The Coast Guard isn’t the most highly respected branches of the Armed Forces, to put it lightly. For all the flak it gets from other branches, the Coast Guard has solidly established its value to the US. In fact, it has one of the lengthiest histories of all.
The Coast Guard is among the oldest federal organizations in the US
It was established back in 1790, just 14 years after America gained independence. For eight years, it reigned supreme as the US’s only sea-based service. At that point, the Navy was invented, but the CG was far from finished.
On January 28th, 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service merged into one; the new, official Coast Guard. As described by Title 14 of the U.S. Code:
“The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times. The Coast Guard shall be a service in the Department of Homeland Security, except when operating as a service in the Navy.”
It has played a role in nearly every war since.
Is it a military force or a law enforcement branch? Yes.
Despite being over a century old, the Coast Guard is the most misunderstood branches. It’s actually a two for one deal. Most of the time, it functions as an arm of Homeland Security and a marine rescue agency. Members are also responsible for guarding marine wildlife, environmental protection, and enforcing the law all across the country’s coastline.
During times of war, however, it becomes an extension of the Navy, to assist against foreign threats as directed by the President.
To be more specific, the Coast Guard…
Is responsible for enforcing the law across all U.S. ports and waterways
Protects over 100,000 miles of coastline
Mans a fleet of hundred of cutters and aircraft, plus over 1,600 boats
Conducts around 45 search and rescues a day
Seizes thousands of pounds of illegal drugs each week
Screens over 350 merchant vessels before arrival in U.S. harbors
Investigates pollution incidents
Maintains buoys and other navigation aids
Investigates commercial vessel casualties
Makes the shipping of billions of dollars worth of goods possible
In short, the Coast Guard is pretty frickin’ cool.
In addition to celebrating its 106th official birthday (and its 231st if you count its earliest years), the Coast Guard has churned out some awesome vets. Jeff Bridges, Arnold Palmer, and even Popeye were coasties! It also has a frat that used to be called the Ancient Order of Pterodactyl. It was renamed to the Coast Guard Aviation Association in 2007. Not quite as catchy, but still cool.
More importantly, 10 lives every day are saved by members of the Coast Guard. Happy birthday, guys. You’re doing awesome.
On an early June morning in 1862, two brothers from Scotland were fighting for their lives and their adopted homeland on a South Carolina battlefield. They had come to America less than two decades prior, and each had come to love his new homeland. As they moved through the haze of smoke and bullets that day, they knew was the one time they didn’t want to see one another.
Alexander and James Campbell were fighting on opposite sides of the battle.
The Battle of Secessionville, 1862.
We hear a lot about how the U.S. Civil War pitted “brother against brother,” but at least in one case, such a fight actually happened. Alexander and James Campbell made the transatlantic crossing together from their native Scotland, but they didn’t settle in the United States together. Alexander stayed in New York while Joseph became a stone mason in Charleston, South Carolina. When fighting broke out between the states, the men each attended to their duties as citizens of their respective countries.
Alexander joined New York’s 79th Highlander Infantry Regiment while James enlisted into the 1st South Carolina Battalion. Each knew the other joined the enemy cause because they corresponded with one another regularly. The two exchanged letters for the duration of the war. They were still brothers, after all.
The forests and fields where the Battle of Secessionville took place.
Eventually, Alex and the 79th New York landed on James Island, South Carolina, just outside of Charleston. The Union Army was trying to make South Carolina pay for its rebellion and the attack on Fort Sumter the previous year. The Union troops captured a Confederate skirmisher who told Alexander that his brother was operating in the same area as the Federal Army. It wasn’t until after the battle of Secessionville that they learned they had been on opposite sides of the same battlefield. He wrote:
“I was astonished to hear from the prisoners that you was colour Bearer of the Regmt that assaulted the Battrey at this point the other day…. I was in the Brest work during the whole engagement doing my Best to Beat you but I hope that You and I will never again meet face to face Bitter enemies on the Battlefield. But if such should be the case You have but to discharge your deauty to Your caus for I can assure you I will strive to discharge my deauty to my country my cause.”
Though the brothers were never engaged in dramatic mortal combat at Secessionville, it was the closest they would ever come. After the battle, the Union Army repaired back north, and Alexander was wounded in the Battle of Chantilly, in Virginia later that year. His South Carolinian brother James was captured at the 1863 Battle of Fort Wagner in his adopted home state, and sent to a federal prison, where he sat out the rest of the war in squalid conditions.
The two continued their correspondence throughout James’ incarceration as a rebel soldier.
Throughout the years, the meeting between the two largest rivals in college football has been known as “The President’s Game” because of how intertwined the game is with the Commander-in-Chief.
Many of the traditions surrounding the game — and perhaps the game itself — are owed to President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1893, after first four Army-Navy games, football was deemed “too unsafe” by President Grover Cleveland and future games were prohibited. After all, players were bloodied, fights broke out between fans, and, at one point, an Army General and Navy Admiral nearly dueled to the death over a game.
It wasn’t until 1897 that President Roosevelt — undeniably the manliest president America has ever seen — wrote a letter urging the reinstatement of the game. In 1899, it returned, but was as dangerous as ever. Later, President Roosevelt also saw to revamping the rules of the game. He made sure pads and gear were worn, adding safety but maintaining the sport’s intensity. Roosevelt attended the game in 1901 and laid down traditions for future presidents to emulate.
To date, only nine sitting presidents have attended the game: Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, Truman, Kennedy, Ford, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. Last year, then President-elect Donald Trump attended, making him the only President-elect to watch the game in person. President Truman holds the record at seven games, followed by President George W. Bush at three. Presidents that attend are usually asked to perform the coin toss at the start of the game.
President Eisenhower was the only President to ever play in the game, but never attend while in office. President Carter, despite having gone to the Naval Academy, never attended while in office. Between 1924 and 1945, no sitting President went to “The President’s Game.”
There was another gap in attendance starting in 1963, when President Ford came to cheer for both teams on for the 75th anniversary of the rivalry, and 1995. Since then, Presidents have made an appearance regularly.
Another tradition started by President Roosevelt is walking across the field at half-time. This symbolic gesture shows good will and faith between both teams and the President. Even Presidents who had served in the Navy or Army, like Kennedy and Ford respectively, put their histories aside for the sake of tradition (although they both started on their service’s side).
The only President to not do this was the seven-time attendee Truman, who stayed comfortably on one side. Don’t worry, he switched sides for the next game.
America’s clandestine operators developed some pretty diabolical weapons to help inflict death and destruction behind enemy lines in World War II. And in the fight against the Japanese occupation of China, the plans got downright dastardly.
In 1942, the Office of Strategic Services began working with Ukraine-born George Kistiakowsky who was a physical chemistry professor at Harvard University and developed an innovated explosive powder designed specifically for guerrilla warfare.
Kistiakowsky secretly created “HMX” powder, or “nitroamine high-explosive” that could be mixed in with regular baking flour and make various inconspicuous-looking baked goods.
Kistiakowsky managed to perfectly combine the HMX compound with a popular pancake mix and package the new weapon into ordinary flour bags that could be smuggled through the numerous Japanese checkpoints and delivered right into the Chinese fighters’ hands.
The explosive looked no different than regular pancake mix and if a suspicious Japanese soldier forced the smuggle to whip up a batch and eat them, there would be no ill effects except for a bit of a stomach ache.
Once the weaponized flour was in the hands of the Chinese allied fighters, muffins were baked from the Aunt Jemima pancake mix and a blasting cap was added to complete the destructive war device.
It’s reported that approximately 15 tons of pancake mix was imported and was never detected by Japanese forces.
Bob Hicks was spending a cold December night in his barracks 53 years ago at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City when the phone rang.
It was the chief of his missile maintenance team, who dispatched Hicks to an incident at an underground silo.
“The warhead,” the team chief said, “is no longer on top of the missile.”
Hicks eventually learned that a screwdriver used by another airman caused a short circuit that resulted in an explosion. The blast popped off the missile’s cone — the part containing the thermonuclear warhead — and sent it on a 75-foot fall to the bottom of the 80-foot-deep silo.
The courageous actions Hicks took that night and over the next several days were not publicized. The accident was not disclosed to the public until years later, when a government report on accidents with nuclear weapons included seven sentences about it. The report listed the accident as the nation’s first involving a Minuteman missile.
Further details are reported publicly for the first time here, drawn from documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by the Journal and others, and from Hicks himself, who is now 73 years old and living in Cibolo, Texas.
When Hicks was sent to the accident on Dec. 5, 1964, he was only 20 years old, and the cryptic statement from his team chief was the only information he was given.
“That was enough,” Hicks recalled, “to cause me to get dressed pretty quickly.”
The trouble began earlier that day when two other airmen were sent to a silo named Lima-02. It was 60 miles northwest of Ellsworth Air Force Base and 3 miles southeast of the tiny community of Vale, on the plains outside the Black Hills.
Lima-02 was one of 150 steel-and-concrete silos that had been implanted underground and filled with Minuteman missiles during the previous several years in western South Dakota, where the missiles were scattered across 13,500 square miles. There were hundreds more silos in place or soon to be constructed in North Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, eventually bringing the nation’s Minuteman fleet to a peak of 1,000.
The original Minuteman missiles, called Minuteman I, were 56 feet tall and weighed 65,000 pounds when loaded with fuel. The missiles were capable of traveling at a top speed of 15,000 miles per hour and could reach the Cold War enemy of the United States, the Soviet Union, within 30 minutes.
Each missile was tipped with a thermonuclear warhead that was many times more powerful than either of the two atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan during World War II. One government agency reportedly estimated that the detonation of an early 1960s-era Minuteman warhead over Detroit would have caused 70 square miles of property destruction, 250,000 deaths, and 500,000 injuries.
The two airmen who visited the Lima-02 silo on Dec. 5, 1964, were part of a young Air Force missile corps that was responsible for launching and maintaining the missiles. The two airmen’s names are redacted – as are many other names – from an Air Force report that was filed after the accident.
At noon that Saturday, the airmen received orders to troubleshoot and repair the Lima-02 security system. They made the long drive and arrived at 2 p.m.
The rectangular, north-south aligned, 1-acre silo site was surrounded by a chain-link fence that was topped with strands of barbed wire. The unremarkable-looking place consisted mostly of a flat expanse of gravel. Toward the south end were several low-slung tops of underground concrete structures.
One of the structures was a 3½-foot-thick, 90-ton slab that covered the missile and would have been blasted aside during a launch. A couple of paces away from that was a circular, steel-and-concrete vault door, about the diameter of a large tractor tire. The door concealed a 28-foot-deep shaft leading to the underground work area known as the equipment room.
Working in 24-degree conditions above ground, the airmen began a series of steps with special tools and combination locks that allowed them to open the massive vault door. Next, they climbed the ladder down to the equipment room, which encircled the upper part of the silo and missile like a doughnut.
The airmen worked in the roughly 5 feet of space between the steel launch tube and the equipment-room wall, among racks of electronics and surfaces painted mostly in pale, institutional green. Though the launch tube was between them and the missile, the missile was not much more than an arm’s length away.
According to the Air Force report on the accident, one of the airmen removed a fuse as part of a check on a security alarm control box. The report says the airman was “lacking a fuse puller,” so he used a screwdriver to pry the fuse from its clip.
When the fuse was re-inserted, the report says, it was supposed to click. The sound of a click indicated good contact with the holder. But there was no click, so the airman repeated the procedure. Still not certain he heard a click, he pulled the fuse out a third time and pushed it back into the holder again.
“At 1500 hours MST,” the report says, referencing 3 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, “simultaneously with the making of this contact, a loud explosion occurred in the launch tube.”
Hicks arrived at the silo later and heard a simpler story from his team chief. According to that story, it was merely the removal of the fuse with a screwdriver – not the pushing-in of the fuse – that caused the problem. Hicks said the metal of the screwdriver contacted the positive side of the fuse and also the fuse’s grounded metal holder, causing a short circuit that sent electricity flowing to unintended places.
“It would be just like you taking your car battery and you touch a screwdriver to the positive terminal on the battery and you touch the frame of the car,” Hicks explained in a recent interview. “You have just put voltage potential on your entire car.”
Hicks and the accident report agree that the wrong tool was used. In the language of the report, “The technician did not use the authorized, available tool to remove the fuse.”
The resulting short circuit might not have been problematic had it not been for some wiring in one of the missile’s retrorockets that was later found to be faulty. According to Hicks, some weakly insulated or exposed wiring may have been in contact with the metal casing of a retrorocket, allowing for a jolt of electricity that caused the retrorocket to fire.
The retrorockets were housed below the cone of the missile. They were supposed to fire when the missile was in outer space, to separate the third and final fuel stage from the cone, allowing the cone and its warhead — which were collectively called the “re-entry vehicle” — to fall toward the target.
When one of the retrorockets fired inside the missile in the Lima-02 silo, pressure built up in the space where the retrorockets were housed, and the cone of the missile — which was about 5 feet tall, nearly 3 feet in diameter at its base, and about 750 pounds in weight — burst off and fell down in the few feet of space between the missile and the silo wall.
The cone hit the wall of the silo, bounced back toward the missile and grazed it in two spots along the second fuel stage, hit two of the three suspension cables that supported the missile, and finally crashed to the concrete floor of the silo and came to rest on its side. Luckily, the cone did not do enough damage to the missile to cause the missile to explode.
Neither of the airmen immediately knew what had happened. The bureaucratically written accident report says they “expeditiously evacuated” after hearing the explosion, as the silo filled with gray smoke.
In later years, Buddy Smith, who now lives in Texas and is a friend of Hicks, received training about the South Dakota accident before working in the missile fields of Wyoming.
“I wasn’t there,” Smith said of the explosion, “but I know there were two technicians who ruined their underwear. ‘Cause that ain’t supposed to happen.”
Bob Dirksing, who was Hicks’ roommate at Ellsworth and now lives in the Cincinnati area, said the two airmen who were in the silo when the explosion happened were lucky to survive.
“It could’ve been a lot worse,” Dirksing said. “If the short had gone to the missile instead of to the retrorockets, it would’ve been a completely different story. I’m sure there would’ve been fatalities. The boys who were down there would’ve been fried.”
The explosion triggered a flurry of activity over the next seven hours. A potential “broken arrow” was declared, which is military-speak for an accident involving a nuclear weapon. A strike team was deployed to set up a 2,000-foot cordon around the silo, including a roadblock. Medics were dispatched to the scene. Three sergeants were flown in by helicopter.
The sergeants went down to the equipment room after the smoke cleared and made two observations: Everything was covered in gray dust, and the missile was missing its top.
A radiation-monitoring team went down next and did not detect alarming radiation levels but did find the missile’s cone, which contained the warhead, damaged and lying at the bottom of the silo.
By about 10 p.m., the scramble to assess the situation was over. Nobody was injured. The missile was slightly damaged but otherwise intact. The warhead was safe inside its cone, although the cone was damaged. And except for some Vale-area residents who probably saw the commotion and wondered what was going on, the public knew nothing.
The emergency was over, and it was time to plan a salvage operation. Sometime before midnight at Ellsworth, the phone rang for Bob Hicks.
Into the silo
Hicks had enlisted less than two years earlier as a skinny, 6-foot-tall, 19-year-old farm boy from Somerset, Texas, a small town about 20 miles south of San Antonio. He was the youngest in a family of 13 children, which included six boys who served more than a combined 90 years on Air Force active duty from World War II to Vietnam and beyond.
After basic training, Hicks had been sent to nuclear weapons maintenance school in Colorado. By October 1963 – eight months after his enlistment – he was installing warheads and guidance packages atop Minuteman missiles in the silos of western South Dakota.
The silos had been rushed into existence after a groundbreaking ceremony in 1962, with Americans still reeling from the shock of seeing the Soviets launch their Sputnik satellite in 1957. If the Soviets could put a satellite into orbit, American leaders reasoned, it would not be long until they could launch a missile on an arcing path through outer space to the United States.
When Hicks got the call about the accident on Dec. 5, 1964, he and another airman jumped into the specially equipped truck-and-trailer rig that they typically used to transport warheads. They sped into the night, traveling on the newly constructed Interstate 90 toward Sturgis. It wasn’t long before Hicks had to pull over when he saw a state trooper’s cruiser lights flashing in his rear-view mirrors.
“He said, ‘Ya’ll seem to be in a hurry,'” Hicks recalled.
Hicks did not divulge that he was en route to a potential nuclear disaster, and the trooper inquired no further.
But the trooper did mention some smoke emitting from one of the rig’s wheels. Hicks and his companion traced the problem to some bad brake hoses. They made an impromptu fix and sped off again toward Sturgis.
After passing through Sturgis and heading east, Hicks steered the rig north around the hulking, dark mass of Bear Butte and motored across the quiet countryside to Vale before finally reaching the silo.
There were perhaps a dozen people at the scene.
“As we later joked,” Hicks recalled in his slight Texas drawl, “They were standing around not knowing whether to scratch their watch or wind their butts.”
According to Hicks, the missile had not yet been rendered safe, and his team chief said somebody had to do it. Hicks volunteered.
When he saw the missile was fully upright, Hicks was relieved. If it had fallen against the silo, the missile might have been weakened to the point of a collapse and explosion. But that disaster had been avoided.
Incredible as it may sound to a civilian, Hicks said he spent no time worrying about the thermonuclear warhead. He had been convinced by his training that it was nearly impossible to detonate a warhead accidentally. Among other things, he said, the warhead had to receive codes from the launch-control officers, had to reach a certain altitude, and had to detect a certain amount of acceleration and G-force. There were so many safeguards built in, Hicks later joked, that a warhead might have been lucky to detonate even when it was supposed to.
That’s not to say his trip down the silo was without danger. The missile, which contained a load of fuel, had been grazed and damaged by the falling cone. And with only a few years of history behind the Minuteman missile program and no known nuclear accident involving a Minuteman until the one Hicks was confronting, he was heading into the unknown.
Nevertheless, he climbed down the shaft and into the equipment room that encircled the upper part of the underground silo. Next, he lowered the so-called “diving board,” which extended from the launch tube toward the missile and allowed Hicks to essentially walk the plank at a height of about 60 feet above the silo floor.
He also installed a work cage, which was a man-sized steel basket that could be hung from motorized cables on the inner wall of the launch tube. The cable assembly not only moved the cage vertically but could also move horizontally on a track around the launch tube, allowing airmen to access every part of the missile.
Hicks maneuvered the cage down the side of the missile and started the procedure to “safe” it. At each point between the missile’s three fuel stages, Hicks inserted a long metal rod with a socket-like head and turned the rod to break the electrical connections between the stages, rendering them incapable of firing.
With the missile “safed,” it was time to figure out what to do about the warhead.
‘Up very slowly’
Hicks said there was a particularly high-ranking officer at the scene who’d been flown in by helicopter. After Hicks had rendered the missile safe, Hicks came back to the surface and heard the officer asking some other men how to retrieve the warhead.
Hicks heard no response, so he piped up. Cargo nets were sometimes used to move heavy equipment in and out of the silo, he said. He suggested that a net could be lowered to the bottom of the silo, and the cone with its warhead could be rolled into the net. The net could then be hoisted up on a cable by a crane.
The officer did not appreciate the boldness of Hicks, whose rank was airman second class.
“He said, ‘Airman, when I want an opinion from you, I’ll ask you,'” Hicks recalled.
Hicks retreated to his truck and awaited further orders. Later, Hicks said, he was recalled to the officer’s side and asked to explain the idea again.
The cargo-net method was eventually chosen as the plan, but Hicks said the Air Force wanted the procedure to be practiced in another silo. The practice proceeded over the next couple of days.
Following the practice, the operation was green-lighted, and a crew assembled at Lima-02 on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 1964 – four days after the accident – to retrieve the damaged missile cone and its thermonuclear warhead.
First, some jagged edges on the cone that were caused by its violent separation from the missile were covered in padding, and the cone was hoisted about a foot off the silo floor while a mattress pad was slid underneath it. Next, two cargo nets, which were layered one on top of the other under the pad, were pulled up around the cone and hooked to the cable.
Then began the painstaking process of raising the cone up out of the 80-foot-deep silo, in the few feet of space between the missile and the silo wall, without hitting the missile and causing an explosion. The crane did the lifting, but three men also held tight to a hemp rope that was connected to the cone in case of any problems with the crane, cable or net.
“Up very slow,” reads a portion of a minute-by-minute account of the operation, as printed in the later accident report. “Dead slow. Stop. Up very slow. Stop. Up slow. Stop ”
And on it continued like that for about two hours until the cone emerged from the silo late that afternoon. The cone and its inner warhead were placed on top of some mattresses, Hicks said, in a truck-and-trailer rig. There the cone and warhead sat overnight, in the trailer.
The next day – Thursday, Dec. 10 – a convoy assembled to escort the truck to Ellsworth Air Force Base. According to Hicks, he drove the truck, in part because nobody else at the scene seemed to know how.
The warhead was eventually transported to Medina Annex at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for disassembly. The written record is not as clear about the fate of the missile, but the accident report indicates it may have been removed from the silo the next day, Friday, Dec. 11.
Also on Dec. 11, 1964, the Air Force appointed a board of officers to investigate the accident. The board filed its report seven days later, on Dec. 18, and listed “personnel error” as the primary cause. The report said the cost of the damage was $234,349, which would equate to about $1.85 million in inflation-adjusted 2017 money.
Large sections of the report’s findings and recommendations are redacted, and the non-redacted portions do not disclose the fate of the two airmen who were at the silo when the explosion happened.
Several months after the accident, in March 1965, Hicks was selected as the maintenance man of the month for his division. A short article about the honor in the base newspaper did not disclose that a missile accident had occurred, but it vaguely referenced Hicks’ role in rendering a missile safe and transporting “damaged components.”
That same month, Hicks was awarded an Air Force Commendation Medal for acts of courage. The written citation with the medal briefly summarized the accident and the role Hicks played in responding to it.
“By his personal courage and willingness to risk his life when necessary in the performance of dangerous duties,” the citation said, in part, “Airman Hicks has reflected credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
The accident did not scare Hicks away from dangerous jobs. Shortly after receiving his medal, he trained in explosive ordnance disposal and was eventually sent to Guam during the Vietnam War, where he disarmed and extracted bombs that failed to release from B-52 planes.
Hicks went on to work for the Office of Special Investigations, which is the Air Force equivalent of the FBI. He retired from active duty during the 1980s and was hired to work as a civilian agent for OSI until his final retirement in 2005. Along the way, he and his wife, Janet, had two sons.
The missile silos in western South Dakota were decommissioned following the 1991 signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the United States and the Soviet Union. By 1996, all but one of South Dakota’s silos had been imploded. The last remaining silo, called Delta-09, is now host to an unarmed missile and is part of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which includes three attractions spread out along Interstate 90 east of Wall – the silo, a preserved launch-control center called Delta-01, and a visitor center.
The former Lima-02 silo site near Vale has passed into private ownership and is now home to a honey-extracting business. The fence that formerly surrounded the silo complex is still there, kept intact by the landowner.
Although South Dakota’s Minuteman missiles now belong to history, the United States still has 400 Minutemans ready to launch from silos in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. Each of the missiles is a Minuteman III – two generations advanced from the Minuteman I that was in the Lima-02 silo in 1964.
The Minuteman III fleet is just one part of the US nuclear-weapons triad, which comprises 5,113 nuclear warheads in all, including some in storage and others that are deployed and ready for use from land, sea, or air.
To opponents of nuclear armament, that’s a lot of accidents waiting to happen. The US government has officially acknowledged 32 accidents involving nuclear weapons since the 1950s, while additional accidents, incidents, mishaps, and close calls have been uncovered by journalists and activists.
And accidents continue to happen. In 2014, three airmen were conducting maintenance on a Minuteman III missile at a silo in Colorado when an accident caused $1.8 million worth of damage to the missile – roughly the same amount of damage, taking inflation into account, as the 1964 accident in South Dakota. The few known details of the 2014 accident were revealed only after persistent requests for information from The Associated Press.
None of the accidents suffered by the nation’s nuclear-weapons program has ever caused a nuclear detonation. That there was not a detonation at Lima-02 in 1964 is an indication of the safety and reliability of the Minuteman missile program, according to Bob Hicks, who did not sour on nuclear weapons after the accident.
Hicks views the nuclear triad as a necessary and effective deterrent against attacks from nations such as North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un is provoking worldwide anxiety about his development of nuclear weapons.
As the future of nuclear weaponry unfolds, the world may need more unflappable people like Hicks, who considers himself lucky rather than unfortunate to have been called to the site of a nuclear missile accident.
“A career is made up of opportunities,” Hicks said. “Being in the right place, at the right time.”
The last time that the United States faced a national health crisis as deadly as the COVID-19 pandemic, antibiotics did not exist.
Neither did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When the first case of the Spanish flu arrived in the United States at an Army camp in Fort Riley, Kansas, in the spring of 1918, World War I dominated the headlines.
That pandemic resulted in roughly 50 million deaths worldwide in 1918-19, and about 500 million people were infected. Approximately 675,000 Americans died.
“The flu was a disaster,’’ said Carol Byerly, author of “Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I.’’ “It killed more people in the military than the war did, and so they tried to understand it. They didn’t understand viruses at the time.’’
More than 1,400 National Guard Medical Services personnel were sent overseas, leaving only 222 NGMS officers at home to assist with controlling the spread of influenza and pneumonia, according to the National Guard Bureau. (By comparison, a high of 47,000 National Guard members supported the COVID-19 response in May.) In 1918, most of the National Guard’s members — more than 12,000 officers and nearly 367,000 soldiers — served in World War I.
“[In] 1918, the pandemic hit, and most of the medical services were deployed overseas,’’ said Dr. Richard Clark, historian of the National Guard Bureau. “The National Guard mobilized its medical forces to augment stateside military forces to help with the military bases.’’
The National Guard previously had not assisted with such a widespread health emergency. For more than three months, beginning in September 1858, the New York National Guard helped alleviate a disturbance during a yellow-fever quarantine on Staten Island. In late 1910 and early 1911, the Michigan National Guard enforced a quarantine of smallpox patients at a state asylum. Those missions did not provide medical support, though.
“The thought of using [the National Guard] in a medical capacity to respond domestically had not really been thought about until that point,’’ Clark said.
The military’s role in spreading the Spanish flu is undeniable. As soldiers moved between camps in the U.S. or were deployed to France, the number of infections increased. Some Army camps, such as Camp Devens near Boston, were particularly hard-hit. When ships carrying troops returned from overseas, more soldiers got sick.
War-bond parades left citizens susceptible to infection, too, including one in Philadelphia, attended by 200,000 people, that resulted in a spike of cases. Despite the rising totals, the pandemic was downplayed.
“Every day, you read the newspaper, and a couple of cases were developed in the city, and officers were saying, ‘It’s no big deal,’’’ Dr. Alex Navarro, the assistant director for the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. “[Then] there would be hundreds and hundreds of cases, and this is something very serious. Very rapidly, they had to deal with the threat.
“The one major issue was that there was a shortage of doctors and nurses, as well as some medical supplies like surgical gauze and masks, so the war effort definitely hindered that medical response.’’
Some preventive measures, including social distancing and mask laws, were put into place. The military tried quarantining camps and limiting troop mobilizations, but those restrictions were not sustainable during wartime, Navarro said. They even stopped the draft in October, a month before World War I ended, Byerly said.
“They didn’t want to stop the draft,’’ Byerly said. “They didn’t want to reduce crowding on the ships and in the training camps. They didn’t want to send more nurses and doctors to the soldiers, but that is what you have to do in order to take care of your personnel.’’
A total of 43,000 U.S. service members died because of the pandemic. More than a quarter of the Army’s soldiers, about 1 million men, became infected, and at least 106,000 Navy sailors were hospitalized, according to Byerly. The National Guard has no records of how many of its members died or were infected.
While the National Guard’s role in combating the Spanish flu a century ago was minimal, a valuable lesson came out of that pandemic, Clark said. Officials began preparing to offer more support during national health emergencies. The wisdom of that decision is being felt a century later.
“We’re not going through something new,’’ Clark said.
“History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it rhymes, so the lessons of the past should not be taken as a one-for-one example or a guide to what we need to do today. Many of the details, much of the context is very, very different, but what you can use the past as a guide for is for critical thinking about the situation. … What is the same, and what is different?’’
Being in combat is one of the craziest experiences a person can have. Bullets are zipping by your melon and impacting the wall behind you, eyes wide and on the alert as the incoming rounds blanket your position. Sounds crazy. Because it is.
War is hell.
Well-trained military minds know, winning the battle is the most important aspect of winning the war. In combat, the rules are different than in any other situation you’ll probably find yourself. All available fingers need to be pulling triggers.
So if allied forces take a mass casualty, the guy who is hurt the worst isn’t necessarily the one who gets treated first.
During combat, the rules on who receives care first changes in a matter of moments. If a squad is under heavy attack and a few trigger pullers get hurt, then the unit is down a few bodies.
After the field medic takes care of their wounds, let’s say subject “A” sustained a “GSW” or gunshot wound to the chest, they are now out of the fight. If subject “B” took a bullet to their leg, they’re still considered in the fight because it’s not life-threatening.
So during wartime rules, subject “B” is supposed to be treated first to allow them the chance to get back on their weapon system and return to the fight. Hopefully subject “A” will be okay and pull through.
For thousands of years, mankind has been telling stories using various forms of communication. Some passed verbal stories down from generation to generation, as others carved visual symbols deep into solid rock surfaces — cave art.
Fast forward to the battlegrounds of France during WWI where nine members of an Indian tribe from Point Pleasant, Maine, called the Passamaquoddy proudly served and carved images in the cave’s wall to represent their heritage during their trench warfare days.
Even though these carvings exist, the question remains:what stories were the Passamaquoddy Indians trying to tell us?
Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to explore the caves and learn the stories behind stories.
(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)Fun Fact: Nearly 99 years later, the families of 6 men from the Passamaquoddy tribe who volunteered to fight during the WWI conflict finally received official recognition and honored for their heroic contributions.
In order to stay razor-sharp on the battlefield, Gannon chose to defer his RR leave to the end of his tour of duty.
“You don’t stop to think I want to be patriotic right now,” Gannon mentions during an interview. “You have a job to do and I want to do it the best way I can.”
Ganon’s Marines were commonly spread out thin and up to distances of a quarter of a mile. Throughout his dangerous deployment and multiple firefights, Gannon hardly acquired a single scrap — until one fateful day.
Proud Marine and Vietnam Veteran, Dan Gannon. (Source: Iowa Public Television/YouTube/Screenshot)
While taking contact, Gannon felt a sting in his arm and had to be told by one of his Marines that he’d been hit. He looked and saw blood streaming down his arm. The wound had to be quickly cleaned by the squad’s Corpsman as the enemy would frequently dip their bullets in feces before they were used.
Soon after, Gannon collapsed when his wound became infected and was evacuated by helicopter for medical treatment.
“I felt bad that I had to leave my Marines. I was that committed,” Gannon says.
Gannon was recommended for the purple heart but decline the accommodation.
Battle planners can draw out every detail of every movement of every plan of every strategy they can conceive and still lose. There are just some events in history that no one could have planned for, that no one saw coming.
You can call it “Murphy’s Law” or chalk these events up to simple bad luck, the fact remains that some things just happen in the course of fighting that no one expected. During major wars, battles, or actions, these events just tend to make and shape history for decades to come.
1. The Aircraft Carriers that left Pearl Harbor
The decision of whose luck was good or bad depends on which side of the Pacific Ocean you were on at the time. The Japanese Navy had hoped to strike a decisive blow against the American Navy on Dec. 7, 1941 by destroying its Pacific Fleet while it was anchored at Pearl Harbor. They might have succeeded, if it weren’t for the fact that the U.S.’ biggest naval weapons weren’t there that day.
Battleships are great and all, but by World War II, the future of naval warfare lay in naval aviation. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, they knocked a number of ships down (only two of them were permanently out) but the carriers were gone, delivering aircraft to Wake Island and Midway. We know how the war in the Pacific turned out.
2. Forgotten cigars led to the Confederacy’s ruin
When rebel Gen. Robert E. Lee distributed his plans for an invasion of Maryland among his general officers, Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson handed his copy to Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill. Hill wrapped the plans around three cigars – and then forgot about them. He left them in a field where they were found by a Union scout.
The plans were taken to then Union commander George McClellan, who used them to turn Lee around at the Battle of Antietam. The Union’s big victory at Antietam allowed President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which turned the war into a fight against slavery. Since the British Army couldn’t intervene for a pro-slavery government, the Brits were kept out of the war and the Confederacy slowly crumbled under the Union onslaught.
3. A gust of wind saves England from a French invasion
Even armchair military historians know how hard it is to invade and conquer the British Isles. It’s a feat only accomplished once since 1066, and it changed the western world forever. So when the French were on their way to England in 1545, it could have gone very wrong for the English.
England was outnumbered in ships and men by more than 2-1. Worse yet, most of the English defenders were rigged sailing ships that would not perform so well in the close quarters and windless seas of the Solent, where the French and English met. But just before the oared French ships poured into the English sailing ships, the wind picked up. Despite two separate landings, the French were repelled and forced back to France with their tail between their legs. England was saved yet again.
4. Navy dive bombers catch the Japanese with their pants down at Midway
Midway was arguably the turning point for World War II in the Pacific, but despite being able to read Japanese coded messages and knowing the Japanese were going to attack the island, the Navy almost didn’t pull out a victory. The initial attack on Midway went very well for Japan, but they were going to give the island another pounding with naval aircraft.
An earlier engagement left the Japanese destroyer Arashi separated from the main battle fleet. As it moved back to the main force, it was tailed by American aircraft from the carrier USS Enterprise. When the U.S. planes discovered the main Japanese fleet, they radioed its position. By the time American dive bombers arrived, the decks of the enemy carriers were covered in jet fuel, planes, and bombs. The Japanese lost four carriers and the war was changed forever.
5. A random artillery shell keeps the U.S. from taking Berlin
The U.S. 2nd Armored Division reached the Elbe River on April 11, 1945, but Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s order to stop at the river wouldn’t reach them for another four days. Not to be deterred by things like rivers, the division’s engineers built a crude ferry using a steel cable to shuttle troops back and forth.
With men on the east bank of the river already, the ferry began to move the armor across the river, but before the first tank could land, an artillery shell, the only one fired in the engagement, snapped the cable and doused the ferry into the river. The Americans on the east bank were cut off and the American drive for Berlin halted. The Red Army would reach the city from the east on April 16th.
Editor’s Note: An earlier story posted at WATM on this subject claimed that only seven women had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. After readers notified us that our list was incomplete, we decided to post a new story with the additional information about women who received the Distinguished Flying Cross. A heartfelt thanks to all our readers for keeping us honest and accurate!
Women make up a smaller percentage of the military than men, but they have proven themselves throughout history to be brave, competent, and heroic. Take these sheroes for example:
1. Col. Andra V.P. Kniep
When then Capt. Andra Kniep took off for a mission in her A-10 over Afghanistan on March 5, 2002, she had no idea she was about to accomplish a most unlikely feat — receiving two Distinguished Flying Crosses in two days.
On that first day, Kniep coordinated and led deadly night attacks against Taliban vehicles and positions, destroying numerous enemies. Once the nearly eight hour mission was completed, she then led her element to a “remote, unfamiliar, classified location” for recovery, according to her Distinguished Flying Cross citation.
The next day Kniep once again led her element against the enemy, this time taking control of the Operation Anaconda airspace. Kniep successfully coordinated attack elements using multiple platforms totaling fourteen aircraft. Due to her exceptional ability all elements in the congested airspace were able to complete their missions and support coalition ground forces. For her actions on March 6 she was awarded a second Distinguished Flying Cross.
2. Lt. Col. Kim Campbell
On April 7, 2003, then-Capt. Kim Campbell, piloting an A-10, was part of a two plane sortie flying close air support over Baghdad. When a call came over the radio of troops in contact, Campbell and her wingman responded. After numerous gun and rocket runs supporting the troops on the ground, Campbell’s aircraft took heavy fire.
As she fought with her stricken aircraft, it hurtled towards Baghdad and she faced the possibility of ejecting into hostile territory. Luckily, the A-10 has triple redundancy in its controls, and though both the hydraulic systems were inoperable, the manual reversion system was still functioning. Using this system “of cranks and cables,” Campbell said she was able to “fly the aircraft under mechanical control.”
On the same day of Capt. Campbell’s heroics, Capt. Tricia Paulsen-Howe and the rest of the crew of a KC-135 aircraft flew their unarmed tanker into harm’s way. According to the Air Force, Paulsen-Howe and crew entered hostile airspace to assist in the combat search and rescue mission of a downed F-15 north of Baghdad. They provided critical refueling assets during the operation. For their bravery the entire crew were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
4. Col. Tracy Onufer
Col. Onufer had been an officer aboard Air Force Special Operations aircraft including the AC-130H and AC-130U flying combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. She is currently serving as the Vice Commander of the 352nd Special Operations Wing and according to her Air Force biography is the recipient of a Distinguished Flying Cross for her actions overseas.
5. Capt. Lindsay Gordon
Capt. Lindsay Gordon was serving as an AH-64 Apache pilot with the 101st Airborne Division when she and Chief Warrant Officer David Woodward were called upon to support an exfiltration of a Ranger element in contact.
When 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment helicopters extracting the Rangers came under heavy fire, Gordon maneuvered her Apache into harm’s way to draw fire. Gordon and Woodward’s action were credited with saving numerous lives and aircraft. For their actions they were both awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Before taking office as POTUS, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a white house of his own — a smaller, less notable white house, located in Warm Springs, Georgia. Now a museum of all things FDR, the late president built the house in 1932. He first came to this location of West-Central Georgia in 1924, while seeking treatment for his polio in the natural buoyant waters.
It was a combination of warm mineral water — sitting at a year round 88 degrees — and physical exercise that helped ease his symptoms. Into his presidency, FDR used the Little White House as a vacation retreat, where he’s said to have visited a total of 16 times, often for weeks with each stay.
In fact, it’s said that FDR drew many of his ideas for the New Deal from his small town visits, specifically the Rural Electrification Administration.
Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation
In 1927, FDR purchased the land that hosted its popular warm waters. Formerly known as Bullochvile, the area had become a tourist destination for residents of Savannah and Atlanta, including those with symptoms of yellow fever. Through his ownership, he rebuilt the area’s “ramshackle” hotel that housed pools of natural mineral waters, and began bringing in polio survivors to bask in these healing waters.
FDR became so interested in hydrotherapy that he eventually founded the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. It was funded by the Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, known today as the March of Dimes. Their rehab efforts were available for a wide variety of ailments, including post-polio syndrome, amputation, spinal cord injuries, brain damage, and stroke.
The area is preserved as the Warm Springs Historic District, where buildings have been maintained to their looks from the Roosevelt era, with the exception of a cottage that burned down in 2001 due to a suspected lightning strike.
Visitors can head to the Little White House for a trip back in time; the space is said to be preserved as it was the day Roosevelt died. (Yes, you can even see the very room where he passed.) Other highlights include his custom Ford convertible and the Unfinished Portrait, a painting that was being made of FDR when he suffered a stroke.
Take a feel of the warm waters by hand on your tour, or plan ahead for a swim; the springs are open to public swimming once a year on Labor Day weekend.
Joshua T. asks: What were all those metal things you see on the beaches in pictures of the Omaha landing?
The Normandy Invasions represented one of the single largest military maneuvers in history. Beginning on June 6, 1944, the invasion was the largest amphibious assault of all time and involved what basically amounted to the collective might of a large percentage of the nations in the industrialized world working in tandem to defeat the Nazi war machine. One of the most iconic images of the invasion was that of a French beach covered in oppressive-looking metal crosses. As it turns out, those crosses were merely a small part of an expansive network of sophisticated defences the Allies managed to somehow circumvent in mere hours.
Dubbed “the Atlantic Wall” and constructed under the direct orders of Adolf Hitler himself in his Directive 40, the formidable defences stretched and astounding 2000 miles of the European coast. Intended to ward off an Allied invasion, the Atlantic Wall consisted of endless batteries of guns, an estimated five million mines (of both the sea and land variety) and many thousands of soldiers who occupied heavily fortified bunkers and fortresses along its length.
German soldiers placing landing craft obstructions.
The wall has been described as a “three-tier system of fortifications” where the most valuable and vulnerable locations were the most heavily fortified while positions of lesser importance became known as “resistance points” that were more lightly defended but would still pose an imposing obstacle to any invasion force.
In the rush to create defences, gun batteries were haphazardly thrown together, consisting of basically whatever the Nazis could get their hands on. As a result, everything from heavy machine guns to massive cannons cut from captured French warships were utilized in the construction of fortresses and bunkers. Though they looked threatening, this “confusing mixture of sizes and calibres” proved to be an issue for the Nazis when they couldn’t scrape together the ammunition to arm them all. Still, the guns, in combination with the several other layers of defences, were believed to make the coast of Europe “impregnable”.
The largest of these guns represented the first line of defence of the Atlantic Wall and the Germans spent countless hours practise shelling “designated killing zones” experts predicted Allied ships would most likely use to invade. After this were expansive submarine nets and magnetic mines chained to the ocean floor to deter submarines and ships. In shallower water, the Nazis attached mines to sticks and buried large logs deep in the sand pointed outwards towards the ocean — the idea being boats would either be taken out by the mines or have their bows broken against the poles.
After this was a defensive emplacement known as the Belgian gate which were large heavy fences attached to steel rollers which could be positioned in the shallows. Following this were millions of mines lying just beneath the sands waiting for soldiers who managed to make it ashore.
Along with all of this, there were also those metal cross thingies — or to give them their proper name, Czech hedgehogs.
As the name suggests, the Czech hedgehog was invented in Czechoslovakia and was mostly designed to serve as a deterrent for tanks and other armoured vehicles, as well as in this particular case if the tide was right, approaching ships attempting to land on shore.
Originally designed to sit along the Czechoslovakia-Germany border as part of a massive fortification effort conducted in the 1930s, the hedgehogs never ended up serving their original purpose when the region was annexed by Germany in 1938.
It’s reported that the Czechs originally wanted to build a large wall between the two countries, but a cheaper solution was found in the form of these hedgehogs, which could be mass-produced by simply bolting together beams of steel.
So what purpose did they serve? Put simply, if a tank or other such vehicle tried to drive over one, the result was inevitably it becoming stuck on the thing, and even in some cases having the bottom of the tank pieced by the hedgehog. When used on a beach like this, as previously alluded to, they also had the potential to pierce the hulls of ships approaching the shores if the tide was high at the time.
On top of that, particularly the anchored variety of hedgehogs proved difficult to move quickly as even massive explosions didn’t really do much of anything to them.
Speaking of anchored hedgehogs, it isn’t strictly necessary for the hedgehogs to be anchored to anything normally. It turns out that tanks trying to drive over the unanchored ones had a good chance of getting themselves stuck just the same. In these cases what would usually happen was the hedgehog would roll slightly as the tank tried to power its way over, with then the weight of the tank often causing the steel I-beams to pierce the bottom of the tank, completely immobilizing it. In fact, in testing, unanchored hedgehogs proved slightly more effective than their anchored variety against heavy vehicles.
However, because of the tide issue in this case, to keep the hedgehogs in place, those closest to the water did have thick concrete bases anchoring them in the sand.
Using about a million tons of steel and about 17 million cubic meters of concrete, the broken wall these Czech Hedghogs created was a much more viable option than trying to create a solid wall over such a span, while also not giving the enemy forces too much cover, as a more solid wall would have done.
That said, while initially a deterrent, the hedgehogs ended up helping the Allies after the beaches were secured, as they proved to be a valuable source of steel and concrete that was repurposed for the war effort. For example, almost immediately some of the steel beams were welded to tanks, turning them into very effective mobile battering rams.
Yes you read that correctly — the Allies cut up dedicated anti-tank fortifications and welded them to their tanks to make them even more badass of weapons.
The Soviets also made extensive use of Czech hedgehogs, often using the concrete to literally cement them in place in cities and along bridges to halt German armored divisions in their tracks. As you can imagine, just one of these in a narrow street proved to be an extremely effective barrier that also left the enemy trying to get rid of it open to weapon fire.
While some Czech hedgehogs were constructed to specific factory specifications, which stipulated exact measurements (usually 1.4 meters in height) and materials (anything sturdy enough to survive around 500 tonnes of force), most were made of scavenged materials.
In the end, the hedgehogs along with the countless other fortifications proved to be a formidable, but not impassable obstacle for the Allies. In fact, thanks to a massive, concerted bombardment effort from the naval and air-based forces of the Allies, strategic commando strikes, and the bravery of the hundreds of thousands of troops who physically stormed the beaches all those years ago, all of the defences were bypassed in a matter of hours, though at the cost of several thousand lives on D-Day alone.
Czech hedgehogs are near identical in design (save for their massive size) to caltrops — a tiny metal device designed to always land with a jagged spike pointed straight into the air used extensively throughout history to hinder advancing enemy, particularly effective against horses, camels, and elephants, but also foot soldiers.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.