The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Brig. Gen. Walter McIlhenny is one of the greatest US Marine Corps war heroes that you’ve never heard of. The World War II officer of the 1st Marine Division received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts during the Guadalcanal campaign. After an intense battle, he even captured the same Japanese sword he’d been struck in the helmet with. But “Tabasco Mac” is most remembered as the driving force behind bringing tiny bottles of Tabasco hot sauce to every American GI’s C rations during the Vietnam War. 

In 1949, the Marine took the reins of his family’s McIlhenny Co., producer of the world-famous Tabasco red pepper hot sauce, and remained in charge until his death in 1985. The spicy empire was the brainchild of his great-grandfather, Edmund A. McIlhenny, an amateur gardener and banker. When Edmund McIlhenny returned to his home on Avery Island in the Louisiana bayou country following the American Civil War, he discovered his crops of capsicum peppers had survived. He took three basic ingredients — peppers, salt from the island’s salt mines, and vinegar — and aged them together for 30 days to create the special potion that has been admired for generations.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple
A Japanese soldier attacked a GI with his sword but in the heat of the moment forgot to remove the scabbard. The dented helmet and sword were donated to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans by the GI — who was Walter McIlhenny. Photo courtesy of Forgotten Weapons.

McIlhenny’s red hot pepper sauce was first bottled into discarded cologne containers and referenced informally in conversation as “That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes.” His first commercial pepper crop emerged in 1868, and he sent 658 bottles at $1 apiece to grocery stores around the Gulf Coast, mainly in New Orleans. Two years later, McIlhenny secured a patent for Tabasco red pepper sauce — named in honor of the Mexican state where the peppers were sourced — and added a sprinkler fitment to ensure the concentrated sauce was sprinkled and not poured. 

Walter McIlhenny, the World War II Marine general, received several handwritten letters mailed from American GIs in Vietnam requesting tasty recipes. His great-grandfather’s original resolve to add flavor to the boring and monotonous diets of those in the Reconstruction South inspired him to do the same with ground troops’ C rations. The obligation to produce a fun and easy-to-follow guide led to the 1966 publication of The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple
The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front was published in 1966 by the maker of Tabasco hot sauce to give Vietnam soldiers an easy-to-follow guide to spicing up their C rations. Screenshot from the book.

The camouflaged cookbook with cartoon illustrations and clever recipes inside was wrapped around a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco and placed in a waterproof container to be shipped overseas to Vietnam. Some of the more popular and humorous recipes included Fox Hole Dinner for Two (Turkey and Chicken Poulette), Cease Fire Casserole, and Fish with Frontline Stuffing.

The recipes spoke to the grunts and were a reminder of home. “The casserole can be elegant, but as most men know, women often use it as a camouflage for a hasty meal after a long bridge game,” reads the recipe for Tin Can Casserole. “Here’s a recipe to put the Old Lady’s Bridge Casserole to shame.” The Breast of Chicken Under Bullets recipe suggests “breast of chicken under glass was never intended for areas where glass and shrapnel fly.”

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple
A waterproof container with a Charlie Ration Cookbook and bottle of Tabasco inside. The container, sent upon request to a soldier in Vietnam, came back to the McIlhenny Co. marked “KIA” for killed in action. Screenshot via YouTube.

George Creighton, a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, put Tabasco on everything. “The rations get boring and you just need something to liven them up and Tabasco does that,” Creighton told the Baltimore Sun in 2003. He added Tabasco to his beef, to his peas, and to his spaghetti. A favorite, according to Creighton, was a mixture of water buffalo meat with C rations — “like a mulligan stew with rice and put in Tabasco sauce and add flavor to the whole mix.”

Tabasco continued the tradition into the 1980s and through Operation Desert Storm and published The Unofficial MRE Recipe Booklet providing creative alternatives for soldiers looking to please their palates. The innovative American family also collaborated with comic strip writer Mort Walker to illustrate it with the famous Beetle Bailey characters. Inside McIlhenny’s second cookbook he promised “Meals, Ready-to-Excite” with recipes of Paratrooper Pork and Beans, 40 MM Beanwiches, Chopper Chipped Beef in Cream Gravy, Ham Grenades, and Victory Pot Pie. The cookbook kept with tradition from Vietnam and came in a Tabasco quick-draw camouflaged holster with a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce. 

The most famous hot sauce brand in the world is synonymous with flavorful and fun experiences for American service members from Vietnam to present day. “It’s a little touch of home in far-flung places,” said Paul McIlhenny, who was president of Tabasco from 1998 to 2012. “We want to defend the world against bland food, wherever it may be.” Thanks to Tabasco, and with help from the Charlie Ration Cookbook, GI Joe has gone gourmet.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

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This legendary pilot fought to his last bullet after being shot down

Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., arguably America’s greatest fighter pilot of World War I, was finally downed after taking out 14 German observation balloons and four combat planes. But he took as many Germans with him as he could, strafing ground troops as he crashed and unloading his pistol into the infantry trying to capture him.


Luke enlisted in the Army on Sept. 25, 1917, for service in the aviation field. He took his first solo flight that December, received his commission the following January, and was in France by March.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple
Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke Jr. with his biplane in the fields near Rattentout Farm, France, on Sept. 19, 1918. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

After additional instruction there, Luke was ready to go on combat patrols. In an April 20, 1918, letter home, Luke described a severely injured pilot who later died and the constantly growing rows of graves for pilots. In between those two observations, he talked about what fun it is to fly.

Luke claimed his first kill in August, but the reported action took place after Luke became separated from the rest of the flight and few believed that the mouthy rookie had actually bagged a German.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple
Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke had a short career on the front lines of World War I, but was America’s greatest fighter pilot for a short period. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

But the intrepid pilot would get his first confirmed victory less than a month later. He had heard other pilots talking about how challenging it was to bring down the enemy observation balloons that allowed for better artillery targeting and intelligence collection.

Flying on Sept. 12, 1918, Luke found one of the heavily defended balloons while chasing three German aircraft. He conducted attack passes on the balloon and it exploded into flames on Luke’s third pass, just as the balloon was about to reach the ground.

The flaming gas and bladder fell upon the ground crew and the winch mechanism that held the balloons, killing the men and destroying the site. Two more American officers at a nearby airfield confirmed Luke’s balloon bust.

Two days later, the Arizona native brought down a second balloon in a morning patrol, but he still wasn’t liked by other members of his unit. The same afternoon, he was designated to take the risky run against another balloon as the rest of the formation fought enemy fighters. One, a friend of Luke’s named 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, would cover Luke on his run.

Luke once again downed the enemy balloon and was headed for a second balloon when eight enemy planes chased him. His guns were malfunctioning so he ran back to friendly lines rather than risking further confrontation.

Wehner and Luke became a team and specialized in the dangerous mission of balloon busting. Over the following weeks, they pioneered techniques for bringing down the “sausages.” The pair grew so bold that they scheduled exhibitions for well-known pilots like then-Col. William Mitchell, inviting the VIPs to witness German balloons going down at exact times along the front.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple
Army pilot 1st Lt. Jospeh Wehner was a balloon buster partnered with 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Services)

But the men’s partnership was short-lived. Wehner had first covered Luke on Sept. 14, and over the next few days they each achieved “Ace” status and Wehner took part in two actions for which he would later receive two Distinguished Service Crosses.

On Sept. 18, the two men scored one of their most productive days including the balloon downing that made Wehner an ace, but Wehner was shot down during the attack on the second balloon. Luke responded by charging into the enemy formation, killing two, and then heading for home and killing an observation plane en route.

Luke was distraught at the loss of his partner and took greater risks in the air. His superior officers attempted to ground him, but Luke stole a plane and went back up anyway.

At that point, he was America’s highest-scoring ace with 11 confirmed victories, ahead of even Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker’s record at the time.

On his final flight on Sept. 29, he dropped a note from his plane that told the reader to “Watch three Hun balloons on the Meuse. Luke.”

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple
German observation balloons allowed for intelligence gathering and highly accurate artillery fire. (Photo: State Library of New South Wales)

The pilot flew across the battlefield, downing all three but attracting a patrol of eight German fighters. Sources differ on exactly what happened next, but the most important details are not in dispute.

Luke’s plane was damaged and he himself was hit, likely from machine gun fire from the ground. As he lost altitude, he conducted a strike against German troops, most likely with his machine guns, though locals who witnessed the fight reported that he may have used bombs dropped by hand.

After landing his plane in German-controlled territory, Luke made his way to a stream and was cornered by a German infantry patrol that demanded his surrender. Instead, Luke pulled a pistol and fired, killing an unknown number of Germans before he was shot in the chest and killed.

All of Luke’s confirmed victories had taken place in September 1918. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Sept. 12-15, a second for his actions on Sept. 18, and the Medal of Honor for his final flight on Sept. 29.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 standard missions of the Confederate Secret Service

Popular history remembers the Confederate States of America for a lot of things, but having a developed government capable of almost anything the United States could do is seldom one of those things. But it did have all the trappings of a democratic government, including a Treasury Department, an Electoral College, and even coordinated clandestine activities.

Spies. They had spies.


The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

They’re, like, the first thing new governments get. Catch “Turn: Washington’s Spies” on AMC.

I describe the Confederacy’s secret soldiers as a kind of Secret Service, but that’s not entirely an accurate description. The mission of the U.S. Secret Service is not only to protect the President and other American leaders, but to act as an investigation and enforcement arm of the Treasury Department. They track down counterfeiters and other fraudsters while assisting on anti-terror and counter-narcotics task forces with other agencies. But intelligence is not their mission.

In the Confederacy, it could have been. The Confederate government had countless secret agents in their employ, so many the Confederate government couldn’t always track them all. They were assigned many, many roles.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Sabotage

In the early morning hours of a balmy August night in 1864, an American barge parked on the James River was filled with stores of supplies for the Siege of Petersburg. After about an hour, the barge exploded, destroying an estimated million of Union supplies. Its destroyer was Capt. John Maxwell of the Confederate Secret Service. He and a handful of other saboteurs destroyed a number of Union supply carriers, sunk Union ships, and allegedly destroyed the river steamship Sultana, killing thousands in one of the worst maritime disasters in American history.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a DC socialite who provided the Confederate Army with enough information to win at First Bull Run.

Intelligence

Like any other army fighting a war, the Confederate Army needed information about their opponents. More than that, the Confederates needed to know what was happening in Washington, who their friends were, and other such information. There were many Northerners willing to oblige them.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

James Murray Mason and John Slidell were captured by the Union on their way to Britain. They were later released.

Foreign Agents

The Confederate States were, like most rebellions, eager to have international recognition of their independence. Confederate agents operated in Europe and elsewhere looking for this kind of support. They also measured public sentiment for or against their cause while providing any useful military information they could pick up. The US and Britain almost came to blows after two Confederate agents were captured from a British ship and detained.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

“They’re over there!”

Signal Corps

The Confederate version of the US Army’s storied unit not only conducted battlefield communication for the Confederate armies in the field but also took on a number of espionage-related missions. They gave the Confederate artillery the positions of Union troops and maintained a secret telegraph line of communications for its spies that extended all the way to Canada.

Much of the Signal Corps’ mission logs were destroyed in the Union capture of Richmond, so the full extent of their clandestine activities may never be known.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Confederates were so renowned for their use of torpedos that the Union had guys who did nothing but disarm them all day.

The Torpedo Bureau

The Confederates were very vulnerable to the vast superiority of the Union Navy. The solution for them was to mine or torpedo everything in sight. To this end, they hired two brothers who developed Confederate torpedo technology, taking them from crude wooden shells filled with gunpowder to disguised canisters which looked like coal that would be smuggled into the boiler rooms of Union steamships.

Land mines and sea mines were soon to follow.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Raids from Canada

Like modern-day green berets, Confederate agents recruited Canadians and sympathetic northerners to launch raids on American outposts in the north of the country. One such raid was the St. Albans Raid of St. Albans, Vermont in 1864. Locals of the Vermont area were forced to swear loyalty oaths to the Confederacy at gunpoint as the raiders robbed the three local banks, gaining money and notoriety for the Confederates.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

Mental torture, starvation, and daily physical beatings were just a few of the dreadful aspects American POWs had to endure on a daily basis during their stay at the “Hanoi Hilton.”


Although prisoner leadership secretly spoke of escape between one another, the odds of a successful attempt was near impossible. But what the prisoners didn’t know was that the CIA had already approved a plan to have a sub-transport take SEAL Team One to an island off the coast of North Vietnam to intercept them upon escape.

 

Related: 3 heroes who became POWs twice

After sending a coded message to Washington, the Hanoi prisoners asked for “an unmistakable signal from the heavens” to show President Nixon supported the mission.

So on May 2nd, 1972, three S-71s delivered that message. As they approached the Hanoi prison, they flew so close to the sound barrier that the ensuing roar alerted the prisoners of their presence, and the message was received.

 

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple
Prisoners were paraded before angry crowds in Hanoi, where loudspeakers blared insults and encouraged the crowd’s added abuse. Many from the crowd did attack the near defenseless POWs. (Source: National Museum)

 

Some of the Hanoi prisoners never thought the rescue mission would get approved, which caused conflict among them as they questioned whether they should take the chance.

For the next three days, the SEAL Team would monitor the coast, awaiting their American brothers.

After several intense discussions, the prisoners came to a final decision whether they should embark on the daring escape: they voted no — and with good reason.

If the attempt failed, the remaining prisoners might face even harsher punishment, and they couldn’t allow that. They made the right decision.

Also Read: Clint Eastwood once helped fund a Vietnam POW rescue mission

Towards the end of the war, Nixon ordered a bombing run to force the enemy to accept the peace terms. After the aerial attack had ceased, the North claimed the Hanoi POWs had all been killed, but with a smuggled transmitter, the brave prisoners sent out a coded message that reached the White House which read:

“Vietnamese lie, we’re okay.”

The incoming message sparked Nixon to continue the bombing raids. Then, in early 1973, the North accepted Nixon’s terms, ending the Vietnam war and the strong-willed Hanoi prisoners finally came home safely.

Watch the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to witness the heroic story unfold for yourself.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)

Articles

That time an Israeli pilot took on 11 MiGs and became the top scoring jet ace of all time

The name Giora Epstein might not ring a bell at first, but it is one you should know.


After all, he is the top-scoring jet ace of all time.

According to the Israeli Defense Forces web site, Epstein has 17 confirmed kills. The Jewish Virtual Library breaks them down as follows: two were MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters; one was a Mi-8 “Hip” helicopter; three were Su-7 “Fitter” ground attack planes; two were Su-20 “Fitter” attack planes; and nine were MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters.

The site notes that Epstein’s first five kills were in the Mirage III, the rest in the Nesher (a “pirated” Mirage 5).

Eight of those kills came over two days during the Yom Kippur War.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple
Giora Epstein (USAF artwork)

It is an impressive total. To make it even more impressive, Epstein, who flew until 1997, was skunked in the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot of June, 1982.

Perhaps his most impressive aerial feat was when he ended up on the wrong end of a 1-v-11 dogfight against Egyptian MiG-21s. According to the “Desert Aces” episode of the series “Dogfights,” Epstein’s flight of four Nesher fighters was jumped by over a dozen MiG-21s, just after Epstein shot down one of two Fishbeds that had drawn the assignment of being the decoy pair.

Epstein’s wingman shot down one MiG, but his engine was damaged by the exhaust from his Shafrir-2 air-to-air missile. Another of Epstein’s flight ran low on fuel, and headed back to base, while another of the Nesher pilots chased a MiG out of the main dogfight.

That left Epstein alone against 11 Fishbeds. It was not a fair fight… for the MiGs.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple
An Israeli Nesher over the Golan Heights. Giora Epstein scored 11 kills in week using this plane during the Yom Kippur War. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Epstein shot down the lead MiG of the decoy pair, then managed to outduel the other five pairs of MiG-21s shooting two of the Fishbeds down. When he returned to base, having scored four kills that day, ground crew had to lift him from the plane. Four days later, Epstein bagged three more Fishbeds, giving him 11 kills in less than a week.

Yeah, that’s one badass pilot.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This US Navy hero trolled the enemy in the most amazing way possible

It’s not a historical secret that Stephen Decatur had balls of steel. Not literally, of course, but given his fighting record, I can see how you might think that’s possible. There’s a reason America still names houses, schools, streets, and ships after the seaborne legend.

All that and he had a sense of humor too.


The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Hilarious.

(Naval History and Heritage Command)

The man who would become arguably the most legendary sailor ever to sail in the United States Navy was the youngest man ever to reach the rank of Captain. He was a stunning military leader and may have personally led the rise in prestige of the U.S. Navy’s ships and sailors in the eyes of its European counterparts. He cut his teeth as a young officer in the Quasi-War with France, where he helped take down 25 enemy ships in a matter of months.

In the First Barbary War, Decatur led a shore party who raided Tripoli’s harbor to burn the captured USS Philadelphia and deny her to the enemy. The raid was successful, and Decatur and crew returned to their ship without losing a single man. The famous British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called it “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

By the time the War of 1812 came around, Capt. Decatur was in command of the USS United States, the ship on which President Adams commissioned him a lieutenant and started his career.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Decatur then took the fight to the British in engagement after engagement.

(Wikimedia Commons)

But upon taking command of a squadron led by the USS President during the war, Decatur suffered some bad luck. After taking numerous British prizes, including the HMS Macedonian and HMS Guerriere, the President under Decatur’s command ran aground in foul weather during a confrontation with the British West Indies Squadron. Decatur was defeated aboard President and was captured and paroled to New York City until the end of the war. By then, his name was as feared on the high seas as Lord Nelson’s was for England. Maybe that’s why President Madison sent Decatur to Gibraltar to negotiate with the Barbary Pirates to end the Second Barbary War.

Decatur was sent to “conquer the enemy into peace” as chief negotiator and enforce that peace with a squadron of American ships. The ships he chose were the perfect troll to an enemy already fearful of his name. Decatur chose to depart from New York in command of the USS Guerriere, Macedonian, Constellation, Ontario, Flambeau, Spark, Spitfire, and Torch.

Commodore Decatur was off to negotiate peace only with ships he’d famously captured at sea from Britain.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

[Laughs in Navy]

(Naval History and Heritage Command)

MIGHTY HISTORY

A ‘$30 Million Sandwich’ almost derailed the space program

Gemini 3 was the first American space mission to be crewed by more than one astronaut. Gemini 3 performed the first orbital maneuver ever by shifting its orbit mid-flight. This breakthrough performance also showed that a re-entry vehicle could change its touchdown point. What it will be remembered for in the annals of NASA history, however, is a corned-beef sandwich.

For just shy of five hours, the Gemini 3 mission experienced very few setbacks — none of them major. From the takeoff aboard a Titan-II Rocket to the capsule’s recovery by the USS Intrepid, the crew would tell you it was a very smooth, well-run mission. The 89th U.S. Congress, however, had a different opinion.


The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

The crew of Gemini 3. Not pictured: pocket sandwich.

(NASA)

Strangely enough, one of Gemini 3’s other mission requirements was to test space food in the capsule — specific food, not just whatever food the astronauts wanted to bring. The mission took five hours, but the non-rated food incident lasted less than a minute. The two astronauts were working in the capsule when pilot John Young, who was on his first spaceflight, pulled out a corned-beef sandwich.

“I was concentrating on our spacecraft’s performance, when suddenly, John asked me, ‘You care for a corned-beef sandwich, skipper?'” Grissom later recounted. “If I could have fallen out of my couch, I would have. Sure enough, he was holding an honest-to-john corned-beef sandwich.”

“Where did that come from?” Grissom asked. Corned-beef sandwiches were his favorite. “I brought it with me,” Young answered. “Let’s see how it tastes. Smells, doesn’t it?” The smell of corned beef did indeed fill the spacecraft. The astronaut picked up the sandwich from a local deli called Wolfie’s inside the nearby Ramada Inn in Cocoa Beach. Wally Schirra gave the sandwich to Young, who stowed it away in a pocket in his spacesuit.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Grissom took a bite, but the sandwich was not holding its integrity in zero gravity. The astronauts opted to put the sandwich away. Young admitted that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to bring the sandwich into low earth orbit. Grissom told him the sandwich was “pretty good, if it would just hold together.” With crumbs of rye bread floating around the cabin, the crew continued their mission.

“It didn’t even have mustard on it,” Young wrote. “And no pickle.”

While mission control at NASA and Young’s superiors were less-than-thrilled with the smuggled sandwich, the rest of the mission went ahead as planned and though the two were given slaps on the wrists and told, in no uncertain terms, that non-man-rated corned-beef sandwiches were out for future space missions, nothing more was really thought of it.

Until Congress stepped in.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Vietnam, civil rights, and corned beef.

It was the height of the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Gemini 3 was supposed to be the first orbital mission ever to have more than one astronaut, but the Soviets had beaten NASA to the punch by a week — when it launched the Voskhod 2 mission. Regardless, the United States was behind in the race and the costly program was under close scrutiny.

The House Appropriations Committee began a full review of the incident, concerned that those rye crumbs were a serious threat to the safe operation of the spacecraft. It’s true that the greasy crumbs could have played havoc on the craft’s electronics and computer systems. The sandwich was nicknamed the “-million sandwich.”

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

A replica of the million sandwich.

(Grissom Memorial Museum)

Congress thought the astronauts were ignoring the space food they were sent to evaluate and were wasting taxpayer money. John Young later wrote that he didn’t think it was that big of a deal and that it was common to carry sandwiches aboard. The offending corned-beef sandwich wasn’t even the first smuggled sandwich — it was the third. These days, astronauts make sandwiches in space all the time, they just use ingredients that keep the crumbs to a minimum.

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

What they were supposed to be eating.

(NASA)

Young commanded the first space shuttle mission in 1981. And carried aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia was a menu that included corned beef. The smuggled sandwich itself is lost to history, but a good likeness of the original can be found preserved in acrylic at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Mitchell, Indiana.

Articles

This is why the ‘Bouncing Betty’ was absolutely devastating

Developed by German Engineers during the 1930s as a defensive strategy of the Third Reich, the self-contained anti-personnel mine was originally named Schrapnellmine or S-Mine. Considered one of the deadliest tools on the battlefield, the French first encounter this version of bouncing mines in 1939 as it devastated their forces.


Dubbed the “Bouncing Betty” by American infantrymen, these mines were buried just underground, only exposing three prongs on the top which were usually camouflaged by the nearby grass vegetation.

Related: ISIS is digging up Nazi land mines in Egypt to use for IEDs

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Once these prongs were disturbed by a foot or vehicle, the mine would shoot itself upward to around 3 feet or at its victim’s waist level using its black powder propellant. The fuse was designed with a half a second delay to allow its aerial travel.

As it detonated, ball bearings contained inside flew out rapidly and acted as the casualty producing element. The S-mine was lethal at 66 feet, but the American training manuals stated that serious casualties could be taken up to 460 feet.

The landmine had great psychological effects on ground troops as it was known to inflict serious wounds rather than kill.

Although the Schrapnellmine was highly effective and constructed mostly out of metallic parts, detection was quite simple using metal detectors. However, at the time, such heavy and expensive gear wasn’t available to all infantry units as they fought their way through the front lines.

Also Read: The US Navy has minehunting ships that are terrible at finding mines

So allied forces had to probe the soil with their knives and bayonets to search for the dangerous mines. When they were discovered, a soldier could disarm the Bouncing Betty with a sewing needle inserted in place of the mine’s safety pin.

Production of the Bouncing Betty ended in 1945 after Germany had manufactured 2 million of the mines.

(Lightning War 1941, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This single joke by Reagan put the Soviet military on alert

So, President Ronald Reagan managed to make it into the news about 15 years after his death due to some leaked audio with inflammatory, racist remarks. But, oddly enough, 20 years before his death, Reagan accidentally sent Soviet forces in Vladivostok into high alert thanks to another bit of leaked audio. Specifically, he told an ill-advised joke about outlawing Russia.


The joke came on Aug. 11, 1984. Reagan was in the middle of a re-election campaign, and so he had a big announcement planned for his weekly radio address to America. He was going to be at his ranch in California, and so he asked National Public Radio engineers to do the address from there. They agreed.

So, the engineers came out and set up. As they were going through the mic checks, they asked him to say a few words to make sure they had all the levels right. Reagan agreed and went off on a quick riff:

My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Ronald Reagan gives a televised address from the Oval Office, outlining his plan for Tax Reduction Legislation in July 1981.

(White House Photo)

The engineers in the room got that it was a joke, and they were part of a deal not to release informal or off-the-record audio. So they chuckled, got the levels right, and let the president give his actual, scheduled address.

But they weren’t the only ones who had heard the remarks. The audio was already being sent to some of the radio stations that would broadcast the remarks, and those stations were recording the feed in case they missed the start of the presidential address.

And not all of them were part of the agreement to hold recordings not meant for broadcast. Someone leaked the audio.

Most of the world got that it was a joke and the punditry class took on its typical role of either condemning or praising the remarks. Most condemned, especially in those countries in Europe that Russia’s missiles could reach. The Soviet Union was also predictably, not a fan.

But one group of Soviet soldiers weren’t entirely sure that it was a joke. There were reports of a low-level Soviet commander putting his troops in Vladivostok on a wartime footing on August 13, in the belief that America really was going to war with the Soviet Union.

The story is disputed, but it says the troops were told to stand down about 30 minutes later as the Soviet officer wasn’t actually allowed to issue that level of alert. Also, obviously, if the August 11 remarks about bombing the Soviet Union in five minutes were real, there wouldn’t be an undamaged Soviet Union on August 13.

Reagan was overwhelmingly re-elected despite the blowback from the joke, and he actually established a productive relationship with Soviet Mikhail Gorbachev in the late ’80s.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Sherlock Holmes’ author was as impressive as his characters

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most well-known cultural icons of Great Britain. To date, he’s been portrayed by 254 actors and has been referenced in over 25,000 Holmes-related products. Some of these works are masterpieces, such as BBC’s Sherlock (2010) and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009). 


It should come as no surprise that a character as intelligent as Sherlock Holmes was written by an equally smart man, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What most people don’t know is that his life’s story played out nearly identically to his characters’.

He was knighted outside his novels

Although the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887, he struggled to gain public recognition. It took until 1901’s release of The Hounds of Baskervilles for him to truly reach fame.

His recognition would reach far beyond fiction, however. In 1902, he wrote the war pamphlet entitled The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct. In it, Doyle counters every charge levied against the British Empire for the then-contemporary Boer War. The pamphlet became so popular with bureaucrats and politicians that he was knighted in October of that year.

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He accepted knighthood, unlike Sherlock (Courtesy Photo)

He was a Doctor, like Watson

After studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Doyle searched for adventure. He became a whaling boat’s medical officer and traveled to the Arctic. He would write throughout his travels. Then, in 1900 (seven years after writing The Final Problem), the onset of the Second Anglo-Boer War prompted Doyle to travel to South Africa and serve as a medic. He was ultimately deemed unfit for frontline duties but, since he was already there and was an actual doctor, he served the British Empire regardless.

He compiled personal accounts from both the British and Boer troops he treated, which would later be inspiration for his non-fiction work, The Great Boer War. It should be noted that some of the accounts were said to be a bit dramatized.

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He was a huge family man — unlike his characters. (Courtesy Photo)

He actually solved crimes, like Sherlock

Sherlock’s deductive reasoning skills didn’t simply materalize out of thin air. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle cleverly investigated crimes himself as an advocate for justice. He took on two high-profile, closed cases, both of which ended with proper justice.

The first was George Edaliji, a half-Indian lawyer accused of threatening harm to and then mutilating animals. Doyle proved that the incriminating letters used to sentence the lawyer didn’t match Edaliji’s handwriting and linked the crimes to another animal mutilation that occurred while he was in custody. The second was of Oscar Slater who was accused of murdering an elderly woman. Doyle proved his innocence. He showed that Slater’s behavior and suspicious lifestyle wasn’t because he was a murderer, but rather because he was trying to hide his mistress from his wife.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon

Ferdinand “Fred” Waldo Demara Jr. wanted to be somebody — so he decided to be everybody. The man who could be called ‘The Great Impostor’ was at times an assistant warden at a prison in Texas, a dean of philosophy at a college in Pennsylvania, a zoology graduate, a lawyer, a cancer researcher, a teacher, and a doctor, among other professions during his 23-year career as a professional confidence man

The Massachusetts native who ran away from home at the age of 16 had initially joined a monastery to become a monk. “Now don’t worry,” Father Desmarais of the Trappist monks told his parents. “He has joined the most demanding religious order in the world and he’ll be home in several weeks.” When he returned home, he enlisted in the US Army on an impulse after enjoying food and drinks at the Union Oyster House in Boston. It wasn’t long before he went AWOL. His patterns were often spontaneous. He later enlisted in the US Navy and went AWOL again, even going as far as leaving behind a suicide note at the Navy docks in Norfolk, Virginia.

He had a world-class ability to assume fake identities and convince unsuspecting job interviewers that he was authentic. He bounced around the country and entered new career fields he certainly didn’t have the qualifications for. 

His most preposterous and famous impersonation came in March 1951 when he took a bus to St. John, New Brunswick, in Canada. The “greatest impostor” assumed the identity of Dr. Joseph Cyr, an acquaintance he’d met a year prior while he pretended to be an American lawyer named Dr. Cecil B. Hamann. He had convinced Cyr to provide him the documentation of his qualifications in order to help him get an American medical license. Naturally, he disappeared and took this precious information to steal his identity and commission as a surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). 

Dr. Joe Cyr poses with the HMCS Cayuga
On the HMCS Cayuga, 1951-52, his fellow sailors viewed “Dr. Joe Cyr” as a hero. Photo courtesy of rcnhistory.org.

His first assignment was at an RCN hospital in the navy port of Halifax. He was to take sick calls despite having no knowledge of medicine. As any great con man would do, he presented his job as a problem to be addressed by one of his superiors. 

“I’ve been asked by some people to work up a rule of thumb guide for the people in lumber camps,” Demara told biographer Robert Crichton about the ruse he employed for The Great Impostor, a book about his life. “Most of them don’t have doctors handy and they’re pretty isolated. Could we get together a little guide that would pretty well cover most serious situations?”

“How does that look?” the superior who took on the challenge asked him. 

“Gosh, doctor,” Demara told him, “I think it’s great. You really know your medicine and how to get it across to the layman. This is great.”

His wit and intuitive ability to outsource opinions from other doctors to strengthen his cover didn’t always work. When he was reassigned to the HMCS Magnificent, an aircraft carrier in the Halifax Bay, the commanding medical officer saw right through his scheme. He wrote in a report that Cyr “lacked training in medicine and surgery, especially in diagnosis.”

His most serious undertaking was as the medical officer of the Canadian destroyer named Cayuga. He was responsible for the care of 211 enlisted sailors and eight officers. Whenever a medical problem arose, he would disappear and scour through page after page of medical books using his alleged photographic memory to learn the procedures. He performed a successful dental surgery on Commander Plomer, the Cayuga’s captain, extracting a number of sore teeth despite not having the slightest idea as to how much anesthetic to administer. The following morning, Plomer thanked Cyr for “the nicest job of tooth pulling I’d ever had.”

The great impostor movie poster
Tony Curtis played con man Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr. in the 1961 film adaptation of Demara’s biography, The Great Impostor.

While they patrolled the Korean coast near the 38th parallel, a small Korean junk filled with as many as 19 wounded troops made contact with the Cayuga

“Everything went fine to start with and then as these people [Republic of Korea soldiers] came off, they were not doing too well, some of them,” recalled Peter Godwin Chance, who served aboard the Cayuga. “They were wounded and a couple DOAs but our doctor, Joe Cyr, was the hero. And he was parading up and down the upper deck with his whites and his hat and doing this patchwork and so on and for which we were all highly impressed.”

The “doctor” also performed more critical duties including the removal of a bullet during chest surgery. Most didn’t think anything was awry. His colleagues even put Dr. Cyr in for a commendation. After a public relations specialist was contacted, all of the major outlets including The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, and Reuters learned about the citation proposal. When the real Dr. Cyr read about his medical achievements abroad, he contacted the authorities and they issued a report that there was an impostor.

“Well, we said, those crazy armchair buggers back in Ottawa, they haven’t got a bloody clue,” Chance said.

When the RCN learned Demara was a fraud and his true incompetence was revealed, he was kicked out of the Canadian military. The mystery man’s past aliases were also disclosed, and his exploits were later immortalized in the 1961 film The Great Impostor starring actor Tony Curtis. In 1979, at an RCN reunion held in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the famed “doctor” made an appearance and was welcomed with open arms. Perhaps the greatest impostor the world had ever seen died in 1982 at 60 years old.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

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That time an Army Air Corps bomber crashed into the Empire State Building

Decades before the terror attacks of 2001 struck New York City, another, very different plane crashed into the Empire State Building, arguably one of New York City’s — America’s —most iconic buildings. It was July 1945, and it wasn’t terrorism or even an attack from the Japanese Empire (with which America was still at war).


It was a simple wrong turn from a U.S. military B-25 bomber.

 

The aircraft flight plan indicated the plane was coming from Massachusetts and would land at La Guardia. Instead the pilot decided to land in Newark but got lost in the heavy fog while flying over Manhattan. Believing he was on the West Side of the island, he flew to the right instead of the left when he went around the Chrysler Building. That was his fatal error.

According to a 1995 story in the New York Times, Lt. Col. William F. Smith Jr. heard from the tower at La Guardia airport that the top of the Empire State Building wasn’t visible in the fog. Minutes later, he hit the iconic skyscraper between its 78th and 79th floors at 200 miles per hour.

The crash blew an 18-by-20-foot hole 913 feet above 34th Street. It’s tail section was stuck in the hole in the building.

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The aftermath of a B-25 Bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945.

Luckily, the bomber was an unarmed trainer aircraft with no bombs on board. The explosions that rocked the area came from the B-25’s fuel tanks exploding.

“It was as if a bomb went off,” said harpsichordist Albert Fuller, who was shopping across from the Empire State Building that day. “The floor moved. I looked at the clerk and said, ‘Isn’t that strange?’ And I thought it couldn’t be an earthquake.”

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Fourteen people died, all told; the three bomber crewmembers and 11 people working in the building that day.

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6 times troops marched all night and laid waste in the morning

Turns out, the military is hard work. Apparently, sometimes you don’t even get a real break between marching all night through treacherous terrain and then having to crush your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their women.


These six units had no issue with that:

6. The 37th Illinois Infantry assaults a stubborn hill after 36 miles of marching

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Confederate and Union forces clash at the Battle of Bull Run. (Image: Library of Congress)

The 37th Illinois Infantry was maneuvered across the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, repeatedly, completing 36 miles of marching and fighting repeatedly in 36 hours. On Dec. 7, 1862, they were marched to a new position and most of the men fell asleep despite an hour-long artillery duel going on over their heads.

They were awoken and ordered against a hill with an unknown enemy force. The 37th hit it in good order and manged to take and hold the edge before enemy artillery on the flanks pushed them back.

Despite their exhaustion and weaker position, the 37th formed back up and held the line at the bottom of the hill, containing the Confederate units for the rest of the battle.

5. The 101st raced to Bastogne and then fought a multi-week siege against the Germans

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American soldiers rush during an artillery attack in the Battle of the Bulge. (Photo: U.S. Army)

When the Germans launched their daring attack that would become the Battle of the Bulge, the U.S. rushed to evacuate some headquarters from the area while sending in those who would hold the line, including the 101st Airborne Division. With the commanding and deputy commanding generals out of the country, the division’s artillery commander was forced to take the men to the front.

The paratroopers rushed into the breach, moving throughout the day and night and almost ending up in the wrong city due to a miscommunication. But the troops took their positions just as the Germans reached Bastogne, exchanging fire immediately after their arrival.

Over the following month, the light infantry in Bastogne held off the better armored, armed, and supplied German tanks and refused requests for their surrender.

4. American troops route Mexican defenders in 20 minutes after a night march

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(Painting: Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot, Public Domain)

Near the end of the Mexican-American War, American attackers near the outskirts of Mexico City needed a way through the defending forces. One route was promising, but a force of 7,000 Mexican troops was defending it.

After the first day of fighting, a lieutenant found a ravine that cut to the rear of the Mexican camp and marched his troops through it. At dawn, the main force made a frontal assault while a smaller group launched from the ravine and into the enemy’s rear. In less than 20 minutes, the Mexicans were forced to retreat and other American troops were able to assault into the city.

3. Washington crosses the Delaware at night to surprise the Hessians on Christmas, then attacks the British at Princeton

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(Painting: Battle of Trenton by Charles McBarron)

On Dec. 25, 1776, Gen. George Washington led his men across the partially frozen Delaware River and on a 19-mile march to the Hessian camp at Trenton, New Jersey, surprising the Hessians before dawn and killing their commander as well as 21 others while capturing 918.

Just days later, British reinforcements had Washington cornered near Princeton. After nightfall on Jan. 2, Washington led 4,500 men through the night while 500 others made it look like the whole force was still in position. Washington’s men clashed with another British force and beat them, proving that the British Army could be defeated.

2. The Rangers march through the evening to attack Sened Station at full dark

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Rangers practice for their assault on Arzew(Photo: U.S. Army)

On Feb. 11, 1943, four Ranger companies set out with each man carrying just their canteen, a C-ration, a half shelter, and their weapon. They marched eight miles and then waited four miles from their target for full night to fall.

When twilight took over, they marched the remaining four miles to their target and attacked under the cover of darkness. Italian defenders at Station de Sened, Tunisia, suspected an attack was coming and fired machine guns into the night, giving away their positions.

Three maneuver companies assaulted the Italian positions while the headquarters formed a blocking force. In less than an hour, the Rangers were victorious and held 11 prisoners and had killed 50 enemy troops.

1. Stonewall Jackson orders a night march to surprise Union artillery with flank attacks

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(Photo: Library of Congress)

Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson ordered a few night marches in his day, but few were as important as the June 9, 1862, march at Port Republic that arguably saved the Confederacy for a few years. The battle would decide whether Jackson could send reinforcements to Gen. Robert E. Lee who was defending the rebel capital.

And the Union forces had the better ground at Port Republic. Their cannons were arrayed on a high ridge where they pummeled Confederate attempts to advance through the valley. But that’s where a night march by the 2nd and 4th Virginia came in. They attacked the Union guns, were pushed back, and attacked again with new reinforcements, capturing and holding the former Union position.

The Confederates held the ridge, forcing the Union to retreat and allowing Jackson to reinforce Lee at Richmond, allowing the war to drag on three more years.