Mental torture, starvation, and daily physical beatings were just a few of the dreadful aspects American POWs had to endure on a daily basis during their stay at the “Hanoi Hilton.”
Although prisoner leadership secretly spoke of escape between one another, the odds of a successful attempt was near impossible. But what the prisoners didn’t know was that the CIA had already approved a plan to have a sub-transport take SEAL Team One to an island off the coast of North Vietnam to intercept them upon escape.
After sending a coded message to Washington, the Hanoi prisoners asked for “an unmistakable signal from the heavens” to show President Nixon supported the mission.
So on May 2nd, 1972, three S-71s delivered that message. As they approached the Hanoi prison, they flew so close to the sound barrier that the ensuing roar alerted the prisoners of their presence, and the message was received.
Some of the Hanoi prisoners never thought the rescue mission would get approved, which caused conflict among them as they questioned whether they should take the chance.
For the next three days, the SEAL Team would monitor the coast, awaiting their American brothers.
After several intense discussions, the prisoners came to a final decision whether they should embark on the daring escape: they voted no — and with good reason.
If the attempt failed, the remaining prisoners might face even harsher punishment, and they couldn’t allow that. They made the right decision.
Towards the end of the war, Nixon ordered a bombing run to force the enemy to accept the peace terms. After the aerial attack had ceased, the North claimed the Hanoi POWs had all been killed, but with a smuggled transmitter, the brave prisoners sent out a coded message that reached the White House which read:
“Vietnamese lie, we’re okay.”
The incoming message sparked Nixon to continue the bombing raids. Then, in early 1973, the North accepted Nixon’s terms, ending the Vietnam war and the strong-willed Hanoi prisoners finally came home safely.
It’s easy to forget that most Confederate officers were pardoned after the war, either en masse for rebellion or individually if they were accused of other crimes, and returned to lives of business or started new careers in politics. Relatively few of them would see combat in the American-Indian Wars. But one famous general offered his skills to America during the Spanish-American War and led all cavalry units in Cuba, including Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and Buffalo Soldiers.
Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler during the Civil War.
And the Confederacy was trying to stand up a national military, from scratch, to defend itself. So state militia officers and former U.S. Army officers with good training saw themselves quickly promoted. Wheeler became a colonel of infantry, then the head cavalry officer for the Army of Mississippi. By the end of the war, he was a lieutenant general.
During the conflict, Wheeler made a name for himself as a fighter. At one point in 1863, he conducted a stunning raid against Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosencrans. Rosencrans was under firm orders to hold Chattanooga, but all of his beans and bullets had to pass down 100 miles of rail and 60 miles of mountain paths. His force was nearly encircled and so low on vital supplies that soldiers were on half rations and had enough ammo for only one day of fighting.
Wheeler, front, stands with some of his subordinate cavalry officers including then-Col. Theodore Roosevelt at his left.
(U.S. National Archives)
Wheeler took advantage of this. Despite having his own shortage of battle-ready men and horses, he took on a mission to conduct a massive raid against Rosencrans. He hand-picked what men and horses were ready to fight and took them out from Oct. 1-9, 1863. They cut through the Union lines, destroyed hundreds of Union wagons, and choked off Rosencrans.
Wheeler, at left, sits in consultation with other men during the Siege of Santiago in Cuba.
While he wasn’t the only former Confederate to fight in Cuba, he does seem to be the only former Confederate general to serve as a general for the U.S. Army in combat after the war. In Cuba, he commanded all cavalry forces; even the famed Rough Riders put together by former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future President Theodore Roosevelt.
As a Maj. Gen. of Volunteers, Wheeler led his men against Spanish troops at Las Guasimas, participated in the Battle of San Juan Hill, and then fought at the siege of Santiago in Cuba. He was even placed over the 9th and 10th cavalry regiments, Buffalo Soldier units.
He performed well enough that, despite his age, he was offered a commission in the regular Army as a brigadier general and led troops in the Philippine-American War. While he wasn’t often fighting on the front lines, the brigadier general was still competent and valuable as a battlefield leader.
“When they stopped us on the road, they lined us up, they set up machine guns across from us and I thought this is the end,” recalled former U.S. Army Cpl. Raymond Mullin, who served as a medic with Task Force Smith, the first U.S. Army ground maneuver unit to enter combat in the Korean War.
The city of Osan hosted its 68th TF Smith Memorial Ceremony, July 6, 2018, at the city’s UN Forces First Battle Memorial, to honor the bravery and sacrifices made by the members of the task force. Attendees included: Republic of Korea Lt. Gen. Yoon Seung Kook, who was a captain when he served as ROK liaison officer to TF Smith, former U.S. Army Cpl. William Coe, a radio operator, and Mullin. Among the distinguished guests in attendance were: ROK Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Pi Woo-Jin; U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. Andrew Juknelis, operational chief of staff, Eighth Army; Governor of Gyeonggi Province Lee Jae-myung; and Mayor of Osan City Kwak Sang-wook.
Richard Salazar shares photos of his father, and Task Force Smith member, Sgt. Richard Salazar, Sr., with Osan City Mayor Kwak Sang-wook at the 68th TF Smith Memorial ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
Mullin spent 37 months as a prisoner of war, one of 82 captured by North Korean forces in the first day of the first battle involving a U.S. unit sent to Korea under a United Nations mandate. Mullin was emblematic of those selected to fill the ranks of TF Smith, young and lacking combat experience. He had been at Camp Wood, Japan, for just 10 days working at a clinical laboratory when he arrived in Korea, July 1, 1950. Like most of the nearly 500 soldiers arriving from Japan, Mullin said he had no combat training since Basic Training.
Political, military and civic leaders, veterans of the Korean War, soldiers and guests, honor the flags of the Republic of Korea and the U.S. during the playing of the two nations’ national anthems at the 68th TF Smith Memorial Ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
The Korean War began June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded and occupied the capital city of Seoul. The UN, led by the U.S., mustered a makeshift unit of soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Japan-based 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, and a battery from the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, 24th Infantry Division. The task force, named after its commander, Lt. Col. Charles B. Smith, left Japan on the morning of July 1, 1950.
The UN Forces First Battle Memorial served as the setting for the 68th anniversary of the first battle of the war involving U.S. Soldiers.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
Upon their arrival, TF Smith was given the mission to take up positions to delay the North’s advance as far north as possible. Smith decided two hills overlooking a major north-south highway in Osan, provided an ideal position to carry out their mission. That is where they dug in, July 4.
Lee Jae-myung, governor of Gyeonggi Province, addresses attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony,
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
The following morning, a North Korean force, about 5,000 strong, led by Soviet-made tanks, were soon observed rumbling toward Osan. TF Smith opened fire, initially with artillery, followed by anti-tank rockets. Although they were able to hold their lines for nearly three hours, it soon became apparent TF Smith lacked the necessary firepower to survive against the heavily armed formation in front of them.
Brigadier Gen. Andrew Juknelis, operational Chief of Staff, Eighth Army, addresses attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
Outflanked and severely low on ammunition, Smith ordered his men to fall back to a second defensive line at Pyongtaek and Cheonan to join other units of the 24th Inf. Div. Only a little more than fifty percent of the task force safely made it to friendly lines. In what is now known as the Battle of Osan, TF Smith suffered 60 dead, 21 wounded and 82 captured, 32 of whom died in captivity. According to official accounts, the casualty counts for the North Koreans were estimated at 42 dead, 85 wounded. Ultimately, though, the North Koreans were delayed approximately seven hours.
U.S. Army Corporals Raymond Mellin and William Coe, members of Task Force Smith, acknowledge attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
In his remarks to attendees, Juknelis highlighted the bravery of TF Smith against overwhelming odds.
“Outnumbered nearly 10 to 1, and equipped with antiquated weapons left over from World War II, TF Smith valiantly held their position in the face of an overwhelming force,” Juknelis said. “TF Smith’s dedication to duty and country in the face of such overwhelming odds laid the foundation of service and courage that enabled the Republic of Korea-US alliance to ultimately reclaim this side of the peninsula for South Korea.”
Osan City Mayor Kwak Sang-Wook places a flower at the Task Force Smith Memorial.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
One U.S. Army unit currently stationed at nearby Suwon Air Base attended the ceremony as a leader development opportunity to learn about the important history of TF Smith and its heroic stand against the invading forces from the North. For one soldier, learning about the Korean War while serving in Korea, is very personal. Both of his grandfathers fought in the Korean War as ROK soldiers.
Cpl. William Coe, a veteran of the Korean War and a member of Task Force Smith, places a flower at the TF Smith memorial.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
“This event means a lot to me,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Yi Jae, a Korean-American who serves as a vehicle mechanic with F Company, 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade. “I feel like I am continuing their service, their legacy, their sacrifices.”
Lt. Col. Jeff Slown and Command Sgt. Major Wilfredo Suarez, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade deputy commander and command sergeant major, respectively, approach the Task Force Smith memorial with a flower.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
The ceremony concluded with attendees placing white flowers at the base of the UN Forces First Battle Memorial to pay respect to the members of TF Smith for their sacrifices. The City of Osan is preparing to build a Peace Park encompassing the memorial and will serve as a place for visitors to discover the history of the site, as well as quietly reflect on the sacrifices made there. Completion of the park is scheduled for July 2019, and it is part of the city’s firm intention to never forget the soldiers who came to South Korea willing to lay down their lives in its defense.
Lt. Col. Matthew Walker and Command Sgt. Major Gene Harding, commander and command sergeant major, respectively, of 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade, places flowers at the Task Force Smith Memorial.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
“How could we even imagine the noblest sacrifice of those who came to an unknown land to fight without adequate combat equipment,” said ROK Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Pi Woo-jin. “Without the sacrifice and contributions of the UN Forces, such as Task Force Smith, today’s Republic of Korea, with its miraculous industrialization and remarkable democratization, would never exist. We will never forget their sacrifices.”
New York City struggled to meet its recruitment goals during the spring of 1917. The United States had recently entered World War I, which had been raging in Europe since 1914, and the military needed volunteers. While New York City had a population of around 6.5 million at the time, it lagged behind its goal of 2,000 recruits to the United States Navy by under half.
So New York City’s Mayor, John P. Mitchel, decided that he needed a gimmick to spark young men’s interest and convince them to volunteer for the war. What better way to draw attention to the Navy than to construct a battleship in the middle of Union Square? Teaming up with the Navy on the project, the Mayor’s Committee on National Defense raised approximately $10,000 (about $187,000 today) to fund the ship and hired Jules Guerin and Donn Barber to design the appropriately named USS Recruit, basing the design loosely on the USS Maine.
With work rapidly completed by the U.S. Navy, the USS Recruit, also known as the Landship Recruit, was built on the island of Manhattan. Construction finished for a “launch” on May 30, 1917, with the ship being christened by Olive Mitchel, the Mayor’s wife.
The wooden battleship mockup measured over 200 feet long and had a beam, or width, of 40 feet. While not actually armed for battle, the ship featured wooden replicas of two cage masts, six 14-inch guns inside three twin turrets, and ten 5-inch guns. It also had two 50-foot masts, an 18-foot tall smokestack, a main bridge, and a conning tower.
The Landship Recruit contained ample space for the job of recruiting and training sailors, with multiple waiting rooms and physical exam rooms, complete with full amenities. Doctors, officers, and sailors lived aboard the ship in their separate quarters.
As for the latter, the initial complement was thirty-nine sailors-in-training from the Newport Training Station and their commander, Captain C.F. Pierce. The crew maintained a similar routine to the one of a crew at sea. As reported by Popular Science Magazine in August of 1917,
The land sailors arise at six o’clock, scrub the decks, wash their clothes, attend instruction classes, and then stand guard and answer questions for the remainder of the day. There is a night as well as a day guard. From sunup to eleven o’clock all lights of the ship are turned on, including a series of searchlight projectors.
In addition to recruiting volunteers for the Navy and training new sailors, the USS Recruit served as a public relations tool. Citizens were invited onto the ship to learn about then modern battleships, and the sailors aboard routinely answered the public’s questions during their guard duty. Both patriotic and social events were also held on the battleship with the sailors acting as hosts. One patriotic event, according to a contemporary account from The New York Times, was the presentation of a recreation of Betsy Ross’s American flag. Other events were just social in nature, such as dances held for New York’s social elite. There were reportedly even Vaudeville shows held on board.
World War I ended in November of 1918 when both Austria-Hungary and Germany agreed to an armistice while the terms of peace could be negotiated. However, the USS Recruitcontinued its recruitment mission until March of 1920. It had helped the Navy recruit an astounding 25,000 new sailors (enough to man the USS Maine, which the Recruit was loosely modeled after, a whopping 45 times over) during its three years of operation.
At this time, the Navy announced that it would move the wooden battleship from Union Square to Luna Park on Coney Island and maintain it as a recruitment site there.
Yesterday when 10 o’clock came around and with it ‘sailing time’ all of the ceremonies were put on. The crew of eighty men lined up on the quarterdeck and the ship was formally abandoned while the Stars and Stripes and the commissioned pennant were hauled down. The ship’s band struck up ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as the colors were lowered to the deck.
The ship was then carefully dismantled over the course of a few days, with the pieces shipped off to Coney Island. Though The New York Times estimated that it would take just two weeks for the Navy to complete the move of the battleship, it was never rebuilt.
Out of sight, out of mind, no contemporary news source seems to have bothered to cover why the ship, which was supposed to be immediately rebuilt, was not. What happened to the pieces of the dismantled ship is also a mystery to this day. A search through the Navy archives for the period in question likewise turned up nothing insightful concerning the ship’s demise. Presumably it was simply decided at the last minute that rebuilding and maintaining the ship was an unnecessary expense given the Navy’s recruitment needs at the time. Alternatively, perhaps the 1920 New York Times piece simply got it wrong, news outlets, even then, not exactly known for their accuracy on the details of reports for various reasons, such as often having to rush submissions.
While this was the end of the Union Square battleship, it would not be the end of the name in the U.S. Navy. The USS Recruit (AM-285) was launched in 1943 and served during WWII before being decommissioned in 1946 and ultimately sold to the Mexican Navy in 1963. Following this, another landlocked ship was built, the USS Recruit (TDE-1), at the San Diego Naval Training Center in 1949. Built to scale at two-thirds the size of a Dealey-class destroyer escort, the ship was made of wood with sheet metal overlay and was used to train tens of thousands of recruits over the coming decades. It was, however, decommissioned in 1967, funny enough, because it could not be classified in the Navy’s new computerized registry. However, commissioned or not, it was in continuous service from 1949 to 1997 (with a complete re-model in 1982) when the base it is on was closed. While no longer being used, the ship still stands, with some thought to perhaps turning it into a maritime museum at some point.
The Camouflage Corps of the National League of Women helped the original USS Recruit to better resemble battleships in combat in 1918, painting it a camouflage pattern (designed by artist William Andrew Mackay).
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The axiom we know as “Murphy’s Law” today has been kicking around for centuries. Instances of similar phrases can be found as early as 1877, and even George Orwell (himself a veteran of the Spanish Civil War) used it in his diaries. But when something truly catches on, it’s kept alive for posterity – and that’s how “Murphy’s Law” is remembered nowadays.
What was once quoted as, “It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later.” Is now – forever – the much snappier “Whatever can go wrong, will.” But who was the Murphy whose name is now synonymous with accidents and mishaps?
A strapping young man, that’s who.
Edward Aloysius Murphy was a West Point graduate, Army Air Forces veteran of World War II and an Air Force officer. Later in life, he would continue his work with the Air Force in testing experimental vehicles. This, of course, required a degree of delicacy; not only because building rocket sleds is as incredibly dangerous as testing them, but also because testing them requires exact parameters to record exact results.
*Rocket* Science. DAB.
Seriously, after World War II, Murphy became the research and development officer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Air Development Center, where they conducted rocket sled tests. A rocket sled is exactly what it sounds like: a chair, a rocket, all on a sled-like slab on which someone sits. And is then propelled forward. In order to remind his crews to plan for the worst-case scenario in every experiment, he began telling them “whatever can go wrong, will.”
This was especially true when they decided that 18 Gs was probably not the most a human could withstand and set out to test the limitations of G-forces on the human body. One Air Force officer, John Stapp, proved that humans could take at least 35 Gs and that anyone who passed out after 18 probably shouldn’t be in his Air Force. Murphy was designing new sensor setups to measure everything that would happen on these sled runs. One day, something went wrong.
Here’s Stapp’s face as he becomes the fastest man ever, in what is essentially an open-top rocket convertible. Man, the Air Force used to be fun.
The details of the snafu that caused Murphy to remind his crews to check every detail are disputed. All we need to know is that something went wrong and Stapp’s test run did not acquire any sensor data. Basically, Stapp put his life on the line for funsies, because other than a rocket boom, nothing else was recorded. Upon realizing this, Murphy apparently yelled at an assistant, “whatever can go wrong, will.”
And it became their mantra. Then it became everyone’s mantra when Stapp told a group of reporters at a press conference that they keep fatalities at zero because everyone on their team repeats “Murphy’s Law” to prevent any oversights or mishaps. Once the press got hold of it, that was it. Murphy’s Law is now enshrined in everyone’s lexicon, not just the military’s.
The Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu said, “All warfare is based on deception.” Like a trick play in football, it’s best to deceive your enemy in order to safeguard your true intentions. One of the greatest modern military examples of this principle is the allied landing at Normandy on D-Day during WWII.
Operation Overlord, the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied mainland Europe, involved the largest invasion force ever assembled. The prelude to the operation involved numerous deception campaigns including a fake army staged at Dover and the leaking of false plans to convince the Germans that the invasion would happen at Calais. However, once the invasion started at Normandy, there was one more trick that the allies had up their sleeves.
On the evening of June 5th into June 6th, 1944, thousands of allied paratroopers dropped over the skies of Normandy. They were tasked with eliminating German positions, seizing key roads and bridges, and generally causing mayhem and confusion behind German lines in support of the beach landings. However, they weren’t the only ones riding the silk elevator on D-Day. To further confuse the Germans, hundreds of dummy paratroopers were also dropped over Normandy and Calais.
Called “Ruperts” by the British and “Oscars” by the Americans, these paradummies were part of Operation Titanic. Helping to sell the illusion that the invasion at Normandy was a feint while the main invasion was at Calais, the paradummies were dropped east of the main landing zones. The dummies came in different variants and proved to be very effective at confusing the Germans during the first few hours of the invasion.
Some Ruperts were only about the size of a child’s doll and worked best when viewed at a distance. Others were full-sized and equipped with uniforms, helmets, and boots. They were also made with varying degrees of detail from featureless forms to detailed faces and even painted eyes. To simulate a real invasion force, some of the dummies were equipped with speakers that played sounds of gunfire and mortars while others were rigged to explode upon landing. The Ruperts were made of burlap or rubber and were convincing enough to draw away part of the SS Panzer reinforcement sent to repel the British at Caen.
In the 1962 film The Longest Day, the paradummies are referred to by the Germans as “gummipuppen”. The film depicts the confusion and doubt sewn in the German command by the dummies since they couldn’t be sure if the reports of paratroopers were the real deal or simply a distraction of paradummies.
While the silk parachutes used by the allies were sought after by civilians due to the scarcity of the material from wartime rationing, the Ruperts were less so. Though burlap was a useful material, the risk of an unexploded charge going off late convinced most civilians to leave the paradummies alone. Because of this, few examples of the dummy troopers survive in museums today.
After a century, World War I is finally getting the treatment in American cinema it so richly deserves. While some of the best war movies were World War I movies, Paths of Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Lawrence of Arabia, there were also many misses. What’s surprising is that there are relatively few WWI movies, when compared to those depicting other wars.
No longer. 1917 is a new movie based on the Great War, coming in December. And it looks like it could be the definitive WWI movie.
The film takes place during the Third Battle of Ypres, where a British contingent of 1,600 men is due to walk into a German trap. Two Tommies are given the assignment to proceed on foot to warn the unit about their orders – the ones that take them directly into an ambush. Their mission takes them across the Ypres battlefields and through the deadly trench warfare that is now synonymous with the Great War.
What’s more remarkable about 1917 is that it’s based on a true story, one told to director Sam Mendes by his own grandfather, Alfred. Alfred Mendes received the Military Medal for “acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire” during the war. The Military Medal was replaced by the Military Cross in the UK armed forces in 1993, and would be the fifth-highest medal awarded by the United Kingdom today.
Relentless rain, mud, and death marked the Battle of Ypres.
The elder Mendes ran through snipers, trenches, moving artillery barrages, and machine-gun fire to deliver messages for two full days during the Battle of Poelcappelle. Mendes’ grandfather was raised on the Caribbean island of Trinidad but left to join the fight against Germany, joining the British Army in 1916, at the age of 19. He saw action at the WWI Battles of Passchendaele (Ypres) and Poelcappelle. He was sent to go find survivors of a failed attack during Poelcappelle. It was a dangerous assignment, one his commander said he might not return from.
Despite encountering all of World War I’s signature death traps, he still managed to find survivors while surviving himself. He made it back to his company’s shell hole intact.
“In spite of the snipers, the machine-gunners and the shells, I arrived back at C Company’s shell hole without a scratch but with a series of hair-raising experiences that would keep my grand and great-grandchildren enthralled for nights on end,” he would later write in his autobiography.
1917 is based on Medes’ experiences on this mission. The film is set to release on Dec. 25, 2019.
Ion Cristodulo, the political prisoner in charge of the casino restoration in the early 1950s, returning to the casino in Constanta in 1988.
BUCHAREST — When she was growing up in a small town in southern Romania, Laura Voicila was stigmatized by her father’s past.
In 1949, as the communists tightened their grip on the Eastern European country, Nicolaie Voicila, 17, was arrested and later sentenced to four years of hard labor for “plotting against the social order.”
His crime was joining a literary club at which members discussed the relatively new communist regime led by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and hoped it would disappear.
The high school student was one of the thousands the communists incarcerated in prisons and labor camps after World War II, often simply because they had fallen afoul of the communist regime.
There are no universally accepted figures, but a 2006 presidential commission established to study the communist dictatorship said more than 600,000 Romanians were sentenced for political crimes between 1945 and 1989. Thousands died from beatings, illness, exhaustion, cold, or lack of food or medicine.
The secret note with political prisoners’ names written in charcoal that was found inside the casino wall.
Early Days Of Communism
Andrei Muraru, a historian and adviser to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, told RFE/RL that in the early 1950s some 100,000 prisoners were sentenced to hard labor on a project called the Black Sea Canal, a 70-kilometer waterway connecting the Danube to the Black Sea. It was also known as the “Canal of Death.”
Voicila toiled there, transporting heavy loads of rock before he was sent to work restoring a casino, an architectural monument to art nouveau in the nearby port of Constanta that had been bombed by the Germans during the war.
He didn’t talk much about those experiences after his release — actually being forbidden from talking about his imprisonment — and his fear of discussing those hard times lingered even after communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was ousted and executed during the 1989 Romanian Revolution.
But he did tell family members that political prisoners had scribbled notes and buried them in the walls of the casino.
“When I was growing up, Dad told us: When they renovate the casino, go there and find the documents,” Laura Voicila told RFE/RL.
“Under communism, we discussed things very quietly and never in public,” she said. “Dad listened to Radio Free Europe and I would say ‘Dad, what are they saying in Germany (RFE was based in Munich from 1950-1995)? I even remember the jingle [that went with the news].”
Nicolaie Voicila in the 1960s after his release from prison.
At school in the town of Gorgota, Laura had top grades, but her father’s past meant she suffered discrimination.
“My teacher told me: ‘You should be the class leader, but we can’t make you one,” she said. “[My father] told me to study and to leave the country if I wanted a chance [in life].”
Laura kept the story about the hidden notes in the back of her mind, until one day in May this year.
Her mother called saying she had seen on the news that restorers had unearthed a scrap of paper hidden in a wall of the casino that was signed by political prisoners.
“When my mom heard a note had been found, she said ‘You have to go and see it.’ She was moved to tears. It was a moment of moral reparation for her [after nearly 70 years]. People saw [the note] was there and it was real,” she told RFE/RL.
In mid-May, after Romania lifted a state of emergency imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Laura went with Apollon Cristodulo — the son of Ion Cristodulo, an architect and political prisoner in charge of restoring the casino — to Constanta to see the note firsthand.
The note — a scrap of paper torn from a cement sack with the names of 17 political prisoners written in charcoal and dated December 31, 1951 — is not much in itself, were it not for the dire circumstances that it was created under and its historical importance.
“It was found rolled up in a ball by a stained-glass window restorer. He was looking for some old shards of glass in the wall and he came across the paper. He felt there was something [special] about it,” Apollon Cristodulo said on July 23.
“It was miraculous that this note was found,” he said. “I wrote about the [hidden note at the] casino many years ago, but nobody believed it; they thought it was just a story, a legend…. But now everything I’ve written has come true.”
Cristodulo’s father died in 1991 aged 66, his health damaged by the harsh years of detention.
“His heart, liver, and lungs were all shot. He died after his fourth heart attack,” Cristodulo told RFE/RL.
Laura Voicila and Apollon Cristodulo outside the casino in Constanta on May 19.
Romania’s Political Prisons
Muraru, the former director of the governmental Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes, secured the first ever prosecutions of former prison commanders in Romania.
Alexandru Visinescu, who was in charge of the notorious Ramnicu Sarat prison, was sentenced in 2016 to 20 years in jail for the deaths of 12 prisoners at the institution. One year later, Ioan Ficior received the same term for crimes against humanity for his role in the deaths of 103 prisoners at the Periprava labor camp. Both have since died serving their sentences.
Muraru said the fact that the detainees managed to write the note was remarkable.
“This is a rare piece of testimony because prisoners didn’t have access to paper or pencils, but…there was less supervision and the presence of ordinary workers and more humane figures who could provide them with something to write with, and that made it possible for this scrap of paper to be secreted away and put [in the wall],” he told RFE/RL.
“It took decades for the traumatic memory of communism to finally settle,” he added.
Alexandra Toader, the current director of the institute said: “After 70 years, we have material confirmation of what happened [at the casino].”
She said the Securitate communist secret police conducted excavations at the casino in 1986 and may have found other documents which were archived, something Cristodulo also thinks is likely.
“We have 26 kilometers of Securitate archives, a sea of documents; but I’m not sure whether they are digitized or documented,” Toader told RFE/RL.
The institute will hold an exhibition at the casino “dedicated exclusively to this episode,” she said. “Hopefully we can obtain objects they used, letters they wrote to their families, their tools.”
Researchers are investigating the estimated 100 prisoners who worked on the casino, tracking down biographical information to try to find out what happened to them.
“Most prisoners were there for the flimsiest of reasons and they were there for years on end regardless of their age,” Toader said. “It was a pretext to get rid of the so-called ‘enemies of the people.'”
Cristodulo told RFE/RL that the documents about the Black Sea Canal are still classified by the secret service.
“There were 100,000 people who carried out forced labor…the documents need to be declassified,” he said.
Architect Radu Cornescu, Apollon Cristodulo, and Laura Voicila (left to right) at the shell wall inside the casino where the secret political prisoner note was found.
Nicolaie Voicila, who died in 1999 at the age of 66, dreamed of becoming an architect but the communists wouldn’t let him complete his education. He managed to qualify as a sub-engineer and became the manager of a cement site, forever inspired by the work he had done with the architects on the casino.
But he was traumatized his entire life by his past as a prisoner.
“He wasn’t allowed to speak or write down what happened and he thought they’d come and get him, so he had a lack of trust,” Laura Voicila said. “He didn’t trust people. He thought maybe a neighbor would find out about his past and he’d be in trouble.”
He did tell us that when he worked on the canal, prisoners were beaten “and others [were forced] to eat feces,” she said.
“Prisoners had to transport rocks and they’d walk along a 30-40 centimeter piece of wood over the canal with a wheelbarrow full of rubble. And if a prisoner fell off, nobody bothered to rescue him,” Laura Voicila said.
“There are many human bones buried in that canal,” she said. Muraru added that it is known as “the Romanian Siberia.”
The collapse of communism failed to bring the changes that Nicolaie Voicila and many others had hoped for.
“He realized the old communists had come to power and he lost hope he’d ever see real democracy,” the 42-year-old Laura Voicila, who runs a family fruit and vegetable supply business, said.
“He saw miners attacking anti-government protesters in 1990 and he said: ‘You see? People are being beaten and killed. It’s still the same old people.'”
It’s a sentiment shared by Paul Andreescu, the head of the Association of Former Political Prisoners in Constanta.
Andreescu was a political prisoner for five years because he joined a youth organization that wanted to “free Romania from the Russians and their demands, such as making Russian a mandatory language at school and learning the history of the Soviet Union,” he told RFE/RL.
“We are free, but far from what we dreamed of and what we had hoped for in 1989.”
As head of the Constanta branch, Andreescu said: “It’s very important we have this proof [of the note from the casino], even if there are just a few names. They show the ugly past of the Romanian people, when people had to perform forced labor under all kinds of conditions.”
He added: “They are witnesses, even if they are buried in a wall.”
Toader says it’s important that Romania knows its past.
“This subject is still largely unknown in schools and books, and detainees didn’t speak of their detention; even their memoirs are truncated out of fear or an attempt to forget,” she said.
“This is very relevant for the young generation, as some are nostalgic about communism,” she said in an interview at her Bucharest office.
“Extremes can’t be allowed, neither left nor right. The rule of law must prevail.”
Turns out, the military is hard work. Apparently, sometimes you don’t even get a real break between marching all night through treacherous terrain and then having to crush your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their women.
These six units had no issue with that:
6. The 37th Illinois Infantry assaults a stubborn hill after 36 miles of marching
The 37th Illinois Infantry was maneuvered across the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, repeatedly, completing 36 miles of marching and fighting repeatedly in 36 hours. On Dec. 7, 1862, they were marched to a new position and most of the men fell asleep despite an hour-long artillery duel going on over their heads.
Despite their exhaustion and weaker position, the 37th formed back up and held the line at the bottom of the hill, containing the Confederate units for the rest of the battle.
5. The 101st raced to Bastogne and then fought a multi-week siege against the Germans
When the Germans launched their daring attack that would become the Battle of the Bulge, the U.S. rushed to evacuate some headquarters from the area while sending in those who would hold the line, including the 101st Airborne Division. With the commanding and deputy commanding generals out of the country, the division’s artillery commander was forced to take the men to the front.
Just days later, British reinforcements had Washington cornered near Princeton. After nightfall on Jan. 2, Washington led 4,500 men through the night while 500 others made it look like the whole force was still in position. Washington’s men clashed with another British force and beat them, proving that the British Army could be defeated.
2. The Rangers march through the evening to attack Sened Station at full dark
Three maneuver companies assaulted the Italian positions while the headquarters formed a blocking force. In less than an hour, the Rangers were victorious and held 11 prisoners and had killed 50 enemy troops.
1. Stonewall Jackson orders a night march to surprise Union artillery with flank attacks
Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson ordered a few night marches in his day, but few were as important as the June 9, 1862, march at Port Republic that arguably saved the Confederacy for a few years. The battle would decide whether Jackson could send reinforcements to Gen. Robert E. Lee who was defending the rebel capital.
The title of Caesar and everything that it represents stems from the actions of a heroic man who had an undying thirst for advancement. That man, Julius Caesar, had a brilliant, tactical militant mind that he joined with the political shrewdness of Senator Pompey and the economic patronage of Crassus to form the First Triumvirate of Rome.
Together, through bribes, intimidation, and ruthless pragmatism, they brought about change that resonated throughout all of Rome — until a betrayal famously turned the Senate against Caesar. So, what does one do when betrayed by his allies? What stance does one take when the very people who brought you to power now want to see you die for treason? What can you do in the face of reckless envy?
In the aftermath of the Gallic Wars (58 B.C. to 50 B.C.), Caesar was set to return to Rome, astride the high of triumph. However, jealous senators (including the once-loyal Pompey) demanded that he answer for the crime of levying an army without senatorial approval. It was a charge of treason — and the perfect excuse for the aristocracy in the capital to dispose of the greatest threat to their power: Julius Ceasar.
Caesar details the campaign to defend the Empire’s borders against the barbarian hordes of Gaul (modern day France and Belgium) in his book Commentarii de Bello Gallico. Though the book is far from the most credible account of the war (Caesar is known for inflated battle statistics in his favor), what’s undeniable is that a victory is a victory. Caesar’s conquest over the barbarians remedied his massive debt problems and elevated his status among the people.
Victory aside, Caesar was ordered to return to Rome unaccompanied by his army and stand trial before the senate. He uttered, “alea iacta est” (‘the die is cast’) and crossed the Rubicon River with the 13th Legion (Legio XIII) in an act of defiance and informal declaration of war against his accusers.
Senator Pompey and the others fled Rome when they heard that Caesar would not go down without a fight. Rome was officially in a civil war.
Senator Pompey fled across the Adriatic Sea and commanded his allies in Greece to raise troops to help him defend the Republic. Caesar, dedicated to seizing the initiative whenever he could, ordered his men to march to southern Italy in an attempt to cut off Pompey’s army from a rendezvous with eastern allies. Unfortunately, the 13th Legion did not make it in time to stop them and the stage was set for The Battle of Pharsalus (48 B.C.E.).
Did senators ever tell the truth?
Caesar’s victory here sent the Roman Republic into the throes of death — and gave rise to the Roman Empire.
Caesar appointed himself dictator with Mark Antony as his right-hand man (his master of cavalry) and continued his campaign. Just 11 days after establishing his dictatorship, he secured Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus as an ally and his emperorship was beyond reproach.
The great conspiracy against Julius Caesar – Kathryn Tempest
Several decisive victories in Greece and the Italian mainland later, Caesar had turned what was once seen as an illegitimate military rulership into an unquestionable empire. Long live the Emperor of Rome, hero of the common man.
Caesar’s renown and unchecked power eventually led to his assassination. Beware the ides of March.
On January 7, 1970, Lt. Cdr. Michael Hoff flew his Sidewinder A7A Corsair off the USS Coral Sea on an armed reconnaissance mission over Laos. After completing a strafing run near the city of Sepone, he came under heavy enemy automatic weapons fire and went down. An observer reported seeing a flash, which may have been the ejection seat leaving the aircraft, but search teams located neither a parachute nor a survivor.
Lt. Cdr. Michael Hoff was pronounced MIA that same day, promoted to commander while missing, and, sadly, was declared dead on November 16, 1978. His grieving wife, Mary Hoff, wanted the world to know that he and every other troop captured or declared missing in action would not be forgotten.
Who says randomly cold-calling the right people to get what you want never works?
Soon afterward, Mary Hoff joined the National League of POW/MIA Families, an organization founded by two wives of POW/MIA troops, Karen Butler and Sybil Stockdale. The group was quickly gaining traction in Washington, fighting for the U.S. government’s recognition of the importance of returning troops listed as either prisoners of war or missing in action.
As the group grew larger, Mary noticed that they were missing a symbol — something easily identified and immediately understood. She had an idea: a flag. Instead of going through the proper channels, she simply cold-called Annin Flagmakers, the oldest and largest flag-making corporation in the United States.
As prominent as the flag is in military culture, it only took two revisions from the original to get the version we know today.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)
The vice president of sales at Annin, Norm Rivkees, had no clue who the League of Families were at the time. During the phone call, Hoff explained everything, from who they were to what the flag should look like. Rivkees was impressed by her dedication and brought it up to the president of the company who immediately gave the idea the green light.
Rivkees contracted the job of designing the flag to Hayden Advertising who gave the task to graphic artist Newton F. Heisley. Heisley was an Army Air Corps veteran himself who flew a C-46 twin-engine transport during World War II. He drafted several designs, all in black and white, of a man’s profile with guards behind him.
His son, Jeffery Heisley, was serving in the Marine Corps and had recently returned home on leave. The younger Heisley had unfortunately been struck with hepatitis and was looking very sickly. The elder Heisley turned the misfortune into a positive as his son would make the perfect model for his design. The frail male profile that adorns today’s flag is that of Jeffery Heisley.
Newton, as a pilot, remembered his own fears from his flying days. He added the famous words, “You are not forgotten,” to the flag, to offer the reassurance he wished he had while serving. The design was then ready for approval.
That also makes the POW/MIA flag the only non-national flag to ever fly over a nation’s capitol building.
(Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Mary Hoff and the League of Families loved the design and adopted it in 1972. Keep in mind that at this point, the flag was only intended to be used for the organization. Its prominence quickly grew within the military community throughout the 1970s and, by 1982, it was flown over Ronald Reagan’s White House.
The flag became an official national symbol through the 1998 Defense Authorization Act, which requires that the flag be flown outside most major government buildings, all VA medical centers, and all national cemeteries on POW/MIA Recognition Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day.
Warner Brothers will showcase the courage and will of the comic book hero “Wonder Woman” this weekend in her big screen debut.
But it might be worth taking a look at the military exploits of Milunka Savic — a real-life Wonder Woman. Savic fought in both Balkan Wars and World War I to become the most-decorated woman of military history.
Savic took her brother’s place to fight for Serbia in 1912, cut her hair and took his name. She earned the rank of corporal and was shot in the chest at the Battle of Bregalnica. It was only during treatment that physicians discovered that she was a woman.
That per her commanding officer into a bit of a predicament — punish such a skilled soldier or risk this young woman’s life. They sent her to a nursing unit instead. She stood at attention requesting to return to her old infantry regiment. The commander said he would think about it and get back to her with an answer.
Savic simply stood at attention until they allowed her to serve in the Infantry.
Soon after, Austro-Hungarian troops invaded her homeland, beginning World War I.
Vastly outnumbered at the Battle of Kolubara, Savic entered no-man’s land throwing a bunch of grenades then jumped into an enemy trench and took 20 Austro-Hungarian soldiers prisoner — all by herself.
For her valor, she earned the highest honor of the Kingdom of Serbia — The Order of Karadorde’s Star with Swords. She did the same thing in later battles, capturing 23 Bulgarian troops.
Savic was wounded seven more times in various skirmishes. Few in numbers, her unit continued the fight under the French Army where she fought in Tunisia and Greece. In one instance, a French Officer refused to believe that a woman could be a capable fighter.
He placed a bottle of cognac 40 meters away. If she could hit it, another 19 bottles were for her. She proved him wrong with one shot.
Savic’s story lives on in Serbia as a true heroine. Her military honors include two Orders of Karadorde’s Star with Swords, two French Legions of Honor, Britain’s Order of St. Michael and St. George, and she is the only woman to be awarded the Croix de Guerre — The French Cross of War.
When the Japanese attacked the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, they did so in a coordinated effort that spanned across the Pacific.
Having been weakened by sanctions imposed by the United States, the Japanese sought to deliver a crushing blow to the U.S. and its allies, claiming much of the territory in the East and leaving little means for resistance.
These are the five battles that occurred simultaneously (though on December 8 because they were across the international date line) as the attack on Pearl Harbor, effectively beginning the war in the Pacific:
1. Battle of Guam
Along with the air attacks at Pearl Harbor the Japanese also began air raids against the island of Guam on the morning of December 8, 1941. Two days later an oversized Japanese invasion force landed on the island. After quickly defeating the local Insular Guard force, the Japanese moved on to the under-strength Marine Corps detachment led by Lt. Col. William MacNulty. After a brief resistance, the Marines were ordered to surrender by the islands governor. However, six men from the U.S. Navy fled into the jungle in hopes of evading capture. Five were eventually captured and executed but one, George Ray Tweed, managed to hold out with the help of the local Chamorro tribe for over two and a half years until U.S. forces retook the island in 1944. To the locals he represented the hope of an American return to the island. When the Americans returned he was able to signal a nearby destroyer and pass on valuable targeting information.
2. Battle of Wake Island
When the Japanese first launched their air attacks on Wake Island, they caught the U.S. off guard and managed to destroy precious aircraft on the ground. However, when the Japanese invasion came on Dec. 11, 1941, the Americans were ready and threw back the initial Japanese landing attempt. The Japanese proceeded to lay siege to the island. Aerial bombardment continued but Wake Island became a bright spot in the Pacific as American forces were pushed back elsewhere. The media dubbed it the “Alamo of the Pacific.” Eventually, on Dec. 23, 1941, the Japanese launched another assault on the island. Again the defenders put up a staunch resistance. With no more flyable planes, the Marine aviators — as well as civilians trapped on the island — joined in the fight. Capt. Henry Elrod would become the first Marine aviator to earn the Medal of Honor for his actions there. Despite the intrepid defense, the island was surrendered. The defenders joined the others across the Pacific in their brutal treatment by the Japanese.
3. Battle of the Philippines
When the first Japanese forces hit the islands north of Luzon, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, brought out of retirement for just such an occasion, had over 31,000 American and Philippine troops under his command. These forces put up a determined resistance throughout December, but on Christmas Eve MacArthur called for a fighting withdrawal to the Bataan Peninsula. Once his forces were consolidated on Bataan and the harbor islands of Manila Bay, they dug in to make a final stand against the Japanese onslaught. For several months they held out until shortages of all necessary war supplies dwindled.
The survivors were rounded up and subjected to the brutal Bataan Death March on their way to POW Camps. A lucky few were able to withdraw to Corregidor. A defensive force centered on the 4th Marine Regiment and, augmented by numerous artillery units numbering 11,000 men, prepared to defend Corregidor from the Japanese. That attack came on May 5, 1942. The next day Gen. Wainwright, in the face of overwhelming odds and no prospects of relief, decided to surrender the American forces in the Philippines.
4. Battle of Hong Kong
The Americans were not the only targets of the Japanese and so at 8:00 a.m. local time, Japanese forces from mainland China attacked the British Commonwealth forces defending Hong Kong. British, Canadian, and Indian troops manned defensive positions but were woefully undermanned.
Initial attempts to stop the Japanese at the Gin Drinker’s Line, a defensive line to the north of Hong Kong island, were unsuccessful due to a lack of manpower. The defenders also lacked the experience of the Japanese troops that were attacking. Within three days, the defenders had withdrawn from the mainland portion of the colony and set up defenses on the island of Hong Kong.
The Japanese quickly followed and, after British refusal to surrender, attacked across Victoria Harbor on Dec. 19. Less than a week later, on Christmas day 1941, the British surrendered Hong Kong to the Japanese. The survivors endured numerous atrocities at the hands of the Japanese.
5. Malayan Campaign and the Battle of Singapore
Another British target of the Japanese was Singapore for its important strategic location and because it was a strong base for British resistance. In order to capture Singapore, the Japanese launched the Malayan Campaign on Dec. 8, 1941. On the first day of the campaign the Japanese also launched the first aerial bombardment against Singapore.
In an attempt to intercept the Japanese invasion force, the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk by Japanese aircraft. This left very little in the means of naval power for the British fleet in Singapore.
On land the Commonwealth forces fared no better. The Japanese stormed down the peninsula, forcing the defenders back towards Singapore. By the end of January 1942 the entire peninsula had fallen and the British set in to defend Singapore. The Japanese launched their assault on Singapore on Feb. 8, 1942. Some 85,000 troops stood ready to defend the city but could only hold out for a week before capitulating. This ended British resistance in the Pacific area.
The British lost nearly 140,000 men — the vast majority of whom were captured — in the campaign. As with the fighting elsewhere, the campaign was marked by Japanese cruelty.