North Korea might be a little provocative these days but the 1960’s DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name), was the annoying middle child of international Communism.
The 60’s were an important decade in the Cold War because American activity was increasing in Vietnam, and the U.S. would not be able to respond to North Korean provocations in a timely manner. The North felt it had more room for aggression against its southern neighbor their western allies. Just days before they captured the USS Pueblo in international waters, the North sent a special ops unit, “Unit 124,” south with the sole purpose of assassinating President Park Chung-hee.
Thirty one of the best men from the DPRK’s Korean People’s Army were handpicked to infiltrate South Korea through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The team trained for two years in everything from land navigation and airborne operations to hand-to-hand combat and special weapons. They spent two full weeks practicing the raid in a full-scale reconstruction of South Korea’s Presidential complex, the Blue House.
When the time came, the commandos crossed the DMZ undetected via the sector controlled by the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. Seoul was a three-day march away. The death squad moved at night and set up camp before daybreak. The next night, they did the same, this time setting up on Simbong Mountain, where two brothers out collecting firewood stumbled upon the North Korean commando camp.
Instead of killing or otherwise subduing the two brothers, the commandos tried to turn the two using a speech about the benefits of North Korean Communism, and then let the two go as long as they promised not to tell the the authorities. Which, of course, they immediately did.
The Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) sent three battalions into the mountains to search for the North Koreans. The commandos were still able to enter the South Korean capital that night, where they changed into ROKA uniforms and marched as normal ROKA troops to within 100 meters of the Presidential home. That’s when a police patrol stopped them and a suspicious police chief began to question them.
The Communists immediately shot the police chief, then lit up the checkpoint with grenades. They retreated into the woods near the complex and tried to make their way back to North Korea. The ensuing firefight would kill 29 of the commandos, with one captured and one escaping back north. The South Koreans suffered 26 killed and 66 wounded, 12 of those civilians. Four American troops were killed trying to prevent the communists from recrossing the DMZ.
The last commando was killed on January 23, 1968, the same day the Pueblo was captured. Because the event, now known at the “Blue House Raid,” happened three days before the Pueblo incident and 12 days before the launch of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the raid was largely forgotten by both the U.S. and international media, but was not forgotten by South Korean media. Ever.
If Kim Il-Sung, then the living President of North Korea (now the dead President of North Korea), wanted Park Chung-hee dead, all he had to do was wait 11 years. The head of Park’s own intelligence agency did the job for him, shooting him and three bodyguards at point blank range during a dinner at a safe house. President Park’s daughter, Park Gyun-Hye is the current President of South Korea, which really bothers the North for some reason.
Okay, you’re relieving some stress by playing some video games and you just downed an enemy plane.
The pilot bails out.
You’ve got him in your sights — one less bad guy to deal with later, right?
According to the law of war, it is a crime to gun down a pilot who’s bailed out of his plane. While the video game world might give some allowances on this, in the real world it’s a major no-no.
Field Manual 27-10, “The Law Of Land Warfare,” says that a pilot who has bailed out of his plane is a non-combatant. That’s different from a paratrooper who’s notionally armed on his way down and is technically engaged in combat while under canopy.
Here is the exact quote: “The law of war does not prohibit firing upon paratroops or other persons who are or appear to be bound upon hostile missions while such persons are descending by parachute. Persons other than those mentioned in the preceding sentence who are descending by parachute from disabled aircraft may not be fired upon.”
But even before all that legalese was codified in the Geneva Conventions, some militaries had already adopted a similar code of conduct. During World War II, the Nazis — whose crimes against humanity were legion — generally forbade its pilots from shooting downed enemy airmen.
On the American side, General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued orders that shooting at enemy aircrew who had bailed out as forbidden.
Pilots on the Japanese side had no such hesitation, partially stemming from a code that viewed surrender as dishonorable. Many Allied airmen in the Pacific found that bailing out from a crippled plane was sometimes like going from the frying pan into the fire.
One airman, though, was able to shoot a Japanese pilot trying to machine gun him with his M1911!
In short, if you’re even playing a video game and you’re tempted to shoot at the folks who bailed out, don’t do it.
Pop culture always tells the stories of the outlaws of the Wild West. Lying, cheating, drinking, robbing banks, holding up train cars, getting into shootouts at high noon — these are all objectively cool things that make for great tales, but they’re often overplayed for the sake of storytelling.
In reality, the Wild West was much tamer than most storytellers make it out to be. You were much more likely to die of some mundane and awful illness, like dysentery, than be gunned down in the streets as part of a duel. This is because the lawmen of the time were experts at what they did. And that’s all thanks to one former spy: Allan Pinkerton.
Sometimes, it pays to help out a small-time lawyer with big aspirations.
Allan Pinkerton first got into detective work before the Civil War. He was living in Chicago when he developed a grudge with the Banditti of the Prairie Gang. They suspected his home was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad, so they sacked it. In response, Pinkerton trailed the Banditti of the Prairie Gang, infiltrated their hideout, and observed their activities. He compiled a detailed report, handed it over to the Chicago Police Department, and they successfully took down the gang.
For his actions, he was given the title of Detective and went on to found the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. His first jobs mostly consisted of protecting abolitionist meetings, aiding John Brown during his raid of Harpers Ferry, and investigating a series of train robberies on the Illinois Central Railroad. His contact for the railroad gig was the company’s lawyer, a man by the name of Abraham Lincoln.
If you look at the guy’s track record, pretty much all detective, security, and bodyguard work in America can all be tracked to Pinkerton. He was kinda like the real life Sherlock Holmes.
(White House photo by Chuck Patch)
Detective Pinkerton was the first man the then-President-elect Lincoln called when he caught wind of an assassination attempt on his life. The killers planned on striking when Lincoln was en route to his inauguration. But when he successfully made it there in one piece (albeit a bit late), Pinkerton’s skills got national recognition.
He was given command over the Union Intelligence Service, a predecessor of the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Command. Despite his high authority, he would often go out on spy missions in the deep South himself. Eventually, Pinkerton handed the reins to Lafayette Baker, who’d later also head the Secret Service (a Pinkerton product, as well).
Pinkerton was probably the last man on Earth criminals would want to piss off.
(Library of Congress)
When the war came to an end, Pinkerton went right back to working with the Pinkerton Detective Agency and set his eyes on the Western Frontier. Together with his agency, Pinkerton tracked down the Reno Gang, the Wild Bunch (which included Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and the James-Younger Gang, the outfit of the legendary outlaw, Jesse James.
One day, the James-Younger Gang robbed the Adams Express Company, a railroad fund out of Baltimore, and the Pinkertons were hired to recover what was stolen. The gang eluded the Pinkertons for a while, until Allan Pinkerton sent two of his best agents to infiltrate their hideout. Both of Pinkerton’s men were killed in a shootout with the outlaws, but not before taking a few of the Younger brothers with them.
The Pinkerton Detective Agency is still active today, it’s just rebranded as “Securitas AB.”
The railroad fund pulled the contract, but by that point, it had become a personal vendetta for Pinkerton. He personally led a raid in January, 1875, with nearly every agent at his disposal. They surrounded the homestead hideout and torched it when the gang started opening fire. They captured the gang members who were there, but Jesse James himself was missing.
The raid left the gang in such a terrible state that they were all but disbanded after they tried to recoup their losses with a failed bank robbery. Jesse James’ life as an outlaw was effectively ended with Allan Pinkerton’s raid. From then on, he’d live in hiding, sneaking out for the occasional robbery, until his eventual death at the hands of Robert Ford.
Morris “Moe” Berg’s dying words — “How did the Mets do today?” — were on brand for the 70-year-old New York native who enjoyed a 15-year career in Major League Baseball before America entered World War II.
Sports columnist John Kieran called Berg “The Professor” on account of his reputation as an Ivy League-educated linguist and lawyer, a mentor and coach to younger MLB players, and a newspaper-devouring raconteur who earned fanfare as a repeat contestant on the NBC radio quiz show “Information Please.”
But the brainy 6-foot-1-inch bullpen catcher with an unspectacular batting average had another career entirely: He was a World War II secret agent who gathered intelligence on three continents for the US government.
“We often think about athletes just playing ball and going in for records. But Moe, Ted Williams twice, Joe DiMaggio — they went off and risked their lives and their careers to serve,” said filmmaker Aviva Kempner, who illuminates Berg’s life and legacy in her 2019 documentary, “ The Spy Behind Home Plate.”
Washington Senator Joe Kuhel (left) with Moe Berg (right).
Berg’s particular line of work during the war — he ultimately served as a spy for the Manhattan Project while working for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA — further differentiated him. Who else would sit in the dugout talking about whether Mussolini would win or not?” Kempner said.
As the surviving members of the Greatest Generation dwindle and tensions rise among 21st-century nuclear-armed powers, Kempner emphasizes the need to learn about veterans and remember their contributions and sacrifices.
“It’s important to know who our unknown heroes are and what they did,” she said.
Here’s a window into Berg’s life and transition from multilingual ballplayer to World War II nuclear spy.
He was the son of immigrants.
Moe Berg was born in Harlem in 1902. He was the third child of Bernard Berg and Rose Taschker, Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, who came to the US seeking economic opportunity and religious freedom.
The Bergs moved to Newark, New Jersey, where Bernard opened a pharmacy. Education was paramount, and Bernard in particular expected his kids to pursue one of three professions: lawyer, doctor, or teacher.
From his early days, Moe had a rocket arm and a photographic memory.
Moe Berg’s passport.
As a 7-year-old, he played baseball on a church team using the pseudonym “Runt Wolfe.” He excelled on the field and in the classroom, initially studying at New York University. He transferred to Princeton University, where he was a star on the baseball team and in the modern languages department.
The popular, idiosyncratic scholar-athlete turned down an offer to join one of Princeton’s exclusive eating clubs, purportedly after being told that while he’d be more than welcome, he shouldn’t think of bringing other Jews around.
He spent off-seasons studying law at Columbia University and traveling the world.
After Berg graduated college, the Brooklyn Robins (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) and the New York Giants were interested in recruiting him, in part because they thought he’d help draw the city’s relatively large Jewish population.
He joined the Robins and played in the minor leagues. His technical skills and lack of offensive power inspired the phrase “good field, no hit.” He went on to play for the Chicago White Sox.
At the time, major leaguers worked in the spring and summer and were off the rest of the year. Berg used his baseball earnings to travel. He studied Sanskrit at the Sorbonne in Paris and wrote of how much he enjoyed French “wine, women, and song.”
Largely to appease his father, Berg also enrolled at Columbia Law School and arrived late to spring training while finishing his first year. The following year, the White Sox owner denied Berg’s request to arrive late again, so Berg arranged to leave school early and make up his courses. He’d go on to pass the bar and join the firm Satterlee and Canfield.
But baseball was his priority and ultimately how he made his living throughout the 1930s. He said he would rather be a baseball player than a Supreme Court justice.
He became a catcher by accident.
In 1927, White Sox catcher turned manager Ray Schalk, in a pinch during a game, called out to the bench asking if anyone could catch. Berg tried to volunteer the player next to him. But Schalk thought Berg, a shortstop, was volunteering and put him in without being corrected.
“If it doesn’t turn out well, please send the body to Newark,” Berg reportedly told his teammates. He took to catching. He and his second baseman communicated about the opposing team’s base runners in Latin.
If the runner trying to steal understood Latin, Berg said they’d switch to Sanskrit.
He made two trips to Japan “for baseball” in the 1930s, capturing panoramic footage of Tokyo that is believed to have been used to plan the 1942 Doolittle Raid, the US’s first bombing raid on Japan in World War II.
With Japan already at war with China, the Japanese government was becoming increasingly militarized. (Japan and China clashed from 1931 to 1932 and again between 1937 and 1945.) Meanwhile, Japanese citizens were growing interested in America’s favorite pastime.
Two Japanese naval vessels, left foreground, at Yokosuka Naval Base near Yokohama, directly in the path of bombs from Maj. Gen. James Doolittle’s raiders, April 18, 1942.
(Library of Congress)
In 1932, Berg was among a group of major leaguers sent to Tokyo to coach Japanese college players in hitting, base-stealing, and other skills. When the tour ended and Ted Lyons and Lefty O’Doul returned home, Berg stayed, traveling around Asia by himself.
He ended his trip in Berlin, and he saw firsthand the beginning of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, along with then-Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini’s fascist influence on the Nazi movement.
Back in the US, Berg played on the Washington Senators, frequenting embassy parties in DC, before being dropped and picked up by the Cleveland Indians.
In 1934, the Soviet Union briefly invaded China, and with tensions rising in the Pacific, the US sent an all-star roster of American League players on a tour of Japan to compete against Japanese teams in a friendly 18-game series.
The players would also serve as goodwill ambassadors, as the All-American Japan Tour was an attempt to bolster Japanese-American relations through a shared interest in baseball.
While Berg had set a league record for catching 117 games straight without an error, he didn’t have the same hall-of-famer status as other recruits, like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averil, and Lefty Gomez. But he had been to Japan before, and when catcher Rick Ferrell dropped off the All-Americans roster just before the tour, Berg readily accepted the invitation.
Moe Berg, second from the left in the first row, with other members of the “All Americans” on a visit Nagoya Castle during a free day on the 1934 exhibition.
He studied Japanese on the deck of the ship during the three-week journey across the Pacific. Upon arriving, Babe Ruth heard Berg greet a fan in Japanese. Ruth said he thought Berg claimed not to know Japanese. Berg said that he hadn’t a few weeks before.
Berg traveled with a 16 mm Bell and Howell movie camera, seemingly undeterred by leaflets distributed by police warning people not to make maps or capture images, which the Japanese feared could be used against them in war.
He also carried an official letter of introduction from US Secretary of State Cordell Hull.
On one occasion, Berg peeled off from his teammates and went to the roof of a Tokyo hospital, then the city’s tallest building. He wore a Japanese kimono and slippers, and he had flowers and an alibi that he was visiting an ambassador’s daughter who’d just had a baby.
But he threw out the flowers and ended up on the roof, where he shot a panorama of the Tokyo skyline, including the harbor and industrial centers. The US would later use the shots as reconnaissance footage to inform wartime military strategy and plan bombing raids.
How Berg delivered the footage to the US government remains murky. He was known for answering questions about his government work by putting his finger to his lips and saying, “shhh.”
When pressed on how he’d left the hospital with the movie camera, he supposedly responded, “What made you think I had anything in my kimono other than my big pecs and biceps?”
During World War II, he retired his Red Sox uniform to work for the government.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, killed more than 2,300 Americans and catapulted the US into World War II. Millions of Americans joined up. Before Berg’s father died in January 1942, he asked his sons, “Why aren’t you contributing to this war?”
Berg left the Red Sox to work for the Office of Inter-American Affairs, a government agency President Franklin Roosevelt founded to counter Axis propaganda in Latin America.
In February 1942, Berg made a radio broadcast addressing the people of Japan, in Japanese, asking for peace; he identified himself as “a friend of the Japanese people” and urged listeners to avoid “a war you cannot win.”
That summer, his work took him to Central and South America, ostensibly as an goodwill ambassador distributing baseball gear. He fed reports on the political situation to his boss, Inter-American Affairs Coordinator Nelson Rockefeller.
The OSS tapped him as a nuclear spy who carried out acts of espionage and sabotage to thwart Hitler’s nuclear program.
In the wake of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt recognized the importance of strong foreign intelligence to the Allied war effort. In 1942, he signed an executive order forming the OSS, a clandestine espionage and sabotage agency directed by Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan.
Donovan, a Republican, was Roosevelt’s Columbia Law classmate and a World War I general turned Wall Street lawyer. As the founding father of America’s CIA forerunner, Donovan recruited a diverse cast of military and civilian personnel whom he fondly regarded as his “Glorious Amateurs.”
At its peak in 1944, the OSS employed some 13,000 men and women, with personnel stationed across the world, working not only as field agents but also as codebreakers, researchers, mapmakers, psychologists, scientists, and propagandists who carried out special operations and information warfare.
Berg was recruited to the OSS in 1943.
With his unusual aptitude, agility, language skills, and information-gathering experience, Berg became the OSS agent that Donovan designated to support the government’s top-secret initiative to develop its first nuclear weapons, codenamed the Manhattan Project.
It was an undertaking so covert that Roosevelt supposedly didn’t even tell then-Vice President Harry Truman about it.
Leading researchers and scientists, including Albert Einstein, briefed Berg, teaching him what they hoped would be sufficient background on atomic energy and their adversaries’ efforts so Berg could collect vital information and assets from occupied Europe.
In 1944, Berg moved throughout war-ravaged Italy to track down important Italian scientists and documents in danger of falling into Hitler’s hands.
“I see Moe is still catching very well,” Roosevelt said after learning Berg had located and extracted Italy’s foremost expert in aerodynamics, Antonio Ferri.
Berg in a photo published upon his release from the Red Sox on Jan. 14, 1942.
Ferri had destroyed lab equipment that could help the Axis and gone into hiding in the mountains with a crate of scientific documents. He raised a resistance circuit carrying out guerilla operations to thwart the Axis and enable Allied air drops. Berg and Ferri connected and began parsing and translating the scientific documents.
With special permission from Roosevelt, Ferri entered the US with a suitcase and the crate of documents and was escorted to the nation’s leading aeronautics research center, in Langley, Virginia.
As Manhattan Project scientists raced to develop the atomic bombs that America would drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, its leaders remained concerned with where Hitler stood with any similar efforts.
If the Axis powers were making progress, it would likely involve German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Prize winner who remained in Germany during the war.
In December 1944, Berg was sent to neutral Switzerland for a conference at the University of Zurich with a pistol, a cyanide tablet, and a false identity as a Swiss physics student. His mission was to attend an intimate lecture that Heisenberg was giving at the conference.
If Heisenberg mentioned working on a nuclear bomb, Berg was to stand up and shoot Heisenberg point blank, with the understanding that this would also mean being killed himself.
Between the German language and the deeply technical physics terminology, Berg left the lecture unsure of what Heisenberg knew. He ended up complimenting Heisenberg on his talk and later insisting on escorting him to his hotel.
In the resulting report, which was read by Roosevelt, Berg determined that Heisenberg had low confidence in the German effort and that Hitler was at least two years behind the Manhattan Project.
Berg died in Belleville, New Jersey, in 1972 at the age of 70, after a fall at his home.
In 2018, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi awarded a Congressional Gold Medal to OSS personnel. The presentation of Congress’s highest civilian honor marked the first collective recognition of the OSS, which President Harry Truman disbanded in 1945.
Truman formed the CIA in 1947 from the old OSS headquarters. While Donovan was not employed by America’s post-war intelligence organization, many of his “Glorious Amateurs” were, and four would go on to hold the agency’s top post.
A bronze statue of Donovan — and an OSS book of honor naming the 116 OSS members who were killed during World War II — are on display in the lobby of the CIA’s current headquarters in Langley.
Berg declined the Medal of Freedom in 1946. He never married or had children. He led a nomadic existence, traveling and, in his later years, living with his sister, Ethel, in New Jersey.
Ethel Berg accepted his Medal of Honor after his death and donated it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York, where it is on display, along with his catcher’s mitt and passport.
Ethel took Berg’s ashes to Israel, but to this day, no one knows where his remains are buried.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It was arguably worse than any 37 minutes of any other U.S. Navy defeat, including Pearl Harbor. At the Battle of Savo Island, Japan sank three American ships and killed over 1,000 U.S. sailors in addition to dooming an Australian ship and killing 84 Australian sailors while suffering 129 killed of their own.
The Australian HMAS Canberra burns off Guadalcanal after the Battle of Savo Island.
(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
While more people, 2,403, were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack, those losses were inflicted over about 2 hours and 27 minutes. And three ships were permanently lost at Pearl Harbor while four would be lost as a result of Savo Island. It would later earn the battle and the area the nickname “Ironbottom Sound.”
On Aug. 7, 1942, the U.S. fleet was guarding landing forces at Guadalcanal. Australian Coastwatchers spotted Japanese planes bearing down on the landing forces, and the Navy redeployed its screening ships and carrier aircraft to meet the Japanese threat. The landings were saved, and U.S. Adm. William Halsey later said, “The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific.”
The next day, August 8, Japanese ships hid near Bougainville Island and launched reconnaissance planes which quickly spotted the American fleet at the Solomons. The American fleet was split into three locations, and the Japanese commander, Vice Adm. Gunichi Mikawa, was hopeful that he could destroy one group before the other two could assist it. He targeted the ships at Savo Island.
Now, it should be said that the American fleet had received some warning that Japanese ships were still in the area. A submarine and reconnaissance planes caught sight of the Japanese fleet, but their warnings came late and were misunderstood in the larger intelligence picture. Worse, when the commander of the screening force took his ship to report to his boss, he didn’t leave anyone officially in charge in his stead.
The fleet was ill-positioned to respond to an attack, and it was bearing down on them.
The USS Quincy is illuminated by Japanese searchlights during the Battle of Savo Island on August 9, 1942.
(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
The Japanese attack began at 1:42 a.m. The lookouts in the Japanese masts had already found and fixed a number of ships and fed the data to their fire control stations. Just as the first Japanese flares were about to burst into light, the American destroyer Patterson spotted them and sounded the alarm, “Warning! Warning! Strange ships entering harbor.” The Patterson pursued the Japanese column, getting some hits but failing to launch its torpedoes.
But the Japanese guns were already trained on their targets, and the fleet had made it past the outer pickets, allowing it to attack from vectors and spots America hadn’t anticipated. Japanese ships pumped rounds into American vessels from just a few thousand yards. They dropped torpedoes in the water, hitting American and Australian ships before the ships’ crews could even make it to their guns.
The captain of the Australian HMS Canberra was killed in this first salvo, and his ship was rendered dead in the water.
The USS Chicago was hit with a torpedo, losing nearly its entire bow while the gunners continued to send disciplined fire at two targets in the dark, one of which might have been a Japanese ship.
The Japanese ships began to pull away from this fight at 1:44, just two minutes after they had opened fire. They had suffered no serious hits or damage and had crippled two cruisers and damaged a destroyer. The fight so far had been hidden from the rest of the American fleet, and Japan turned itself toward the Northern Force.
The turn was ill-managed, and the rest of the fleet now knew a fight was happening, if not the details. So Japan could not count on the same success it had managed in the opening five minutes. But the Northern Force still didn’t know the details of the fight, and had no idea that the Japanese were now in two columns about to attack.
The USS Vincennes charged bravely into the Battle of Savo Island, but it was quickly targeted by Japanese forces and pummeled by two columns of assailants.
(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
The disorganized Japanese turn still left them well-positioned to launch their torpedoes and fire their guns.
The USS Vincennes, a heavy cruiser, sailed into the fray looking for a fight, finding it about 1:50. Remember, this is still only eight minutes after Japan fired its first rounds and torpedoes. And it did not go well for the Vincennes. It was still hard to tell which ships were friendly and which were foe. A gun team asked permission to fire on a Japanese searchlight, but the brass thought it might be an American ship.
Japanese cruisers slammed the Vincennes‘ port side with shells, breaking through the hull, setting an aircraft on fire, and creating fires belowdecks that interrupted firefighting equipment and threatened to set off the ship’s supply of depth charges, bombs, and other ordnance. More shells hit the bridge and main ship, and then torpedoes ripped through the port side followed just minutes later by a hit to starboard.
By 2:03, the ship was in flames and going down. The crew fled to the sea.
Around the same time Vincennes was bravely entering the fray, the cruiser USS Astoria spotted a Japanese ship and ordered its men to general quarters. But the first Japanese shells were already flying toward it, exploding as the men were still rushing to stations.
The Astoria commander made it to the bridge and was worried that his men were in an accidental fight with friendly forces. He ordered his ship to cease firing for vital minutes. It didn’t resume firing until 1:54.
The Japanese heavy cruiser Chokai kept sending rounds at the Astoria until the fifth salvo hit home, piercing the Astoria’s superstructure, midships, and then the bridge itself. The Astoria would hit the Chokai once before it was too damaged to keep fighting.
Meanwhile, the heavy cruiser USS Quincy was also under fire and would get the worst of it. Its commander also worried that it was suffering friendly fire, and the commander ordered his guns silent, and the ship lit up to identify itself. Japanese shells tore through an aircraft hanger and set a plane on fire. It was too hot for the crew to push overboard, and Japanese ships leaped on the chance to fire on a lit up target.
The Japanese heavy cruiser Kako in 1926. It was the only Japanese ship lost as a result of the raid on Savo Island, sank on August 10 as the Japanese fleet left the engagement area.
(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
Shells landed just short of the Quincy, then just long, and then began raining down on it. Japanese torpedoes set off the forward magazine. The ship’s captain, Capt. Samuel Moore, ordered the surviving gunners to “Give ’em Hell,” just moments before the bridge was hit by an exploding shell. As he lay dying, Moore ordered the ship beached, but another officer realized it was already lost and ordered it abandoned.
As the Quincy, Vincennes, and Astoria began sinking, the Japanese fleet called off the attack, beginning its withdrawal at 2:15. It had suffered no serious damage, could see that at least three U.S. ships were sinking, had rendered the Australian ship Canberra dead in the water (it would be scuttled the next morning), and had ensured the deaths of just over 1,000 American and Australian sailors.
America did achieve on a parting shot, though. While the Japanese fleet was able to avoid the air screen sent to find it August 9-10, the U.S. submarine S-38 spotted them on August 10, and managed to bring down the Japanese Kako with a torpedo.
For three centuries, the Vikinger (or Vikings) of the countries of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden aggressively expanded their reach into Europe. The Viking Age started in 793 A.D. with the pillaging of the wealthy yet unprotected monastery in Lindisfarne, England. Christendom was officially under attack by heathen hordes of pagan murderers. These heretics fought with a deliberate recklessness that struck fear into the hearts of men.
Like many warrior cultures, the Norse believed the best seats in the afterlife were reserved for those who fell in battle. But they did not go to heaven — instead, they went to Valhalla, where they dined with the creator, fought to the death daily, and partied harder than a Marine infantry battalion the weekend before a deployment. That is, until it was time to fulfill their true purpose.
Lance Corporal: What is my future, oh wise one?
Mimir: Your leave will be denied and you’ll have duty.
To understand Valhalla, one must first understand its ruler: Odin. Odin is the central figure in Norse mythology. He goes by over 200 different names, but is most famously known as The Allfather.
The world of the Norse was created from two elemental realms: Muspelheim, a realm of fire, and Niflheim, made of icy mist. The intertwining of these primordial ingredients created two beings: Ymir, the giant, and Auðumbla, an equally massive cow. The cow nourished itself with salt from rime-stones in nearby ice. The cow licked until a man named Búri was freed from the ice. Not much is known about Búri other than the fact that he had a son, Bor. Bor married Bestla and, together, they had three sons. The eldest of these sons was Odin.
Odin had two ravens who traveled the world, providing him information as the world took shape. He sought wisdom wherever he could find it and his quest lead him to the World Tree, called Yggdrasil. He hung himself from its branches, stabbed himself with his spear, and fasted for nine days to learn the secrets of powerful runes — but this was not enough to satiate a God’s curiosity.
Odin’s thirst for knowledge turned literal when he heard a giant was protecting the actual well of knowledge. Mimir the giant drank deeply from the well, growing wiser with each passing day. Odin wanted a drink — and, thankfully, he had something Mimir was after. The Allfather was omniscient — he could see all. So, a trade deal was stuck: Mimir would happily trade a drink for an all-seeing eye. Without hesitation, Odin plucked out his eye, gave it the giant, and then drank from the well — because that’s just the kind of guy Odin was.
Legend has it NJP’d Marines are also welcomed in Valhalla.
(William T. Maud)
Valkyries carry the chosen to the afterlife
Valkyries are warrior maidens who assist Odin in transporting his chosen slain to Valhalla. These noble maidens were said to be unbelievably beautiful and have love affairs with brave men. The Valkyrie also had the task of aiding Odin in selecting half of the dead to admit into Valhalla. The others went with the goddess Freyja to enjoy a simple, relaxed afterlife.
It was because of this selection process that the Norse welcomed (and often sought) the chance to die a death worthy of Odin’s recognition.
Some say you can literally feel Chesty Puller’s knife hand cut the sound barrier from here.
Odin’s hall is in Asgard
Valhalla is in Asgard, the land of the Gods, which rests high above the realm of man. It is made from the weapons dawned by warriors: The roof is made of golden shields, the rafters are of spears, and coats of mail hang over the benches where the warriors feast.
Valhalla has a golden tree (called Glasir) planted in front of the hall overlooking a rainbow bridge. The stag Eikþyrnir and the goat Heiðrún live on top of the roof, chewing on the leaves of the World Tree. The chosen warriors drink their fill of liquor, harvested from the utters of the goat. Meat for the feasts comes from a boar that regenerates its meat daily so it may be slain again and again. Odin sustains himself on wine alone.
Every day, the chosen warriors fight each other, training for the end of days. After their ferocious training, they become whole again and dine in the great hall like old friends.
Odin’s horse doesn’t seem to share his enthusiasm.
The true purpose of feasting and fighting in Valhalla
The warriors of Valhalla train tirelessly, day after day, until the time comes to fight by Odin’s side against a massive wolf, named Fenrir, during Ragnarök (the Norse apocalypse). Daniel McCoy, author of The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion, writes
Odin will fight Fenrir, and by his side will be the einherjar, the host of his chosen human warriors whom he has kept in Valhalla for just this moment. Odin and the champions of men will fight more valiantly than anyone has ever fought before. But it will not be enough. Fenrir will swallow Odin and his men. Then, one of Odin’s sons, Vidar, burning with rage, will charge the beast to avenge his father. On one of his feet will be the shoe that has been crafted for this very purpose; it has been made from all the scraps of leather that human shoemakers have ever discarded, and with it Vidar will hold open the monster’s mouth. Then he will stab his sword through the wolf’s throat, killing him.
The greatest warriors train in Valhalla to fight alongside their creator in the apocalypse and are destined to die a permanent death.
America’s clandestine operators developed some pretty diabolical weapons to help inflict death and destruction behind enemy lines in World War II. And in the fight against the Japanese occupation of China, the plans got downright dastardly.
In 1942, the Office of Strategic Services began working with Ukraine-born George Kistiakowsky who was a physical chemistry professor at Harvard University and developed an innovated explosive powder designed specifically for guerrilla warfare.
Kistiakowsky secretly created “HMX” powder, or “nitroamine high-explosive” that could be mixed in with regular baking flour and make various inconspicuous-looking baked goods.
Kistiakowsky managed to perfectly combine the HMX compound with a popular pancake mix and package the new weapon into ordinary flour bags that could be smuggled through the numerous Japanese checkpoints and delivered right into the Chinese fighters’ hands.
The explosive looked no different than regular pancake mix and if a suspicious Japanese soldier forced the smuggle to whip up a batch and eat them, there would be no ill effects except for a bit of a stomach ache.
Once the weaponized flour was in the hands of the Chinese allied fighters, muffins were baked from the Aunt Jemima pancake mix and a blasting cap was added to complete the destructive war device.
It’s reported that approximately 15 tons of pancake mix was imported and was never detected by Japanese forces.
Everyone knows you can’t leave Marines alone to be bored. Idle hands are the devil’s plaything, and no one plays around more than Devil Dogs. If you don’t believe me, just check out Terminal Lance’s Instagram page for a few minutes. I’ll wait.
While most Marines are content to goof around in the barracks or as a group during some hurry-up-and-wait, there are some examples of Marine Corps behavior that show why you should never leave Uncle Sam’s Most Capable troops alone to their own devices. Even for a minute.
(Congressional Medal of Honor Society)
Made a personal weapon from an aircraft machine gun
While fighting in the World War II Battle of Bougainville, Cpl. Tony Stein picked up a .30 caliber ANM2 Browning machine gun from the wrecked wings of a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber. Since he was a toolmaker before the war, he was able to refashion the aircraft weapon – which fired 1200-1500 rounds per minute – into a personal machine gun. He dubbed it “the Stinger” and later carried it into combat on Iwo Jima.
While there, Stein would clear enemy pillboxes with the Stinger, then carry a wounded Marine back to the beach as he picked up more ammunition. Stein did this eight times, and for his efforts, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was later killed by a sniper in the battle for Mount Suribachi – which he only joined after leaving a hospital ship.
Became a Warlord in Somalia
Remember the movie Black Hawk Down, where a group of Army Special Forces operators and Rangers attempt to capture Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid in order to regain the stability of Mogadishu? It’s too bad the Army didn’t know that all they had to do was wait until 1996 when his son would rise to power.
His son, Hussein Farah Aidid, was just hanging out as a Marine Corps artilleryman in Battery B, 14th Marines at the Marine Corps Reserve base in Pico Rivera, Calif. As a matter of fact, just a few years after the events of Task Force Ranger depicted in Black Hawk Down, the younger Aidid told his reserve unit he was leaving the country for a while. And he did. He went to Somalia to prepare to take his father’s place in one of the most powerful militias in Mogadishu. When Mohammed Farah Aidid died, his son was declared his successor. The Corporal was now a General.
Sgt. Faustin Wirkus’ weekend libo is off the chain.
Became the Voodoo King of Haiti
In 1915, Sgt. Faustin Wirkus was one of many United States Marines sent into Haiti to stabilized the American-backed government from succumbing to a German-backed coup. After four years of duty in the Caribbean, the NCO was sent to La Gonâve, an island that, until he came along, no white man had ever set foot on and lived. This worked out for Wirkus because he had been curious about Gonâve for the entire time he was deployed. His first assignment there was to arrest the locals for practicing voodoo.
The local voodoo queen, Ti Memenne, had a ceremony for Faustin, which he thought was a celebration of some kind. And it was. The locals thought their old king had been reincarnated as a white man. They decided that Faustin was their new old king – and he ruled their island until the President of Haiti forced him to go home to Pennsylvania.
Howard Foote always wanted to be a fighter pilot. Sadly, when he was joining the Marine Corps, he could not qualify to be a pilot, so he settled for the next best thing: an airplane mechanic. But just because the Marine Corps said he wasn’t allowed to be one of their pilots didn’t mean he would never fly a USMC fighter. One night, the mechanic suited up, hopped in his perfectly-maintained A-4M Skyhawk, and took off into the night.
The Corps, to their credit, didn’t try to intercept Foote as he flew his way around the skies above California. Foote flew the fighter to his hearts’ content and landed safely… into the hands of the waiting police. He was sent to the stockade and served some time before being discharged. Luckily for him, it wasn’t a dishonorable one, so Foote was able to realize his dream of becoming a pilot – this time legally. For NASA.
Lots of Marines fall in love and get married to a local when they’re in the middle of their first assignment. While some aim low and take strippers or lawyers, one enlisted Marine decided that wasn’t enough. His deployment to Bahrain was going to be memorable, so he decided to marry into a local family.
The ruling Al-Khalifa family, that is.
In 1999, Lance Cpl. Jason Johnson fell in love with Meriam bint Abdullah al-Khalifa after meeting the princess at a local mall. He helped smuggle her out of Bahrain and into the United States, which is why he later faced a court-martial, not for getting married without the Corps’ consent.
Many are still struggling to determine the safest way to go back to school in the fall. But one suggestion to take the curriculum outdoors is compelling for some people—and the idea has an interesting history. A recent article from the New York Times highlights how, in 1907, two Rhode Island doctors, Ellen Stone and Mary Packard, implemented a plan that would let kids go to school during a major tuberculosis outbreak.
Following a trend that took wind in Germany, the doctors paved the way for open-air classrooms in the state. They converted a brick building into being more public health-conscious by installing large windows on each side and keeping them open for the whole day. Remarkably, none of the children became sick, although they did endure open-air classes during freezing New England winters. Shortly, 65 schools soon implemented a similar plan, or simply held classes outside within the first two years of Dr. Stone and Packard’s successful plan.
Regardless of your opinion on how, and if, schools should open up, the story does have compelling implications for what early education could one day look like, even post-pandemic. And that’s because, as The Times points out, studies have shown that many children might be more likely to pay attention to what they’re learning if they’re outside, particularly for science and gym classes. That makes sense, because who wouldn’t prefer to learn about photosynthesis outdoors, looking at flowers and trees with the sun shining down, compared to simply studying a chalkboard or textbook cooped up inside? And since kids should exercise anyway, why not make it into a game on the playground?
We know that it’s more difficult to transmit the coronavirus outside, and as schools, districts, and families struggle to figure out their plans for the fall, this history lesson about outdoor teaching might be worth noting?
A U-2 spyplane captured a strange photo in 1960; the Soviets had built a massive new antenna near a missile test range. The CIA and others immediately suspected that the array was part of a new radar system and wanted to figure out what its capabilities were, but it was deep in defended space.
So the CIA, after they ruled out further collection by aircraft, decided for a literal moonshot. They would train highly sensitive antennas on the moon and wait for the Soviets to scan an object in front of the moon. When the radar energy that passed the target struck the moon and bounced back to the earth, the CIA could collect information from it to figure out how the new radar worked.
But the effort required truly massive receiving antennas. Most of the available antennas that would suffice were 150 feet wide and the best was a proposed 600-foot dish that was never completed. Even then, the CIA needed to get lucky and be looking at the same moment that the Soviet Union was using the radar in the direction of the moon.
They would get insanely lucky.
The first break came in 1962 when the Soviet Union inadvertently reflected radar data out, not from the moon, but from their own atomic testing. The nuclear detonation created an ionized cloud that reflected signals and allowed some limited intercept.
In 1964, the CIA was able to start regularly collecting data from the Soviet site, dubbed the “Hen House Site,” after it reflected off the moon. A specially modified receiving station in Palo Alto, California, picked up the signals.
We expected to see a regular scanning, or “search” mode, and a tracking mode, where the beam follows a target. Both of these have been observed. In the latter, the Soviets, apparently just for practice, have set the radar to track the moon for as much as half an hour. This makes the intercept job much easier, as we then see the signal continuously rather than in short bursts as the beam swings by the moon.
The radar system was estimated to be quite sophisticated, capable of not only identifying and tracking individual targets but of tracking multiple targets and quickly switching focus between them. The system was so fast that the CIA felt confident it was controlled by a computer.
All in all, it made the system a serious threat to American efforts. It would later come to light that the system was designed to track and potentially defeat ballistic missiles. If successful, it could have negated the American nuclear deterrent.
Thanks to the efforts of the CIA, though, America was able to get a jump on the Russians and steal back the advantage.
After the Japanese surprise attack on December 7, 1941, America’s rallying cry in WWII was “Remember Pearl Harbor”. The American people didn’t forget it and the U.S. military certainly didn’t forget the mastermind behind the attack. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was public enemy number 1 in the Pacific.
By early 1943, the war in the Pacific was starting to turn. The Japanese had been repelled at Midway and been cleared from Guadalcanal. In fact, Japanese morale was so low that Yamamoto planned an inspection tour of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea in order to oversee an aerial counter-offensive and boost the confidence of his troops. On April 14, U.S. Naval Intelligence intercepted and decrypted Yamamoto’s itinerary, as well as the number and types of planes that would execute the inspection tour.
Yamamoto was scheduled to fly from Rabaul to Balalae Airfield near Bougainville in the Solomon Islands on April 18. He and his staff would fly in two Mitsubishi G4M Betty medium bombers. Escorted by six Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters, the bombers would take off from Rabaul at 0600 and land at Balalae at 0800 Tokyo time. The decision to attack Yamamoto in the air needed to be made at the highest level.
Although no official kill order from President Roosevelt is known to exist, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox left the decision up to Admiral Chester Nimitz. After consulting with Admiral William Halsey, Jr., Nimitz authorized the mission on April 17. Operation Vengeance was a go.
The interception would require a 1,000-mile roundtrip from Guadalcanal. With extra fuel required for combat, the mission was beyond the capabilities of the Navy and Marine Corps Grumman F4F Wildcat and Vought F4U Corsair fighters. Therefore, the mission was given to the 339th Fighter Squadron, 347th Fighter Group. Their Lockheed P-38G Lightning fighters, equipped with drop tanks, were the only ones able to make the intercept.
18 P-38s were assigned to Operation Vengeance. The mission was led by the 339th Squadron Commander and ace pilot Major John Mitchell. Four pilots, Capt. Thomas Lanphier, Jr., Lt. Rex Barber, Lt. Jim McLanahan, and Lt. Joe Moore, were designated as the “killer” flight. The rest of the pilots served as a reserve and provided cover against the Japanese escort fighters. In order to keep the Navy’s codebreaking ability secret, a cover story was briefed to the pilots stating that the intelligence for the mission came from Australian coastwatchers who had spotted a high-ranking Japanese officer board a plane at Rabaul.
At 0725, the first of the P-38s took off from Guadalcanal. At first, the mission seemed troubled. McLanahan experienced a flat tire during takeoff and Moore’s drop tanks wouldn’t feed fuel. Both killer flight pilots were forced to drop out of the mission. Lt. Besby Holmes and Lt. Raymond Hine covered down on the killer flight and the 16 remaining aircraft set off across the south Pacific.
Flying at low altitude to avoid Japanese radar, Mitchell struggled to stave off boredom and drowsiness. However, he managed to navigate to the intercept point successfully. At 0934, one minute early, the P-38s spotted Yamamoto’s flight high above them at 6,500 feet. The American planes jettisoned their drop tanks and entered a full-power climb after their target. The Zeros, spotting the ambush, dropped their own drop tanks and dove at the P-38s. Mitchell ordered Lanphier and Barber to engage the bombers as he went head-on with the fighters himself.
Barber got behind one of the Betty’s and poured .50-caliber and 20mm fire into its right engine, rear fuselage, and tail. When Barber hit the left engine, the Betty started to spew heavy black smoke. The Betty rolled violently to the left, nearly colliding with Barber, and crashed into the Bougainville jungle. Although the Betty was carrying Yamamoto, Barber had no way of knowing it. He quickly scanned for the second bomber and spotted it low over the water trying to avoid an attack by Holmes and Hine.
Holmes managed to land some hits on the second Betty, but he and Hine flew too fast and overshot it. Barber dived in on the action and began his own attack. His hits on the Betty caused bits of metal to fly off which damaged his own aircraft as he flew past. The Betty, which turned out to be carrying Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki and the rest of Yamamoto’s staff, rapidly lost altitude and crashed into the water.
Although the reserve P-38s were fighting hard to fend off the Japanese escorts, Barber, Holmes, and Hine were attacked by Zeros from above. During the counterattack, Barber’s aircraft took 104 hits. He and Holmes lost track of Hine in the melee, presumably shot down and crashed into the water. With their mission accomplished and fuel at a premium, the remaining 15 P-38s broke contact and flew for home. As they approached Guadalcanal, Lanphier radioed the flight director, “That son of a bitch will not be dictating any peace terms in the White House.”
The next day, a Japanese search-and-rescue party located the Betty’s crash site in the jungle and recovered Yamamoto’s body. They noted that his body had been thrown clear from the wreckage, still clutching the hilt of his sheathed katana. Despite Lanphier’s claim to the kill, a Japanese autopsy later revealed that Yamamoto was killed by bullet strikes from behind. This was consistent with Barber’s account of an attack from the Betty’s 6 o’clock versus Lanphier’s account of an attack from the 3 o’clock.
Barber, who had been given half credit along with Lanphier for the kill, petitioned the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records for whole credit. In September 1991, the Air Force History Office advised that enough uncertainty existed for both Lanphier and Barber’s claims to be accepted. The board was split and the decision went to Secretary of the Air Force Donald Rice who ruled that the shared credit would stand. Both Lanphier and Barber argued their cases until their deaths in 1987 and 2001 respectively. “Historians, fighter pilots and all of us who have studied the record of this extraordinary mission will forever speculate as to the exact events of that day in 1943,” Secretary Rice said in 1993. “There is glory for the whole team.”
Navy SEAL Lt. Thomas “Tommy” Norris and South Vietnamese naval commando Nguyễn Văn Kiệt pushed off from the shore in an abandoned sampan while dressed as Vietnamese fishermen. The pair were on an impossible mission to find Iceal “Gene” Hambleton, a US Air Force navigator who was shot down over Quang Tri Province and had been on the run from more than 30,000 North Vietnamese soldiers.
All previous rescue attempts had been failures — eight aircraft were shot down, 14 Americans killed, two of the rescue team captured, and two more missing in action. The largest search and rescue effort of the entire Vietnam War had dwindled down to the efforts of a handful of Navy commandos.
Two nights prior to their risky undercover paddle, Norris led a five-man patrol to rescue Lt. Mark Clark, a forward air controller who was shot down while searching for Hambleton.
Lt. Thomas Norris stands in the background at center as Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton (on stretcher) is taken to a waiting M113 armored personnel carrier to be evacuated. Photo courtesy of the US Department of Defense.
Clark had received a cryptic message that instructed him to float down the Cam Lo River: “When the moon goes over the mountains, make like Esther Williams and get in the Snake and float to Boston.” He needed to go to the river and head east.
As Norris moved toward the riverbank, he heard Clark’s heavy breathing before he spotted the downed pilot floating in the river. However, a North Vietnamese Army patrol was crossing the same area, forcing Norris to maintain cover and helplessly watch Clark float by. For the next two hours Norris searched the water for any signs of the missing aviator. At dawn — and 2,000 meters behind enemy lines — Norris and his team rendezvoused with the American pilot and brought him safely back to a forward operating base. That protection lasted only hours as they were hit with mortars and rockets that decimated their South Vietnamese partners, cutting down the force by nearly half.
Hambelton had called airstrikes on NVA supply lines from his emergency radio while simultaneously evading capture. Hambelton’s health was fading fast after more than a week’s time on the run with little food and contaminated water in his stomach. After a forward air controller informed Norris that Hambelton was not hitting his calls on a time schedule and when he did he barely could talk, Norris asked for volunteers. The only other commando that would join him on the one-way rescue mission was Kiệt. They were determined to not let Hambleton fall into the enemy’s hands.
Lt. Thomas R. Norris in Vietnam with Nguyen Van Kiet, the Vietnamese Sea Commando who accompanied him on the rescues of Clark and Hambleton. Kiet was awarded the Navy Cross for his role in this operation, the highest award the Navy can give to a foreign national. Photo courtesy of achievement.org.
Hambleton, a navigator by trade, was an avid golfer and could envision the layouts of golf courses in his mind. Knowing the NVA were monitoring their radios, the rescue planners ingeniously relayed cryptic messages as they had with Clark, but used navigation points of Hambleton’s favorite golf courses this time.
“You’re going to play 18 holes and you’re going to get in the Suwannee and make like Esther Williams and Charlie the Tuna,” Hambelton said in an interview. “The round starts on No. 1 at Tucson National.”
The No. 1 at Tucson National is 408 yards southeast, information only he would know, and he traveled that distance through enemy minefields to the river. Seeing the precise locations of the the water hazards or the fairways of his favorite golf courses in his mind acted as a mental compass through the jungles of Vietnam — and led him to a banana tree grove that provided some sustenance to his malnourished body.
Hambleton hugged the bank of the river for three long days and nights. Clinging to life, Hambleton saw two men paddling quietly up the river, both carrying AK-47s and dressed as fishermen. As the most-wanted man in the region, his first thought was to be afraid. And then his delirious focus noticed Norris’ eyes — an American. After 11 days on the run, Hambleton was helped into the bottom of the sampan and was covered in bamboo with instructions to lay motionless. Norris and Kiệt feared waiting until nightfall would worsen his condition, so they returned back the way they came.
Officials dedicated a 10-foot statue depicting Lt. Thornton carrying Lt. Norris on his shoulders during the facility’s 28th annual Muster reunion at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida. The sculptor is Paul Moore of Norman, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of achievement.org.
They passed numerous NVA positions, tilting their heads away from the enemy’s menacing glares. When a suspected enemy machine gun position opened up on their boat, Kiệt pulled the sampan to the shore to conceal it behind some vegetation. Norris called in close air support, hoping to pin down the enemy and allow to get the rest of the way back to the FOB. The plan worked.
Norris had successfully rescued both Clark and Hambleton and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions between April 10 and April 13, 1972. Kiệt was one of two South Vietnamese soldiers to be awarded the Navy Cross during the war. The rescue even garnered Hollywood’s attention, and Gene Hackman took the role starring as Hambleton in the movie Bat*21.
Norris continued his military service in Vietnam and participated in a historic reconnaissance operation where he was shot in the head and eventually lost an eye while providing suppressive fire while his SEAL element retreated to the water for exfiltration. When Norris became too wounded to escape the ambush, another Navy SEAL named Mike Thornton, who later became a founding member of SEAL Team 6, charged through the onslaught of enemy fire back to Norris’s position and rescued him. This was only the third time in US military history that a Medal of Honor recipient rescued another Medal of Honor recipient.
The Cold War was one of the most trying times for both Americans and Russians, who constantly lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation. If they only knew about the other weapons the superpowers were coming up with, no one would ever have slept at night. The struggle against Communism was a field day for weapons manufacturers and government war planners. It seemed the military was open to almost anything that could kill or stymie the Russian menace.
Even if that meant getting a little creative.
The Blue Peacock
Land mines are a dangerous, tricky business for a couple of reasons. The first is that they’re hidden, of course, and no one knows where they are until it’s too late. With the Blue Peacock, “too late” came with a lot of baggage – eight to ten kilotons worth. In the Cold War, everyone wanted their special atomic weapon, it seemed. For the British, that came in the form of denying the Soviets an area to occupy in the event of World War III. Blue Peacock was a large atomic weapon that would have been buried in areas around Northern Germany and set to trigger if someone opened the casing or if it filled with water.
The idea was for the bomb to be left unattended, so on top of its itchy trigger finger, it could be set off with an eight-day timer or just detonated by wire. What’s truly silly about this weapon is that British engineers didn’t know how to address the extreme cold of the North German Plain, so their plan was to either wrap the bombs in blankets or keep live chickens with them to keep them warm.
Chrysler TV-8 Tank
Is this the goofiest tank you’ve ever seen? Me too, but it’s an American-engineered nuclear tank, imported from Detroit. This behemoth was nuclear in that it was powered by a nuclear reactor that was designed to use closed-circuit television for the crew to see. The crew would reside in the tank’s massive pod area, along with the engines and ammunition storage but the pod design would also allow the TV-8 to float, along with two water jet pumps, giving it an amphibious landing capability.
Along with the tank’s main turret, the TV-8 carried two manual .30-caliber machine guns along with a remote-controlled .50-cal mounted on top of the pod. At 25 tons, this incredible hulk was still half the mass of the M1 Abrams.
Still riding high from the possibilities of nuclear power, American engineers thought going to Mars and beyond would be possible with the use of an atomic engine. But this isn’t an engine that is propelled by some sort of atomic chain reaction or any kind of vacuum energy, no. This engine was powered by atomic bombs. Nuclear bombs were supposed to give the spaceship lift and, once in space, the energy needed for an interplanetary excursion.
The only problem was it left nuclear fallout and radioactive waste spread throughout the atmosphere.
“Rods from God”
Finally, someone decided that nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered weapons were being a little overdone (probably, anyway) and came up with the idea to design a weapon that could hit with the force of a nuke, but without actually nuking a city.
If there was ever a contest for the biggest “f*ck you” weapon of the Cold War, the United States’ Project Pluto is the top contender. The weapon was an unmanned ramjet loaded with nuclear weapons that, once launched, would fly around for as long as it could at supersonic speeds. This jet engine was special, though, because it was heated by a nuclear reactor, so that turned out to be a very, very long time. Once the nuclear drone bomber delivered its payload to targets, it would just fly around, dropping its nuclear waste on everyone it flew over.
The Pentagon scrapped the idea because there was no known defense and they didn’t want the Soviets to develop a similar weapon and use it on the United States.
Soviet Ekranoplan – “The Flying Boat”
Unlike a couple of the other crazy superweapons of the Cold War that made this list, the Ekranoplane was actually built by the Soviet Union. Faster than any ship and bigger than any plane, the Flying Boat could carry anything from troops to cargo to nuclear weapons, all at a crazy speed. And just 13 feet off the ground. Its engines were some of the most advanced of the time, each producing thrust equal to the F-35’s engines.
It could carry some two million pounds, flying low over water to evade detection, moving small, portable D-Day invasions across the globe. Luckily only one was ever built, and the Soviets lost the Cold War anyway.