I’m sure that after going on incredible journeys to far-out places, like Mount Everest or the Moon, that everyday life would seem a little… meh. Which is probably why, in 1985, the first man to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, and the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, agreed to go to the North Pole.
The idea for the ultimate guys’ trip was the brainchild of professional explorer, Mike Dunn, who wanted to enlist the greatest explorers of the time to go to the North Pole. Dunn was known to be outgoing, so no one thought twice about him calling up famous astronauts and mountaineers saying, “wanna go to the North Pole?”
The adventurous group also included Steve Fossett, the first man to fly a balloon around the world, and Patrick Morrow, the first person to climb the highest peaks of all seven continents. Sir Edmund’s son, Peter Hillary, who himself forged a new route to the South Pole among other feats, was there, too.
The explorers ran into few issues as they puddle-hopped their way up north with the help of Canadian bush pilots, and, on April 6, 1985, they touched down at the North Pole. Safely sitting at True North, they popped a bottle of champagne — which immediately froze, but that did nothing to dampen anyone’s spirits. In particular, Edmund Hillary, who had just become the first person to stand at both poles (he went to the South Pole in 1958) as well as the summit of Everest.
The trek south, was a different story, however. White-out blizzard conditions and temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, stranded the group for three days in a Quonset hut on Ellesmere Island (approximately 700 miles from the pole). Luckily, this was a group that definitely had great stories to tell around a fire.
Peter Hillary said it was ”thrilling” and ”incredible” to hear the stories, but the most exciting stuff came from Armstrong, who was famously shy and intensely private. He didn’t open up easily to his new friends, but the two weeks out in the wilderness had forged a bond, and he soon took part in philosophical discussions about the nature of exploration and shared mind-blowing stories about his time in space.
Patrick Morrow later recalled that Armstrong read aloud the account of Salomon Andree of his attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon in 1897:
Is it not a little strange to be floating here above the Polar Sea, to be the first to have floated here in a hydrogen-filled balloon? How soon, I wonder, shall we have successors? Shall we be thought mad, or will our example be followed? I cannot deny but that all three of us are dominated by a feeling of pride. We think we can well face death, having known what we have done is not the whole, perhaps the expression of an extremely strong sense of individuality which cannot bear the thought of living and dying like a man within the ranks, forgotten by the coming generations? Is this ambition?
Morrow said that the quote was an “eerie coda” for this adventure, but what better way to cap off what was the ultimate man’s-man getaway?
“The Red Baron” remains one of history’s most feared fighter pilots. At the dawn of aerial combat, Manfred von Richtofen was credited with 80 kills, most of which were won in planes painted bright red.
Richtofen was born into German royalty as a freiherr, which is similar to an English baron. Manfred’s father was a military officer who was disappointed when his own career was cut short by injury and so pushed his son to succeed where he failed.
Manfred began training for the military at the age of 11 in a military school — the Cadet Institute at Wahlstatt. The boy who would become the baron was undisciplined and a barely passing student according to his autobiography. He was also prone to dangerous stunts:
I had a tremendous liking for all sorts of risky tricks. One fine day I climbed with my friend Frankenberg the famous steeple of Wahlstatt by means of the lightning conductor and tied my handkerchief to the top. I remember exactly how difficult it was to negotiate the gutters. Ten years later, when I visited my little brother at Wahlstatt, I saw my handkerchief still tied up high in the air.
While Richtofen wasn’t interested in the military and was a lackluster student, he was a gifted athlete and felt it was his duty to fulfill his father’s wishes. He graduated from the school and was commissioned as a cavalry officer in 1912. After the outbreak of World War I, Richtofen initially spent his time doing reconnaissance.
But as the armies dug into trenches around Paris, the need for cavalry waned and cavalry soldiers were reassigned to positions laying cable or acting as couriers. Some officers, including Richtofen, were told that they would be assigned quartermaster duty. Richtofen balked.
“I have not gone to war to collect cheese and eggs, but for another purpose,” he said.
He earned his pilot’s certificate on Christmas of 1915 and continued training. He was eventually selected by Boelcke to be in Boelcke’s new unit. On Sep. 17, 1916, Richtofen went on his first patrol and scored his first kill.
After that, his momentum built as he scored kill after kill. For each victory, he commissioned a silver cup with the type of the plane he shot down engraved on the bottom.
It wasn’t until late 1916 that Richtofen painted his aircraft red. By this time, he was an accomplished fighter ace with 9 confirmed kills. A number of nicknames cropped up after Richtofen adopted the trademark paint job, including “The Red Baron.”
In Jan. 1917 the baron reached 16 kills and was given command of Jagdestaffel 11. He and his men continued to fight the British and in Apr. Richtofen reached a new milestone, finally passing Boelcke’s record 40 kills. By the end of the month, Richtofen had 52 total victories.
But only a few months later, Rictofen was wounded in an air battle when a round struck him in the head. He was initially blinded but regained his sight in time to land the plane. After a forced convalescent leave, Richtofen demanded to return to the front.
Of course, through all of this, the Red Baron was achieving new aerial victories. They seem to have lost their allure for him though. After the shot to his head, he became angry and brooding, but continued to fight.
In April 1918, he doubled Boelcke’s record and achieved his 80th kill. But Death was tired of waiting for the baron. On Apr. 21, 1918, the day after his 80th victory, Richtofen was shot through the chest while aggressively chasing a rookie Canadian pilot. There is speculation that his defeat in Apr. 21 can be credited to the traumatic brain injury he sustained the summer before.
The Red Baron had been feared but also respected by his enemies and the Australian aviators of No. 3 Squadron gave him a military burial with full honors.
Hashshashin have gone by many namesakes and the word assassin derives from the original religious cult. They consumed hashish to create visions and assassinate Christian crusading leaders and Muslim sultans alike. Their notoriety lives on to this day, influencing cult classics like the Marco Polo Netflix series or mainstream gaming such as the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Assassination was not an unfamiliar weapon in the ancient world, but the Hashshashin turned it into an art form.
Religious roots in Islam
The Hashshashin existed as a religious group of assassins from the 11th to the 13th centuries in Persia and Syria. For hundreds of years, they operated out of hidden mountain fortresses near the Caspian Sea. The new Islamic religion spread throughout the ancient world, but early on it was split between two groups: The Sunni and Shia. The Sunni believe that Abu Bakr was the rightful successor to the Islamic Prophet. The Shia consider Uthman’s son in-law, Ali, to be the legitimate heir. This was the start of different sects of the religion, splintering into other subgroups.
Al-Mustansir ruled as Caliph of the Fatimid Caliphate from the age of seven for over 50 years. The religious empire spanned across northern Africa to the west and Persia to the east. Ethnic groups in Egypt made it increasingly difficult for Al-Mustansir to maintain a strong grip of the extensive empire. He gave some of his military power to his General Badr Al-Jamali to defeat the enemies of the state. Badr succeeded in defeating the groups and the politicians that supported them. On January 10, 1094 the eighth Fatimid caliph died in Egypt.
Abu Mansir Nizar, Al-Mustansir’s son, was the next in line as successor. Badr had died earlier that year as well. Badr’s son, Al-Afdal Shahanshah, took his father’s place as the Caliph’s vizier, a high office in the Muslim dynasty. Behind the scenes, Al-Afdal controlled the government due to his father’s exploits. To remain in power, he organized a successful coup. Al-Afdal placed Abu’s younger, 20-year-old brother on the throne instead because it would be much easier to control a child. The governor of Alexandria gave refuge to Abu and appointed him Caliph.
A year-long Egyptian civil war ended with a besieged Alexandria and the surrender of Abu. Imprisoned and executed by a pretender, the rightful ruler of the Caliphate met his end. Egyptian and Syrian leaders reluctantly accepted the bloody transition of power, but Persia to east refused. The Turks invaded the lands to the east and forced Sunni beliefs on the populace and executed those who refused.
Hassan-I Sabbah, a religious leader of a smaller faction, was banished long before the coup in 1080s. His loyalty to Al-Musansir and to Nizari beliefs made him a threat to the ambitious vizier’s family. As a consequence, when the rightful ruler died, he dedicated his life to vengeance and personal gain.
During his exile, he infiltrated the fabled fort Alamut disguised as a missionary of the opposing religious faction. Secretly, however, he was converting followers to his own brand of the religion. He won the fort and established his own Nizari Ismailis revolt – and his secret society the Hashashin.
Consequently, Turkish Sultans did not want a renegade upstart seizing forts in their new empire and sent armies to recapture Alamut. The 2,000 foot high fortress that sat on vertical cliffs was impregnable. The Sultan Malik-Shah applied constant military pressure to seize the fort and kill Hassan-I. With this in mind, mysteriously, the Sultan and his vizier died. Of course, the evidence that this this may or may not have been the first assassination by the Hashashin is a topic of debate among historians. This caused a civil war that presented more opportunities for Hassan-I to capture more forts to use as a base of operations for assassinations. Hassan-I became known as “The Old Man in the Mountain.”
In spite of the name, Hashashin was originally derogatory in nature. The assassins embraced this notoriety and expanded on the fantastical tales about them. Hashashin refers to copious amounts of hashish smoked by the assassins.
‘The Assassins as men who were drugged with hashish wine and then taken to a lush valley where all of their sexual desires were fulfilled to gain their loyalty.’ – Marco Polo
‘They called themselves “fidayeen” (“martyrs”), which is what many suicide bombers today call themselves.’ – Pico Iyer, Smithsonian magazine, October 1986
A Fi’dai made peace with the fact a mission meant certain death. This dedication was also what made them terrifying. They turned assassination into an artform and could blend in with the population. Their myth grew further as it seemed they practically appeared out of nowhere and could be anyone at any time.
Hence, they could be hired by anyone to kill political or religious leaders with large sums of money. Crusaders even hired the Hashashin during the first Crusade.
Their tactics were so successful that the word assassin came from the word Hashashin.
Romanticism of the assassin
‘The Country of the Assassins’ exists on crusader maps where they had scatter strongholds. That shows that even crusaders knew that was ‘nope’ territory and to leave them the hell alone.
[Marco Polo’s] medieval best seller mentions the Syrian Old Man of the Mountain administering a drugged potion to his fanatical followers to facilitate their deadly missions. Since the sect’s nickname, the Hashishim, was derived from the Arabic for “hashish,” Marco Polo’s account helped cement their reputation as drug-fueled thugs. Modern historians, however, regard Marco Polo’s description as something of an invention itself. — Vicente Millan Torres, National Geographic
Among some of the most notable assassination attempts was the one of the famed Muslim Saladin where 13 Fi’dais were killed. The order was contracted by Rashid Ad-Din Sinan on behalf of Gumushtigin, the ruler of Aleppo.
Richard the lionhearted hired the assassins in 1192, and Jagati, the son of Genghis Khan, hired them 1242. The long list of assassination attempts even includes Edward the first of England in 1272. They could reach out and touch you from the safety of their hidden fortresses in the mountains.
It didn’t matter how tight security was, they were going to kill you or die trying. That’s some scary sh*t for a medieval ruler of any religion.
Assassins are a staple topic in pop culture. From John Wick to the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise, assassins are cool. You could probably list five real or fictional assassins off the top of your head popularized by film and television. The mystery and lethality of assassins capture the imagination. In fact, the Shia Islamic religious sect is still around today. Probably without the contract killings – allegedly. (Conspiracy music intensifies.)
Dennis Rodman wasn’t the first professional athlete to visit North Korea. He probably won’t be the last either. In 1995, Japanese pro wrestler – as in, WWE-level sports entertainment pro wrestler – invited fellow wrestling superstar Ric Flair and boxing legend Muhammed Ali to visit the Hermit Kingdom with him on a goodwill tour.
It didn’t take long for “The Louisville Lip” to speak his mind, even in the middle of the most repressive country on Earth.
This is what happens when you get on the wrong side of Muhammed Ali.
Ali was never one to keep his thoughts to himself – and he always accepted the consequences. In 1967, he was stripped of his title, sentenced to five years in prison, and fined ,000 for not obeying his call to be drafted saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”
While Ali did not end up going to prison, his stance left him nearly broke and destitute, exiled from boxing for years. The experience didn’t curb his mouth one bit. He has always put his money where his mouth is, even when his voice was ravaged by Parkinson’s Disease.
But even a debilitating degenerative disease couldn’t stop him from lighting the Olympic torch in 1996.
So when The People’s Champion was invited to visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1995, it should have been a surprise to no one that he would still speak his mind. Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki invited Ali and fellow wrestler Ric Flair on a goodwill tour of the country in 1995. The group was part of the DPRK’s International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace. Also coming with the group was Rick and Scott Steiner, Road Warrior Hawk, Scott Norton, Too Cold Scorpio, Sonny Onoo, Eric Bischoff, and Canadian Chris Benoit.
Flair and Inoki would headline two main events from Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium in front of more than 150,000 North Koreans. Muhammed Ali was just a wrestling fan. But when they arrived in the North Korean capital, things immediately got weird for the athletes.
Inoki, Flair, and Ali in Pyongyang 1995.
Their passports were confiscated, and they were assigned a “cultural attache” who followed their every movement and marked their every word. They were not left alone, even for a moment, even as they discussed the show they would put on later that night. One night, the group was sitting at a large table eating dinner with North Korean bigwigs, when one of the officials began some big talk about how North Korea could take out Japan and/or the United States whenever they wanted.
In his biography Ric Flair described Ali speaking up, his voice clear and loud as if his Parkinson’s Disease didn’t exist, saying:
“No wonder we hate these motherf*ckers.”
Antonio Inoki and Muhammed Ali in Pyongyang for the 1995 International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace.
When they were ready to go, Ric Flair was asked to say a few words about how great North Korea is and how much the United States paled in comparison. Flair demurred, instead thanking the North Koreans for their hospitality and complimenting them on their capital city.
Muhammed Ali was not asked to say anything before leaving.
When American military units are established or disestablished, it’s usually done on American soil. There are exceptions, but, for the most part, it is done in the United States. But one Marine division has the distinction of never setting foot in the United States for the duration its service.
During World War II, the Marine Corps underwent a massive expansion. The 1st Marine Division was established in February of 1941. Eventually, the Marines grew to six infantry divisions (today, there are four – three active and one reserve). Five were formed in the United States, but the 6th Marine Division was formed on the Pacific island where Marine legends, like John Basilone, made their mark on history – Guadalcanal – on September 7, 1944, a little over two years after the invasion of that island.
The division trained until it was sent to help take the island of Okinawa from Japan. The Japanese troops on that island didn’t give up easily. The battle spanned almost three months, leaving 12,520 Americans dead, including Lieutenant General Simon Buckner. Over 110,000 Japanese troops and at least 40,000 civilians were killed during the fighting.
During the fight for Okinawa, five Marines and one sailor with the 6th Marine Division were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions. The entire division was recognized with the Presidential Unit Citation. After Okinawa, the division was pulled back to Guam in order to prepare for the invasion of Japan — on an American territory, but not in the United States. Soon thereafter, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and forced Japan’s surrender. The division was instead sent to Tsingtao, China, where it was disestablished in 1946.
Today, the 6th Marine Division remains inactive. To learn more about what their courageous actions on Okinawa, watch the video below.
For the past 75 years, the French Senate has claimed Paris’ lush Luxembourg Palace, former home of Marie de Medici, mother to King Louis XIII, as its home. During that entire time, rumors swirled about a large bust of Adolf Hitler, the man who once tried to burn Paris to the ground, hiding beneath the Senate chambers.
It turns out the rumors are not only true, but other Nazi paraphernalia are down there with the Führer’s giant head.
The Luxembourg Palace Gardens in World War II.
When Nazi troops were forced to abandon Paris in 1944, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler ordered the last commander of the Nazi occupation, Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, to level the city. Hitler said the city must not be given to the Free French except laying in rubble. When the Germans finally abandoned the city, Choltitz surrendered 17,000 men to the Free French and left Paris the way it was. Hitler was furious.
During the German occupation, the Luxembourg Palace was the headquarters building for the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. After the Germans left, the palace was turned into the home of the French Senate, where the legislative body has been ever since – and ever since, the rumors of the Nazi leader’s bust have persisted but never been proven.
Until Sept. 5, 2019.
The Luxembourg Palace today.
The French newspaper Le Monde and reporter Olivier Faye conducted a serious investigation into the persistent rumor, finding not only the bust of Hitler, but a 10×6.5-foot long Nazi flag along with various other documents left over from 75 years ago. The only thing is, besides the palace’s history of headquartering the Nazi Air Force general staff, no one really knows how the Nazi memorabilia came to be in the basement of the French Senate.
In the waning days of the Nazi occupation, Luftwaffe personnel made a fast break for the exit, leaving the Luxembourg Palace in a state of disrepair and outright chaos. The Free French forces looted everything they could from the Nazi occupiers, and Nazi memorabilia became very valuable on the black market (it still is today). It’s believed these particular pieces of Nazi culture were hidden away by someone intent on selling them, hiding the pieces in the basement until a buyer could be found. That clearly never happened.
None of the Senators interviewed by Le Monde knew of the Nazi bust or flag in the basement – and no one knows what to do with them now.
As if the lowly soldier of World War I didn’t have enough to worry about on the hellish battlefields of France — from massive flamethrowers, to giant artillery guns to poison gas — there was a lot of nastiness that could kill you in no-man’s land.
Not quite the nightmare scenario of living, walking Ents from “Lord of the Rings,” the British and later the Germans nevertheless disguised sniper hides and observation posts in positions designed to look like trees destroyed on the battlefield made from steel drums and camouflaged to look like an everyday arbor.
In the constant game of cat and mouse that marked the stalemate of the Western Front, diabolical designers looked to the splintered wreckage of the pock-marked battlescape to hide their positions. According to a story about the deadly hollowed-out trees in the London Daily Mail, the Brits found wrecked trees they could use to construct what they called “O.P. Trees” for observation posts.
Is that a German Baumbeobachter behind me? (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
“The ideal tree was dead and often it was bomb blasted,” the MailOnline story said. “The photographs and sketches were then sent to a workshop where artists constructed an artificial tree of hollow steel cylinders.”
“It contained an internal scaffolding for reinforcement, to allow a sniper or observer to ascend within the structure,” the story added.
The trees were built to look exactly like the ruined ones in no-man’s land, so troops would sneak between the lines in the dark and replace the real tree with the fake one. Manned by a British Tommy, the O.P. Trees gave a better view of the battlefield than peering over the trench line.
Historians say a soldier perched within the tree would relay his observation to another trooper posted below, who’d carry the information back to the lines for an attack.
An O.P. Tree being installed on a World War I battlefield by British troops. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
“As far as we know the trees were surprisingly successful and none of them were detected by the enemy,” a historian with the Imperial War Museum in Kensington, England, told MailOnline. “In 1916 the Germans had captured a lot of the higher ground on the Western Front and even the elevation of a few feet through one of these trees could prove crucial.”
The Germans later caught on to the tactic and built there own, calling them Baumbeobachter (which means “tree observer”) and used them throughout the war. The Brits are said to have used their first O.P. Trees during the battle of Ypres in Belgium in 1915, and historians estimate around 45 were deployed to the Western front.
There aren’t many bucket list destinations in Afghanistan, but before 2001, there were at least two man-made wonders that were revered around the world.
Built in Bamyan around the 2nd century, they were some of the largest standing Buddha carvings in the world. The Buddhist Kingdom in the “Graveyard of Empires” withstood many attacks. That was until Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban in 1996.
The region was a part of the Buddhist Kushan Empire. The Bamyan region was directly on the Silk Road and was a hub for Buddhism, with tens of thousands of monks worship at the site.
The valley was home to several monasteries. The intricate cave system throughout the cliffs were beautifully decorated and painted.
Many kingdoms seized control of the region, but it was the Huns who decimated the local population — but left the statues. The Mughal Empire would be the first to attack the statues in the 18th century. Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and Persian King Nader Afshar would both order attacks to destroy the statues.
Afghan King Abdur Rahman Khan ordered the destruction of the faces and many of the cave oil paintings. This is how they remained for centuries. Although Islam became the dominant religion, most Afghan people loved the statues — not because of faith, but because they were iconic.
Then the Taliban took over and declared them idols.
Mirza Hussain was from the town of Bamyan and a prisoner of the Taliban at the time. He told the BBC of how they captured him.
They forced him at gun point to plant explosives in both of the Buddhas for three days straight. The statues were destroyed in March 2001 — leaving nothing but craters where they once stood.
The Taliban used the caves for arms and munitions until troops from the United States, New Zealand, and Afghanistan retook control in 2003.
Talks continue years later whether they should rebuild the statues using fragments of the old ones, to use holograms to project them as they were, or to leave them as a brutal reminder of the horrors of the Taliban regime.
Individual Americans invading other countries used to be a real problem for the fledgling United States. In fact, there were so many threats to U.S. security from its own citizens raising armies that the feds passed various Neutrality Acts to make it illegal for an American to wage war against any country at peace with the United States.
Still, it happened so often there were two words for it, “filibustering and freebooting” – but one man’s freebooter is another man’s freedom fighter, right?
Here are just a few of those American freebooters, some of whom were already judged by a jury of their peers.
1. A former Vice-President tries to conquer the entire Louisiana Purchase
Aaron Burr was the third veep, serving under President Thomas Jefferson. After his tenure as VP, however, his career took a steep dive. Not one to let massive unpopularity affect his career as a political leader, Burr conspired to create his own independent nation in the middle of what was 40,000 acres of territory belonging to Spain and the United States.
He created a group of farmers, planters, and Army officers, including the Army’s top general James Wilkinson, and equipped them for a fight. But before he could wage his little war, Burr was arrested and shipped back to Virginia to stand trial. Wilkinson provided the most damning evidence against Burr, who was acquitted anyway.
2. John Adams’ son-in-law sought to liberate Venezuela
A prominent Revolutionary War officer, William S. Smith rose in ranks due to both his station in life and his martial ability. He began his career as an aide-de-camp but was soon on the General Staff for both Lafayette and Washington. So he knew what he was doing when he secured funds, arms, and mercenaries to free Venezuela from Spanish rule. The ships and 60 of the men he sent were immediately captured by Spanish authorities.
Smith was put on trial for violating the Neutrality Act of 1794, like many of the people on this list. Also like many of the people on this list, he was acquitted. He claimed Thomas Jefferson told him to do it, and it led to the landmark Supreme Court ruling that the President “cannot authorize a person to do what the law forbids.” Smith would later be elected to Congress.
3. Vermont tries to liberate Canada
The brother of famed Patriot leader Ethan Allen was less than successful in his own efforts to unshackle the New World from the British yoke. After the Revolution, Ira Allen traveled to France to gain support for leading an insurrection in Canada, seeking to create an independent “Republic of United Columbia.” Instead, he purchased 20,000 arms and 24 cannon but was captured at sea by the Royal Navy. Britain thought he was going to arm the Irish and put him on trial for that. The escapade bankrupted Allen, who died in Philadelphia hiding from his creditors.
4. Patriots from Georgia attempt to annex Florida
In the early days of the American experiment, everyone wanted Florida. Unfortunately, it was full of the people who owned it — the Spanish. Americans were constantly gauging the Floridians to see if annexation were possible. One such endeavor was led by George Mathews, a former Continental Army officer.
When the Spanish governor of East Florida reneged on a deal to cede it to the U.S., Matthews established an intelligence network and then a full-on insurgency in East Florida. His “Patriots of Amelia Island” were successful enough, but the U.S. had to deny the mission there because of the War of 1812. The insurgency soon collapsed and Mathews died in Georgia.
5. Trying to liberate Texas with Frenchmen
When he couldn’t fight the Spanish in Florida anymore becsause President John Quincy Adams purchased it from the Spanish, James Long set his sights on Texas. His original plan called for the use of Jean Lafitte’s pirate fleet. But Lafitte refused to help.
Instead, Long recruited dozens of former French soldiers and captured Nacogdoches, and proclaimed the first Republic of Texas, which lasted a month. Not to be outdone, he returned with 300 troops before being captured and shot by the Mexicans.
6. Doctor turned Lawyer turned journalist turned mercenary turned dictator
That’s one hell of a resumé – and yet William Walker did it all before turning 40.
In 1853, Mexico refused to give Walker permission to establish a fortified colony in Sonora, along the Mexico-U.S. border. He returned to San Francisco and built a 45-man army of slavery supporters from Kentucky and Tennessee to conquer Sonora and Baja California, forming the Republic of Lower California with his capital at Cabo San Lucas. After the Mexican government forced him out, he tried again to do the same thing, this time declaring the Republic of Sonora. When the Mexican Army intervened again and expelled Walker, he was tried for his illegal war in California but was acquitted in 8 minutes.
Two years later, Walker turned up in Nicaragua, leading 60 “colonists” to support the government. His gang and a group of locals attacked a Conservative Party group who were in open civil war against Nicaragua’s Liberal government. He inflicted heavy casualties and later captured the Liberal capital. He ruled Nicaragua as head of the army, even being recognized by the U.S.’ Pierce Administration as the legitimate government. Fearing further conquests, nations of Central America formed an alliance to take down Walker, who surrendered to the U.S. Navy. He eventually ended up in the hands of the government of Honduras, who promptly executed him.
7. A Confederate diplomat in Mexico starts a rebellion
John T. Pickett was sent to Mexico as an emissary of the Confederate government. He found the Mexican government to be less than receptive to the Southern cause and more welcoming to the North. Pickett was arrested after assaulting a member of the U.S. diplomatic party by Mexican authorities. Pickett attempted to raise a rebel army against the Mexican government but failed. He tried numerous times to negotiate a treaty to annex large parts of northern Mexico. He was again arrested by the government, thrown in jail for 30 days, and expelled from the country.
8. Naval officers want to conquer South America, found Confederate colonies instead
Matthew Maury, the founder of the U.S. Naval Academy, sent two officers on a mission to map the Amazon for shipping purposes. The officers, loyal to the Confederate cause (as was Maury), instead mapped it to conquer it for the Confederacy. When the South lost the Civil War, Maury helped 20,000 rebels flee to Brazil, where they founded the Confederate colonies of New Texas and Americana.
9. Aiding independence movements everywhere
One American thought supporting independence movements worldwide all the time should be the extent of American foreign policy and acted on it whenever possible. William A. Chanler started his career as a freedom fighter in 1902 when Dutch investors tried to overthrow Venezuela for defaulting on its loans. Chanler created an outlaw army, recruited through Butch Cassidy, that landed in Venezuela and marched inland. The President of Venezuela, finally complied with the terms of his loan and Chanler’s army withdrew. He shortly after assisted the Libyans in fighting the Italians, Somalis fighting Italians, and he helped the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in China
Sometimes in life, the guy with the drunken, so-crazy-it-just-might-work ideas hits one out of the park and saves the day. This is clearly what happened in 1942 aboard the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, the last Dutch warship standing after the Battle of the Java Sea.
Originally planning to escape to Australia with three other warships, the then-stranded minesweeper had to make the voyage alone and unprotected. The slow-moving vessel could only get up to about 15 knots and had very few guns, boasting only a single 3-inch gun and two Oerlikon 20 mm canons — making it a sitting duck for the Japanese bombers that circled above.
Knowing their only chance of survival was to make it to the Allies Down Under, the Crijnssen‘s 45 crew members frantically brainstormed ways to make the retreat undetected. The winning idea? What if the warship pretended to be an island?
You can almost hear crazy-idea guy anticipating his shipmates’ reluctance: “Now guys, just hear me out…” But lucky for him, the Abraham Crijnessen was strapped for time, resources and alternative means of escape, automatically making the island idea the best idea. Now it was time to put the plan into action.
The crew went ashore to nearby islands and cut down as many trees as they could lug back onto the deck. Then the timber was arranged to look like a jungle canopy, covering as much square footage as possible. Any leftover parts of the ship were painted to look like rocks and cliff faces — these guys weren’t messing around.
Now, a camoflauged ship in deep trouble is better than a completely exposed ship. But there was still the problem of the Japanese noticing a mysterious moving island and wondering what would happen if they shot at it. Because of this, the crew figured the best means of convincing the Axis powers that they were an island was to truly be an island: by not moving at all during daylight hours.
While the sun was up they would anchor the ship near other islands, then cover as much ocean as they could once night fell — praying the Japanese wouldn’t notice a disappearing and reappearing island amongst the nearly 18,000 existing islands in Indonesia. And, as luck would have it, they didn’t.
The Crijnssen managed to go undetected by Japanese planes and avoid the destroyer that sank the other Dutch warships, surviving the eight-day journey to Australia and reuniting with Allied forces.
Even after Confederate commander Robert E. Lee surrendered in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, one Confederate army refused to acknowledge defeat and for months stubbornly fought on.
It was led not by one of the wealthy white southerners who made up much of the Confederacy’s officer class — but by a Native American chief called Stand Watie.
So how did a leader of a people facing systematic persecution come to fight for a cause founded on racism and the right to own slaves?
The story illustrates how in the Civil War, the presence of a common enemy caused unexpected alliances to be formed, including an alliance Paul Chaat Smith, a curator at the National Museum of the Native American, has characterized as a “mangy, snarling dog standing between you and a crowd-pleasing narrative.”
Watie was himself a plantation holder and slave owner, and had settled in Oklahoma after playing a central role in events that resulted in the eviction of thousands of Native Americans from their land in what is now Georgia.
He was born in 1806 in Cherokee country near what is now Rome, Georgia, and was given the Cherokee name Degataga, meaning “stand firm.”
His father — also a slave owner – was baptized, giving his son the Christian name Isaac S Uwatie. Dropping the ‘U’ and combining it with his Cherokee name, his son took the name Stand Watie.
General Stand Watie, leader of a Native American army which fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
(National Archives Catalogue)
In 1835, Watie was one of the Cherokee leaders to sign the treaty of New Echota handing over Cherokee ancestral territory to the federal government. In exchange they were granted land to resettle the nation west, in Indian Territory, in what is now Oklahoma.
Some refused to leave and were forcibly removed by the government. It is believed that nearly 4,000 Cherokee died attempting to make the journey to Indian Territory after 1838 in what has become known as the Trail of Tears.
Four years after the treaty, the Cherokee turned against those who had signed away their land, assassinating three of them. Watie survived.
Cherokee chief John Ross, who opposed the treaty, became an adamant enemy of Watie.
John Ross, Cherokee Chief, Protested Treaty of New Echota, 1835, and Subsequent Forcible Removal of Cherokees to the West During Winter of 1838-39.
In 1861, Georgia ceded from the Union, becoming one of the original seven states that formed the slave-owning Confederacy.
That same year, Watie raised a force of Native Americans to fight for the Confederacy as North and South went to war.
It was the federal government, responsible for robbing Cherokee of their ancestral land, which Watie — in common with many of his people — saw as his main enemy, not the Confederacy.
And shockingly, many Cherokee were themselves slave owners, with some taking their slaves with them to Indian Territory after the forced resettlements west.
He told the Smithsonian Magazine they “established their own racialized black codes, immediately reestablished slavery when they arrived in Indian territory, rebuilt their nations with slave labor, crushed slave rebellions, and enthusiastically sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War.”
Watie’s force earned a fearsome reputation, performing audacious raids behind enemies lines and attacking Native American settlements loyal to the Union.
The surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865.
Even as the majority of Cherokee repudiated the alliance with the Confederacy in 1862, Watie remained loyal. So successful was he as a military commander that in 1865 Waite was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, one of only two native Americans to achieve the rank in the conflict.
In wasn’t until June 23, 1865 — 154 years ago — that Watie surrendered to Union forces in Doaksville, Oklahoma. In doing so, he became the last Confederate general to lay down his arms in the Civil War.
His force at the time comprised Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, and Osage Indians.
Watie led a delegation of his Cherokee faction in Washington DC in 1866 to negotiate a new treaty with US government. Their loyalty to the Confederacy meant the old treaties had been torn up.
The new treaty signed by Watie granted former slaves tribal citizenship.
After the war, Watie spent the rest of his life as a businessman and plantation owner, and collecting his people’s folk tales and legends. He died in 1871.
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“At first, I wanted to jump across the table and strangle him. But then I started laughing. It was really funny, because he was the one in shackles, not me.”
This was the reaction of CIA officer Jeanne Vertefeuille upon learning that Aldrich Ames, the most damaging mole in CIA history, had once given his Soviet handlers her name when they asked what other CIA official could be framed for Ames’s own treachery.
Fortunately that strategy did not pan out, and instead Jeanne led the internal task force that ultimately brought Ames to justice. It was the pinnacle of a long and memorable career in CIA.
From Typist to Spy Catcher
Jeanne joined the CIA as a typist in 1954, and as professional opportunities for female officers slowly began to grow, she got assignments at various posts overseas. She also learned Russian and found her niche in counterintelligence.
In the spring of 1985, after an alarming number of Agency assets run against the Soviet Union disappeared in rapid succession, Jeanne received a cable from the Soviet/East European Division Chief. As she later recalled, “He said, ‘I want you to come…when you come back, I want you to work for me, and I have a Soviet problem….I want you to work on it.”
She returned to lead a five-person investigative team searching for answers as to how this troubling loss of assets happened.
The task was a long and exhaustive one, complicated by the fact that many did not believe the cause was a traitor. Among the other explanations floated was the idea that outsiders were intercepting CIA communications.
An extensive review of records ultimately yielded the answer: Ames, who was initially working in the Soviet Division counterintelligence, began spying for the USSR in 1985.
He compromised numerous Soviet assets, some of whom were executed. In exchange he received sums of money so great that, of known foreign penetrations of the US Government, he was the highest paid.
His position gave him the perfect cover, as he was authorized to meet with Soviet officers for official purposes. Yet, his extravagant lifestyle came under the task force’s suspicion in November 1989.
Catching a Spy
The breakthrough came in August 1992 when Jeanne’s colleague, Sandy Grimes, discovered Ames made large bank-account deposits after every meeting with a particular Soviet official.
The FBI took over the investigation and used surveillance to build the case against Ames.
He was arrested on February 21, 1994, with further incriminating evidence discovered in his house and on his home computer.
Ames plead guilty and is serving a life sentence in federal prison.
Jeanne had reached the mandatory retirement age in 1992 but immediately returned as a contractor to see the investigation through to its completion.
After it was all over, TimeMagazine asked Jeanne for permission to do a photo shoot. Jeanne protested that there were still members of her family who didn’t know where she worked. Nevertheless, she finally agreed.
As a former CIA Executive Director tells it: “You may have seen Jeanne staring out from a full glossy page of Time, billed as ‘the little gray-haired lady who just wouldn’t quit.’ She was holding a spy glass reflecting the image of Aldrich Ames. I can imagine some relative sitting down at the breakfast table, opening Time Magazine, and exclaiming, ‘My word, that’s Aunt Jeanne. I thought she was a file clerk or something.’
Jeanne was a true CIA icon and legend. Serving our Agency for 58 years, working until just prior to her death in 2012, she blazed a trail for women in the Directorate of Operations, beginning at a time when it was an overwhelmingly male enterprise.
Remembered as a driven, focused officer who demanded excellence and was always devoted to the mission, Jeanne’s life and the legacy she entrusted to us have forever impacted the Agency.
“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.”
As the sun set on the blood-stained beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s message to the thousands of Allied troops dispatched to carry out the largest amphibious landing in military history rang true.
The invasion, codenamed Operation Neptune and remembered as D-Day, sent roughly 156,000 British, Canadian, and American troops to the Nazi-occupied French coast by air and sea, beginning the multi-month Battle of Normandy and the liberation of Western Europe from Hitler’s Wehrmacht. This week, as millions gather in Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, National WWII Museum senior historian Rob Citino emphasized that the impact of the landings came at a tremendous human toll. By the end of the Normandy campaign, hundreds of thousands of Allied and Axis soldiers and civilians had died and been wounded, with those involved in the initial landings suffering disproportionately.
“Certain sectors and certain minutes, casualties were 100 percent,” Citino said.
Citino described the most perilous jobs American troops performed to help make the D-Day landings a World War II turning point. “It was bad enough but would have been worse,” he says.
A paratrooper with a Thompson M1 submachine and heavy equipment.
(The National WWII Museum)
1. The Pathfinders
The earliest paratroopers of the US Army’s 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions jumped into enemy territory in the dark, facing unrelenting attacks with little back-up and a lot of pressure to light the way.
Strategy and scope: Upwards of 13,000 American paratroopers would jump in the early days of Operation Neptune, the Allied invasion of well-guarded Normandy.
Minutes after midnight on June 6, around 300 101st Pathfinders, nicknamed “the Screaming Eagles,” went in first. Paratrooping in lean, highly-trained formations, the Pathfinders were not out to engage in combat. They were to quickly set up lights and flares to mark drop zones for paratroopers and landing paths for the gliders preparing to land.
General Eisenhower’s advice to the 101st ahead of D-Day? “The trick is to keep moving.”
Pathfinders with the 82nd Airborne Division jumped from C-47 transports into occupied France under the cover of darkness.
(The National WWII Museum)
The Pathfinders paved the way for waves of paratroopers to follow, but paid a heavy price.
Threats and losses: The equipment they carried — from parachutes and life jackets to lighting systems they were to set up once on the ground — made their packs so heavy that they had to be helped onto the planes.
Then there was the jump.
Amid the bad weather and limited visibility that night, some were blown wildly off course after leaping from the C-47 Skytrains. Even those who managed textbook landings into the intended locations were at risk.
“It’s the loneliness — out there all by yourself with no one riding to your rescue in the next 10 minutes if you get in trouble. You’re against all the elements,” Citino said.
Impact: While the Pathfinders saw heavy losses, they ultimately enabled more accurate, effective landings and ability for Allied troops to withstand counterattacks.
They climbed 100-foot cliffs under fire to take out key German artillery pieces aimed at the beaches.
2. The Ranger Assault Group scaling Pointe du Hoc
Strategy and scope: Once dawn broke on June 6, 1944, a force of 225 US Army Rangers of the 2nd and 5th Ranger battalions began their attempts to seize Pointe du Hoc. Their mission: Scale the 100-foot rock and upon reaching the cliff top, destroy key German gun positions, clearing the way for the mass landings on Omaha and Utah beaches.
The multifaceted naval bombardment sent the highly trained climbers hauling themselves up the cliffs using ropes, hooks, and ladders. Two Allied destroyers would drop bombs onto the Germans in an attempt to limit the enemy’s ability to simply shoot the Rangers off the cliffs.
The sheer cliff walls the Rangers scaled, shown about two days after D-Day when it because a route for supplies.
The Rangers climbed the cliffs in sodden clothes while Germans above them shot at them and tried to cut their ropes.
Threats and losses: Beyond the challenging mountain climbing involved in getting into France via the cliffs along the English Channel, the Rangers faced choppy waters and delayed landings, which increased the formidable enemy opposition.
Nazi artillery fire sprayed at the naval bombardment. Landing crafts sank. Those who made it to the rocks were climbing under enemy fire, their uniforms and gear heavy and slippery from from mud and water. Germans started cutting their ropes. Rangers who reached the cliff top encountered more enemy fire, along with terrain that looked different from the aerial photographs they had studied, much of it reduced to rubble in the aftermath of recent aerial bombings. And they discovered that several of the guns they were out to destroy had been repositioned.
Impact: The Rangers located key German guns and disabled them with grenades. They also took out enemy observation posts and set up strategic roadblocks and communication lines on Pointe du Hoc. The 155mm artillery positions they destroyed could have compromised the forthcoming beach landings.
US soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division aproach Omaha Beach in a landing craft.
(The National WWII Museum)
3. The first troops on Omaha Beach
Members of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions and the US Army Rangers stormed the beach codenamed “Omaha” in the earliest assaults. These were the bloodiest moments of D-Day.
Strategy and scope: Beyond enemy fire, the Allies were up against physical barricades installed to prevent landings onto the six-mile stretch of Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall.”
To break through, infantry divisions, Rangers, and specialist units arrived to carry out a series of coordinated attacks, blowing up and through obstacles in order to secure the five paths from the beach and move inland.
American troops approach Omaha Beach on June 7.
(The National WWII Museum)
A fraction of the first assault troops ever reached the top of the bluff.
Threats and losses: In pre-invasion briefings, troops were told there would be Allied bombing power preceding them and that the Germans would be largely obliterated and washed ashore, Citino said.
While there were aerial bombings, the impact was not as planned. Some of the B-24s and B-17s flying overhead missed their targets. German troops sprayed guns and mortars with clear views of the soldiers, stevedores, porters, and technical support charging the narrow stretch of beach. Men waded through rough, cold water from Allied landing crafts under withering heavy fire. The dangers continued with mines in the sand.
The scene was similarly gruesome for combat engineers moving in with Bangalore torpedoes to blow up obstacles. Meanwhile, amphibious tank operators tried to shield Allied infantry and medics came ashore to try to administer emergency care while facing counterattacks and navigating around the dead and wounded.
Impact: A fraction of those who landed reached the top of the bluff. Some company headcounts went to single digits. But the troops who helped secure Omaha and the five paths off the beach in the coming days cleared the way for massive tanks, fuel, food, and reinforcements important to the rest of the campaign.
Soldiers prepare to deploy a barrage balloon on Utah Beach during the Normandy invasion.
(The National WWII Museum)
4. The 320th Balloon Barrage Battalion
These combat troops landed on Utah Beach and set up key lines of defense to prevent Luftwaffe raiders from strafing the incoming army of troops and supplies.
Strategy and scope: The Allies knew that as soon as the landings began, German air attacks would present a major threat to the masses of troops arriving in thousands of landing crafts. To defend against air raids, they turned to defensive weaponry units, including the 621 African-American soldiers in the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, to land with 125-pound blimps and work in teams to anchor them to the ground. Each blimp was filled with hydrogen and connected to small bombs that could denote if enemy aircraft made contact with the cables.
Threats and losses: They came ashore on Utah Beach from some 150 landing crafts on the morning of June 6, facing the dangers of fellow infantry and the added threats that came with maneuvering heavy cables and balloon equipment on the beach under fire. They set up barrage balloons, digging trenches to take cover as waves of fellow soldiers landed.
The landings would have been even more deadly without the defensive balloons set up by the 320th.
(Army Signal Corps)
The air cover allowed Allied troops to move inland with less threat of being bombed or strafed by German planes.
Impact: As landing craft after landing craft came ashore on and after D-Day, the 320th’s balloons gave Allied troops and equipment some protection, allowing them to move inland with less threat of being blown into the sand by German fighters.
The hydrogen-filled balloons they deployed along the coast created barriers between the Allied troops and the enemy aircraft out to decimate them. Citino said that their actions setting up the defensive balloons under enemy fire were “as heroic as it gets.”
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