After Tennessee seceded from the Union in June 1861, the Civil War began in earnest. It would be won by force just a few years later, in a war that tore the country apart — a war that Americans still haven’t forgotten. So when North Dakota governor William “Wild Bill” Langer declared North Dakota’s independence — in 1934 — you have to wonder what he was thinking.
It’s likely he was thinking about anything that would get him out of going to a federal prison. Langer was just convicted of a felony and the state Supreme Court upheld a conviction that would remove him from the Governor’s office. His lieutenant governor, Ole Olson (yes, that’s really his name), took over.
Good thing the National Guard was already on the streets.
Langer was skimming money from government paychecks into an account run by the group that put him in the office of governor. But that’s not even what he was convicted for, which was conspiracy to violate an act of Congress. His jail sentence was longer than his time in office.
But the voters loved him anyway. Despite the charges and convictions, they voted for him.
Martial law had to be declared in North Dakota. Earle Sarles, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard and the man technically in charge of the entire state at that moment, basically decided, on the spot, who would be governor: Olson or Langer.
The women’s branch of the U.S. Naval Reserve during WWII is better known as WAVES – Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. It was established on July 21, 1942, by Congress and signed into law by President Roosevelt just nine days later. This law authorized the Navy to accept women into the Naval Reserve as commissioned officers and enlisted service members, effective for the duration of the war plus six months. This legislation allowed the release of officers and sailors of sea duty and replaced them with women in shore positions.
History of WAVES
In May 1941, Edith Nourse Rogers, a Congresswoman from Massachusetts, introduced a bill to Congress to establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Opposition delayed the bill’s passage until 1942, but it was at the time that the Navy realized having women serve would also be beneficial. However, Read Admiral Chester Nimitz was against having women serve in the Navy, saying there was “no great need.” The Bureau of Naval Personnel recommended that Congress be asked to authorize a women’s organization. Eventually, the director of the Bureau of the Budget opposed the idea but agreed to legislation similar to the WAAC.
However, the notion of women serving in the Navy wasn’t widely supported by Congress or by the Navy. Public Law 686 was put forth largely due in part of the efforts by the Navy’s Women’s Advisory Council, along with support from Margaret Chung and Eleanor Roosevelt. Margaret Chung was the first known American-born Chinese female physician who faced significant sexism in her attempts to have a medical career.
Chung and Roosevelt, along with support from Rogers, asked women educators to bring the bill to fruition, first contacting Virginia Gildersleeve, Dean of Barnard College. The Women’s Advisory Council was formed shortly after that, which boasted an impressive roster of several prominent women. Chosen to lead the commission was Mildred McAfee, president of Wellesley College. McAfee became the first director of WAVEs and was commissioned as a lieutenant commander on August 3, 1942, as the first woman officer in the US Naval Reserve. Later, McAfee was promoted to the rank of captain. McAfee played a significant role in the development of policies relating to how women should be treated in the Navy, and the types of assignments female reserve officers and enlisted sailors should be given.
To be eligible for OCS, women had to be between 20 and 49 and possess a college degree or have at least two years of college and two or more years of professional experience. Enlisted volunteers had to be between 20 and 35 years old and have a high school or business school diploma. Most WAVES officers were trained at Smith College in Massachusetts, and specialized training was conducted on several college campuses and naval facilities around the country. Most enlisted WAVES received their training at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York.
By September, 108 women were commissioned as officers in the WAVES.
Reception among male counterparts
The mission of WAVES was to replace male sailors in short stations for sea duty. This led to hostility from those who didn’t wish to be released. Most instances of hostility were tacit, though there were several occasions when the hostility was open and overt. Sometimes women were assigned to roles for which they were not physically suited, making many historians wonder if these cases of overt sexism were curated to encourage the failure of WAVES. There are several examples of women being assigned to jobs formerly occupied by two men.
WAVES served at 900 short stations in the continental US but were initially prohibited from serving on ships or outside the country. IN 1944, Congress amended the law to allow WAVES to volunteer for service in Hawaii and Alaska. WAVES officers held professional positions, serving as physicians, attorneys, engineers, and mathematicians.
Facts & Figures
By the end of WWII, 18% of naval personnel assigned to shore stations were WAVES.
Seven WAVE officers and 62 enlisted WAVES died during WWII.
The Distinguished Service Medal was awarded to Captain McAfee for her efforts as the director of WAVES.
Two WAVES received the Legion of Merit, three received a Bronze Star, 18 received the Secretary of the Navy’s letter of commendation, and one received an Army Commendation Medal.
At the end of WWII, the Navy established five separation centers for the demobilization of WAVES and Navy nurses. Separation processes began on October 1, 1945, and within 30 days, almost 10,000 WAVES were separated. By September 1946, the demobilization was almost complete. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether or not demobilizing WAVES meant an end to women in the military altogether. On July 30, 1948, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was signed into law by President Truman, allowing women to serve in both the Army and the Navy permanently. The wartime prohibition of women serving in any unit having a combat mission was carried over in the 1948 Act, keeping women from being fully integrated into the military for another 25 years.
In the hours following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the forces of the Empire of Japan also struck a number of other strategic targets. But those weren’t surprise hit and run attacks. Japan’s army and navy invaded Thailand, the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, the Gilbert Islands, Borneo, British Hong Kong, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.
That was just in 1941. The following year, Japan also invaded New Guinea, Singapore, Burma, India, the Solomon Islands, Timor, Christmas Island and the Andaman Islands.
The defenders of these Pacific possessions had mixed success in holding off or repelling their attackers, but many fell to the surprise attacks. In all the Japanese took 140,000 Allied prisoners during the war. An estimated 36,000 were sent back to Japan but many would not survive the trip.
One of the biggest reasons for this were the transports they were packed into. These notorious transports were called “Hell Ships” by the prisoners aboard them – and for a good reason.
Prisoners taken by the Japanese were beaten and starved, if not killed outright when captured. Those who did survive captivity were often pushed into forced labor, used in mines and factories all over Imperial Japan and its newly-acquired territories.
When prisoners were taken at any one of the battles fought to “acquire” the new Japanese possessions, Allied forces expected treatment in line with the rules regarding POWs under the 1929 Geneva Convention, which forbade their use in wartime production and hostilities against their home countries. The agreement before 1949 was intended not to punish those prisoners for being taken captive, but only to prevent their further participation in the war.
When captured by the Japanese, however, POWs were not treated humanely as the Geneva Convention prescribed. The Japanese saw surrender as a dishonorable act and treated their prisoners as if they were dishonored.
As a result, an estimated 40% of American prisoners taken by Japan died in captivity. The Hell Ships that transported them to all regions of the empire are indicative of why. Like the Bataan Death March and the conditions of tropical prisons on land, prisoners on hell ships endured the harsh treatment of their overseers, a lack of food and water, and all the diseases found among large groups of forcibly incarcerated people.
Unlike the prison camps and the death march, the prisoners aboard hell ships also had to contend with little access to air and proper ventilation. They had to endure the extreme heat of being held in a cargo hold. Worst of all, the ships also carried war supplies and auxiliary troops so they couldn’t be flagged as a non-combatant ship.
As a result, hell ships were frequently targeted by Allied air and naval forces, meaning they (and the prisoners of war aboard them) could be strafed, torpedoed, and sunk but aircraft, submarines and other Allied naval ships.
These attacks happened much more than anyone would like to admit. An estimated 20,000 Allied prisoners went down aboard the hell ships, targeted by friendly forces. If they were attacked or sunk, their treatment in the situation was not guaranteed. If they survived the attacks, some were killed trying to escape the incoming water. If they were allowed to escape the sinking ship, there was no telling if the Japanese would try to rescue them.
When they did escape the sinking ship and were rescued by the Japanese, they found themselves right back to being captive, often in just the same horrifying conditions they’d just escaped.
At least 14 hell ships were sunk by the Allies during the war, killing thousands of Allied POWs.
Just before America’s official involvement in World War II, Fido was born. It took a while for Fido to be ready to serve, though. Only 4,000 were fielded – down from a planned 10,000 — largely because Fido was so effective.
For Fido, though, the mission was a one-way trip.
Now, you dog lovers out there, don’t go flying off the handle. Fido wasn’t some poor canine conscripted for use in war to be blown to bits while killing the enemy. No, this “Fido” — as the sailors who used it against enemy subs took to calling it — was purely machine. A torpedo, to be exact.
Okay, technically Fido’s designation was as the Mk 24 Mine, but this torpedo was unique in that it could sniff out enemy submarines.
According to UBoat.net, Fido’s “nose” consisted of four hydrophones placed at equidistant points around the body of the Mk 13 aerial torpedo. These gave the torpedo steering directions as they detected the skulking submarine and guided the torpedo to a direct impact on the hull. That’s when a 100-pound high-explosive warhead would do its job. The result should be a sunken enemy submarine.
Fido could go at a speed of 12 knots and its batteries would last for 15 minutes. It could be dropped from up to 300 feet high by planes going as fast as 120 knots. Submarines could increase their speed to try to outrun it, but their batteries would run out very quickly, forcing them to the surface, where they’d be sitting ducks to American guns. If they didn’t go fast, the torpedo would catch them.
Fido was used on anything from a TBF Avenger to the PBY Catalina. It took a little less than a year and a half for Fido to make it from the drawing board to its first enemy kill. Fido claimed 33 Axis submarines in the Atlantic (32 German, one Japanese), and four more in the Pacific (all Japanese).
Fido was, in one sense, the progenitor of today’s advanced air-dropped anti-submarine torpedoes, the Mk 46, the Mk 50 Barracuda, and the Mk 54 MAKO. Such is the legacy of a torpedo that sniffed out Axis subs.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States led a coalition of forces to invade Afghanistan. The mission, known officially as Operation Enduring Freedom, was intended to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist organization that had masterminded the 9/11 attacks and to topple the Taliban regime that had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda within its fundamentalist stronghold. The Taliban had held most of Afghanistan in thrall since 1996, imposing its extreme version of Islam on the populace and perpetrating a well-documented list of human rights abuses.
The invasion began on Oct. 7, 2001 with air strikes against Taliban defensive positions and al-Qaeda training grounds in Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad. Most of the Taliban’s outdated surface-to-air missiles, radar, and command units were destroyed on the first pass, along with its modest fleet of MIG-21 and Su-22 fighters. Having crippled the Taliban defensive response, the Coalition Forces Command gave the Afghan Northern Alliance the go-ahead to begin a ground invasion, with U.S.-led coalition forces providing air and ground support.
The groundwork for large-scale military action in Afghanistan had been laid in secret in the weeks following 9/11 by a small CIA liaison team codenamed ‘Jawbreaker.’ The team had staged covertly in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, in order to coordinate with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. During the same period, President George W. Bush formally demanded that the Taliban relinquish bin Laden to the U.S. for prosecution and destroy al-Qaeda bases, brooking no discussion nor negotiation of terms.
They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.
By November 12th, the Taliban was routed in Kabul. Three weeks later, Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold, was captured, driving Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar into hiding and the remaining al-Qaeda forces into the mountains of the Tora Bora region. Skirmishes continued between al-Qaeda and anti-Taliban indigenous forces, as U.S. Special Forces teams worked to locate the mountain caves into which al-Qaeda leadership had retreated. However, by the time the caves were captured, Osama bin Laden had escaped into neighboring Pakistan. He would remain at large until 2011, when he was finally apprehended and killed by SEAL Team 6.
In the vacuum of governance left by the expelled Taliban, a grand council of Afghan tribal leaders was assembled under the leadership of Hamid Karzai. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the U.N. Security Council to handle security in the region. Karzai was elected President in 2004 in Afghanistan’s first ever democratic elections. But even as Afghanistan began to take its first wobbly steps as a young democratic nation, the Taliban was regrouping on the Pakistan border. Soon they launched a wide-ranging insurgency, conducting guerilla-style attacks on Afghan Security Forces and targeting members of the new administration. Despite the continued intervention of U.S. military might in the region, the insurgency continues.
Throughout the second World War, the United states relied heavily on cryptology — a form of communication where language was hidden or written in code so that it could not be identified by the enemy. Meanwhile, the enemy tried their hardest to determine a pattern to the code through difficult math equations or algorithms.
The U.S. wasn’t alone — other countries did the same, while their code was attempted to be broken. In fact, there was an entire field of professionals dedicated to intercepting messages and cracking them: cryptologists. Their efforts were widely successful, too, having regularly cracked the German Enigma machine messages.
However, this important job came with important responsibilities: it was not to be talked about under any circumstances. The punishment for doing so? Death in wartime. Talking in unapproved channels about their work would be an act against the nation.
After all, talking about military secrets was considered treason. And cryptologists worked on some of the most classified projects of the war.
In full form, the Constitution lists treason as being punishable by: “Death, or not less than 5 years’ imprisonment (minimum fine of $10,000, if not sentenced to death). Any person convicted of treason against the United States will lose the right to hold public office in the United States.”
Cryptologists were recruited for the war
In the early 1940s, the Army and Navy began recruiting women to become cryptologists. They searched for females who had college degrees and had studied in areas of a foreign language, math and science. Looking mainly in the Midwest and South, this meant many teachers were recruited heavily and worked for the military in codebreaking. Both branches trained new recruits in the art of cryptology but required certain education levels of their new workers.
With a mindset that women should help war efforts in any capacity, they flocked to the branches in order to lend their services. Thousands were brought in, joining and working as civilians alike.
But here’s the kicker: on their first day, they signed an oath of secrecy. Before their training even began, new cryptologists had to sign their loyalty to their country. Or, if they proved to be untrustworthy, they were reassigned to a new job. Only the most loyal were assigned to the cryptology unit.
The most secretive units were those working at Arlington Hall and the Naval Communications Annex. Military forces downplayed the importance of the cracked messages and how they fit into the war effort. In most cases, workers never learned the true value of what they were doing.
Cryptologists receive recognition
Because of these oaths, it wasn’t until decades after the war that these women began talking about their experience in the military, including the impending death threat, should they have talked. Some 70-some years later, they have given interviews and told about their contribution to WWII. Their first-person stories and interviews are available in the 2017 book, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, book by Liza Mundy.
French Marines were manning observation posts on either side of the Vrbanja Bridge. They were UN peacekeepers, the first to arrive in the decimated city of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War in May 1995. But their day was to begin in humiliation and end in bloodshed as their mission to hold the observation posts quickly escalated into the first UN combat mission of the war.
When they first began their occupation of the bridge, one side was overtaken by Bosnian Serb commandos. Dressed in French uniforms and donning French weapons, the commandos took one side of the bridge without firing a shot. They even pulled up to the post in a stolen French armored personnel carrier. For many of the Serbs, it was the last thing they would ever do.
A lot of them, like Serbian commander Ratko Mladic, were busy committing war crimes.
At gunpoint, the 10 French marines were disarmed and taken captive, and driven to another location. The other two were to be used on the bridge as human shields. The other side of the bridge didn’t even know their comrades had been overrun and captured. When the other unit didn’t check in with headquarters, their platoon commander came to check in on the Marines – he then sounded the alarm. When their fellow marines discovered their friends had been taken captive, they decided to move quickly on the Serb commandos.
“When the Serbs took our soldiers under their control by threat, by dirty tricks, they began to act as terrorists, you cannot support this,” Said Col. Erik Sandahl, commander of the 4th French Battalion. “You must react. The moment comes when you have to stop it. Full stop. And we did.”
French APCs on the ground in Bosnia, 1995.
When French President Jacques Chirac found out about the captured French marines, he went around the UN and ordered his troops to retake the bridge and find the missing men. The French sent 30 more Marines, 13 APCs, and 70 French Army soldiers to the bridge. But they couldn’t just blow up the observation post or do a regular infantry assault on the position. There were still hostages inside. They were going to have to do it the old fashioned way.
The French marines mounted their first bayonet charge since the Korean War.
François Lecointre, now a general and France’s Chief of the Defence Staff, led the bayonet charge.
After the bayonet charge, a 32-minute firefight ensued that saw one of the French hostages shot by a Bosnian sniper, the other hostage escaped, three Frenchmen killed in action and another ten wounded, along with four Serbs killed, three wounded and another four taken prisoner. The 10 French hostages were later released. The Serbs soldiers captured were treated as prisoners of war and held by the UN peacekeeping force.
It was the last time the French Army ever launched a bayonet charge, but for the rest of the time the French were participating as UN Peacekeepers in Bosnia, the Serbian forces kept a clear, noticeable distance from them.
College pranks leading up to a rivalry football game are par for the course, an expected ordinary event. But when Army meets Navy every year, the pranks are pulled by individuals trained to plan, lead, and meticulously execute military operations – and there is nothing ordinary about the students who attend the United States Military Academy or the U.S. Naval Academy.
This is especially true of one of Navy’s most famous alums, H. Ross Perot tolled Army in one of the greatest pranks in academy history.
There was nothing ordinary about Ross Perot.
Perot died of leukemia in 2019 at age 89 but the self-made billionaire and businessman who may have changed the outcome of the 1992 election got his start at the Naval Academy, graduating with the Class of 1953. His prank, however, came before the 1975 Army-Navy Game, when Perot was not only out of the Navy, but already a billionaire. His company, Electronic Data Systems, had gone public seven years prior.
His billions might have been the key element in helping Perot troll – or rather toll – the entire West Point campus on the eve of the biggest game of the season. According to the 1989 book “The Long Gray Line” by Rick Atkinson, Perot had to somehow enlist the help of a West Point chaplain to even get started.
Money. Money is how he enlisted an inside man.
At zero dark thirty on the night before the 1975 Army-Navy Game, Perot, with the help of an Army chaplain, the U.S. Military Academy’s bell-ringer, and a Midshipman friend infiltrated the West Point campus and shattered the quiet of the Hudson Valley night.
They scaled the stairs of the West Point Chapel, locked the doors behind them and played “Anchors Aweigh” (Navy’s fight song, for the uninitiated) while singing at the top of their lungs. As barracks’ lights all over campus switched on and cadets flooded their ways to the chapel, Perot and company banged out the Marines’ Hymn on the bells as a follow-up.
Perot taunted the oncoming cadets before surrendering to the mob, who promptly handed the eccentric billionaire over to the waiting Military Police. Perot presumably accepted a slap on the wrist and Navy bested Army 30-6.
A common misconception is that Daylight Savings Time exists so the farming industry could have more evening hours, but in fact, agriculture has long opposed DST (and for awhile there, they were successful at overturning the practice and returning the United States to “God’s Time”).
DST as we know it was actually instituted in the U.S. in 1918 to support war-fighting efforts, and we were late to the game; the German Empire and Austria-Hungary began DST in 1916, and one by one other countries began to follow suit. It was generally abandoned after WWI, but reinstated during WWII.
Once the war was over, there was no uniformity throughout the U.S. as to whether or not states would adopt DST permanently. It wasn’t until 1966 that Congress legislated DST for 48 states through the Uniform Time Act.
Arizona (save for the Navajo Indian Reservation) does not observe DST because extending daylight hours during summer increases energy consumption; people want the AC on when they’re active. Hawaii also opted out of the Uniform Time Act; because of Hawaii’s latitude, there isn’t much of a difference in the length of days throughout the year anyway.
Check out the video for a quick look at the history of DST in the United States:
Before the FBI or any other federal law enforcement agency locked criminals behind bars in the United States, the most important crime fighting squad was the US Postal Inspection Service. From the 18th century to present day, surveyors, special agents, and inspectors investigated the nation’s most newsworthy crimes. They investigated mail train robberies committed by notorious outlaw “Billy the Kid,” were amongst the first federal law enforcement officers to carry the Thompson submachine gun (commonly known as the “Tommy Gun”) to fight 1920s mobsters, and even had an integral role in capturing Ted Kaczynski, sensationalized in the media as the “Unabomber,” bringing an end to one of the most sophisticated criminal manhunts in US history.
The US Postal Inspection Service is the most storied federal law enforcement agency in the country, and since widespread crime is often connected by mail, their jurisdiction to investigate any related crime from anywhere around the world is unrestricted. This freedom began from one of America’s Founding Fathers, and since its establishment, the agency has participated in the largest criminal investigations of each century.
After the American Civil War, “snake oil salesmen” and “scalp tonic salesmen” used the mail to con unsuspecting victims. Screengrab from YouTube.
In 1737, Benjamin Franklin, the newspaper printer known for historic contributions to the nation, was also appointed by the British Crown as postmaster of Philadelphia. In addition to his day job, he had duties and responsibilities to regulate and survey post offices and post roads. As the first Postmaster General under continental Congress, Franklin abolished the British practice that determined which newspapers traveled freely in the mail and established foundational mandates of the “surveyor” position to ensure the organization could grow beyond a one-man show.
Franklin recognized the task was too much to handle alone and appointed William Goddard as the first surveyor of the new American Postal Service. His first day in office — Aug. 7, 1775 — became known as the birth of the Postal Inspection Service. The surveyors investigated thefts of mail or postal funds committed by writers, innkeepers, and others with access to the mail or post offices. The frequency of mail crimes became such a nuisance, Congress approved the death penalty as a viable punishment to enforce the serious offenses.
At the turn of the 19th century, surveyors became known as special agents, and among the first three was Noah Webster, the man responsible for compiling the dictionary. During the War of 1812, special agents observed and reported activities of the British Fleet along the Potomac River, and during the 1840s and 1850s, their roles magnified to coexist with western expansion in the United States. Special agents were needed across Texas, Oregon, and California to ensure new postal services were completed, as well as to keep order amongst mail carriers on horseback, railroads, or traveling by steamboats or stagecoaches.
During World War II, 247 US Postal Inspection Service inspectors established a mailing system that is still in use to this day. Photo courtesy of worldwarphotos.info.
Following the American Civil War, Congress imposed two new statutes still in use today. The first was the Mail Fraud Statute of 1872, which enforced a crackdown against swindles including the infamous “snake oil salesman” or the “scalp tonic salesman.” The second was the Postal Obscenity Statute of 1873, which made it illegal for anyone to “to sell, give away, or possess an obscene book, pamphlet, picture, drawing, or advertisement.” Special agents assumed the name of “Post Office Inspectors” in 1880 to differentiate from other special agents privately employed by railroad and stagecoach companies.
During the 20th century is when the US Postal Inspection Service earned its reputation for bringing down the hammer on gangs, mobsters, and armed robbers. The most scandalous criminal outfit was the organized secret society operating in New York City known as the Black Hand. They terrorized the public, the police force, and especially Italian immigrants, all frequent targets of murder, extortion, assassination, child kidnapping, and bombings. The bombing attacks were so frequent that the police referred to the Italian neighborhood as “The Bomb Zone.” Police reports indicated that there were more than 100 bombings in 1913 alone.
The Black Hand wrote menacing letters to their victims. “De Camilli, from one of our secret spies, we have learned that you have informed the police, contrary to our warnings,” Salvatore Lima, the Black Hand’s leader wrote. “Therefore, it is time to die. And on the first occasion, you will feel a bullet in your stomach, coward. You have willed it, and you will die like a dog. The terrible Black Hand.”
Post Office Inspector Frank Oldfield tracked 14 members of the Black Hand and nabbed and convicted the vicious and violent gang by targeting their paper trail through the mail. Elmer Irey, one of the great detectives of the 20th century and former post office inspector, used similar methods to nab Chicago Outfit’s Al Capone through tax fraud. Post office inspectors also captured and convicted Charles Ponzi — the mastermind and father behind the infamous pyramid “Ponzi Scheme” — and brought Gerald Chapman — America’s first “Public Enemy Number One” — to justice. After a three-year manhunt, forensic science put away the DeAutremont brothers, a trio who used dynamite to blow open mail train cars to scoop the cash inside.
Inspectors were also instrumental in the delivery and protection of over billion worth of gold transported along the “Yellow Brick Road” from New York City to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to establish the Fort Knox Bullion Depository in 1937. During World War II, 247 post office inspectors helped create Army Post Offices (APOs) and Fleet Post Offices (FPOs). Through their efforts, soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines could communicate with their loved ones back home. This system remains in effect to this day.
Later in the century, as their investigations adapted with the times, they received newer challenges through the security of commercial aircraft and the threats of mail package bombs aboard airplanes. In 1963, Postal Inspector Harry Holmes interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald to investigate the mail-order rifle he used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Only minutes after Oswald left Holmes’ office, he was gunned down — furthering the conspiracy theories of suspected involvement.
A laboratory technician holds the anthrax-laced letter addressed to Senator Patrick Leahy after safely opening it at the US Army’s Fort Detrick bio-medical research laboratory in November 2001. Photo courtesy of FBI.gov.
The Postal Inspection Service remains just as important today as when it was created, and with the increase in funding in other federal agencies, their prestige has emboldened their legacy as more than what was once perceived as “The Silent Service.” Days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Silent Service investigated the Anthrax biohazard letter attack — the worst biological attack in US history — and has since increased their efforts against illegal drug trafficking, suspicious mail, mail and package theft, money laundering, cybercrime, and child exploitation.
In the 1920s, Charles Ponzi scammed his investors out of an estimated million during his time as a conman and swindler — some 90 years later, just as the Postal Inspector Service had before, they nabbed Allen Stanford, a fraudster who convinced investors to buy certificates of deposit from his offshore Stanford International Bank with the promise of high returns. Stanford’s two-decade-long, billion Ponzi scheme was discovered through exhaustive investigations by a task force comprised of the IRS, the FBI, and the Silent Service. Stanford was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to serve 110 years in prison.
As long as there is mail to be delivered, there are inspectors who stand ready to ensure the safety of the American citizens.
Your grandparents and great grandparents fighting in World War II were hit with just as much safety rules as troops are today, it’s just those rules rarely make it to the history books.
But they weren’t always given their safety rules in boring briefings. When the 1940s War Department and Department of the Navy really wanted to drive safety rules home, they made snazzy safety videos and posters.
The Navy used “Ensign Dilbert,” a soup-sandwich who always breaks safety rules, to highlight the grisly results of incompetency in aviation.
And Dilbert does some truly stupid stuff. He mishandles his weapons, tows aerial targets into ground crews, and even accidentally kills a civilian his first flight of the day. And the Navy isn’t afraid to show the (PG-13) bodies of his victims.
Belgium’s Fort Eben-Emael was the crown jewel of the country’s defense from invasion, boasting huge gun emplacements, defensive ditches and canals, and hundreds of artillery troops, all to protect the heartland and capital.
And the whole thing fell to 87 German paratroopers after barely a day of fighting from May 10-11, 1940.
The fort was built in the early 1930s to prevent the exact situation it faced in 1940: an invasion of the country from the east. It had large guns to sweep fire across three key bridges that would be vital to an invasion. The bridges were also wired for demolition in case the defenders and the fort couldn’t keep the enemy from them.
Defensive canals, barbed wire, and anti-tank ditches made a land assault nearly suicidal, especially since the thick steel and concrete walls could shrug off most munitions launched by artillery or tanks of the day.
A few anti-aircraft guns were present on top of the fort and cupolas — guns with large domes to protect the crews — could fire across the top and kill any attackers who landed there.
But the fort was vulnerable to airborne assault. It had been constructed by digging into an existing large hill, and the miles of tunnels and thick walls made it tough to assault on foot, but did almost nothing to protect it from the sky.
Three assault forces would hit the bridges and attempt to take them from the defenders while a fourth would hit the fort and prevent the guns from firing on the others. The assault force hitting the fort was carrying a new weapon of war to cut through the defenses, shaped charges.
But, the highly trained and well-armed commandos at the fort would be outnumbered nearly 10 to 1.
The Germans landed on the fort in gliders specially modified to stop in the short space, and German paratroopers rushed out to hit the defenders. Belgian gun crews, who knew a probable assault was coming, quickly opened fire — but they didn’t have the canister shot that could quickly decimate the paratroopers.
Instead, the paratroopers were able to rush improperly maintained machine guns as they misfired and other gun crews as they reloaded. One of the defensive guns was taken out when a paratrooper threw a stick of dynamite through a small opening. Two others were destroyed by the special shaped-charge explosives. One crew was killed by a flamethrower.
And there were less defenders than there should have been. The fort relied on conscripts to flesh out its ranks, and many had finished their period or been pulled away to positions in the Belgian Army. Other troops were sick or on leave.
Within the first 10 minutes, the paratroopers had taken out nine defensive positions and forced many of the defenders to go underground behind barriers. Within 15 minutes, the Germans had neutralized the major defenses that threatened the fort attackers, as well as many of the guns that could hit the bridges.
The Belgians didn’t accept this laying down, of course. Soon after the attack began, the fort commander ordered nearby artillery to fire on the fort, killing some of the German attackers.
But the Germans sheltered in the wrecked cupolas and other positions and rode out the worst of the artillery.
As the Luftwaffe sent planes to silence the Belgian guns, the paratroopers used their shaped charges and other weapons to seal off exits from the fort and to wreck the few remaining positions that could fire outside.
And the bridge crews had successfully captured two bridges intact and one more that was damaged but repairable. Only 28 hours after the start of the attack, the road into Belgium was open.
The paratroopers had suffered six dead and 15 wounded by the time that the Belgian troops began surrendering.
The attackers all received high awards for valor and Hitler captured the country soon after.
During World War II, the U.S. and Russia fought together as allies against Hitler and his massive German army. That “friendship,” however, quickly soured after the elimination of their common enemy. The relationship was fraught with trust issues.
The U.S. started to get nervous, thinking the Soviet Union would one-day attack American soil with chemical weapons. So, to prepare for that awful possibility, the government needed to test gas masks (even on children) to ensure safety from chemical agents. To do so, the United States Chemical Corps developed a mask strictly for civilian use that looks like something out of Star Wars.
It’s easy to look back at the U.S. and see paranoia, but this video suggests that the U.S.S.R. did, in fact, have a stockpile of chemical weapons.
The masks’ manufacturers put filter pads inside to screen out radioactive dust and particles. In theory, the idea was sound but, like anything, the apparatus needed some practical testing.
The kids who would take part in the tests were fitted via with masks after a series of measurements of their faces were taken. Once each test subject — *cough* I mean child — was equipped with a masks, government workers escorted them into a chamber. The door was sealed behind them.
Then, the testing chamber was filled with a “fine” aerosol spray as the children read books and fun magazines to stay occupied. During the 10-minute period of exposure, the small room was filled with a large quantity of organisms.