles and suffers from a few age-related diseases.
The younger son now lives in a newer hut, away from the conveniences of modern life. He still grows his own crops and survives off the land, but he doesn’t shun visitors or help – he’s just not the “wild man” he used to be.
Seventy-five years ago, tens of thousands of men were churning their way through the hedgerows of Normandy, fighting tooth and nail to liberate French towns and to ensure the security of the tenuous toehold that the Allies had opened against Germany in Operation Overlord on D-Day. This toehold would grow until it was a massive front that made it all the way to Berlin in less than a year.
Now, 75 years later, the U.S. and Allied militaries are celebrating their forebears’ success with a series of events in the U.K. and France. As part of these celebrations, the U.S. Air Force flew two F-15E Strike Eagles with special, heritage paint jobs over the fields and hedgerows of modern day Normandy on June 9, 2019. Here are 13 photos from an Air Force photographer sent to document the event:
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
The special Strike Eagles are part of the 48th Fighter Wing and took off from Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath, England, for the flyover. During the D-Day invasion, U.S. Army Air Corps fighters and bombers took off from English air bases to support the landings on the beaches, pushing back the Luftwaffe screens and reducing the number of bombers and dive bombers that troops on the ground would have to endure.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
The Army Air Corps’ bombs softened targets and reduced enemy artillery positions and other defenses, but the fight in the hedgerows was still bloody and vicious. And the German coastal artillery had to be eliminated to keep as many pilots in the sky as possible.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
But the pilots who preceded the modern Air Force began the important preparations for D-Day months ahead of time, sending increased bomber formations against Germany, including Berlin, for five months ahead of D-Day. These bomber formations doomed the Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force, in two ways.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
First, there’s the obvious. The bombers destroyed German factories and war machines, annihilating German equipment and crippling the country’s ability to rebuild it. But Germany responded by sending up their fighters to stop the bombers, and that’s where new American fighters came into the fray.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
The P-47s with drop tanks led the charge in 1943, but other fighters joined the fray at the end of ’43 and start of ’44. The P-51B, along with other fighters including the British Spitfires and Typhoons, slayed the German fighters that rose to counter the bombers. By June 1944, the Luftwaffe was a shadow of its former self.
(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
Army Air Corps pilots gave their lives to prepare for June 6, 1944, and other pilots would make the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day and in the weeks and months that followed. But that perseverance and sacrifice paid dividends, allowing for the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945.
No doubt about it, the Wild West is an evocative era in American history. This period of frontier expansion is synonymous with rowdy saloons, cowboys, suspenseful shootouts, and of course, the ever-present tumbleweed. Within this lawless atmosphere, the infamous 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place. Although it was a real historical event, the showdown between Wyatt Earp and the Cochise County Cowboys checks off every element of a good spaghetti western film.
Here are the basic facts: Approximately 30 shots were fired in the standoff between law enforcement and the group of outlaws known as the Cochise County Cowboys. The altercation left three cowboys dead and two lawmen wounded in the mining boomtown of Tombstone, Arizona Territory. However, the passage of time has meshed fact with legend. We’re here to set the record straight. Here are seven little-known facts about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
1. The gunfight did not actually take place at the O.K. Corral.
Nope, the shootout didn’t happen inside or even next to the eponymous corral. Shots were exchanged in a vacant lot on Fremont Street, down the road from the corral’s rear entrance.
This common mistake can be attributed to the 1957 film, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The movie made the shootout famous, but it was rather loose with the facts. (As for why the movie-makers decided on a location change, we’re guessing it’s because Gunfight at the O.K. Corral sounds more glamorous than Gunfight at the Vacant Lot on Fremont Street.) The corral still exists today, but instead of a business renting out horses and wagons, it’s a part of Tombstone’s historic district, where people can pay to watch reenactments of the gunfight.
2. The police may not have been the good guys.
There isn’t much room for moral ambiguity in standard depictions of the Old West. You have your bad guys (violent, lawless thieves) and your good guys (law-abiding sheriffs who try to protect the town). However, historians aren’t so sure what went down during the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
The Earp brothers and their friend Doc Holliday claimed afterwards that they were trying to disarm the cowboys, who were illegally carrying firearms when the cowboys opened fire. The surviving cowboys alleged that they were fully cooperating and had even raised their hands in the air when the lawmen started indiscriminately shooting them at point blank range. Alliances were strong in the small town–newspapers were not above taking sides, and witnesses of the scuffle gave conflicting testimony. To further complicate matters, the transcript of the ensuing murder trial was destroyed in a fire. All in all, we may never know for sure who provoked the shootout.
3. Wyatt Earp wasn’t really the hero of the shootout.
Wyatt Earp went down in history as the central figure of the gunfight. In reality, his brother Virgil was far more experienced than him in combat and shootout situations. Virgil had served in The Civil War and had a long career in law enforcement compared to Wyatt, who had a shorter stint in law enforcement and was even fired from one position.
However, Wyatt gained fame when a biography, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, was published in 1931, two years after its subject’s death. Riddled with exaggerations, to the point that it was more fiction that actual biography, the book portrayed Wyatt as the deadliest and most feared shooter in the Old West. Another contributing factor to his notoriety was the fact that unlike his fellow lawmen in the O.K. Corral shootout, Wyatt wasn’t injured or killed. Nor was he harmed in any of the ensuing fights. His close calls in the face of death only added to his mystique. Which brings us to our next point …
4. The gunfight at the O.K. Corral was only a small part of the long feud between the Earps & the cowboys.
Tension was simmering between the cowboys and the Earps long before gunfire erupted. Naturally, the fact that the Cochise County Cowboys made their living through smuggling and thievery ruffled a few feathers with town marshal Virgil Earp. The cowboys were implicated in several robberies and murders. The Earps promised justice, to which the cowboys responded that they were being persecuted without evidence. Death threats were exchanged.
The gunfight wasn’t the end of the enmity between these men either. The surviving cowboys were believed to have organized the assassination of Morgan Earp and a murder attempt on Virgil that left him permanently disabled.
5. Wyatt Earp wasn’t always on the right side of the law.
And he definitely wasn’t the infallible hero later accounts made him out to be. Earp was apparently heavily affected by his first wife’s death and started acting out. Before moving to Tombstone, he faced a series of lawsuits alleging that he stole money and falsified court documents. He was also arrested for stealing a horse and escaped from jail before his trial. Later, he was arrested and fined for frequenting brothels. Rumors were abound that he was a pimp.
Earp tried to turn things around for himself and got a job on the police force in Wichita, Kansas. However, he was fired after getting into a fistfight. Luckily for him, it was pretty easy to wipe the slate clean for yourself in those days. He could simply pack his bags and head to a new town like Tombstone, where he could start with a fresh reputation.
6. The gunfight only lasted 30 seconds.
Yup, the dramatic confrontation that left three men dead and three wounded lasted less than a minute. In that span, around 30 shots were fired. The movie Gunfight at the O.K. Corraldramatized the shootout, showing the men heavily armed and engaged in a fight that spanned minutes. In reality, each man carried only a revolver apiece and in the confusion, nobody could be sure who fired the fatal shots.
7. Many of the townspeople sympathized with the cowboys.
You would think the people of Tombstone would regard the Earps as their heroes for driving out the outlaws. Not so. Public opinion was divided over the matter, especially after Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan testified in court that he witnessed the cowboys try to surrender peacefully.
However, even the sheriff had loyalties in this small town. Virgil Earp had clashed with Behan on several other occasions, claiming that he turned a blind eye to the cowboys’ illegal activities and was sympathetic to the criminals. Additionally, Wyatt Earp’s common-law wife, Josephine Earp, had lived with Behan for two years before entering a relationship with Earp. She left Behan after finding him in bed with another woman, but no doubt this contributed to the animosity betweens the Earps and Behan.
By April 1862, the American Civil War was a year old and neither side had the upper hand. The fighting was particularly brutal in Tennessee, a border state heavily divided between Union and Confederate sympathizers. Grant won a pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Shiloh in western Tennessee while Union operations in the eastern part of the state stalled.
One enterprising Union supporter — a civilian merchant, scout, and part-time spy, James J. Andrews — proposed a plan to Union Maj. Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel that would cut off the supply lines to Chattanooga and allow Union forces to take the city. This would help Mitchel in his ultimate goal of cutting off Memphis from the Confederates.
The plan called for Andrews to lead a group of volunteers to Atlanta where they would steal a train and then race towards Chattanooga while laying waste to the railway, telegraph wires, and bridges.
Mitchel agreed to the audacious plan.
So Andrews gathered 22 volunteers from the 2nd, 21st, and 33rd Ohio regiments stationed in Nashville with Mitchel. He also recruited another civilian, William Hunter Campbell.
Andrews ordered his raiding party to arrive in Marietta, Georgia, by midnight on April 10th, 1862. They were to travel in small groups and wear civilian clothes. Bad weather caused a 24-hour delay and two members of the party were caught in transit. On the morning of April 12th, the rest of the raiders – minus two who overslept and missed the mission – boarded a train in Marietta.
It was one year to the day since the war had started.
The train stopped just outside of Marietta at Big Shanty (modern day Kennesaw) for fuel and to allow the passengers to eat breakfast. The town had no communication lines and couldn’t alert stations further down the track. While the others ate, Andrews and his team sprang into action. They uncoupled most of the cars leaving only three empty boxcars, the tender, and a locomotive called the General to make their escape.
As the train pulled away, The General‘s engineer and two other men ran after the train for two miles before commandeering a handcart and following the train on the rails.
As they went, the raiders cut telegraph lines and tore up tracks to slow down their pursuers and disrupt future travel.
But as the raiders crossed the Etowah River, Andrews made a potentially fatal decision. He and his men spotted another engine, the Yonah, on a spur track. One raider suggested they destroy the engine and burn the bridge over the river. Unwilling to start a fight, Andrews chose instead to continue on.
Although slowed by a missing rail, the General‘s engineer, William Fuller, was still in hot pursuit on a handcart when he came upon the Yonah. He commandeered it and continued the chase.
Andrews and his men continued cutting telegraph lines and disrupting train traffic. When they reached Kingston, Georgia, they ran into a large traffic jam. General Mitchel did not halt his advance to wait for the raiders, so trainloads of supplies and civilians were pouring out of Chattanooga, clogging the lines. This traffic jam cost the raiders an hour — with the still intact bridge across the Etowah River allowing their pursuers to catch up.
The General departed the station just as the Yonah arrived. Andrews’ raiders stopped to cut the telegraph lines and remove another section of track. During that time, Fuller and his party abandoned their train and took one that was ahead of the traffic jam at Kingston. They took off after the Union men but were stopped by the damaged track.
Abandoning their train again they continued to pursue the raiders on foot. They commandeered a southbound train called Texas butsince the Southerners didn’t have a turntable to change directions, Fuller ran the train in reverse. He also picked up a small group of Confederate soldiers to help retake the train.
In an effort to slow down their pursuers, the raiders uncoupled two of their three boxcars. When this didn’t work, they tried to use the last boxcar to burn a bridge. The car ignited but the bridge itself failed to catch. The increasingly desperate raiders watched as Fuller’s train pushed the burning boxcar off the bridge and continued the chase.
By this time the General was running out of wood and water to power its boiler. Unable to proceed with the planned destruction of Tunnel Hill – which would have completely shut down the line – Andrews ordered the train stopped and the raiders to scatter just 18 miles short of their goal at Chattanooga.
All the raiders, including the two men who overslept and missed the train, were captured within two weeks. Andrews, Campbell, and six Union soldiers were tried as spies and executed. The rest were interred in POW camps in the South.
Six of the raiders received the first Medals of Honor ever. Their exploits would come to be known as “the Great Locomotive Chase.”
The U.S. Navy submarine service was barely two decades old when the submarine USS O-5 began taking on water in the Panama Canal Zone in October 1923. A cargo ship slammed into the submarine without warning and the boat began taking on water. The crew began to abandon ship.
One lifelong sailor, Henry Breault, could have escaped, too, but he went down with a shipmate that couldn’t escape. The two were trapped in the sunken hull until the next day. For that heroism, President Calvin Coolidge presented Breault with the Medal of Honor.
He was the first member of the submarine service to receive the award and the only enlisted submariner to receive it for duties aboard a sub.
The USS O-5 was never a very lucky ship. Fifth in the line of 16 O-class submarines, she entered service six months too late for World War I. Before even leaving for Europe, an explosion killed her skipper and one of her officers. By Oct. 28, 1924, Breault and the USS O-5 were among a contingent of submarines moving to enter the Panama Canal. That’s when disaster struck.
Or more accurately, that’s when the United Fruit Company struck.
Either through human error or miscommunication (or likely a mix of both), the UFC’s SS Abangarez was moving to dock when it hit the USS O-5 on its starboard side, creating a 10-foot hole in its control room. The ship rolled to the left and then right before sinking bow first.
Most of the crew were rescued but five were missing, including Breault and Chief Electrician’s Mate Lawrence Brown. Breault had actually escaped the sinking boat when he realized Brown was still asleep down below. He went back into the submarine and closed the deck hatch behind him. The two ended up trapped in the torpedo room below the surface.
When divers discovered crewmen were alive inside, work began to get them out. The only way to do that was to lift the boat the full 42 feet above the waterline. Luckily for them, they happened to be in the Canal Zone, the home of some of the world’s heaviest lifting cranes. The crane barge Ajax, one of the largest in the world, made its way to the wreck as soon as possible.
After three failed attempts and a full 31 hours, the canal crews and sailors were able to lift the sub up high enough to open the torpedo room hatch and free their comrades.
Breault had been sailing since age 16 and was a sailor for the rest of his life, dying just two days before the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor on Dec. 5, 1941.
It was a day like any other day. Dwight Johnson was on his way to the nearby corner store to get some food for his infant son. When he walked in the store that day in April 1971, he accidentally walked in on the store being robbed. That’s when the storekeeper shot him to death.
While he was in Vietnam, he seemed impervious to bullets. Dwight Hal Johnson wasn’t gunned down until he left his home to go to the nearby liquor store at the wrong time.
President Lyndon Johnson puts the Medal of Honor around the neck of Sgt. Dwight H. Johnson.
In 1968, Army tank driver Spc. Dwight Johnson was part of a reaction force near Dak To, in Vietnam’s Kontum Province. With his platoon in the middle of fierce combat with North Vietnamese regulars, Johnson’s tank threw a track. It would not move. With friendly forces to his rear, and a heavily entrenched enemy coming at him, a regular person might have told Johnson not to leave the safety of the tank and just wait. That wasn’t Dwight Johnson’s style.
Since Johnson was unable to drive the tank, he figured it was time to stop being a driver. He grabbed his pistol and hopped out of it. He cleared away some of the enemy from the perimeter, and then hopped back into the tank, somehow not getting hit by the hail of enemy gunfire and rockets. He had just run out of ammo.
He tossed his pistol down and grabbed a submachine gun. Returning to his former position, he began to take out more of the oncoming enemy fighters. Unconcerned with the situation being a well-planned and well-placed ambush, he stayed put, killing the enemy until he ran out of ammo again. After he used the stock of his rifle to kill one more, he moved to his platoon sergeant’s tank, carried a wounded crewman to a nearby armored personnel carrier, then went back to the tank to get a pistol so he could fight his way back to his own tank. Again.
Instead of hopping in, however, he mounted the .50-cal on the back of the tank, using the heavy machine gun to force the enemy back and put an end to the ambush while protecting his wounded comrades in arms. For most of the time he was engaged in close quarters combat, vastly outnumbered by an often-unseen enemy, Spc. Johnson was carrying only a Colt .45 pistol to defend himself.
Having grown up in some of Detroit’s rough neighborhoods gave Dwight Johnson an edge in keeping his cool under fire. Johnson never quit, never left anyone behind and fought an enemy who outnumbered him ten to one while restoring American dominance to a situation that got out of hand. Sadly, it was those same mean streets that would do him in just a few years after coming home from Vietnam.
He struggled with regular life when he returned home, as most veterans did and still do. He struggled with debt and depression until he walked into the Open Pantry Market on April 30, 1971, just one mile from his home. There are conflicting reports of what happened next – some say Johnson had a gun at his side and was robbing the store, other sources say that Johnson was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. While we can’t be sure what motivated the store owner to open fire, we can say he shot one of America’s heroes four times, killing him. Dwight Hal Johnson was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery.