That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

There’s just something about two people in a fistfight that’s irresistible to watch. We can’t look away. There’s something about the sound of a sliding barstool, the rising tide of voices shouting, and the sudden rush of action in one spot that is just pure entertainment.


But there shouldn’t be any reason to stop and watch two soldiers fistfight in the middle of war.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
Though it’s an interesting idea.

That’s why it’s surprising that it actually happened. And all the onlookers were Americans – it was during the Civil War.

In May 1864, Union and Confederate armies clashed in a dense wooded area known as “The Wilderness” over the course of three days. More than 120,000 Yankees fought some 65,000 Rebels to an ultimately inconclusive result. Both sides took tens of thousands of killed and wounded, and the Union Army of the Potomac pushed further into Virginia.

Before anyone knew the outcome of the battle, however, one small skirmish captured everyone’s attention, Union and Confederate.

In the middle of the Wilderness, between the two armies’ centers, was a clearing called Saunders Field. Being the only real clearing in the area between two opposing armies meant that it was full of artillery shells and the holes made by those shells, along with bullets. Just tons of and tons of bullets.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
Why are Civil War bullets so large?? WHY

As the two sides clashed near a gully in the field, a Union soldier hid there to avoid being captured by the enemy. Then a Confederate soldier threw himself into the gully to avoid the hail of Union bullets coming toward him. They were the only two in the gully and didn’t even see one another.

Until they did see one another. And then they started “bantering” to one another.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Eventually the two had enough of one another and decided to take it outside…of the gully. They stepped into the road for a good ol’ fashioned “fist and skull fight.” Whoever won would take the other as prisoner.

They were halfway between both sides of the battle, in full view of everyone in each opposing army. And the men in each of those armies stopped fighting the Civil War to watch a fistfight. All the other soldiers even ran up to get a better view of the fight.

Did I mention the Civil War stopped to watch this fight?

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
Let’s see Floyd Mayweather do that.

The account, written by a cavalryman of the Virginia Infantry, doesn’t mention how long the fight lasted, only that “Johnny [Reb] soon had the Yank down.” The Union soldier, true to his word, surrendered. They both returned to the gully, fighting resumed, and the man was taken back to Confederate lines.

Articles

Taco Rice is what happens when Japanese and American tastes collide

Spoiler alert; it’s delicious!:


That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
American-style taco – shell + sushi rice = a dish to heal the wounds of WWII. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Kon’nichiwa, TACO RICE.

Meals Ready To Eat explored the advent of one of Japan’s most popular street foods when host August Dannehl traveled to Okinawa in search of taco rice, a true food fusion OG.

If you were to suggest that spiced taco meat dressed in shredded lettuce, cheese, and tomato, would seem a bastard topping to foist upon sushi rice, Japan’s most sacred and traditional foodstuff, well, in Okinawa at least, you’d find yourself on the receiving end of a lesson in local history.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
Distinguished inventor of taco rice, Matsuzu Gibo, c. 1983. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Taco Rice is the result of two post-WWII cultures: that of the Japanese and the American troops stationed in Okinawa, finding a way to transcend their differences through the combination of comforting foods.

An influx of American delicacies, most notably Spam, flooded the island following the cessation of hostilities and led to a heyday of culinary cross-pollination. Spam is still featured in many now-traditional Okinawan dishes, but taco rice is, for modern Okinawans and American military personnel, the belle of the mash-up Ball.

Watch more Meals Ready To Eat:

These military chefs will make you want to re-enlist

This veteran farmer will make you celebrate your meat

This is why soldiers belong in the kitchen

What happens when a firefighter’s secret identity is revealed

This Galley Girl will make you want to join the Coast Guard

MIGHTY HISTORY

This woman had a kamikaze mission to take down an airliner on 9/11

The September 11, 2001, attacks saw numerous acts of bravery and courage from Americans from many walks of life — be they ordinary citizens, emergency services personnel or members of the military.


Of special note was the sacrifice this National Guard fighter pilot and her comrades were willing to make when their fighters were sent up without any armament to protect the nation’s capital soon after word of the attacks spread.

Among the many fighter pilots sent to the skies in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York was Heather “Lucky” Penney, a fighter pilot with the District of Columbia Air National Guard. At the time a 1st lieutenant with the 121st Fighter Squadron, Lucky was the only female in her fighter training class, and the only female pilot serving with the squadron.

When air traffic controllers in Cleveland, Ohio, saw a potential hijacking aboard a United Airlines flight, Penney and her flight lead, Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville, were called into action.

Launching from Andrews AFB near Washington, D.C., at 10:42 local time, the pair saw smoke billowing out from Arlington, Virginia, the site of the Pentagon. A second pair of fighters piloted by Brandon Rasmussen and Daniel Caine – also of the DCANG – were sent up as well.

 

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
A firefighter looks at the remains of the South Tower at Ground Zero (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Secret Service and defense sector controllers responsible for watching over the airspace surrounding the capital requested an aerial presence to ward away or destroy any other hijacked airliners, lest they attack juicier targets like the White House or the Capitol, or hit crowded civilian areas.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon – the fighters these four pilots flew – is very capable in the air-to-air arena. However, in the rush to get airborne, none of the four DCANG F-16s were armed with missiles or live rounds for their cannons – not that any were immediately available.

Sasseville and Penney briefly discussed a plan of action, noting that their lack of armament would make downing a larger airliner considerably more difficult. The two agreed that the only option would be using their aircraft as rams, where Sasseville would hit the cockpit and Penney the tail.

Though, hypothetically, the two pilots could have aimed their fighters for the engines of the aircraft and ejected quickly after, they knew that the only way they could be sure of bringing down their quarry was if they stayed with their F-16s all the way through.

This would have to be a suicide mission – there was no other alternative.

Word came in over their radios that an aircraft was heading at a low altitude over the Potomac River, possibly towards the White House. This ultimately proved to be a false alarm, though military and Secret Service operations officers initially concluded that the inbound aircraft was United 93, a Boeing 757 similar to the American Airlines jet which had slammed into the Pentagon earlier in the day.

United 93 never showed up in Washington. After recovering at Andrews AFB, the four DCANG pilots would learn that United 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania. Penney, Sasseville, Rasmussen and Caine would soon refuel and have their aircraft armed with weaponry before returning to the skies for their second sortie on Sept. 11.

 

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
The crater where United 93 impacted near Shanksville, PA (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

 

This time, Penney and Sasseville were directed to fly as escorts for Air Force One, carrying President George W. Bush from Offutt AFB to Andrews AFB. The duo were almost engaged in combat yet again when a Learjet approached Air Force One at high speed, though the event was short-lived with the private aircraft diverted, having been on its way to finding a suitable airport to land.

Both Penney and Sasseville went on, post-9/11, to fly combat missions overseas in support of the Global War On Terror. Penney has since left the DC ANG and works with Lockheed Martin in a senior position.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This police detective is looking for an uncle who went MIA over occupied France

Tom McCaslin is a police detective in Omaha, Neb. and his coldest case is turning 75 in 2019. It’s the search for his uncle, Staff Sgt. Thomas J. McCaslin, one of eight crew members of a bomber that was shot down over Nazi-occupied France on June 22, 1944.

All these decades later, his nephew is hunting for his remains in order to bring the bomber crewman back home while four of his 12 siblings are still alive.


That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Top row, from left: Lt. Col. Don Weiss, Lt. David Meserow, Lt. Axel Slustrop. Bottom row: Staff Sgt. John H. Canty,, S/Sgt. Tom McCaslin, T/Sgt. Clement Monaco. All but Monaco were aboard the B-26 when it was shot down.

Their B-26 Marauder was shot down by Nazi flak while supporting the Allied push inland. As the British Second Army fought the German Panzergruppe West in the streets of below, the crew of the B-26 tried in vain to stay aloft. They went down anyway, and that was the last anyone ever heard of them. Well, most of them, anyway. The first was found in 1946, buried after the crash by locals. The remains of the bird’s four officers were discovered in 1986 by a farmer in his fields. They were taken to the American cemetery at Normandy. Another, the enlisted top tail gunner, was found by an amateur historian who also found the man’s dog tag.

That leaves two – and one of those is Thomas J. McCaslin, the Marauder’s bottom turret gunner. McCaslin’s nephew is looking for his uncle and the other crewman.

“If there’s a lead to follow, I’ll keep looking into it,” McCaslin told the Hartford Courant.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Det. Tom McCaslin of Omaha, Neb.

McCaslin’s mission has led him to talk to both the historian and the farmer who found the previous remains. He has also obtained numerous documents about the B-26 mission. It was one of 36 planes to fly over a chateau being used as a headquarters building by the Nazi SS. As the bomber began to make its run and open the doors, a flak burst cut the plane in two and sent it careening to earth. No one was able to bail out. In 40 seconds, it was all over, leaving those eight men among the 73,000 who would be unaccounted for during the war. McCaslin even has aerial recon photos of the crash site taken right after the crash.

McCaslin and his detective skills are largely responsible for the 2018 discovery of Staff Sgt. John Canty’s remains. His work persuaded French authorities to further search the field where his dog tag was found. Canty was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery. From interviewing relic hunters to requesting documents, McCaslin has worked tirelessly to track down the entire crew since the discovery of the first remains – which he only learned about through a newspaper.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

The B-26 Marauder.

Detective McCaslin and his family have all worked the case tirelessly for years. As a family, they have hounded government agencies in an effort to step up the recovery of his uncle and another unaccounted-for airman from his crew. All hope is not lost. McCaslin is currently waiting for the DNA identification of some finger bones found in the area. He even has an eyewitness to the battle who reports that she saw parachutes as a young girl.

“The stuff they’ve uncovered is incredible,” says Jed Henry, a journalist and independent researcher who has become an advocate for families of missing service members from World War II. “To have the intelligence to sort through it, and the tenacity — and to care about it. … I’ve never seen a family that has gotten into this as much as they have.”

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

“My uncle joined (the military) in 1942, and we never saw him again,” Tom McCaslin said. “If there’s a chance to find him, we should do it.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why General William T. Sherman’s battle flag was never used in combat

Battle flags were a big thing during the American Civil War. Perhaps the most famous (and now most notorious) is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Often mistaken for the official flag of the Confederate States of America, the crossed stars and bars flag was flown for Robert E. Lee’s Army – and grew more popular than the actual Confederate flag.

The Union had its own battle flags as well. In fact every general, it seems, had their own battle flag, with some more popular than others. The Army of the Potomac’s battle flag was a swallow-tailed flag featuring a golden eagle and wreath on a magenta background. 

Custer had one. Sheridan had one. So did Burnside, Breckinridge and Cumming. Even the most famous Civil War general (or notorious, depending one which side of the Mason-Dixon line you’re on) had one. Except William Tecumseh Sherman’s flag never saw any fighting. In fact he created his flag as a symbol of peace.

To quickly recap, the Civil War career of Gen. Sherman, he had a nervous breakdown early on in the war. After being relieved of military command of Kentucky, he went home to Ohio to recover. He returned to duty that same year and was eventually placed under the command of his good friend, Ulysses S. Grant.  

This proved to be the entire South’s undoing. Not just the Confederate Army and not just the Confederate States or America: for the entire South, Sherman’s return to duty was the beginning of the end. As Sherman saw successes  on the battlefields of the south, he rose in rank. When Grant took command of the Union Army, he promoted Sherman to his old job.

battle flag
General Sherman’s 23rd Corps’ battle flag, created out of shredded confederate flags (Reddit)

It was this renewed Gen. Sherman who said such famous lines like: 

  • “War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.”
  • “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”
  • “You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end.”
  • “I am satisfied, and have been all the time, that the problem of this war consists in the awful fact that the present class of men who rule the South must be killed outright rather than in the conquest of territory.”
  • “I regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash — and it may be well that we become so hardened.”
  • and finally: “I will make Georgia howl.”

Sherman was basically the last guy anyone would want invading their country at the almost 100,000 angry Union troops, but that’s exactly what Georgia got. He proceeded to burn down large areas of the rebel state.

Sherman’s flag wasn’t created in the Civil War, though. He commissioned it in 1880, 15 years after the war’s end when he was General of the U.S. Army. His original flags was made of blue silk and was full of symbolism meant to represent the unity between states.

It featured a flying golden eagle with a white head in the center of the flag, it’s head turned toward the olive branch in its talons, a symbol of peace between states. Above the eagle were 13 stars, representing the original 13 colonies, along with a shield covered by 13 stripes. It was a look back at the days when the country had unity of purpose. 

General Sherman died in 1891, and his flag was placed in the care of his daughter, Mary Elizabeth. She donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1918, folded in an envelope and warning the museum that it was in pretty rough shape. It stayed in the envelope until 2013, waiting for the right expert to restore it. 

This is the Smithsonian Institution, so of course they eventually found the right person for the job. Visit their website to see just how badly deteriorated it was and to see how the restoration effort preserved this part of American history.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia tries to explain away MH17 missile once again

The Russian military has made a new claim about the downing of a passenger jet over the war zone in eastern Ukraine in 2014, asserting that the missile that brought Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 down was sent to Soviet Ukraine after it was made in 1986 and never returned to Russia.

Defense Ministry officials made the claim at a news conference in Moscow on Sept. 17, 2018, in an apparent attempt to discredit the findings of an international investigation that determined the system that fired the missile was brought into Ukraine from Russia before the Boeing 777 was shot down on July 17, 2014, and smuggled back into Russia afterward.

Kyiv swiftly disputed the Russian assertion, which a senior Ukrainian official called an “awkward fake,” while the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) said that it was still waiting for Russia to send documents it requested long ago and that Russia had made “factually inaccurate” claims in the past.


In a statement to RFE/RL, the Dutch government said it had “taken notice of the publications in relation to the press conference by the Russian Ministry of Defense.”

“The Netherlands has the utmost confidence in the findings and conclusions of the JIT,” the statement added. “The JIT investigation has broad support by the international community. The government is committed to full cooperation with the criminal investigation by all countries concerned as reflected in [UN Security Council] Resolution 2166.”

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Russian Service in an interview, the founder of cybersleuthing outfit Bellingcat accused Russia of “lying about the content” of videos it used as evidence, and said there was “absolutely no way to know” whether the records it cited are genuine.

All 298 passengers and crew were killed when the jet, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in an area held by Russia-backed separatists in the Donetsk region.

The tragedy caused an international outcry and deepened tensions between Moscow and the West following Russia’s seizure of Crimea and support for the militants in their fight against Kyiv’s forces after pro-European protests pushed Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power.

The JIT also found that the Buk missile came from Russia’s 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade and was fired from territory held by the Russia-backed separatists.

Many of the JIT’s findings have been corroborated or supported by evidence gathered by journalists and independent investigators, such as the British-based Bellingcat.

The Russian Defense Ministry officials claimed that some of the evidence used by the JIT, including videos investigators used to track the path of the missile from Russia to Ukraine and back, was falsified. They cited alleged evidence whose authenticity and accuracy could not immediately be independently assessed.

Citing what they said were newly declassified documents, the Defense Ministry officials asserted that the missile was manufactured in Dolgoprudny, outside Moscow, in 1986 — five years before the Soviet Union fell apart — and was sent by railway to a missile brigade in the Ternopil region of western Ukraine in December of that year.

“The missile belongs to the Ukrainian armed forces and never returned to Russian territory,” said Lieutenant General Nikolai Parshin, chief of the Defense Ministry’s missile and artillery department.

In Ukraine, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov said Russia’s “statement alleging that the missile that downed MH17 had a Ukrainian footprint was yet another awkward fake [issued] by the Kremlin in order to conceal its crime, which has been proven by both the official investigation and by independent expert groups.”

Earlier, Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins cast doubt on the allegation that video footage was doctored by investigators, writing on Twitter that the Russian Defense Ministry “should probably know we have the original version of the video they’re talking about at the moment.”

“And we’ve never published it. And the JIT has it,” Higgins added in successive tweets.

In a statement on Sept. 17, 2018, the JIT said it would “meticulously study the materials presented as soon as the Russian Federation makes the relevant documents available to the JIT as requested in May 2018″ and required under a UN Security Council resolution.”

The JIT said that it asked Russia to provide “all relevant information” about the incident back in 2014, and in May 2018 “specifically requested information concerning numbers found on several recovered missile parts.”

The investigative body said that it had “always carefully analyzed” information provided by Russia, and in doing so “has found that information from the Russian Ministry of Defense previously presented to the public and provided to the JIT was factually inaccurate on several points.”

Bellingcat’s Higgins echoed that statement, telling RFE/RL’s Russian Service that “the Russian Ministry of Defense has a long and well-established track record of lying and faking evidence.”

“So, really, there is absolutely no way to know that this information is genuine,” Higgins said. He also disputed the claim that videos were doctored, accusing the Defense Ministry of making “purposely misleading” statements about video evidence and “just lying about the content.”

The new Russian assertions follow several other attempts by Russia to lay blame for the downing of MH-17 on Ukraine, including initial suggestions — now discredited — that the jet was shot down by a Ukrainian warplane.

The 298 victims of the crash are among more than 10,300 people killed since April 2014 in the war in eastern Ukraine, where fighting persists and the Moscow-backed militants continue to hold parts of the Donestk and Luhansk provinces despite internationally-backed cease-fire and political-settlement deals known as the Minsk Accords.

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

6 reasons ‘The Long Road Home’ might be the most realistic military show ever

This week, National Geographic will air the first episode of The Long Road Home. The miniseries is a scripted retelling of the beginning of the U.S. Army’s fight in the Siege of Sadr City of April 2004. What began with an uprising against the U.S. occupation forces in the Shia neighborhood of the capital led to a long protracted siege spanning years.


The Long Road Home is the story of an ambushed Army escort convoy from 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. It’s based on the true story of a platoon forced to hole up in a civilian home and await rescue. With eight American soldiers lost in the initial fighting in the Baghdad neighborhood, the battle came to be known as “Black Sunday.”

Adapted from ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz’ book of the same name, the show meticulously created what might be the most accurate military story in film or television.

1. The show’s military advisors were in Sadr City that day.

Any military show or movie with an interest in authenticity is going to have veteran technical advisors on hand to tell the director when things are wrong. But in The Long Road Home, you can expect more than infantry badges and rank to be in the right place. You can expect the people and vehicles to be in Sadr City in the right places too.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
The actors and 2-5 Cav vets from The Long Road Home talked to We Are The Mighty about their experiences making the show. (National Geographic)

Showrunner Mikko Alanne hired two veterans from Black Sunday – Eric Bourquin and Aaron Fowler – to be the show’s military advisors. If one of the actors needed to know how to wear a patrol cap, the two veterans could show him. But unlike most shows, if the director needed a minute-by-minute breakdown, he could ask the guys who were there.

“Personally, I like it,” says Fowler. “Because I’m a retired Sergeant First Class, so I have the anal-retentive part down. I’ve got lots of notebooks, and I have access to all the guys. If one of the actors had a question, I could get my phone and hand them the person that did the action they had questions about.”

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
Jeremy Sisto as Sgt. Robert Miltenberger in The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)

“Eric [Bourquin] was in the platoon that was pinned down on the roof and Aaron [Fowler] was among the rescuers,” says Alanne.

“I’m very proud to be a part of what happened and how it’s been handled. I’ve struggled with having to open up, because having such a wide spotlight cast on a pretty intense part of my life,” says Bourquin. “I learned things I didn’t know transpired. Because the whole time, I was stuck on the roof for four hours. People were out there trying to come in, to get us, so I’d been exposed to a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of and that was healing too. This is honoring them. Now everybody’s gonna always know their story. With that being said, how could I not be involved?”

2. Raddatz’ interviewed everyone close to the fighting.

You don’t get to be the Chief Global Affairs Correspondent of a major network without being addicted to the facts. Martha Raddatz, who literally wrote the book on the events in Sadr City that day, was working for ABC News in Baghdad at the time when she heard about what happened. She ended up talking to everyone from 2-5 Cav that was still in country.

“This story came to me,” she says. “I was covering politics and policy when a general told me about this battle. I had to go talk to these guys. We did pieces for ABC News, for Nightline… I was just so stricken by them. I come from a foreign affairs background and I see presidents make policy and then I went over and saw the effects of that policy.”

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
Raddatz is still covering military operations in the CENTCOM area as of 2016.

She was introduced to the families through the soldiers who fought there that day.

“It will be with me forever,” Raddatz says. “It felt like they could all be my neighbors. One day they’re all in minivans with their kids, and in three days they’re in the middle of a battle. These aren’t a bunch of action figures, these are real human beings.”

3. Mike Medavoy is an executive producer.

If the name of a film producer doesn’t excite you, that’s fine. An executive producer’s name likely doesn’t carry a lot of weight with most of America.

In the case of The Long Road Home, however, the addition of Medavoy puts the miniseries in the hands of a guy who helped make the legendary war movies Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and The Thin Red Line (not to mention non-military films Rocky, Raging Bull, and Terminator 2).

4. The Long Road Home’s depiction of Army families is heartfelt and real.

When the cast arrived at Fort Hood and met the families of 2-5 Cav, they got just a taste of what living in a military family is like.

“I took away an incredible sense of community,” says actress Katie Paxton, who plays Amber Aguero, wife to Lt. Shane Aguero. “You felt that community from the soldiers. When you’re in war covering your sector, you’re covering the guy to your left. You’re covering the guy to your right. And those guys are your family. I never really understood that until I talked to soldiers.”

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
A still from the opening episode of The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)

“I grew up in the city as a city kid, and this totally dispelled all of my ideas of what the soldier was actually like,” says actor Ian Quinlan, who plays Spc. Robert Arsiaga. “There was a very significant through line between these soldiers – a lot of these guys joined after 9/11. It blew me away because as a New Yorker I didn’t know anyone in my immediate vicinity in New York who would ever think of that.”

“Hearing their stories, you just feel the goosebumps,” says Karina Ortiz, who plays one of the Gold Star Wives. “The soldiers leave and everything is fine at first, but then people start hearing things. Rumors. The waiting. The not knowing. I would get teary-eyed and just feel their pain. Or I’d feel their fear.”

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
Jason Ritter portrays Capt. Troy Denomy with Kate Bosworth as Gina Denomy on the set of The Long Road Home at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo: National Geographic/Van Redin)

The experience of recreating the events of April 2004 even had an effect on its veterans.

“One of the Gold Star Wives came up to me after the Fort Hood premiere and told me thank you,” Eric Bourquin says. “I don’t know why. Her husband died trying to come rescue us guys that were stuck on the roof. But the more I thought about it I realized everyone watching is going to see what the families and everyone involved goes through when shit happens.”

5. The showrunner’s background is in documentary.

“I was very cognizant from the beginning that real life people were going to be watching this,” says Mikko Alanne. “It was my hope that we would be able to use everyone’s real name, and so Martha and I worked very closely on reaching out to all the families.”

The two were very successful. The show originally premiered in Fort Hood’s Abrams Gym. After the show’s Los Angeles premiere, the veterans and Gold Star Families took the stage with their TV counterparts, to a standing ovation from an elite Hollywood audience. But the realism didn’t stop with cooperation.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
A still from The Long Road Home. Sadr City was meticulously recreated on Fort Hood for these scenes. (National Geographic)

“So many of the families sent us their photographs, actual photographs used as props, or photographs of their homes for us to recreate,” Alanne says. “And it was very important to me the cast reached out to their real-life counterparts. Bonds were formed between the actors and the real life families, and everyone became infused with the same mission that Martha really started; that these families and these experiences would not be lost to history.”

6. The Fort Hood scenes are really Fort Hood.

When you see Fort Hood, Tex. depicted on screen, you can be sure that’s what Fort Hood really looks like. The show was shot entirely at Fort Hood. The cast even lived in base housing. More important than that, however, is the exact recreation of Sadr City built on Fort Hood that took the veterans on the base back to April 2004.

“The smell was the only thing that wasn’t exactly recreated,” says Fowler. “We veterans and Gold Star Families got to walk back to the streets of Sadr City that we would never get to go. It was an incredibly healing experience. Exposure therapy plain and simple.”

Eric Bourquin agrees.

“Being able to travel back to your battlespace without fear of being captured and ending up in a YouTube video is a gift that can’t be put into words,” he says. “Just like the guys that go back and visit France, or Korea, or Vietnam — it’s become a reality.”

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
A candid from behind the scenes of The Long Road Home on Fort Hood. (National Geographic)

The Long Road Home starts Tuesday Nov. 7 at 9pm on National Geographic.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the plane that nearly killed Chuck Yeager

Ask around — every veteran pilot has a few stories involving close calls. Some of these terrifying near-misses happen in combat and others during peacetime. Chuck Yeager, however, has the displeasure of experiencing both. In fact, his closest call had nothing to do with the enemy.


Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the United States Air Force was testing a number of planes, always trying to reach for the higher and faster. One such plane was the NF-104A Starfighter, a modification of the baseline F-104 that had a short career with the United States Air Force, but saw decades of service with other countries.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

A West German F-104 Starfighter. In 1962, this plane crashed with three others, killing four pilots (one of them American).

(US Army)

The purpose of the NF-104A was to test reaction control systems for use in space (since conventional control surfaces need air to function). The F-104 was a great choice for this test. As a high-performance fighter, it could reach a top speed of 1,320 miles per hour, had a maximum range of over 1,000 miles, and maintained the ability to carry two tons of weapons. However, it also proved to be very difficult to fly, earning the nickname “Widowmaker” among the West-German Luftwaffe.

To reach the altitudes required for such a test, engineers paired a rocket with 6,000 pounds of thrust with the J79 engine (the same engine used by the F-4 Phantom). The NF-104A was able to reach altitudes as high as 12,000 feet. It was called the Aerospace Trainer.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

A NF-104 Starfighter lights off its rockets to zoom to altitudes of as much as 120,000 feet.

Lockheed modified three F-104As taken from the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for the Aerospace Trainer program. Two of the three NF-104s crashed. Yeager’s was the first among them and perhaps the most dramatic. His NF-104A, delivered less than six week prior to the nearly fatal flight, went into a flat spin. Yeager fought the plane as it fell almost 10,000 feet before he ejected. He suffered burns, but lived to eventually command a fighter wing in Vietnam.

Learn more about the plane that nearly killed one of the most famous pilots in history in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgToX-Fy42U

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MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

4 ways to choose your next duty station as a family

Moving to a new base is a family decision as much as it is a career move. When considering where to go, there is so much to think about beyond career path; for instance, health and well-being, proximity to family, available health services and more.

Besides, sometimes it’s just fun to live somewhere new! As a military family, you’re likely used to frequent moves. But you can also find the right move that suits your interests, career changes, and more. Moving is a given, but when you get a say in where to go, it can make all the difference in mindset and family unity.


Consider finding a duty base that best suits your family needs for your next stop by:

Fulfilling family needs

First things first, what does your family need? Do you have a family member with certain medical needs? What type of amenities need to be nearby? Look at the proximity and quality of services close to each possible duty station. This information should be available online, with reviews so you can consider a move from afar. Military bases themselves might also offer this information, letting you know in advance what types of treatments are approved at each base. Or, find those who live there already and ask around.

Other things to consider include unique aspects to an area, preferences for climate, distance to important landmarks in your life (family, facilities, etc.).

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Considering adventure

Of course, moving somewhere new can be a great deal of fun! If you’re ready to try out a new location, think about what can be done and how it’s different from your current duty station. What activities are available that you can’t do now? (Snow skiing, hockey, sailing, rock climbing, and more.) Can you easily travel to landmarks that interest your family? Will you be able to adapt to weather changes easily?

Look at the option for adventure when considering your next base and what type of activities each family member can take on. Keep fun and adventure in mind so you can experience new cultures as well as all there is to be seen.

Looking at career moves

It’s also important to keep career changes in mind with a potential PCS. How will the move affect your military member’s career path? Is there a compromise for their best move that will also help the family? Look toward a solution that helps — or at least doesn’t hurt — a career projection in years to come.

This, of course, is based on you or your spouse’s job in the service. Some jobs will have more location choices than others, while others might head to various bases, depending on the point they are at in their career.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Taking a vote!

If your kids are old enough, consider a family vote to decide where you might PCS. After all, they’re being affected by this move, too, so it’s only fair to consider their wants! It may or may not make a difference in the long run, but it’s worth having a discussion.

Besides, a good old fashioned family vote just seems fun! While parents have final say (and ultimately the military has final final say), it can help kids to feel included and welcomed as part of the family when voting on upcoming PCS locations.

All in all, there is much to consider when looking at military moves. Look at responsible aspects, such as infrastructure and promotion path, but also consider just how much fun is to be had at potential addresses.

How does your family decide where to move next? Tell us below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The chemical weapon so deadly even the Nazis couldn’t use it

In World War II, every country was looking for an edge, so it’s pretty amazing that the Nazis found one and then decided against it – and rightly so. Chlorine trifluoride ignites on contact with almost any substance, burns at over 2000°C, and will melt tanks, bunkers, schools, and pretty much anything it comes into contact with.

Some things are better left alone.


That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

It must have been one helluva weapon if even Hitler didn’t use it (Spoiler Alert: It was).

In 1930, German scientists came across a volatile new discovery. Dubbed “Substance N,” the concoction boiled at room temperature and produced a toxic gas. When ignited, this toxic gas also burned at thousands of degrees Celsius. After decomposing, it turned into the slightly-less-dangerous-hydrochloric acid (that was actually more dangerous because it occurred as steam). It was also corrosive and exploded on contact with water. Or carbon, which is everywhere. This stuff set fire to asbestos.

At first glance, it might seem like an ideal weapon of war, one that keeps killing in many, many forms and doesn’t stop. And the Nazis thought so too. For years they tried to produce enough of the material to effectively weaponize it. The stuff ate through everything, and what it didn’t eat through, it burned.

It burns concrete. No joke.

Nazi Germany would have totally used this weapon if they could have produced and stored enough of it to actually convert to weapons. If they could have safely transported those weapons and used them before the chemical violently exploded, burned, or otherwise ate through whatever it was in.

Turns out the only safe way to store it is to seal it in containers made of steel, iron, nickel, or copper after they’ve been treated with fluorine gas. The fluorine protects the other substances from the Chlorine Trifluoride. The stuff is so unstable, Chemist John D. Clark once said the best way to deal with a failure to contain the resulting fire from a chlorine trifluoride storage failure is “a good pair of running shoes.”

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Long-hidden photos from Roswell show aliens (or not)

Hilda Ray hid some photos in her attic shortly after her husband’s death. She was afraid the U.S. government would come looking for them. Her husband Bernard took those photos on his Kodak Kodachrome one day while working as a Geologist in the Roswell, New Mexico area. He and his team stumbled upon a cordoned-off area, but managed to snap off a few shots, despite being told to leave by U.S. Army personnel. Hilda hid these slides in the lining of a trunk in their Arizona home but after she died, they were found by people with a sharp eye for cash grabs historical importance.


As a rule, care must always be exercised when opening a random box. To wit:

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

But we digress . . .

On July 8, 1947 the U.S. military reported a crashed weather balloon on a local ranch. The object was recovered, but reported to be more of a flying disc. The military sent a plainclothes officer to the ranch to gather the pieces of the wreckage. The Air Force issued a press release, saying it was a downed weather balloon and its radar reflector and not at all a nuclear explosion detector or UFO.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Then the story went away forever and no one ever spoke of it again because we are a nation of rational individuals who seldom jump to conclusions, even for financial gain. We demand authenticity and evidence.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

No, of course that’s not how it went. This is America. People in the Roswell area began to talk to each other – and to outsiders – about their experiences with the 1947 crash. This, coupled with documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (some say from the so-called Majestic 12), led people to conclude the obvious: an extraterrestrial craft crash landed that night and there may be alien life there, still living there to this day, probably bored as hell.

But evidence does help. The Roswell Incident is now known “the world’s most famous, most exhaustively investigated, and most thoroughly debunked UFO claim.” It spawned hundreds of books, movies, television tropes, Congressional investigations, and conspiracy theories about what happened that Summer. The official Air Force version stuck with the claim that it was a weather balloon.

After reviewing classified documents nearly 50 years later, historians have determined the craft was likely part of Operation Mogul, an effort to hook high-powered microphones to balloons to hear Soviet nuke tests or Operation High Dive where the Air Force used anatomically correct dummies to test high-altitude parachutes. (Somewhere there are hundreds of photos of the Air Force dumping mannequins into the wild blue yonder.)

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight
You can’t see it but even this dummy has a crew cut.

The slides were verified real by Kodak representatives, and now they are also public. Roswell researcher Donald Schmitt showcased the photos in Mexico on May 5. Schmitt will also bring them to the Roswell UFO festival in July.

The reception in Mexico was much less enthusiastic than the promoters had hoped. (They had built it up quite a bit over the last few years.)

One of the actual slides is below.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Get a job, Roger . . .

NOW: The 19 most game-changing weapons of the 21st century

OR: Navy turns seawater into fuel and nobody cares

MIGHTY HISTORY

The KGB tailed this Frenchman for 8 years, but was he a spy?

Fifty-five years ago, on Sept. 11, 1963, a plane took off from Kyiv for Vienna. On board was Julien Galeotti, a French citizen accused of espionage and expelled from the Soviet Union.

Recently released documents from the KGB archive in Kyiv have revealed details of Galeotti’s story and brought to light the remarkable photographs he took during his travels in the Soviet Union. For eight years, KGB agents followed the man they called “The Moustache.”

But was he a spy?


Galeotti made his first trip to the Soviet Union as a tourist in 1955, with stops in Moscow and Leningrad, which is now St. Petersburg. From the beginning, he attracted the attention of the KGB.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Julien Galeotti.


According to reports filed on him, KGB agents believed the snap-happy Galeotti was trying to make secret “compromising photos” in the Soviet Union aimed at “discrediting and mocking intentionally created ugly images and insignificant aspects” of Soviet life.

In one photograph taken in front of the newly constructed main building of Moscow State University, the KGB alleged Galeotti had set up “clearly posed French citizens depicting unemployed people.”

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Soviet citizens relaxing on a Moscow bench or French tourists posing as the unemployed?

The next year, Galeotti was back, this time taking a cruise from the southern French port of Nice on to the Black Sea, with stops in Odesa, Sevastopol, and Yalta in Ukraine, as well as Sochi in Russia and Batumi in Georgia. He made similar cruises in 1957, 1959, 1961, and 1963.

Over the years, he took photographs of Soviet citizens standing in lines for basic goods. He photographed a beggar in an Odesa market and military vessels in port.

“At 14:00, he went into the courtyard of Lenin Street, No. 59, and took a photograph of a trash container,” a KGB report from August 12, 1957, said about Galeotti’s time in Odesa. “Then, walking along Provoznaya Street, he photographed poorly dressed citizens.”

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Residents of Odesa at a public transport stop in 1963.

Soviet agents followed him the entire time, watching him both on board the cruise ship and ashore. According to their reports, Galeotti tried to become friendly with the crews of the ships, showed an interest in Soviet ports and whether military ships were present, and organized anti-Soviet shows and skits aboard the cruise ships.

On his final trip to the Soviet Union in 1963, Galeotti was back in Sevastopol, the Crimean Peninsula port city that was home to the Black Sea Fleet. The KGB arranged to have civilian militia (druzhinniki) headed by KGB agents stationed at sensitive viewing points overlooking Soviet military vessels in anticipation that Galeotti would want to take photos there.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Galeotti’s photo of the Soviet tank rolling down an Odesa street in 1963.

An operational group was set up with the intention of detaining him. The pretext for arresting him was based on the “statements of Soviet citizens,” including a letter from the captain of the cruise ship.

When agents arrested Galeotti in Sevastopol on Aug. 22, 1963, they didn’t find any film on him. He’d managed to pass his rolls to another French citizen who, according to the intelligence reports, hid them in the seat of his Soviet tourist agency bus. That French citizen spent the rest of the cruise aboard ship without disembarking in the Soviet Union again, and the KGB eventually recovered the rolls of film from the bus.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

A market in Odesa in 1963.

Galeotti spent nearly three weeks in custody, first in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, and then in Kyiv, where he was taken for further questioning.

At first, Galeotti denied being a French agent. He said all of his photographs were taken out of personal interest. But eventually he confessed that he had worked with the French secret services, but only during his last trip to the Soviet Union when he’d been asked to photograph military objects in Sevastopol. Later in the interrogation, he admitted that he’d carried out such assignments from his first trip to the Soviet Union.

He said that when he returned to France after each trip, he sent the film to the photo studio of his father, a former French intelligence agent.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

A KGB surveillance photo of Galeotti in Odesa in 1963.

Galeotti “repented of his actions, saying that he had made a terrible mistake that he would never repeat,” the KGB reported following his interrogation.

According to the file, Moscow decided merely to expel Galeotti because, at the time, two KGB operatives had gone missing in France. It was decided “to exploit the situation as part of a more comprehensive plan.” KGB agents continued to follow and photograph The Moustache until the very moment that his plane left the ground.

Upon returning to France, Galeotti told journalists: “I can’t go back to the Soviet Union anymore. But then again, I don’t want to.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Triple Nickles: The all-Black airborne smokejumping unit that parachuted into forest fires

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t the only time the Japanese struck U.S. soil during World War II. In response to the Doolittle Raid — the successful penetration of Japanese airspace and the bombing of strategic targets in Tokyo from the allies — the Japanese executed their revenge. The date of the launch was chosen for the birthday of former emperor Meiji, Nov. 3, 1944.

However, instead of using airplanes, the Japanese used fusen bakudan, or balloon bombs, that each carried four incendiaries and a 33-pound, highly explosive anti-personnel fragmentation device. The Fu-Go balloon bombs traveled 7,500 miles along the Pacific Ocean jet stream at altitudes between 20,000 and 40,000 feet. Witnesses described these large, white balloons as “giant jellyfish” floating in the sky. Their main objective was to start forest fires, create security doubts among the civilian populace, and cause upheaval.


The all-black Triple Nickles battalion was ultimately responsible for combating the slow-moving, round balloon bombs, which had no escort or protection and had been spotted by the U.S. Navy patrol off the coast of California only two days after their initial launch. The patrol alerted the FBI, and investigations were conducted to find the origin of these mysterious flammable balloons traveling over the Pacific Northwest and into Canada.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

A Japanese Fu-Go balloon with its payload of charges suspended below. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions suffered heavy casualties in the European Theater (ETO) during the Battle of the Bulge and the courageous siege of Bastogne; they were in a desperate need for replacements. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, or the “Triple Nickles” as they became known, trained to fulfill this capacity. However, as with other all-black units of the time, African-American soldiers weren’t treated equally. “We were relegated to serving in menial units such as truck drivers, port companies (loading ships), mess halls (waiting on tables) and guard duty,” wrote Walter Morris, a Triple Nickle veteran.

Although no Triple Nickles completed a combat jump or deployed to Europe, these trendsetters provided another example of how an elite all-black unit could be employed in a combat or peacetime environment. The Triple Nickles participated in a top-secret project fighting forest fires as the U.S. military’s first smoke jumping paratroopers over the Pacific Northwest.

The Triple Nickles, a name derived from the parachute regiment’s designation, was created in the winter of 1943 and consisted of 17 of the original 20-man platoon from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division. These men were hand-selected to create the first “colored test platoon.” A few months into 1944 saw newly minted paratroopers who completed training jumps at Fort Benning, Georgia. The first all-black parachute infantry battalion in history had formed but were still brand-new and lacked manpower. The paratroopers honed their skills and became experts in small-unit tactics.

The Inspiring Story of the Triple Nickles

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Several went to the best schools the U.S. Army had to offer. Some became riggers and jump masters while others learned the metrics in communications, the skills to navigate difficult terrain as pathfinders, and the intricacies in demolitions.

They were the cream of the crop — college graduates, professional athletes, men of high character and extraordinary intellect. One Triple Nickle veteran, “Tiger” Ted Lowry, entered the ring to face world champion boxing legend Joe Louis, who came to Lowry’s base in 1943. He was accompanied by Sugar Ray Robinson — who Muhammad Ali coined as “the king, the master, my idol” — when the duo toured military camps to entertain soldiers. “Stay in the middle of the ring,” Robinson advised Lowry, “don’t let him get you on the ropes.” Lowry already had 70 fights to his name and somehow survived the three-round exhibition with one of the greatest boxers in history.

“You can’t imagine what that did for my ego,” Lowry reflected. “I had just been in the ring with the champion of the world, the greatest fighter in the world, and he was unable to knock me down. My confidence was inflated.” His fighting days halted when he joined the Triple Nickles but resumed when he faced Rocky Marciano, the Brockton, Massachusetts, undefeated heavyweight champion. Not only did he stun Marciano, but he shocked crowds of hometown Italian-Americans by going the distance twice with the Brockton Blockbuster, the only fighter ever to do so.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

The men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment march in the New York City Victory Parade on January 12, 1946. Maj. Gen. Jim Gavin ensured the “Triple Nickles” not only marched in the parade, but wore the insignia of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

When World War II was nearing a close and as the Germans were losing ground, the Triple Nickles’ focus shifted from Europe to the homefront. The Triple Nickles were the size of a “reinforced company” but expected to reach battalion size by 1945. The threat from the Japanese balloon bombs was imminent, and they were diverted to Pendleton, Oregon, and Chico, California, under secret orders to the 9th Services Command.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) received help from the U.S. Army when 400 paratroopers from the Triple Nickles were tasked with the difficult job. They turned in their rifles, hand grenades, and rucksacks. In that equipment’s place they donned football helmets with wire face masks, equipped 50 feet of nylon rope for lowering themselves from trees, and packed firefighting tools such as axes and handsaws on their person for parachute jumps.

The smoke jumping program was in its sixth firefighting season, but the war dwindled their resources, and the Triple Nickles provided a welcome skillset. Pilots flying C-47s needed no additional training and had prior results in properly managing smokejumper assets in remote regions where fires were often inaccessible by roads. The response and defensive strategy against the Japanese balloon bombs was a little-known secret called Operation Firefly.

Later reports suggested that the Japanese launched over 9,000 helium balloons. Damage from these balloons was rare but noteworthy. One balloon exploded after it hit high-tension power lines that were connected to a plutonium plant in Hanford, Washington. It caused a temporary blackout to the community, and the plutonium plant was ironically responsible for developing the fuel for the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Triple Nickle member Jesse Mayes prepares to jump from a C-47. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Vincent “Bud” Whitehead, a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, used to track and chase the balloons in the air from his plane. In March 1945, a balloon had landed on the ground but didn’t ignite. “They sent a bus up with all of this specially trained personnel, gloves, full contamination suits, masks,” Whitehead said in an interview with the Voices of the Manhattan Project. “I had been walking around on that stuff and they had not told me! They were afraid of bacterial warfare.” Biological and bacterial warfare fears were not exaggerated because it was later revealed that the Japanese had scrapped an operation at the end of the war for weaponizing the bubonic plague.

Another notable tragedy that involved these balloon bombs was the devastation of almost an entire family while they picnicked near the Gearhart Mountain in Bly, Oregon. On May 5, 1945, Reverend Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife, Elsie, and five children from their Sunday School class were victims of the balloon’s lethality. The children went to investigate the strange object that had floated to the ground, but they got too close and were killed when the balloon did what it was designed to do. Archie Mitchell was the only survivor.

The Triple Nickles went to work to prevent additional American civilian casualties. First Lieutenant Edwin Willis, a brilliant planner and training specialist, put his paratroopers through a three-week crash course to learn proper firefighting knowledge and techniques. Willis received assistance and guidance from USFS smokejumpers and forest rangers as well.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Frank Derry, Parachute Instructor-Rigger, instructing prospective smoke jumper in the use of the “drop rig.” Simulates landing from chute caught in a snag or other obstacles by use of landing rope. Lolo National Forest, Montana. Photo by W.J. Mead, courtesy fo the National Archives and Records Administration.

This course included “demolitions training, tree climbing and techniques for descent if we landed in a tree, handling firefighting equipment, jumping into pocket-sized drop zones studded with rocks and tree stumps, survival in wooded areas, and extensive first-aid training for injuries — particularly broken bones,” said Morris.

Frank Derry, a master civilian parachutist, issued the Triple Nickles his “Derry-chute,” which was known for its maneuverability and steering capabilities. “Snag trees, those were the worst. I didn’t like those dudes at all,” Derry said, referring to the nuisances found in their path. “But landing in the trees was just as soft as landing, better than landing on the ground. The thick trees […] you just come into them like sitting down on a pillow, nothing to it.”

The Triple Nickles were also assisted by demolition experts from the 9th Services Command and USFS rangers. “Learning the touchy business of handling unexploded bombs, as well as how to isolate areas in which a bomb, or suspected bomb, was located,” Morris wrote. The incedinaries and chemicals were an additional pucker factor to their already challenging task.

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

Then-1st. Sgt. Walter Morris, right, prepares for his first jump with the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

The Triple Nickles also learned to live off the land and avoid costly mistakes that could derail their mission. “They could walk up the hills like a cat on a snake walk,” Morris wrote, discussing the expertise of USFS rangers. “They taught us how to climb, use an axe, and what vegetation to eat. At the same time, we underwent an orientation program with Forest Service maps. And, above all, our morale and spirit of adventure never sagged in the face of this unusual mission.”

The Triple Nickles became fully operational smokejumpers, but the numbers on how many fires and fire jumps they completed have been skewed over the years. Chuck Sheley, the editor of Smokejumper Magazine, states they completed 460 to 470 jumps on an estimated 15 of 28 forest fires, while they drove or hiked into the other fires. The National 555th Parachute Infantry Association consensus estimates the Triple Nickles answered 36 fire calls with 1,200 individual jumps across seven Western states.

Private First Class Malvin Brown was the only casualty of the Triple Nickles. Brown was a critical component of the team because of his medical expertise. Any injuries, accidents, or potential concerns went through the fire medics. When 15 Triple Nickles paratroopers boarded their C-47 on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Brown wasn’t supposed to be there. However, he volunteered to replace another medic who was sick. Hours later he jumped into a fire in Umpqua National Forest in southern Oregon’s Cascade Range and landed in a tree. Moments later he slipped and fell more than 150 feet to the ground below. He died instantly.

Brown’s fellow smokejumpers changed their mission from fighting the fire to bringing home their teammate’s body. After an arduous search in rocky terrain, they located him and carried him more than 3 miles through the backcountry. Their first sign of civilization was a trail, but it took another 12 miles for them to find a road to get help.

The soldiers of the Triple Nickles weren’t respected while they were in service, but their contributions in a long lineage of elite all-black units are remembered as if they were legends. The Triple Nickles disbanded after World War II, but many of the soldiers continued to serve, including Lieutenant Colonel John Cannon, who was a combat medic during the Korean War. John E. Mann served as an Army Special Forces advisor in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, three Legions of Merit, and a Distinguished Flying Cross. Mann served in the military for 33 years and later authored four detective novels.

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

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