In 1970, CBS News embedded with an Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, in Vietnam and was there when the platoon came under fire. The infantrymen, the “Blues” of the air mobile unit, were sent in whenever the troops had a known or suspected enemy to fight.
The men were headed home from investigating a series of North Vietnamese Army bunkers when Sgt. Kregg Jorgenson made eye contact with an enemy soldier hiding in the foliage and gripping an AK-47. Jorgenson, a Ranger veteran and three-time Purple Heart recipient, started firing at the same times as the enemy.
Jorgenson was pretty sure he had hit his man, but as the firefight erupted, the body on the trail disappeared. As the cameras kept rolling, the platoon leader called in air support and a medevac while the rest of the platoon poured lead into the trees.
It’s one of those bizarre twists of history that might have changed the world as we know it, if not just for a small tweak. Believe it or not, the Allied plan for Germany wasn’t all Marshall Plan and Berlin Airlift from the get-go. While they also weren’t about to be nuked, a lot of animosity still remained after the fall of Nazism. World War I was about as far removed from World War II as Operation Desert Storm is from the US-led invasion of Iraq. A lot of people still hated Germany for the Great War – a war it didn’t even start. So they really hated Germany for what it did during World War II.
One of the people who hated Germany and wanted to take it out for good was Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. – and he was almost President of the United States.
He doesn’t seem intimidating now, but keep reading.
When President Roosevelt died in April 1945, Vice President Truman took office. Shortly after that, Secretary of State Edward Stettinius Jr. resigned his post. That left Morgenthau next in the Presidential line succession. President Truman, of course, finished out Roosevelt’s term and then some, but had President Morgenthau taken control of what was now a global superpower, his plans for postwar Europe would have had dramatic consequences on world history.
A page from Morgenthau’s 1945 work, “Germany Is Our Problem.”
Morgenthau wanted not only subdivide Germany into smaller parts, he wanted to wreck all of its industrial capabilities. In order to keep Germans from making armaments, he wanted to keep them from making anything at all. Industrial facilities were to be destroyed, mines were to be wrecked and filled, experts in production and manufacturing would be forcibly removed from the region and put to work elsewhere. Germany was going to become an agrarian state, set back almost a thousand years.
The trouble was, the Nazis found out about it. They told the German people about the program in a piece of German propaganda, encouraging them to fight on against the Americans. Morgenthau’s plan would reduce the population of Germany by potentially millions of people who would no longer be able to produce enough food to feed each other or themselves.
And Roosevelt approved it.
When Truman took over, he wanted the plan scrapped and ordered it done so. Unfortunately, the plan he replaced it with was pretty much the same plan under a different name. The JCS Directive 1067 called on Eisenhower to “take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany [or] designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy.” For two years, the recovery of Europe stalled under the plan as Communism crept into the occupied territories.
The Marshall Plan was approved in 1948, replacing the Morgenthau Plan. Named for Secretary of State George Marshall, this new plan for Germany oversaw its postwar recovery without decimating the German economy or its people while creating the foundation of a modern, more peaceful Europe.
The 18,000 Marines and sailors who landed on the island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll in the Pacific Ocean early on Nov. 20, 1943, waded into what one combat correspondent called “the toughest battle in Marine Corps history.”
After 76 hours of fighting, the battle for Betio was over on November 23. More than 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and nearly 2,300 wounded. Four Marines received the Medal of Honor for their actions — three posthumously.
Of roughly 4,800 Japanese troops defending the island, about 97% were killed. All but 17 of the 146 prisoners captured were Korean laborers.
“Betio would be more habitable if the Marines could leave for a few days and send a million buzzards in,” Robert Sherrod, a correspondent for Time, wrote after the fighting.
The victory at Tarawa “knocked down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific,” Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific fleet, said afterward.
Four Marines carry a wounded Marine along the cluttered beach to a dressing station for treatment after fighting on Tarawa eased.
(US Marine Corps Photo)
Hundreds were left unidentified and unaccounted for
Because of environmental conditions, remains were quickly buried in trenches or individual graves on Betio, which is about a half-square-mile in size and, at the time of the battle, only about 10 feet above sea level at its highest point.
Navy construction sailors also removed some grave markers as they hurriedly built runways and other infrastructure to help push farther across the Pacific toward Japan.
The US Army Graves Registration Service came after the war to exhume remains and return them to the US, but its teams could not find more than 500 servicemen, and in 1949, the Army Quartermaster General’s Office declared those remains “unrecoverable,” telling families that those troops were buried at sea or in Hawaii as “unknowns.”
Over the past 16 years, however, Betio, now part of Kiribati, has yielded some of the largest recoveries of remains of US service members.
That work has been led by History Flight, a Virginia-based nonprofit and Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency partner that’s dedicated to finding and recovering missing US service members.
“History Flight was started in 2003, and we’ve been researching the case history of Tarawa since 2003, but we started working out there 2008,” Katherine Rasdorf, a researcher at History Flight, told Business Insider on Thursday. “We had to do all the research and analysis first before we went out there.”
The first individual was found in 2012. That was followed by a lost cemetery in 2015 and two more large burial sites in 2017 and 2019, Rasdorf said.
In 2015, History Flight found 35 sets of remains at one site, including those of US Marine 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.
In July 2017, the organization turned over 24 sets of remains to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for identification.
Osteologists with History Flight excavate a grave site from the battle of Tarawa at Republic of Kiribati, July 15, 2019.
Those are the largest recoveries of missing US service personnel since the Korean War.
Using remote sensing, cartography, aerial photography, and archaeology, History Flight has recovered the remains of 309 service members from Tarawa, where the organization maintains an office and a year-round presence, Mark Noah, president of History Flight, told a House Committee on Oversight and Reform in a hearing on November 19.
Seventy-nine of those discoveries were made during the 2019 fiscal year, Noah said, adding that History Flight’s recoveries are 20% of the DoD’s annual identifications.
Archaeologists with History Flight excavate a grave site from the battle of Tarawa, in the Republic of Kiribati, July 15, 2019.
(US Marine Corps photo Sgt. Melanye Martinez)
“Many of them were underneath buildings, underneath roads, and houses,” Noah told lawmakers of remains on Betio, noting that they are often discarded, covered up, and accidentally disinterred — the first two Marines his organization recovered on Tarawa in April 2010 were displayed on a battlefield tour guide’s front porch.
Today, 429 servicemen killed at Betio remain unaccounted for, Rear Adm. Jon Kreitz, deputy director of the DPAA, said when at least 22 servicemen returned to the US in July.
Hero’s welcome for those returned home
Those discoveries have allowed the sailors and Marines who died at Tarawa to finally return home.
Joseph Livermore, a 21-year-old Marine private when he was killed by a Japanese bayonet on November 22, 1943, was given a hero’s welcome in his hometown of Bakersfield, California, where his remains were buried on November 15.
A thousand people lined the streets for Livermore’s return, Noah said.
Service members with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency fold flags on transfer cases on a C-17 Globemaster, in Tarawa, Kiribati, Sept. 27, 2019.
Pvt. Channing Whitaker, an 18-year-old from Iowa killed in a Japanese banzai attack on the second day of the battle, was buried with full military honors in Des Moines on November 22. His remains returned to the US in July.
In History Flight’s experience, more than 50% of those recovered had living brothers, sisters, and children at their funerals, Noah told lawmakers this week.
“The recovery of America’s missing servicemen is a vital endeavor for their families and for our country. What we are accomplishing in recovering the missing is putting a little bit of America back into America,” Noah said.
An island nation ‘facing annihilation’
While hundreds of servicemen likely remain on Betio, environmental conditions there may soon make finding them even harder.
Kiribati, one of the most isolated countries in the world, is also one of many Pacific Island nations likely to be unlivable in a few decades due to the effects of climate change.
More than half of Kiribati’s nearly 120,000 residents live on South Tarawa, just east of Betio. Rising sea levels are a particular threat to densely populated country. Exceptionally high tides and sea-water incursions threaten the fresh water under the atolls.
Many of the graves located by History Flight are below the water table, meaning workers had to pump water from the sites each day to excavate.
“When it’s rainy season, it’s very difficult to do archeology, because the locations fill with water and we have to come up with drainage solutions that are not impacting the highly populated areas and … reroute [the water] to places where it’s not infringing on their clean drinking water,” Rasdorf said.
On the whole, History Flight’s day-to-day work has not been greatly affected by changing environmental conditions, Rasdorf said, but others in Kiribati have called for drastic action in response to the threat of climate change.
Anote Tong, Kiribati’s president from 2003 to 2016, bought nearly 8 square miles of land to potentially relocate to in Fiji, about 1,200 miles away from Kiribati, for nearly million in 2014.
His purchase was decried by some as a boondoggle and alarmist, and his successor took office in 2016 planning to shift priorities and making no plans for people to leave. But Tong continues to sound the alarm.
Today, the Silver Star, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, and Air Force Cross are known as awards that recognize heroic actions by service members in combat.
But they were created on the heels of serious controversy over other awards.
During the Civil War, Congress created the Medal of Honor to recognize valor. But some of the awards were seen as questionable by some. Perhaps the most egregious of these was the case of the 27th Maine Regiment.
According to HomeofHeroes.com, the 864 men of this regiment were awarded the medal en masse due to a poorly-worded order by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and a bureaucratic snafu.
So, in 1917, there was an effort to clean up the mess that had been created. A total 911 Medals of Honor were revoked, including those from the 27th Maine. But there was also an effort to make sure that the Medal of Honor would not be so frivolously awarded in the future, while still recognizing gallantry in action.
As America entered World War I, it was obvious there would be acts of valor. So Congress created the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Citation Star (Which would later become the Silver Star Medal) in 1918, and the Navy Cross in 1919 to address valor that didn’t rise to the level of the Medal of Honor. It was the start of the “Pyramid of Honor,” which now has a host of decorations to recognize servicemen (and women) for valor or for other meritorious actions.
So, what sort of courageous actions warrant which medal? Perhaps one indicator of today’s standards can come from the sample citations in SECNAV Instruction 1650.1H.
Historically, though, it should be noted that in the Vietnam War, Randy “Duke” Cunningham received the Navy Cross for making ace (an Air University bio reports that he was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions on May 10, 1972).
Or, one can look at the actions of Leigh Ann Hester to get a good idea of what would warrant a Silver Star.
A sandy white beach. Swaying palm trees. Cocktails made from coconut juice.
As frigid air and snowstorms whip across most of the U.S., service members may dream of trading their current duty station for an exotic Pacific paradise.
But they might want to think again, according to Bob Cunningham, a former Air Force radar operator whose first duty station was a tiny, oblong blister of land in the South China Sea. He knows it as North Danger Island.
For six months in 1956, Cunningham lived on a remote knob approximately 2,000 feet long and 850 feet wide in the Spratly Islands group located midway between the Philippine Islands and Vietnam. His home was a canvas tent and he manned radio and radar equipment for a secret Air Force project mapping the earth.
The mission was an aerial electronic geodetic survey. Specially equipped aircraft flew grid patterns and triangulated electromagnetic pulses sent between temporary ground stations hundreds of miles apart. The data, computed into highly accurate coordinates, would eventually provide targeting information for intercontinental ballistic missile development.
It was a ‘million dollar experience’ that he wouldn’t give two cents to repeat, Cunningham jokes today.
Not that it wasn’t an adventure, he admits.
Cunningham’s four-man team and all its equipment was helicoptered to the island from the deck of a Landing Ship, Tank (LST), along with the drinking water, fuel and rations the men would need to survive. Resupply occurred every 4-6 weeks by helicopter, supplemented by occasional parachute drops. A radio relay team of six Airmen had already established itself on the island and shared the same copse of trees.
“I was 22 years old. I was the kid on the island so it was a real experience,” Cunningham remembers. “I didn’t have a lot of sophistication psychologically, and that was a real psychological test for human beings, to be going like that.”
He was an Airman 2nd Class, a two-striper, with just over a year of service in the Air Force and some college education. His sergeants had seen combat during World War II and were wise to what the isolated team would endure. Their ingenuity, humor and direct leadership kept young Cunningham and the others on the island from mentally cracking.
To keep a low profile, the Airmen were ordered to stow their uniforms and wear civilian shorts and sneakers, sandals and cowboy hats instead.
The men also kept their pistols and M-1 Garand rifles ready, knowing that pirates and other possible threats roamed the waters surrounding them.
“The Chinese nationalists came by with a gun boat. A big, long vessel. Military. Chinese Navy,” Cunningham said. “And they had this big three-inch cannon on the front on a turret, and they swung that baby in toward our island, and they had some machine gun turrets, and pretty soon we saw boats come over the edge and some officers got on that and they came in to see who we were and what we were doing.”
The Airmen placed palm fronds along the beach to spell out U-S-A-F. The gunboat crew was satisfied and the standoff ended.
On another occasion, Okinawan fishermen came ashore to trade their fish for drinking water.
“They saw our 50-foot antenna that we put up for our radar set, our pulse radio, and so they were curious,” Cunningham said. “They came onboard and they were quite friendly.”
But visitors were the exception. Day after day, interaction was limited to within the tiny community of Airmen.
A feud between two staff sergeants took a bad turn when one threatened to kill the other.
Cunningham’s technical sergeant knew he had to step in and confront the enraged man. But first he warned Cunningham and the other radar operator that the situation could explode and that they might have to use their weapons.
“He said, ‘I’m calling him in here, I’m going to present this to him, our concern,'” Cunningham recalled. “‘If he gets up and breaks like I’ve seen a guy do it, he’ll run right over to the ground power tent where those guys live and he’ll just start shooting people.'”
Fortunately, there was no violence and the conflict was resolved.
“We had to stay up around the clock for a day or so to see what would happen in case we had to call for an SA-16 (amphibious flying boat) to come out with Air Police and come in and capture this guy, and we’re going to have to tie him up to a palm tree or something,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t know what was going to go on.”
The veteran sergeants kept up morale in other ways.
They improved the camp with funny signs, hand-made furniture and a wind-driven water pump. They cooked sea turtles for the men. And they improvised a way to make alcohol from coconut juice and cake mix.
Cunningham remembers the technical sergeant busy at his distillery ‘making moonshine.’ When the sergeant was asked why he was wearing his pistol, he replied that revenuers might come through and he couldn’t be interrupted.
That sense of humor was “what you really needed on a place like that to keep from cracking up,” Cunningham said.
For recreation, Cunningham would walk around the island and photograph the thousands of birds it attracted. He also tried diving off the reef once and became terrified by the absolute darkness.
“I opened up my eyes and it scared the bejeepers out of me,” he said. “It was total black. I couldn’t see anything. I got so danged scared, I came up and I got off and I got back to that reef and I never went back again.”
In the final month, he and the sergeant were the only humans left on the island. Two members of his team were evacuated. The radio relay team was relocated, taking their noisy generator with them. For the two men remaining, the silence at night was now ‘spooky’ – a lone coconut dropping from a tree was enough to send them scrambling for their weapons.
Cunningham’s experience on the reef forever changed how he relates to other people.
“I have an expression,” he said. “‘This guy sounds like a North Danger kind of guy,’ meaning somebody compatible, smart, you can get along with him, he’s got a good temper. Or this guy, I would not want to be with him on North Danger.”
America was built on alcohol. Many of the founding fathers distilled or brewed their own booze because the ingredients needed to make it flourished perfectly in the soil of the newly formed United States. Remember, Samuel Adams isn’t just some fictional mascot made up to publicize a brewing company and Budweiser’s “George Washington recipe” is actually historically accurate.
Also, the terrible road conditions of the time made transporting grains the traditional way, you know, in bread and stuff, a true hardship. It was much easier to just turn whatever you grew into alcohol — which would net an even better profit.
All of this is key to understanding that the founding fathers would more than likely drink any modern military barracks under the table. No single moment best exemplifies this than the time George Washington and his Army buddies celebrated the signing of the Constitution by drinking enough booze to rack up a tab worth roughly $17,253 in today’s currency.
The tavern still exists and there’s still a bar. What could be more American than getting wasted where Washington and his boys drank?
(Photo by Lisa Andres)
It was the night of September 15, 1787, and George Washington had many reasons to celebrate. A few months earlier, in May, he was elected president at the Constitutional Convention. The United States Constitution had just been finalized and debates were finally settling as the momentous document cruised towards its eventual signing, just two days later. This night was also the farewell dinner for Washington before he set off to do bigger and better things.
Washington’s friends in the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, along with several other framers of the Constitution, decided to throw a celebration at the City Tavern in Philadelphia.
All in all, a good night (This painting is actually from a different night at the Fraunces Tavern in New York. Celebrating with his troops was kind of his thing).
The party had roughly 55 guests, which included troops, politicians, friends, and family — along with 16 more people who were working that night, including musicians, servers, and hosts. The details of the night are hazy but the receipt for the night was saved in the First Troop Cavalry archives.
By the end of the night, Washington’s party drank: 54 bottle of Madeira wine, 60 bottle of Bordeaux wine, 8 bottles of old stock whiskey, 22 bottles of porter ale, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 jugs of beer, and 7 large bowls of punch. The staff and musicians also drank 16 bottles of Bordeaux wine, 5 bottles of Madeira wine, and seven bowls of punch.
The bill also includes a tab for many broken glasses, which, adjusted for inflation, equals about 0 worth of reimbursements. The final bill came out to £89 and 4 schillings — or roughly ,253 in 2018 dollars.
The impressive part of this story isn’t that they drank it all — or the fact that drinks back then tended to be more potent than their modern counterparts — but the fact that Washington was functional enough just two days later to see the Constitution signed.
So, drink up! Enjoy the Constitution by celebrating its eventual 21st amendment!
H/T to We Are The Mighty reader Eric Carson for his comment that inspired for this article. Thank you very much! You’re awesome.
When Boatswain’s Mate First Class James E. Williams finally allowed the Navy to retire him after nearly twenty years of service, he was the proud holder of the Navy’s top seven awards for valor as well as three Purple Hearts and a number of other accolades.
Boatswain’s Mate First Class James E. Williams, the Navy’s most decorated enlisted sailor.
So, how did a young Cherokee boy grow to become one of the U.S. military’s greatest heroes? Well, first, in 1947, he convinced a county clerk to falsify a birth certificate so he could join at the age of 16. His first tour was uneventful, an experience he hated at the time, but learned from, according to a 1998 interview in All Hands Magazine.
“I’d joined the Navy to see the world — and doggonit, I wasn’t moving. I’d got orders to an [landing ship, tank] that just sat around a buoy in the San Diego harbor.”
Landing Ship, Tanks were large supply vessels that could deposit most cargo directly onto the shore when necessary.
“An old chief told me, ‘Son, you got to learn to take orders, even if you disagree with them. That’s the first step to being a good Sailor and a good leader. If you can’t take orders now, you certainly won’t be respected when you give them later.’ Well, I got the message,” said Williams. “Learning discipline was the springboard that helped my Navy career. From then on, I had the sharpest damn knife and the shiniest shoes in the Navy. That’s what I was taught.”
It was this experience and his years of shining shoes and sharpening knives that led to Williams’ proudest day.
“The proudest day of my life had nothing to do with medals, ribbons, citations,” he told All Hands Magazine. “It was when they made me a patrol officer. That position was held only by chiefs and officers. It showed the trust the Navy had placed in me. I always wanted the opportunity to show what I could do. This Vietnam thing was it for me. The Navy gave me the chance to do my job.”
His job would be to take Patrol Boat, River-105 into the small, Viet-Cong-filled rivers of Vietnam.
A Patrol Boat River in the waters of Vietnam.
The crew went out with Williams starting in May, 1966, and the fighting started early. While many of the patrols were quick forays into the river traffic to look for contraband, Williams and his crew saw major combat multiple times before the end of July.
On July 1, Williams and PBR 105 spotted an enemy sampan in the early morning darkness and gave chase. The sampan made for a friendly landing and Williams and his crew quickly came under fire from both the ship and shore. Maneuvering deftly, the men killed five enemies on the boat, captured the vessel and a few ship’s occupants, which were of “significant intelligence value.” He was later awarded the Bronze Star for his actions.
Just 22 days later, PBR-105 once again chased down an enemy sampan, this time at night. Again, they came under fire from enemies on shore but continued to fight. The crew killed six occupants of the boat, one enemy who had made it ashore, and captured the enemy sampan with its cargo and documents intact — again, these were of significant intelligence value. He would later be awarded a Bronze Star for his actions.
Less than a month later, Williams was leading PBR-105 and PBR-101 through the Mekong River in the early evening when they came under fire multiple times from a suspected 100-enemy-gun emplacements on both shores. They stayed in the kill zone, maneuvering and destroying multiple emplacements.
The men intercepted a sampan with two high-ranking Viet-Cong, but Williams was wounded in the face while salvaging documents from it. He kept up his men’s fire and captured 71 classified and sensitive documents before withdrawing. He would later be awarded the Silver Star.
A machine gunner on a Patrol Boat River with his two machine guns.
His greatest heroism under fire came two months later in October, 1966, when PBR-105 and another boat went on what Williams thought would be a routine patrol.
“October 31, 1966, was supposed to be a restful day in the steamy heartland of the Viet Cong,” he said. “But it’s one of those times I won’t never forget, no matter how hard I try. We were on a day patrol, kind of like the ‘relax and recreation’ patrol — nothin’ too heavy.”
But, early in the patrol, the forward machine gunner yelled that he saw two motorized sampans. The motorized boats nearly always carried high-ranking Viet Cong. The Americans gave chase.
The boats attempted to scatter, forcing Williams to choose which to follow, but the Americans quickly killed one and began tracking down the other. The second sampan used the little time it had gained to turn down a shallow canal where the patrol boats couldn’t go.
Williams checked his map. The enemy’s most likely course of action was to follow the canal to its other end, a third of a mile away. He ordered his boats to intercept. Things immediately went sideways.
“We wanted to get them real bad,” he said. “I went around that corner at max sped to cut him off — and, lo and behold, I looked up and didn’t see nothing but boats and people and more boats and more people.”
Not a lot of armor or firepower when you’re dealing with thousands of enemy troops in the water and on shore.
(U.S. Army Center of Military History)
Williams and his boats had run straight into a massive enemy staging area. Suddenly, they found themselves surrounded by multiple companies of Viet Cong fighters. Williams, at the helm, immediately maxed out his engines and used his wake to disrupt the first sampan’s aim, then took off through the gauntlet.
Surprisingly, they made it. Williams later said that it seemed like the sampans were hitting each other more than him as the patrol boats made their mad dash through. Unfortunately for the Americans, they turned with the river only to have their luck worsen.
Their attempted escape landed them in another enemy staging area. Williams decided that the only way to save his shipmates was to fight it out with the Viet Cong, and they did. For over three hours, the patrol boats maneuvered at high speeds and provided fire for one another, cutting down enemy boats and shore positions as fast as they could in a desperate attempt to keep each other alive.
And it worked. The two boats and 10 Americans who went into the river all came back after inflicting a suspected 1,200 enemy casualties and destroying 65 boats. Williams would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, but he still wasn’t done in Vietnam.
Less than three months later, Williams was on a patrol when he saw a dredge strike a mine on Jan. 9, 1967. PBR-105 immediately gave aid and was picking up survivors when the crew heard a tapping coming from inside the hull. Williams jumped into the water.
During repeated dives, he directed the elderly man trapped inside to a nearby hatch, loosened two heavy pipes blocking the hatch, and then ran a line from a nearby tug around the pipes so they could be pulled free. Once the obstruction was removed, Williams and a crew member swam into the still-sinking dredge and pulled the man free, saving his life. He would later receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
A Patrol Boat River and a sampan in Vietnam.
On January 15, less than a week later, Williams was leading a patrol on the Mekong when the crew spotted a large enemy supply movement across one of the river branches. The boat moved to intercept but quickly came under heavy fire from fortified positions on the river banks.
The boat dropped back and called in Vietnamese artillery and U.S. air strikes to reduce the enemy positions, and then forayed back into the river branch. Once again, heavy fire came at them from the shore.
This time, the Americans stayed in the thick of it and took aim at enemy sampans the Vietnamese seemed eager to protect. The PBRs destroyed them before withdrawing. Williams was injured during the withdrawal, but continued to direct the movement and the PBRs’ fire.
The enemy force that the patrol had encountered was later assessed as three heavy weapons companies with 400 men. The patrol was credited with killing sixteen enemies and wounding 20 while destroying nine enemy watercraft, seven structures, and 2,400 pounds of rice. Williams would later receive the Navy Cross for his actions.
No. Of course not. He took his retirement and his Medal of Honor and became a U.S. Marshal, serving his country once again. This time, in South Carolina, Georgia, and Washington D.C.
He died on October 13, 1999, the Navy’s 224th birthday. According to The United States Navy Memorial, an unidentified, retired admiral spoke at Williams’ funeral and said,
“Willie did not seek awards. He did not covet getting them. We did not seek to make him a hero. The circumstances of time and place and the enemy’s presence did that. I know through personal investigation of each incident that he never placed his crew nor his patrol boats in danger without first ensuring the risk was calculated and that surprise was on his side. He always had the presence of mind not to endanger friendly villages. He inspired us all, junior and senior alike. It was my greatest honor to have served with the man who truly led us all with his example of unselfish devotion to duty.”
Typically, when there’s a deadly terrorist attack, the tragic news spreads around the world almost instantly and hangs in the global consciousness for years to come. But history shows us that covering up one of these terrible events might be as easy as finding something to pin it on.
In 1916, Germany was getting tired of the United States’ double talk. The U.S. continuously stated its intent to remain a neutral party while supplying weapons to allied forces throughout World War I. So, the Germans wanted to send America a bloody message — they needed to showcase their anger.
German spies targeted Black Tom Island, a large, man-made island off the coast of Jersey City, New Jersey that housed ammunition for the government. They laid time-delayed glass bombs at the site, waited, and then…
Boom! The delayed fuses set off 100,000 pounds of TNT.
The blast was so powerful that it sent hot shrapnel more than 2,000 feet in all directions — flying far enough to damage the famous torch of the Statue of Liberty. Although it’s estimated that the Statue gets nailed by lighting close to 600 times per year, this was the first time it was struck by metal fragments. As a result of the damage, the torch portion of the statue closed to tourists. It hasn’t been opened since.
After the smoke finally cleared, the damage was assessed. Hundreds of civilians were injured from the blast and five people were reported dead.
The next day, The New York Times covered the terrorist attack on the front page. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed the event wasn’t an attack, but an accident.
One of the early assumptions was that a swarm of mosquitoes were at fault. Guards on the island lit smug pots to get rid of the insects and that’s what they believed caused the explosion.
Determined to remain neutral during the ongoing war, President Woodrow Wilson labeled the sad event as a “regrettable incident at a private railroad terminal.”
On November 13, 1942, the USS Juneau went down in the Pacific Ocean after being struck by a Japanese torpedo in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Only 10 members of the over 700-man crew survived. Onboard were the five Sullivan brothers. They all perished in the battle.
George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert Sullivan joined the U.S. Navy out of Waterloo, Iowa in January 1942. George and Francis were prior service enlistees, serving on the USS Hover before the war. During the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the brothers lost five friends in combat.
George and Francis immediately began preparations to rejoin the Navy and convinced their brothers and two friends from a motorcycle club to enlist with them. They wrote a letter to the secretary of the Navy asking to be allowed to train and serve together.
The boys went through training together and the Sullivans were later assigned to the USS Juneau, an Atlanta-class light cruiser completed in October 1941. Meanwhile, back home, the Sullivans bonded with each other and the Navy. Albert’s wife and son lived with the Sullivan parents and Alleta Sullivan, their mother, sponsored a ship for the Navy, the USS Tawasa.
As the U.S. Navy tried to halt Japanese advances in the Pacific and began pushing them back, modern cruisers like the Juneau were needed to protect carrier groups from air attack as well as bombard shore positions. The Juneau saw action first in the Atlantic but was sent to the Pacific where it protected the USS Wasp, USS Hornet, and USS Enterprise in fierce combat against the Japanese.
The Juneau was tasked with protecting reinforcements being ferried ashore to Guadalcanal on November 12, 1942. In the early afternoon, 30 Japanese planes attacked the ships and the Juneau went into action. The gunners picked off six torpedo planes and helped drive off the Japanese attacks.
The American ships prepared for a surface attack. The next day, 18-20 Japanese ships bore down on the small U.S. force. Juneau and the USS Atlanta teamed up and successfully brought down a Japanese ship but the Juneau was struck by an enemy torpedo shortly after. The Juneau withdrew with the damaged USS San Francisco but was engaged again by Japanese torpedoes.
Witnesses described a massive explosion that nearly disintegrated the center of the ship. The two remaining pieces sank in only twenty seconds while the captain and most of the crew, including at least two of the brothers, were killed.
Only 10 survivors were found and rescued from the USS Juneau and none of the Sullivan brothers were among them. Back home, rumors of the Juneau’s sinking had reached Waterloo and Alleta was desperate to learn whether or not her sons had survived. She wrote to the Bureau of Naval Personnel.
Only days later, she received a personal letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt that expressed his condolences for her sudden loss.
Alleta Sullivan continued to be a friend to the Navy after the death of her sons, christening the USS Tawasa as promised but also participating in war bonds drives, encouraging ship builders, and volunteering with the USO to make service members’ lives easier.
The Navy was since named two ships for the Sullivan brothers. USS The Sullivans (DD 537) was a destroyer that now serves as a museum in Buffalo, New York. USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) is an Aegis-class guided missile destroyer that served in Operation Enduring Freedom.
As they’re now America’s two top rivals, it’s easy to forget that China and Russia aren’t allies and actually have decades of regional rivalry and have been at each other’s throats more than once. In fact, in 1970, the Soviet Union started asking around about whether or not anyone would really care if they launched a preemptive nuclear strike against China.
Ya know, for world security and all that.
China’s first nuclear test in 1964 set off a series of dominoes that almost convinced Russia to nuke it.
Russia and China try to smooth over their regional troubles in the common interest of trying to constrain America, even when Russia was the Soviet Union and the year was 1950. Russia and China sent pilots to North Korea to help fight American air power, downing and killing U.S. pilots. It was a real high-point for Soviet-Sino Relations.
But at the time, China was basically to the Soviet Union what North Korea is to China today. The Soviet Union was much larger and stronger, and it was embroiled in a battle of superpowers with the U.S. China was welcome on the playground as long as it was playing by the rules and backing up Soviet interests. But China wanted to become a nuclear power just like its big brother.
And so, in 1964, China detonated its first device, becoming the fifth country to become a nuclear power.
Russian boats try to knock a Chinese man off of his craft in the Wasuli River during the 1969 border clashes between the two countries.
(China Photo Service, CC BY-SA 3.0)
This combined with already simmering tensions over border conflicts and brought the two countries’ relations to a low boil. Their troops fought skirmishes against one another on their shared border while both sides greatly built up their troops and their stockpiles of less-than-nuclear weapons like biological and chemical threats.
In 1969, this grew into the Sino-Soviet border conflict, a seven-month undeclared war between the two sides from March to September of that year. Moscow seemed to hope that internal divisions in China would distract Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi, the top leaders of China’s Communist Party at the time.
China and Russia agreed to bilateral talks in 1970 that eventually restored peace, so it’s possible that this was a bluff from the Soviet leaders. Maybe they believed that the threat of nuclear war could end the border clashes with no need to actually send any missiles or bombers up.
But it’s also quite possible that the threat was real. While we in the West like to think of the Cold War as an all-consuming grapple between America and the Soviet Union, the Soviets were actually holding three times as many military exercises focused on their eastern border with China in the 1960s as they spent practicing for war with the U.S. and Europe.
So, yes, the world’s first nuclear war could’ve been a clash between the Soviet Union and China, but that was thankfully averted. Unfortunately, China watched for weaknesses in the Soviet Union and, as the bloc started to crumble in the late 1980s, China made its move. While the Soviets tried to hold themselves together and America was preoccupied with finishing the fight and planning the post-Soviet world, China began an arms buildup.
There aren’t many bucket list destinations in Afghanistan, but before 2001, there were at least two man-made wonders that were revered around the world.
Built in Bamyan around the 2nd century, they were some of the largest standing Buddha carvings in the world. The Buddhist Kingdom in the “Graveyard of Empires” withstood many attacks. That was until Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban in 1996.
The region was a part of the Buddhist Kushan Empire. The Bamyan region was directly on the Silk Road and was a hub for Buddhism, with tens of thousands of monks worship at the site.
The valley was home to several monasteries. The intricate cave system throughout the cliffs were beautifully decorated and painted.
Many kingdoms seized control of the region, but it was the Huns who decimated the local population — but left the statues. The Mughal Empire would be the first to attack the statues in the 18th century. Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and Persian King Nader Afshar would both order attacks to destroy the statues.
Afghan King Abdur Rahman Khan ordered the destruction of the faces and many of the cave oil paintings. This is how they remained for centuries. Although Islam became the dominant religion, most Afghan people loved the statues — not because of faith, but because they were iconic.
Then the Taliban took over and declared them idols.
Mirza Hussain was from the town of Bamyan and a prisoner of the Taliban at the time. He told the BBC of how they captured him.
They forced him at gun point to plant explosives in both of the Buddhas for three days straight. The statues were destroyed in March 2001 — leaving nothing but craters where they once stood.
The Taliban used the caves for arms and munitions until troops from the United States, New Zealand, and Afghanistan retook control in 2003.
Talks continue years later whether they should rebuild the statues using fragments of the old ones, to use holograms to project them as they were, or to leave them as a brutal reminder of the horrors of the Taliban regime.
If there was a real weakness in the system of the early United States, it was slavery. The practice of slavery kept a lot of American ideals just out of reach and was used against the young country on multiple occasions. During the War of 1812, the British attempted to exploit this weakness by training a group of former slaves to fight for a country that needed them to fight as free men.
War of 1812 re-enactors, bring the Battle of Pensacola back to life, using the British Colonial Marines.
These days when we think of Colonial Marines, we’re thinking of the gung-ho Space Warriors from the movie Alien. But back when Lord Cochrane decided to resurrect his Corps of Colonial Marines, he was set on fighting the Americans on their home turf.
Cochrane first formed his Colonial Marines in response to a lack of proper Redcoats on British-held Caribbean territories. He believed a fighting force made up of men born and raised in the islands of the Caribbean would be hardier than importing British regulars from overseas. Having grown up around the tropics (and the diseases that come with the region) the men would be less prone to illness, a major problem with armed forces of the time.
For the slaves, enlistment meant instant freedom. Cochrane’s Marines served admirably from 1808 until they were disbanded two years later.
It was during this time Great Britain was fighting one of her greatest wars, the war against French Emperor Napoleon. Napoleon was considered by many in the British service to be an existential threat to the home islands, and as such, Britain drew on a large number of imperial troops, manpower, and resources to fight Napoleon in Europe. The problem was they also drew on resources that didn’t belong to the Empire, namely, American sailors. Since many of the American sailors were born in Britain, they rationalized, they could be impressed into the Royal Navy from American merchant ships.
This didn’t sit well with the Americans. For that (and a host of other reasons, many of which were less than noble) the United States declared war on its old mother country. For Cochrane, Britain was now fighting a world war. When appointed commander of the North American station, Cochrane realized the immediate need for more men, so he resurrected his Colonial Marines.
Cochrane, creator of the Colonial Marines, also masterminded the burning of the White House.
Cochrane raised his new Colonial Marines in Florida, which served a strategic purpose, being so close to the former colonies. There, the unit was able to bolster the strength of British positions so close to Georgia and South Carolina. Its proximity to the land border of the U.S. also served to help raise men for the unit, taking in as many escaped slaves as it could train. The idea of an armed band of former slaves so close to the slaveholding South alarmed many in the former colonies.
The former slaves were lauded for their performance in combat by the Admiralty, who marveled at their discipline and ferocity. Colonial Marines participated in the Chesapeake Campaign during the War of 1812, which saw some of the heaviest fighting between the British and the Americans. This campaign included the Battles of Bladensburg, Baltimore, and Fort McHenry, as well as the burning of Washington. The Colonial Marines fought so well, it was said that Admiral George Cockburn preferred the Colonial Marines to regular Royal Navy Marines.
Francis Scott Key may have made references to Britain’s Colonial Marine force at Fort McHenry in “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The Colonial Marines were largely disbanded after the war’s end, but they weren’t abandoned. Some were still in the King’s service, being sent back to Britain or to Canada. Those who opted to leave the continental United States with the British forces were either in service on the island of Bermuda, or became civilian farmers, maintaining their status as free men.
For those who stayed in Florida after the war, the British allowed them to keep their fortifications and their arms, along with a substantial sum of money. But now that the war was over, Southern American slaveholders, still unhappy about the presence of a trained military force of armed former slaves so close to their homes decided to move on them. Under the command of Gen. Andrew Jackson, the Americans invaded Spanish Florida and burned the fort.
The final resting place of presidents, bandleaders, war heroes, astronauts, inventors, civil rights leaders, Pulitzer Prize winners, boxers, Supreme Court justices and sports stars, Arlington National Cemetery stands as a memorial to the melting pot of the United States. With connections to some of our nation’s most influential people and pivotal events, its history is as interesting as its denizens.
Arlington is situated on 624 acres overlooking the Potomac River directly across from Washington, D. C. Although today it is surrounded by the nation’s capital, at one time, Arlington was a bucolic estate with a neoclassical mansion, Arlington House. Still presiding over the grounds today, the mansion was built by George Washington’s (yes, that Washington) grandson and marks the beginning of the cemetery’s history.
Before she married George, Martha was married to Daniel Parke Custis. After he died and she wed the “Father” of our Country, George adopted her two surviving children. The oldest, John Parke Custis (JPC), died in 1781 while serving with the Revolutionary Army. He left behind four children, the youngest of which, George Washington Parke Custis (GWPC), was born only shortly before his father’s death.
GWPC and one sister went to live with the Washington’s. When he became of age in 1802, GWPC inherited wealth and property from his deceased father (JPC), including the Arlington land. Hoping to build a home that could also serve as a memorial to his grandfather, George Washington, GWPC hired an architect and built a Greek revival mansion believed by some to be “modeled after the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens.”
The home was built in pieces, with the north wing being completed in 1802, and the south in 1804. These two stood as separate buildings until the central section connected them in 1818. During GWPC’s life, a portion of the mansion was reserved to store George Washington memorabilia, which included portraits, papers and even the tent Washington used while in command at Yorktown.
GWPC and his family lived and died on the property, where many of them were buried.
In 1831, GWPC’s only surviving child, Mary, married Robert E. Lee (yes, that Lee). The Lee’s lived on the property with the Custis’s where they raised their seven children. At her father’s death, Mary inherited Arlington. Robert E. Lee loved the property and once described it as the place “where my attachments are more strongly placed than at any other place in the world.”
Prior to the Civil War, Lee had attended West Point (graduating second in his class) and saw service for the U.S. in the Mexican War (1846-1848). A respected and well-liked officer, Lee struggled with his decision to resign his commission of 36 years in order to take command of Virginia’s confederate forces. When he did in April 1861, this choice was seen as a betrayal of the Union by many of his former friends including Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs.
As Arlington, on high ground overlooking the capital, was critical to either the defense or defeat of D.C., Union leaders were eager to control it. After Virginia seceded in May 1861, Union troops crossed en masse into Virginia and soon took command of the estate. The grounds were quickly converted into a Union camp.
By 1862, Congress had passed a law that imposed a tax on the real property of “insurrectionists.” Mary was unable to pay the tax bill in person, and her proxy’s attempt to satisfy the debt was rebuffed. As a result, Uncle Sam seized Arlington, and at its auction, the federal government purchased the estate for $26,800 (about $607,000 today, far below market value).
Not only a good bargain, Union leaders felt that by seizing the estates of prominent Rebels, they would, in the words of Gen. William T. Sherman: “Make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.”
In 1863, after thousands of former slaves, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, converged on D.C., a Freedman’s Village was established on the estate “complete with new frame houses, schools, churches and farmlands on which former slaves grew food for the Union war effort.”
One sees more than poetic justice in the fact that its rich lands, so long the domain of the great general of the rebellion, now afford labor and support to hundreds of enfranchised slaves.
As Union casualties began to mount in the spring of 1864, Gen. Meigs suggested burying some of the dead at Arlington. The first, on May 13, 1864, was Pvt. William Christman, a poor soldier whose family could not afford the cost of a burial. Soon, many other indigent soldiers were laid to rest on Arlington’s grounds, near the slave and freedman cemetery that had already been established. Realizing the efficacy of this system, Gen. Meigs urged Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:
I recommend that . . . the land surrounding Arlington Mansion . . . be appropriated as a National Military Cemetery, to be properly enclosed, laid out and carefully preserved for that purpose.
Serving the dual goals of paying homage to the dead and making “Arlington uninhabitable for the Lees,” Meigs had prominent Union officers buried near Mrs. Lee’s garden. He also placed a mass grave of over 2000 unknown soldiers, topped with a raised sarcophagus, close to the house.
After the war, the Lee’s tried in vain to regain Arlington. Mary wrote to a friend that the graves: “are planted up to the very door without any regard to common decency.” After Robert E. Lee’s death in 1870, Mary petitioned Congress for the return of her family home, but this proposal was soundly defeated.
Shortly after, other monuments and structures honoring the dead were erected including numerous elaborate Gilded Age tombstones and the large, red McClellan Gate at the entrance to the grounds.
The family was not done, however, and in January 1879, following six days of trial a jury determined that the requirement that Mary Lee had to pay the 1862 tax in person was unconstitutional. On appeal, the Supreme Court concurred, so the property was once again in the hands of the Lee family.
Rather than disinter graves and move monuments, however, the federal government and Mary Lee’s son, George Washington Custis Lee, agreed on a sale. On March 31, 1883, Uncle Sam purchased Arlington from the Lee family for $150,000 (about $3,638,000 today).
One of the National Cemetery’s most well known gravesites is that of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy with its eternal flame. Two of his children and Jackie Kennedy are also interred there.
William Howard Taft is the only other U.S. President buried on the grounds, and he along with three other Chief Justices and eight associate justices represent the Supreme Court at Arlington.
Of course, war heroes abound and famous generals buried at Arlington include George C. Marshall (father of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after WWII) and Omar N. Bradley.
Famous explorers interred at Arlington include Adm. Richard Byrd (the first man to fly over both poles) and Rear Adm. Robert Peary (another arctic explorer). John Wesley Powell (of Lake Powell fame) is also laid to rest at Arlington, as are several astronauts including Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Capt. Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. (the third man to walk on the moon).