That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird

Winston Churchill once said there was nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at and missed. Well, one crew of the SR-71 Blackbird has an authoritative take on Churchill’s famous saying.


On Aug, 26, 1981, in the midst of major exercises in North Korea that had people worried about a possible invasion, one of these Mach 3-capable spy planes was sent to track North Korea’s forces.

The United States wanted to get intelligence about missile sites in the very secretive country, and the Blackbird was often the aircraft of choice.

 

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird
The SR-71 Blackbird in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

What made the Blackbird’s Aug. 26, 1981 mission unique though, was that this time, the regime of Kim Il-Sung took a shot at the speedy plane as it made a pass over the Demilitarized Zone, known as the DMZ. The mission profile often involved multiple passes.

Maury Rosenberg and Ed McKinn were making their third pass when they saw the rising plume of a missile. Rosenberg calmly turned his plane to the right, going away from North Korea, and he and McKinn watched the missile detonate.

Thanks to the SR-71’s high speed, the aircraft and the crew escaped the hit.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird
Freebase, Creative Commons

In response to the development of the the SR-71, the Soviet Union built the MiG-25 Foxbat  to counter both the spy plane and the planned B-70 Valkyrie bomber. But even the Foxbat couldn’t stop the SR-71 from going where it wanted, when it wanted.

What did stop the SR-71? Budget cuts at the end of the Cold War.

But even then, there was a five-year period where the SR-71 made a comeback in the 1990s before the accountants did what no enemy could to: force the Blackbird out of the sky.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here are 14 ship names the US Navy needs to bring back to the fleet

Ship names were a controversy of sorts during the Obama Administration. (The USS Carl Levin and USS Joe Murtha come to mind.) It’s time to make the Navy great by christening combatants with proper names, ones that reflect the heritage and tradition of the sea service.


Here are 14 recommendations:

1. USS Lexington

Last of her name: AVT 16/CV 16

The last Lexington served as a training carrier for decades before her 1991 retirement, having replaced CV 2, which was sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea. The “Lady Lex” is now a museum docked on the shores of Corpus Christie, Texas. This classic name is way overdue for a comeback.

2. USS Saratoga

Last of her name: CV 60

If “Lady Lex” is coming back, why not “Sister Sara”? The previous one served for decades and was in reserve until the premature decision to send her to Brownsville to become razor blades. CV 60’s predecessor survived World War II, only to be sunk during the tests at Bikini Atoll.

3. USS Yorktown

Last of her name: CG 48

While the last Yorktown was a guided missile cruiser, the two previous ones were legendary “Fighting Ladies” in World War II. CV 5 sank at the Battle of Midway, but not before her fliers sank Soryu and helped put Hiryu on the bottom. CV 10 replaced CV 5, and made it through the war and is now a museum docked in Charleston, S.C. The cruiser served from 1984 to 2004, and is still in reserve.

4. USS Hornet

Last of her name: CV 12

The two carriers named Hornet in World War II both had honorable careers. CV 8 carried the Doolittle raiders on their mission to bomb Tokyo. CV 12 — now a museum docked in Alameda, California — fought across the Pacific, and later was the ship that recovered the crew of Apollo 11 after the historic moon landing.

5. USS England

Last of her name: CG 22

The first USS England, a destroyer escort, was famous for sinking six Japanese submarines in two weeks, a performance that lead then-Chief of Naval Operations Ernest J, King to vow “There will always be an England in the United States Navy.” The last one was decommissioned in 1994. It is well past time for England to return.

6. USS Basilone

Last of her name: DD 824

While HBO’s miniseries The Pacific brought the heroism of John Basilone to the world’s attention, the Navy had honored the Marine gunnery sergeant with a destroyer that was sunk as a target in 1982.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird
Crewmen abandon ship on board the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) after the carrier was hit by Japanese torpedoes and bombs during the Battle of the Coral Sea, on 8 May 1942. (Photo: U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation)
That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird
USS Basilone in action in 1960. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

7. USS Laffey

Last of her name: DD 724

Both destroyers named Laffey served in World War II, and both became legends in fights against long odds. The last one was decommissioned in 1968, then became a museum. It is well past time for a new Laffey to sail the seas.

8. USS Callaghan

Last of her name: DDG 994

Daniel J. Callaghan is one of the least-known combat commanders in the Navy. Given that his force saved the Marines on Guadalcanal, that is an undeserved situation. Perhaps it is time for a new Callaghan.

9. USS Jesse L. Brown

Last of her name: FF 1089

The Navy recently named a Burke-class destroyer after Ensign Brown’s wingman, so it seems fitting for a new Jesse L. Brown to join the Thomas Hudner as a named warship.

10. USS Johnston

Last of her name: DD 821

The first USS Johnston was one of two destroyers from Taffy 3 lost during the Battle of Samar. A second USS Johnston served in the United States Navy from 1946 until she was sold to Taiwan in 1981, where she gave two more decades of service.

11. USS Tang

Last of her name: SS 563

The first USS Tang was a legendary and very lethal submarine from World War II that sunk after getting hit with one of her own torpedoes in 1943. A second Tang later served in the Cold War. Time for iconic skipper Richard O’Kane’s sub to prowl the oceans again.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird
USS Tang returning to port after her second patrol. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

12. USS Harder

Last of her name: SS 568

Harder was another famous submarine from World War II, which carried out six successful war patrols before being lost. Her replacement, decommissioned in 1974, was sold to Italy, and served until 1988.

13. USS Wahoo

Last of her name: SS 565

Famous as the command of “Mush” Morton, Wahoo carried out seven patrols before Japanese forces sank her on her way back to base. Her replacement, part of the Tang-class diesel-electric subs that served in the early Cold War, was decommissioned in 1980 and scrapped in 1984.

14. USS Growler

Last of her name: SSG 577

The fame of the third USS Growler (SS 215) came because of the noble sacrifice of Commander Howard C. Gilmore, who famously ordered, “Take her down!” After World War II, a new Growler briefly served as a cruise-missile sub before being decommissioned and becoming a museum.

Are there other names you’d like to see the Navy bring back? Tell us in the comments below or on the WATM Facebook page.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a guy hid actual treasure somewhere in the Rockies

Born on Aug. 22, 1930, in Temple, Texas, Forrest Fenn did not begin his life wealthy, with his father working to support the family via a job as a principal at a local school. Things would change, however, during the latter half of his life thanks to a love of exploring and collecting various artifacts. His first such object was a simple arrow head he found when he was nine years old, something he still has to this day some eight decades later. Said Fenn, “I was exhilarated and it started me on a lifelong adventure of discovering and collecting things.”

After finishing school, Fenn decided to do a little exploring on the government’s dime, joining the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and traveling the world. Ultimately rising to the rank of Major, as well as flying a remarkable 328 combat missions in one year during Vietnam, he used his free time while in the service to search for artifacts wherever he was. Among many other finds during his time in the Air Force he reportedly discovered such things as a spearhead in the Sahara desert dated to around the 6th century BC and even a jar still filled with olive oil from Ancient Rome.


When he finally retired from the service, he decided to see if he could make a career out of his hobby, opening a shop, Fenn Galleries, with his wife and a business partner, Rex Arrowsmith, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The business ultimately became extremely successful, apparently grossing a whopping million per year in sales at its peak.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird
Giphy

Fast-forwarding almost two decades later, in 1987, Fenn’s father died of pancreatic cancer. Things got worse the next year when Fenn himself was diagnosed with kidney cancer. During treatment, his doctors told him there was about an 80% chance of his cancer being terminal within a few years.

And so it was that with more money and valuable objects than anyone in his family would need when he was gone, he decided he’d like to use some of his artifacts to inspire people to get out of their homes and go exploring. As he noted a couple decades later in an interview with The Albuquerque Journal in 2013, “I’m trying to get fathers and mothers to go out into the countryside with their children. I want them to get away from the house and away from the TV and the texting.”

His method for doing this was, in 1990, to purchase an approximately 800 year old bronze chest for ,000 (about ,000 today) and then place inside of it a slew of valuables including rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and emeralds; several antique items including pre-Columbian gold figures; a 2,000 year old necklace; a Spanish ring covered in gems from the 17th century; well over 100 gold nuggets of various sizes; 256 gold coins; and, finally, an autobiography of himself written in ultra small print and encased in a sealed jar. To ensure it could be readily read by the discoverer, he helpfully also included a magnifying glass.

That done, his first idea was to simply wait until he was near death, then leave behind a series of clues to a spot he had picked to go die, lying next to his treasure chest.

Fortunately for him, he survived his cancer, though he would quip surviving “ruined the story”.

Now with more life in him, instead of going through with the plan, he simply placed the treasure chest and its valuable contents in his personal vault where it sat, waiting for his cancer to come back so he could execute his plan.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird
Giphy

Two decades later and no cancer returning, at the age of 80 in 2010, he figured it was time to put a version of the plan in motion anyway. Thus, he drove somewhere in the Rockies between Santa Fe, New Mexico and the border of Canada, got out of his car and lugged the chest some unknown distance. From here, it is not clear whether he buried it, or simply left it on the surface to be discovered.

Whatever he did, after driving home, he announced what he’d done shortly thereafter in his self-published autobiography called The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir.

Given this was initially just sold in a bookstore in Sante Fe and he doesn’t seem to have otherwise too widely promoted what he’d done beyond locals, as you might imagine, little notice was given at first.

Things all changed, however, when an inflight magazine, who had stumbled on the story who knows how, decided to feature it. A Today’s Show producer ultimately read this and decided it would make good fodder for their show in 2013. Not long after this, the story exploded across the news wires and treasure hunters the world over swarmed to the Rockies to find the chest.

Since then, an estimated few hundred thousand people have gone looking for Fenn’s treasure. Some even have regular meetups in the Rockies each year to sit around camp fires and enjoy each other’s company, while sharing hypotheses of where the treasure might be. Not always wrong, according to Fenn, a few who have emailed him of where they looked have even come within a couple hundred feet of it, implying that they probably correctly identified the starting point he gives in the clues we’ll get to shortly.

But nobody has found it yet.

Worse, in the process of searching, at least four people to date have lost their lives — one Jeff Murphy died after falling down a steep slope in Yellowstone. In another case, a Pastor Paris Wallace somehow got swept away in the Rio Grande during his search. In another instance, one Eric Ashby was rafting in Colorado during his search when he drowned. In his case, Ashby apparently specifically moved to Colorado the previous year to devote himself to finding the treasure.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird

Finally, Randy Bilyeu, who retired from his job as a mechanic to search for the treasure full time, was found along the Rio Grande, though it isn’t clear how he died other than the temperatures were below freezing at the time he was searching.

For whatever it’s worth, it’s also been claimed by Bilyeu’s ex-wife, Linda, that a family of an unnamed individual reached out to her to offer their condolences and revealed their loved one had also died searching, but they had chosen not to make that information public. On top of that, it’s often mentioned that a Jeff Schulz, who died while hiking in Arizona in 2016, was searching for the treasure, though nothing in his family’s memorial to him and Facebook posts seem to mention any such connection, despite it being widely reported.

Whatever the case, in response to these deaths, Fenn, who actually rented a helicopter to help search for Bilyeu when he went missing, continually reiterates that searchers need to remember the treasure is “not in a dangerous place… I was eighty when I hid it…. don’t look anywhere where [an]… 80-year-old man can’t put something. I’m not that fit. I can’t climb 14,000 feet.”

This fact also has many speculating that from the starting point where he exited his vehicle might have only been a couple hundred feet given the 42 pounds the chest apparently weighed and his revelation that several people had come within two hundred feet of the chest.

Whatever the case, because of the deaths, and some people’s reported obsession with finding the treasure, with a handful of people even bankrupting themselves in the search, Fenn has been asked by certain authorities to retrieve the chest and call off the hunt.

A request Fenn refuses to grant, noting the overall benefit to hundreds of thousands who’ve got to go on a real treasure hunt in the wilderness. He further states, “I regret that some treasure hunters have invested more in the search than they could afford, although those numbers are small. I also regret that several people have become lost in the winter mountains. . I have said many times that no one should extend themselves beyond their comfort zone, physically or financially.”

And as for the addicted, he states this is unavoidable with any activity “in the same way gold miners, gamblers, hunters and baseball fans become addicted.”

Naturally, others have claimed it’s all one big hoax, such as the aforementioned Linda Bilyeu. Fenn is adamant, however, that it is not and he really did put the treasure chest somewhere in the Rockies.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird

(Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

As for proof, he offers none but his word. That said, for whatever it’s worth a few of his friends have come forward and stated they saw the chest in his vault with the items over the years leading up to 2010 when it suddenly disappeared. For example, a long-time friend of his, noted author Douglas Preston, states he saw the chest and the items, and that “As far as proof goes, there’s no proof. It’s hard to prove a negative. The negative is that the chest is gone. It’s not in his house and it’s not in his vault. And also knowing Forrest for as long as I have, I can absolutely say with 100 percent confidence that he would never pull off a hoax. I’m absolutely sure that he hid that treasure chest.”

So where is it? As for the main set of clues Fenn has given, they are as follows:

As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

Beyond that, he’s also mentioned in his autobiography that it is “in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe”. That the treasure is not in any cemetery or grave (apparently some people were beginning to dig up graves, convinced he left it in one) nor on his property or any of his friends. (This one came out because people kept digging in his and his friend’s properties.) He also states it’s not in or under any man-made structure nor in a mine. Finally, in 2015, he stated at a certain point that it was wet at the time and surrounded by “wonderful smells, of pine needles or piñon nuts or sagebrush”.

In the end, apparently achieving his goal, since the treasure was allegedly placed, many thousands have used it as an inspiration for a fun family vacation in beautiful areas, in most cases seemingly little upset about not actually finding the treasure. As Fenn himself states, even for all who don’t find it, “the adventure [is] the greater treasure.”

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird
Giphy

Seemingly concurring, one retired searcher, Cynthia Meachum, has taken over 60 trips into the wilderness to try to find it, stating “You go out, you look, you don’t find it, you come back home, you go through your clues again, your solves again and you think, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ And you go out and you do it again. And I have actually seen some of the most spectacular scenery because of this that I ever would’ve seen.”

Of course, for one lucky individual someday they might just also walk away with a literal, rather than figurative, treasure, which is the hope of Fenn, who states that given the number of people having correctly followed the clues to a point and come so close, he expects someone will find it soon. However, with him now at 89 years old, he may not live to see the day.

(And if you’re now wondering, Fenn has also stated that he is the only one who knows the treasure chest’s location and he has left no definitive record of its whereabouts other than the already revealed clues.)

Bonus Fact:

Speaking of buried treasure, a back injury and a recommendation by his doctors to take frequent walks saw one Kevin Hillier of Australia deciding to use the time more productively than just exercise, taking strolls through former gold fields with a metal detector. Broke, one night he dreamed he found an endless gold nugget that was so big that it could not be dug out of the ground. The next morning, he drew a picture depicting his dream on a piece of paper and had his friend Russell sign it as a witness for some odd reason.

Whether he made that part up, it was coincidence from having gold on his brain, or indeed prophetic, on Sept. 26, 1980, the dream would come true. After lunch, Kevin and his wife Bip were detecting in opposite directions when Kevin screamed. Rushing to him, Bip found her husband on the ground sobbing while kneeling in front of a tip of a gold nugget that couldn’t be pried from the ground directly.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird

The Hand of Faith, the largest gold nugget in the world.

As a result, they began to dig… and dig and dig until they finally reached the bottom. Lifting it up, they realized what they had found was history. Weighing an astounding 27.2 kilograms (nearly 60 pounds), it was the largest gold nugget ever found by a hand held metal detector and the second largest discovered in Australia in the 20th century. In a recent interview, Bip claimed that the couple had some heavenly intervention, “People will say it was all coincidence and that’s fine. But that’s my Father up there…and he’s interested in everything we do.” To them, the rock looked like a hand making a blessing. So, Bip and Kevin named the gold rock the “Hand of Faith.”

Scared to tell anyone, they rushed it home and soaked the sixty-pound chunk in the sink. The kids all helped to clean it with toothbrushes. That night, the family slept as the gold sat in a kiddie pool under the parents’ bed. After a few days of debate about what to do, they decided to hand the rock over to a trusted friend to take it back to Melbourne for a delivery to the government.

A few days later, at a televised press conference, Victorian Premier Dick Hamer announced the discovery. However, the Hilliers were not there. They were hold up in a motel room watching the press conference on television, refusing to be identified. Said one of the Hillier kids, “Even for years afterwards, we kids never brought it up.”

It took several months for the nugget to sell (according to Bip, this was the government’s fault and caused the nugget to dip in value as the hype died down a bit), but finally in early February of 1981, with the help of Kovac’s Gems Minerals, it was sold to the appropriately-named Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas for about a million dollars (approximately .7 million today).

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

How John McCain survived Hanoi ‘flabbergasted’ fellow prisoners of war

The lout of a prison guard they called the “Bug” told Bud Day with a satisfied smirk that, “We’ve got the Crown Prince.”

As usual, Day, an Air Force major who would later receive the Medal of Honor, ignored the Bug.


Later in December 1967, the guards hauled a new prisoner strapped to a board into Day’s cell.

Day was in bad shape himself. He had escaped and was on the run for two weeks before being caught. The beatings had been merciless, but the condition of the new guy was something else.

“I’ve seen some dead that looked at least as good,” Day would later reportedly say. The new prisoner was in a semblance of a body cast. He weighed less than a hundred pounds. He had untended wounds from bayonets. His broken and withered right arm protruded from the cast at a crazy angle.

Day thought to himself that the North Vietnamese “have dumped this guy on us so they can blame us for killing him, because I didn’t think he was going to live out the day.”

Then Day caught the look: “His eyes, I’ll never forget, were just burning bright,” and “I started to get the feeling that if we could get a little grits into him and get him cleaned up and the infection didn’t get him, he was probably going to make it.”

“And that surprised me. That just flabbergasted me because I had given him up,” Day said, as recounted in the book “The Nightingale’s Song” by Marine Vietnam War veteran Robert Timberg.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird
Cover of the 1995 Robert Timberg book The Nightingale’s Song
(Simon & Schuster)

Day had just met Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Sidney McCain III, or as Radio Hanoi called him, “Air Pirate McCain.” Day realized this was the Bug’s “Crown Prince,” the son of Adm. John S. McCain, Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Command.

Two reckonings

The nearly five years he spent as a POW were a reckoning for the future senator from Arizona.

But now, he’s facing a different kind of reckoning.

In July 2017, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer that usually is terminal.

Shortly after the diagnosis, McCain went to the Senate floor to plead for bipartisanship.

“Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and on the Internet. To hell with them,” he said.

“We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle,” he added. “We’re getting nothing done, my friends; we’re getting nothing done.”

McCain, still chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, went home to Arizona before Christmas and has not returned.

Before leaving the Senate, McCain said in a floor speech that “I’m going home for a while to treat my illness,” McCain said in a floor speech before leaving the Senate. “I have every intention of returning here and giving many of you pause to regret all the nice things you said about me.”

“And I hope to impress on you again, that it is an honor to serve the American people in your company,” McCain added.

At his ranch in Sedona, Arizona, McCain has reportedly not been a model patient. He has jokingly accused his nurses of being in the witness protection program.

“His nurses, some of them are new, they don’t really know him, so they don’t understand that sarcasm is his form of affection,” Salter said May 28, 2018, on the “CBS This Morning” program.

“He fights, he’s fought with everybody at one point or another,” Salter said. “You know, he always talks about the country being 325 million opinionated, vociferous souls — and he’s one of them.”

In an audio excerpt from the book, McCain faced mortality.

“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here,” he said in the book. “Maybe I’ll have another five years. Maybe with the advances in oncology, they’ll find new treatments for my cancer that will extend my life. Maybe I’ll be gone before you hear this. My predicament is, well, rather unpredictable.”

Maverick no more

In the 1990s, A&E ran a documentary on McCain that included in its title the moniker “American Maverick.” The title was probably suitable for a politician who clashed so frequently with others but managed to maintain friendships with rivals, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton.

McCain said he’s seeking to shed the “maverick” label, discussing the subject in an HBO documentary on his life that will air on Memorial Day.

“I’m a human being and I’m not a maverick,” McCain said in a trailer for the documentary obtained by ABC.

“I’ve been tested on a number of occasions. I haven’t always done the right thing,” he said, “but you will never talk to anyone who’s as fortunate as John McCain.”

Throughout his life and public career, McCain has demonstrated humor in dire circumstances and the ability to absorb grave blows and continue on.

When he was told that the Hoa Lo prison, dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton” by the POWs, had actually been turned into a hotel, McCain said “I hope the room service is better.”

He could also be self-deprecating.

“I did not enjoy the reputation of a serious pilot or an up-and-coming junior officer,” McCain, with long-time collaborator Mark Salter, wrote in his book “Faith of My Fathers,” describing life before his A-4 Skyhawk was shot down over Hanoi.

He had crashed three planes in training. He was assigned to attack aircraft and was not among the elite who flew fighters.

The look that riveted Bud Day in the prison camp signaled that the gadfly and carouser McCain was renewing a commitment “to serve a cause greater than oneself.”

It is a message that he has delivered to Naval Academy graduates and to congressional colleagues, and he has admitted to often falling short of living up to his own mantra.

After his return from Vietnam, there was a failed marriage and his implication in the “Keating Five” scandal, a bribery affair with a a corrupt wheeler-dealer that almost ended his career in politics.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird
McCain being interviewed after his return from Vietnam, April 1973

McCain recently described to CNN’s Jake Tapper how he wanted to be remembered.

“He served his country, and not always right,” McCain said. “Made a lot of mistakes. Made a lot of errors. But served his country. And I hope you could add ‘honorably’.”

On the campaign trail with McCain

The famously named “Straight Talk Express” campaign bus was actually reduced to a minivan when McCain was broke and running on fumes in the New Hampshire presidential primary of 2008. The few reporters still covering him had no problem squeezing in. The small group included this reporter, who covered the McCain campaigns for the New York Daily News in 2000 and 2008.

McCain would be off to some high school gym to speak, but mostly to listen. Everybody knew the script, because there wasn’t one, and that’s part of what made him a treat to cover.

His “Town Hall” events really were town halls. There might be a talking point at the top, or some message of the day fed to him by handlers, but McCain would get rid of it quickly and throw it open to the floor.

The practice had its downside. There was the guy who seemed to show up everywhere and always managed to grab the mic. He wanted to grow hemp, or maybe smoke it, and thought McCain should do something about it. It drove the candidate nuts.

The ad-lib nature of his campaigns sometimes backfired. There was the time in New Hampshire when he was headed to Boston for a Red Sox game and a sit-down with pitching hero Curt Schilling. Red Sox? New Hampshire primary? Impossible to screw that up.

The news of the day was that opponent Mitt Romney had hired undocumented immigrants to sweep out his stables, blow the leaves off his tennis courts, or similar tasks.

A small group of reporters hit McCain with the Romney question on his way to the car. McCain hadn’t heard. He started to laugh, thought better of it, and rushed back inside the hotel.

He could be seen in the lobby doubling up as aides explained the Romney situation. He came back out, said something to the effect of, “Of course, if true, this is troubling … ” and went to the ballgame.

Somebody wrote that McCain was the only candidate who could make you cry, and that was true.

In 2000, McCain was basically beaten when the campaign reached California. George W. Bush would be the Republican nominee.

McCain was running out the string in San Diego with many of his old Navy buds. On the dais was Adm. James Stockdale, who had been the senior officer in the prison camps. Stockdale received the Medal of Honor for his resistance to his captors.

Somehow, Stockdale had become the running mate of the flighty and vindictive Ross Perot, who had disrespected him and sidelined him from the campaign.

In his remarks, McCain turned to Stockdale and said that, no matter what, “You will be my commander — forever.”

There was a pause, and then the crowd stood and applauded.

His friends from the prison camps would occasionally travel with him on the bus or the plane. They were easy to pick out. During down times, they were the ones who would rag on him about what a lousy pilot he had been. It was a learning experience for those who covered McCain.

One of the former POWs was Everett Alvarez, who was the longest-held Navy pilot from the camps. At an event in California, there was a great rock n’ roll band that opened and closed for McCain. Outside the hall, as the crowd filed out, Alvarez was at an exit, enjoying the band as they blasted out ’60s hits.

“Great stuff,” he said to this reporter, who wondered later whether that was the first time Alvarez was hearing it.

Son of a son of a sailor

The title of the cover song of a Jimmy Buffett album applies to John McCain: “Son Of A Son Of A Sailor.”

His grandfather, John S. “Slew” McCain Sr., was an admiral who served in World War I and World War II. His father, John S. McCain Jr., was an admiral who served in submarines in World War II. Both father and grandfather were in Tokyo Bay after the Japanese surrender in World War II.

John S. McCain III was born on August 29, 1936, at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone. The family moved 20 times before he was out of high school, and his transience became an issue when he first ran for Congress in 1982.

His opponent tried to pin the “carpetbagger” label on him, and said he had only recently moved to Arizona. McCain said his opponent was correct: the place he had been in residence longest was Hanoi. He won easily.

McCain was an indifferent student and his poor academic record continued at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1958 fifth from the bottom in a class of 899.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird
McCain (front right) with his squadron and T-2 Buckeye trainer, 1965

After flight school, he was assigned to A-1 Skyraider squadrons and served on board the aircraft carriers Intrepid and Enterprise.

In 1967, in his first combat tour, he was assigned to the carrier USS Forrestal, flying the A-4 Skyhawk in Operation Rolling Thunder.

On July 29, 1967, McCain was in his A-4 on the flight deck when a missile on a following plane cooked off and hit the A-4, starting a fire that killed 134 and took more than a day to bring under control.

McCain transferred to the carrier USS Oriskany. On Oct. 26, 1967, McCain was flying his 23rd combat mission over North Vietnam when his aircraft was hit by a missile. He broke both arms and a leg when he ejected and nearly drowned when his parachute came down in Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi.

McCain’s decorations include the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars with combat ‘V’ devices, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart.

“In all candor, we thought our civilian commanders were complete idiots who didn’t have the least notion of what it took to win the war,” McCain would later write of the Vietnam war.

A final fight

McCain did not vote for President Donald Trump. The antipathy was there when Trump said during the campaign that McCain was “a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” but the break came later when a video emerged of Trump spewing vulgarities about women.

In speeches and in his writings since, McCain has not referred to Trump by name but made clear that he is opposed to some of the policies and crass appeals that won Trump the election.

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In an address in October 2017, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, McCain said that it was wrong to “fear the world we have organized and led for three quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership, and our duty to remain the last, best hope of Earth.”

He said it was wrong to abandon those principles “for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”

To do so was “as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,” McCain continued.

While hoping for recovery, McCain has made plans for what comes next. He said in the HBO Memorial Day documentary that “I know that this is a very serious disease. I greet every day with gratitude. I’m also very aware that none of us live forever.”

In his new book, McCain said that he was “prepared for either contingency.”

“I have some things I’d like to take care of first, some work that needs finishing, and some people I need to see,” he said.

He has asked that Barack Obama and George W. Bush give eulogies when his time comes. He has asked that Trump not attend his funeral.

McCain has also asked that he be laid to rest alongside Adm. Chuck Larson at the Naval Academy’s cemetery in Annapolis. Larson, who was twice superintendent of the Naval Academy, was McCain’s roommate at Annapolis.

In a message of his own last Memorial Day, McCain recalled his friend, the late Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness, a Medal of Honor recipient for his valor in Vietnam. Thorsness was shot down two weeks after the actions for which he would receive the medal.

“I was in prison with him, I lived with him for a period of time in the Hanoi Hilton,” McCain said.

Through the nation’s history, “we’ve always asked a few to protect the many,” McCain said. “We can remember them and cherish them, for, I believe, it’s only in America that we do such things to such a degree.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This common weapon was so ‘pernicious’ that Catholicism banned it

In 1096, Pope Urban II took a good hard look at this new “crossbow” thing and gave it all of the nopes. No Christians were to use it in any battle against a fellow Christian on the punishment of excommunication and eternal damnation of the soul. But the weapon that would act as the precursor to the rifle was simply too valuable to leave on a shelf.


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A figure depicting a crossbowman who helped execute Saint Sebastian in the later 15th Century.

(Gun Powder Ma, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Crossbows were already an old weapon when European knights first ran into them in the 900s. Ancient Europeans had used similar weapons, but crossbow-like designs had fallen out of favor in Europe by the year 500 A.D., and few Europeans would’ve recognized them before their resurgence in the late 900s and 1000s.

But French use, as well as use by Eastern nations who had never stopped using the weapon, brought it back into the lexicon of European warfare.

And Western knights did not like it. Their armor protected them from most weapons they would face with the exception of the longbow, a weapon that took years to learn and decades to master. But crossbows could slice right through the armor at greater range than even a longbow, and shooters could be trained in hours or days.

The French were the ones who brought the crossbow back into European warfare. The English had a huge advantage when it came to bowmen, especially longbowmen, and France and England fought often. But while crossbow shooters could fire at greater ranges and with less training than soldiers equipped with a longbow, the weapon did have disadvantages.

Crossbows fire only two rounds per minute while good archers with longbows could fire 10. And crossbow units needed supporting staff and spare parts that weren’t necessary with traditional archers. They were also more susceptible to weather damage because it was harder to remove and replace their sensitive strings.

Still, the advantages outweighed the problems, and units across Europe adopted the new weapon. Mercenary units recruited and trained skilled crossbowmen and sold their services. For a few years, kings largely tried to follow the ban on using crossbows against Christian foes, and Pope Innocent II continued the ban in 1139 after ascending to the position of Pope.

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Saint Sebastian was martyred by archers, reportedly at least one of which was using a crossbow.

(Hans Baldung, public domain)

But it couldn’t last. Kings used the weapons against pagans and Muslims, but then had to leave the men behind while fighting against each other in Europe. By the early 1200s, they were once again common in European combat. Crossbowmen played a crucial role for Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1238.

In fact, just a year later, Pope Gregory IV used mounted crossbowmen against the Lombard League, an alliance of European kingdoms that were all Christian. Yeah, the allure of crossbow power was so strong that a pope employed them against Christian forces.

Crossbows would continue to play a role in combat until after the 15th Century when advances in gunpowder slowly rendered them obsolete. First, advanced cannons were able to break up their formations from further away than even the crossbowmen could fire. And muskets and rifles eventually filled the role that crossbowmen once had.

Of course, the church didn’t love firearms either. It declared all black powder weapons to be daemonic, but armies quickly embraced them anyway.

Articles

This is how the ‘Handsomest Man in the Luftwaffe’ lost his looks

With more than 900 missions under his belt, Johannes “Macky” Steinhoff was one of the most famous German fighter pilots during WWII and was reportedly known as the “Handsomest Man in the Luftwaffe.”


Operating everywhere from the western to the eastern fronts, Steinhoff squared off with some of the world’s best pilots at the time and racked up  176 victories. But he was also shot down a dozen times.

The German ace nearly rode his damaged plane all the way down to the ground every time because he didn’t trust that the parachutes would properly deploy if he jumped out.

Related: These 7 American legends were pilots for the Flying Tigers

Although he was very efficient during the war, Steinhoff was known for spearheading the fighter pilots’ revolt of January 1945 by voicing concerns to the corrupt leadership in the Third Reich’s high command who in return accused their pilots of cowardice and treason.

For this role in the rebellion, Steinhoff was threatened by his commanders with court-martial and banishment to Italy.

Towards the end of the war, Steinhoff took flight on a mission in his Messerschmitt Me-262 jet but was shot down soon after by Allied forces — officially ending his involvement in war.

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This photo was taken during Steinhoff’s recovery. (Source: WW2 Gravestone)

The German ace fighter was so badly burned in his last crash he would receive 70 operations to help restore his facial structures.

In February 1994, the German general passed away from heart failure at the age of 80.

Also Read: These were some of the ballsiest pilots of WWII, and their planes didn’t even have engines

Check out David Hoffman‘s video below to hear this story from Johannes Steinhoff himself.

(David Hoffman, YouTube)
Articles

Here is how aerial gunners were trained to fight their way past the Luftwaffe

The United States Army Air Force’s daylight bombing campaign in Europe involved thousands of bombers, and tens of thousands of crewmen. While there were pilots, crew chiefs, radiomen, bombardiers, and navigators on planes like the B-17, about 40 percent of the crew were aerial gunners.


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A U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flying through flak over a target. A hit by flak lead to the capture of Brigadier General Arthur Vanaman, placing ULTRA at risk. (USAF photo)

What did it take to get these specialists ready? In some ways, it didn’t take long – maybe a few weeks. But these gunners had to learn a lot. Maintenance of their machine guns was vitally important. But they also had to learn to hit a moving target – because the Nazi fighters trying to shoot the bombers down were not going to make things easy for them.

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Messerschmidt Bf 109. (Photo: Kogo CC BY-SA 2.0)

So, what did it take to teach gunners how to hit a moving target? Well, for starters, there were lessons on maintenance for both a .30-caliber machine gun (mostly used early in the war) and the M2 .50-caliber machine gun, and how fix them when they jammed. Then, they had to learn how bullets traveled downrange, and how to adjust for the drop of the bullets from the guns.

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A look at the ball turret of a B-17 Flying Fortress, carrying a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

When that was done, the trainees were started on full-auto BB guns at an indoor range. Once that was mastered, they then did a lot of skeet shooting with 12-gauge shotguns.

Yep, a popular shooting sport was used to train the folks whose job involved keeping Nazi fighters from shooting down a bomber with ten airmen on board.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird

The training went on to include live-fire of the machine guns, as well as how the turrets used on planes like the B-17 and B-24 worked. Aircraft recognition — including knowing an enemy fighter’s wingspan — was also very important.

Following that, they took to the air, and learned how to fire the guns while wearing the gear they’d need on board a bomber – including a life vest, parachute, and the helmet.

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B-17 gunners wearing bulky sheep-shearling flying clothing to protect against the deadly cold at the altitudes typically flown in Europe.— At 25,000 feet, the temperature could drop below -60 degrees Fahrenheit. (U.S. Air Force photo)

As you can imagine, this included a lot of learning and skills to master. You can see an introductory video for aerial gunners made during World War II below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 disgusting diseases older troops had to worry about

So, it turns out there’s a reason your local medic wants to look at your body parts and fill you with pills, and it’s not because they’re a pervert — I mean, they probably are, but that’s not why they’re doing it. See, your ancestors fought in wars where it was fairly common their kidneys to swell up and burn, their genitals to start dripping pus, and their livers to grow holes and leak bile into their blood.

If you consider any of the descriptions above humorous or entertaining (sicko), then read on!


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Soldiers undergo delousing on the Serbian front of World War I, an effort to reduce diseases like trench fever.

(Popular Science Magazine)

Trench fever

Trench fever was a fever characterized by skin lesions, sore muscles and joints, and headaches — yeah, not much fun. It was first recognized in 1915 as it spread through the trenches of World War I, but it also broke out in some German units in World War II.

It was spread through infected body lice and usually cleared up in a couple of months, but became chronic in rare cases. At least, with trench fever, the lesions were mostly confined to your skin and back… unlike the next entry.

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Front and back cover of a truly disturbing book given to World War I troops headed back to the states, apparently filled to the brim will all sorts of disgusting genital bacteria.

(National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

Literal blue balls (thanks to genital lesions!)

We’re not including a photo here for obvious reasons. A soft chancre is an “infectious, painful, ragged venereal ulcer” that develops at the site of Haemophilus ducreyi. The bacteria can also cause “buboes, or ‘blue balls'” according to a 1918 pamphlet issued by the War Department.

After a regrettable Google search and lots of crying, this author can confirm that the ulcers look very painful, but nothing about the affected organs looks particularly blue.

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Treatment for gonorrhea in 1911. Yes, the doctor is holding what you think he is, and that injection is going where you hoped it wouldn’t.

The clap and syphilis

While gonorrhea — also known as “the clap” — and syphilis are still common STDs, early detection on military bases and a lack of fraternization with locals has made it less of a problem in modern wars than when your grandparents fought. But for troops marching across Europe, hitting on as many French girls as they could, getting a series of sores on their genitals or seeing the dreaded discharge come out of their naughty bits was a real possibility.

And, back then, the only sure-fire test available for diagnoses was getting “rodded off the range,” a test where a doctor slid a cotton swab into a man’s “barrel” and swirled it around 5-10 times. Now, blood and urine tests are used instead. Big win for modern science.

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Not today, tuberculosis. Not today.

Tuberculosis

Another disease that was a bigger problem for grandpa than it is for you, tuberculosis is a nasty infection that usually hits the lungs, causing bloody coughs, but can also wreck your liver, kidneys, and other organs. It causes chest pain, breathing troubles, fatigue, chills, and other issues that absolutely suck, especially while in a World War I trench.

It is spread through the air and infected surfaces, which is a big problem when thousands of dudes are sleeping on top of each other in crowded bunkers.

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Typhoid Mary, famous for being imprisoned by New York authorities after she was found to be a carrier of typhoid fever.

(Public domain)

Typhoid fever

Typhoid fever, caused by salmonella that infects the intestines, was a huge problem in the Civil War and World War I. Back then, the particularly bad sanitation practices allowed fecal material from infected troops to make it into the food and into the digestive tracts of healthy ones. It triggered skin lesions, diarrhea or constipation, trouble breathing, and fever, among other symptoms.

In the Civil War, doctors hadn’t even figured out the disease yet, and treatment basically involved throwing a bunch of home remedies at the problem while continuing the study the disease’s spread. By World War I, we at least knew what caused it and had a vaccine, but still no cure. It wasn’t until after World War II that the disease became treatable.

War nephritis

Nephritis is inflammation of the kidneys. “War nephritis” was named by doctors in World War I who were looking into a sudden increase in cases with additional symptoms, like headaches, vertigo, and shallow breath.

While it’s still very possible to experience nephritis in war today, the worsened symptoms observed in World War I were thought to be tied to conditions in the trenches and along the front. Nephritis limits the kidneys’ ability to filter the blood, and exposure to the cold and wet conditions of wartime Europe made the problem much worse.

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This is your intestines on dysentery.

Dysentery

Dysentery has a reputation for being a particularly bad case of diarrhea, but that’s not a full picture of the problem. It’s diarrhea that can last for months and include bloody stools. Even when treated, it could lead to secondary infections, like hepatitis and liver abscesses. The liver degradation leads to a buildup of toxins in the blood and body.

So, yeah, pretty horrible. And troops shifting between different fronts and battlefields in World War I allowed different versions of the disease to reach new places and vulnerable populations. Today, it’s easier to diagnose and treat, but the best safeguard is good hygiene and sanitation.

“Soldier’s heart” or effort syndrome

Effort syndrome, also known as “soldier’s heart syndrome,” wasn’t well understood, but it was a tendency for soldiers in the Civil War and World War I to experience heart palpitations, shortness of breath, exhaustion, and cold extremities. It’s thought that the syndrome may have been caused by a previous disease, like fever, jaundice, dysentery, etc. combining with the stress and rigors of war.

Over 36,000 troops were discharged in World War I for heart ailments.

Articles

These 74 dead sailors from the Vietnam War are not honored on the Wall

The most notable part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. is “The Wall,” which features a list of 58,315 personnel killed during the Vietnam War. An effort to add the names of 74 sailors, though, has been rebuffed by the Navy.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, the 74 sailors were killed when the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754) was rammed by the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (R 21) during a South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) exercise.

The destroyer was cut in half, with the bow sinking in a matter of minutes, taking 73 sailors with it. A single body was recovered from the South China Sea, bringing the total to 74 lives lost.

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The Wall, the most prominent part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Among the dead were the three Sage brothers from Niobrara, Nebraska – the worst loss any family had suffered since the Sullivan brothers were killed when the anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52) was sunk during the Guadalcanal campaign.

The portion of the Frank E. Evans that remained afloat was taken to Subic Bay, where it was decommissioned on July 1, 1969. On Oct. 10, 1969, the ship was sunk as a target.

The Navy’s initial refusal to place those 74 names on the Wall was due to the fact that the destroyer was outside the “Vietnam combat zone.”

According to U.S. Navy criteria, “Vietnam and contiguous waters” was defined as “an area which includes Vietnam and the water adjacent thereto within the following specified limits: From a point on the East Coast of Vietnam at the juncture of Vietnam with China southeastward to 21 N. Latitude, 108° 15’E. Longitude; thence, southward to 18° N. Latitude, 108° 15’E. Longitude; thence southeastward to 17° 30’N. Latitude, 111° E. Longitude; thence southward to 11° N. Latitude; 111° E. Longitude, thence southwestward to 7° N. Latitude, 105° E. Longitude; thence westward to 7° N. Latitude, 103° E. longitude, thence northward to 9° 30’N. Latitude, 103° E. Longitude, thence northeastward to 10° 15’N. Latitude, 104° 27’E. Longitude, thence northward to a point on the West Coast of Vietnam at the juncture of Vietnam with Cambodia.”

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The aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (R21), which rammed US Frank E. Evans (DD 754). (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

According to the website of the Frank E. Evans Association, the accident occurred 110 miles from the Vietnam Combat Zone.

FoxNews.com reported that the Navy has offered to place an exhibit about the collision in a planned Vietnam Veterans Memorial educational center, but many families are skeptical due to lagging efforts at fundraising for the proposed $130 million project.

Articles

Motorcycle soldiers used to rush parts to tanks under fire

They were quite possibly the ballsiest men to serve in World War I — a group of motorcyclists who would wait for tanks to get bogged down or disabled and ride on their two-wheeler’s to the rescue.


Motorcyclists provided a number of services to the tank corps including signaling, dispatch riding, and delivering replacement parts or crewmembers to tanks under attack — even when the area was being targeted by enemy artillery or machine gun fire.

Motorcycle soldiers were envisioned by then-Army Capt. George S. Patton, Jr. when he was first standing up the American tank units. Patton wanted at least two motorcycles and riders for each tank company as well as an additional two riders and bikes for the battalion headquarters.

Motorcycles were necessary for traversing the shell-pocked landscape between World War I trenches — areas with mud so deep and inclines so steep that tanks would often get stuck or break.

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U.S. Marine Corps motorcycle riders in Tientsin, China, in 1927. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

But the motorcyclists may not have had the worst job supporting the fledgling tank corps in World War I. That award probably goes to the salvage corps whose members had to yank tanks from the battlefield.

In the worst cases, members of the salvage corps would map out where all disabled tanks were in No Man’s Land, then crawl out to them through the mud and under artillery fire at night. If they could get the tank running again, they’d drive it off the battlefield. If not, they would strip it for parts as German snipers and machine gunners hunted for them in the dark.

Luckily, a young tanker whose name was lost to history eventually suggested a better idea — outfit one tank as a recovery vehicle to bring necessary parts and mechanics to their comrades under fire.

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American Army Renault FT light tanks in the Argonne Forest in 1918. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

The recovery tanks could also deliver new crewmembers to the battlefield and could tow away damaged tanks, preventing the necessity of motorcycle riders to roar in under artillery fire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time MacArthur promised to capture a hill or die on it

During the bloody and costly Argonne Offensive, American forces had to fight for three weeks and suffer 100,000 casualties to reach the objectives that were planned for the first day of fighting. One of those objectives was a large, well-defended hill that Douglas MacArthur was ordered to either capture or spend 5,000 lives in the failure. MacArthur promised his name would be on the list if he failed.


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Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur poses in a French castle recaptured from German forces one week before the Meuse-Argonne Offensive began in World War I.

(U.S. Army Lt. Ralph Estep)

MacArthur was a brigadier general at the time, recently passed over for promotion and in command of the 84th Infantry Brigade, and he and his men had already fought viciously from Sep. 26, 1918, to early October. MacArthur had led some of their attacks, including a daring nighttime raid, from the front, earning him nominations for what would become his sixth and seventh Silver Stars.

But the 84th was moved up to a division at Côte de Châtillon. It’s a large hill that dominates the surrounding terrain, and MacArthur assessed that it was the center of German fortifications in the area. He carefully laid his plans for attack and, as he was finishing up, his new corps commander visited him in his tent.

Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall and MacArthur were old friends and shared a cup of coffee. When he was done, Summerall stood to leave and told MacArthur, “Give me Châtillon, MacArthur, or turn in a list of 5,000 casualties.”

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American troops fighting in France in World War I. It was America’s first time in fully industrialized combat, and the learning curve was steep.

(Library of Congress)

It was a surprising order, but it highlighted the dire straits the American Expeditionary Force was in. Their first offensive in the Meuse the month before had gone very well, but America still had to prove itself to its allies. And Germany was close to winning the war before America entered it. Russia had fallen out of the war in 1917, and the French people were weary after over four years of fighting on their soil.

France could still fall, Germany could still win, and America would be seen as weak and exploited even if Germany lost the war without a significant American victory. Summerall and the other senior generals were willing to do nearly anything to prove that America was a real power on the world stage and to punish Germany for sinking U.S. ships.

But MacArthur was no slouch either. Remember, in less than a month of fighting before this meeting, he had earned himself nominations for two more Silver Stars. Though he would later be embarrassed by the drama of his response, what he said to Summerall at the time was, “All right, general. We’ll take it, or my name will head the list.”

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Soldiers of Headquarters Company, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division fire a 37mm gun during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, where American Soldiers fought their most difficult battle in World War I.

(U.S. Army)

To paraphrase, “I will come back with that hill or on it.” On October 14, MacArthur began his attack with “my Alabama cotton growers on my left, my Iowa farmers on my right,” as he referred to the National Guard forces under his command. The 83rd Infantry Brigade, made up mostly of New York and Ohio units, fought bravely beside the 84th.

It took three days. As MacArthur later wrote:

…little units of our men crawled and sneaked and side-slipped forward from one bit of cover to another. Death, cold and remorseless, whistled and sang its way through our ranks. But like the arms of a giant pincer my Alabama and Iowa National Guardsmen closed in from both sides. Officers fell and sergeants leaped to command. Companies dwindled to platoons and corporals took over.”

Côte de Châtillon fell to American hands late on October 16, MacArthur had led from the front, and he would later receive the Distinguished Service Cross for his great courage “in rallying broken lines and in reforming attacks, thereby making victory possible.”

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The hill Cote de Chatillon as photographed in 2018. In 1918, this hill was the site of stubborn German defenses which required the sacrifice of 3,000 American casualties to liberate.

(Georgia National Guard Capt. William Carraway)

The Germans counterattacked, ferociously, but MacArthur and his men held on, and the hills nearby quickly fell to American forces. The 42nd Infantry Division, of which the 83rd and 84th were part, would be temporarily relieved from front line duty on October 18. The two brigades had suffered 3,000 casualties taking the hill.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

For almost 40 years, the Irish people endured a constant state of fear stemming from a low-level war that killed thousands of Irish civilians, British troops, and Irish fighters – all in a stunningly understated conflict called “The Troubles.” While British and U.K. loyalist forces were well-equipped and armed for the task, the Irish Republican Army, fighting for a united Ireland, had to improvise a little.


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This is why “Irish Car Bombs” are a thing.

The Irish Republican Army was a homegrown paramilitary organization that was at best outlawed, and at worst, designated a terrorist organization. They were committed to a fully united Ireland by any means necessary and resisted the United Kingdom’s occupation of Northern Ireland, also by any means necessary. This usually meant improvised guns, bombs, and even mortars. That’s how they created what British troops called the Mark 15. The IRA called it the “Barrack Buster.”

Barrack Busters first started to appear in the IRA arsenal in the 1990s and was an improvised 36-centimeter mortar capable of firing three-foot-long propane tanks filled with high explosives. The Mark 15 was usually made of a cooking gas container created for use in rural areas of Ireland. It was capable of launching one of these powerful explosive containers nearly a thousand feet.

The IRA improvised mortars of various sizes and power, and hit not only military barracks, but bases and even 10 Downing Street.

The Mark 15 was described as having the effect of a flying car bomb, that has taken down barracks, helicopters, and even Royal Air Force planes. It was the fifteenth in a line of development that stretched as far back as the early 1970s. It was the largest homemade mortar developed by the Irish Republican Army. The development does stretch to a Mark-16, but that weapon was more of a recoilless rifle than it was a traditional mortar.

Introduction of the giant mortar did have an impact on British forces. The United Kingdom was forced to pull its checkpoints away from the Irish border after the introduction of the Mark 15 mortar. It was so effective as a weapon it was adapted for use by paramilitary forces in other countries and conflicts, including the FARC in Colombia and the Free Syrian Army in Syria.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the RAF bombed a POW camp with an artificial leg

On August 19, 1941, a British bomber taking part in a raid against Germany flew over a prisoner of war camp in St. Omer, France and dropped its lightest — but possibly most historic — payload of the war: a wooden case filled with bandages, socks, straps, and an artificial leg.

The odd bombing mission was to support a particular pilot on the ground, Douglas Bader, a Battle of Britain hero and double-leg amputee.


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Douglas Bader and other members of No. 242 Squadron pose in front of nose art depicting a quick kick to Hitler’s butt.

(Royal Air Force photo by S. A. Devon)

Bader’s heroic story starts in 1931 when he boldly asserted that he could fly a new aircraft but, while attempting a risky maneuver near the ground with it, crashed the plane and lost both of his legs. The Royal Air Force drummed him out as invalid, but he kept pressing to come back.

When World War II broke out, Bader finally got his chance and immediately made the best of it, getting re-certified to fly and an assignment to the No. 19 Squadron. He pushed for sending more planes up against the Germans more of the time, and was sent against the Luftwaffe over Dunkirk in 1940.

Success there led to his involvement in the Battle of France where he was given command of No. 242 Squadron and increasingly large air missions. Bader was credited with 20 confirmed aerial kills and two shared by August, 1941. He became something of a hero to the British public as wartime propaganda related the heroics of “Tin-Legs Bader” and other fliers of No. 242.

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A Messerschmitt 109 like the one Bader shot down on the day that he was downed — August 9, 1941.

(Kogo, CC BY-SA 2.0)

But his last kill came at a cost. On August 9, he shot down a Messerschmidt-109F, but his own plane was damaged in the fight. Reports at the time indicated that he had collided with another German plane, but later investigations posit that he might have been a victim of friendly fire.

Either way, Bader bailed out of his plane, losing his right prosthetic in the process, and parachuted to the ground. He was knocked out upon landing, and woke up to German soldiers removing his parachute harness.

The German doctor assigned to check on him thought, at first, that Bader had suffered an amputation in the crash, but quickly realized both his mistake and the fact that he was treating a British war hero.

The Germans, to their credit, immediately tried to make him as comfortable as a full-bodied person in the prisoner of war camp, recovering and repairing his leg as best they could and letting Britain know that he had been captured and needed a replacement right leg.

Bader, to his credit, immediately attempted to use his repaired leg to escape, forcing the Germans to take his legs every night to prevent further escape attempts. Bader would try again three more times over the course of the war.

But, between the first escape attempt and the other three, the RAF put together a plan to get Bader a new leg. Germany made an offer of safe passage and landing for a single plane to deliver it, but Britain worried that the Germans would use it for a burst of positive publicity.

That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird

Instead, they put together a fairly genius plan. See, Bader had been shot down during a large bombing raid popular with the RAF at the time. Bombers flew towards their targets escorted by a large number of fighters. The German planes would take off to intercept, but would be forced to dogfight with the fighters.

This created a window where there was little or no real resistance in the air to smaller bomber formations. Typically, this was used to sneak a few bombers in on low-altitude runs against high-priority targets. But on August 19, 1941, the British aviators used this window to fly over the prisoner of war camp at St. Omer, France where Bader was being held.


The plane dropped its single package with the leg and other supplies into the town with a note attached:

To the German flight commander of the Luftwaffe at St. Omer. Please deliver to the undermentioned address this package for Wing Command Bader, RAF prisoner of war, St. Omer, containing artificial leg, bandages, socks, straps.

Bader was sent to the infamous Colditz Castle after his fourth escape attempt, but survived the war. He advocated for disabled rights the rest of his life, efforts for which he received a knighthood in 1976. He died in 1982 of an apparent heart attack.