The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

I don’t know what led me to sit at the foot of my Great Uncle Ray’s rocking chair and hear his story of being at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, at a family reunion. But I won’t ever forget that day. Even though at the time I had no intention of serving in the military, I was fascinated by the stories of those who had served. Oddly enough, sharing the stories of military women is where my passion lies today. My Great Uncle Ray died in 2008. Now his story lives on through my memory and in the book of Pearl Harbor survivors that he’s featured in, that he gave me a copy of. 

Ray decided to enlist in the Navy in 1940 for six years. As the next to the youngest of eight children, he knew his father needed any help he could provide to help his remaining family. He began bootcamp on August 26, 1940, in San Diego. After graduation, he headed to Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Cincinnati. Once they arrived at Pearl Harbor, the men were dispersed among the various units. Ray was assigned the USS Pruitt. In approximately October of 1941, the USS Pruitt went in for a general overhaul. The crew was removed to housing at the barracks at the receiving station near the main gate at Hickam Field.

On the morning of December 7, Ray had just put on his brand-new set of tailor-made whites he had picked up the day before. They had cost him $30 a month and a half wage. He had plans of heading ashore for the day. As he was putting on his neckerchief, he heard what sounded like explosions. He ran outside to see what the sound was; there were planes everywhere and black smoke rising in the area of Ford Island. Alarms were going off all over. A group of sailors stood there watching the horror of the attack for a few minutes. All of a sudden, a torpedo plane erupted into a ball of flames. They all hit the deck and then ran for cover. Within a few seconds, a yard workman in a truck drove up and told them to hop on. There was a need for personnel to man guns on other ships.

Ray was taken to the USS Pennsylvania with one other sailor from the USS Pruitt. The USS Pennsylvania was in dry dock. Once they gave their name, rank, serial number and the ship they were assigned, they were sent to a five-inch anti-aircraft gun on the starboard just aft of the superstructure. He recalled being at that assignment for only what seemed like five to six minutes. Then an officer who was quite disheveled – somehow he had eggs on his hat – ordered him to report to the five-inch gun on the port side. Shortly after moving to the port side, they shot down a Japanese plane. About the same time, an armor-piercing bomb took out the starboard side. The shipmate who came aboard the USS Pennsylvania with him was killed. He believes if he hadn’t been reassigned, he would have also been killed too. He regretted that he didn’t remember the man’s name. They didn’t know each other and didn’t talk as they were focused on the mission.

There were two other ships in dry dock with the USS Pennsylvania — the USS Downes and the USS Cassin. Both were completely destroyed. Ray remained aboard the USS Pennsylvania until five p.m. and then was instructed to return to his ship.

When he arrived at the quarterdeck of the USS Pruitt, Ray was informed by the Officer of the Day he had been reported as Killed in Action (KIA) onboard the USS Pennsylvania during the morning. The information had already been reported to the US Naval Command at Pearl Harbor and a notice of his death had been sent to his parents. He said he was not the only one who had this happen to him. Because of this, the Navy came up with a plan three to four days after the attack to inform loved ones of their condition. Unfortunately, the Navy’s solution required you to sign your full name and check a box on what most closely related to your condition.

This was a good solution for most, but because he had never gone by Raymond, but instead Sonny, his parents didn’t believe that he was still alive. They had never seen him sign his name as Raymond and didn’t want to believe he was still alive if it wasn’t true. Letters home were not allowed initially. His parents believed him to be dead with the only communication being signed letters of his physical condition.

Eventually, the Navy allowed members to send letters home. When his parents received his letter and saw it was signed as Sonny and not Raymond, they finally believed that their son had survived the Pearl Harbor attack.

I won’t ever forget the minutes I shared with my great uncle as he shared his story of surviving Pearl Harbor. He was so proud of his service. His eyes lit up in a way that made him look much younger than he was. I’m so thankful for his service. But I am even more grateful he took the time to write his story down so it could be shared with future generations.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 ways Civil War troops were obsessed with coffee

American troops are obsessed with coffee. If there’s a military unit whose coffee pot isn’t the hardest-working machine in the building, I haven’t seen it. It doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad the coffee is (even though good coffee is preferable), that beautiful, dirty-brown water is what really fuels the U.S. military’s bureaucratic inner workings — and always has.

Long before Rip-Its became the official beverage of the Global War on Terror, coffee was the only game in town and it was so important during the Civil War that it might have been the reason the North won the war.


The South wished they had the ability to brew coffee the way the North did. The Union blockade of the Confederate States meant that real coffee was in very short supply, and ground troops were unlikely to receive any of it. The Confederate Army tried everything they could to replace the magic bean, including replacing it with alternatives, like roasted acorns, malted barley, actual beans, cottonseed, potato peels, and the ever-present chicory root.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story
Which, when mixed with real coffee, is actually pretty good.

But there’s nothing like the real thing, baby. As Union troops realized when they had to start subsisting on what they could capture from Southerners, coffee was only available through Uncle Sam. As you go back through historical records, they more than made their feelings known — and businesses, government, and families soon responded.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

“Coffee Call” by Winslow Homer.

1. Civil War diaries use the word “coffee” more than any other.

That’s right — more than words like “bullets,” “war,” “cannon,” “Lincoln,” and even “mother,” troops had one thing on their minds: black gold. In letters written back to their families, much of the discussion was focused on the quality of the coffee that day or the hope that they would have coffee the following. Even around the campfire, much of the talk centered around the quality of that day’s joe.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

(theTruthAboutGuns.com)

2. This rifle with a grinder in the butt stock.

In the 1860s, the Sharps Rifle Company created a carbine with a small grinder in its butt stock, which was immediately useless for most intended purposes. It was actually designed to grind grain for horses in cavalry units, but the very fact that people immediately thought of using it as a coffee grinder tells you just how important coffee was to the average troop. I bet Sharps Rifle Company wishes they had thought of marketing it that way.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

When there’s no room for Jeb to fit, but Jeb sits anyway.

3. There was no water too putrid to make coffee.

As long as troops had the beans to brew it, coffee was going to happen. Not only were troops happy to use their canteen water to make coffee, they would also use free-running water, water from puddles, and even the sediment-filled water of the Mississippi River – also known as Mississippi Mud.

A boiled coffee was safer to drink than most other water of the era. Waiting for the coffee to reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to kill most enteric pathogens.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

The best part of Civil War is Folgers in your cup.

4. The officers noticed the effects it had on the men.

Many Union officers ensured their men got at least a cup of the stuff in the morning before a battle, with many often having it ready for them after the battle, some demanding the men keep it in their canteens, and even going so far as to hire boys to run coffee to men in critical positions.

Then-Sgt. William McKinley was one such runner, who made it all the way to the White House riding that brave Civil War act during the Battle of Antietam. Hell, a monument was even erected for it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Uncle Sam brought the Vietnamese bombs for Christmas

By 1972, American efforts in Vietnam were being drawn down. In Paris, North Vietnamese negotiators were unwilling to settle for peace as they felt victory was within their grasp. President Nixon had other ideas.


The Air Force was going to bring the communists to their knees.

This led to the development of a new plan, Operation Linebacker II. Linebacker II would not be limited in its objectives like its predecessor. The new objective was the strategic destruction of North Vietnamese infrastructure. Some 200 B-52s, along with numerous types of tactical aircraft, prepared to strike at the heartland of North Vietnam – Hanoi and Haiphong.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story
Bomb Damage Assessments after Linebacker II.

Arrayed against the Americans was one of the most formidable air defense networks ever conceived.

The North Vietnamese had over 100 MiG fighters ready to launch at a moment’s notice. They also had over 20 SAM sites in the vicinity of the target area, along with all manner of anti-aircraft artillery and a vast radar network.

Dec. 18, 1972, aircrews took to the skies, intent on destroying their enemy.

A veritable clash of the titans ensued. Massive SA-2 missiles, the size of telephone poles, soared into the sky after the intruding bombers — oftentimes in four-to-six missile salvos. At one point, bomber crews tracked 40 missiles in the air at one time.

Despite the frenetic fire from the North Vietnamese, only three B-52s were lost on the first night along with a single F-111 on a mission against Radio Hanoi.

The B-52 crews also got in on the action. Not only did they drop tens of thousands of pounds of bombs on enemy targets, but SSgt. Samuel Turner, a tail gunner on one of the B-52s, shot down an attacking MiG-21 — the first since the Korean War and the first for a B-52.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story
The tail gunner’s station inside a B-52D Stratofortress. The four rear-facing Browning .50 caliber machine guns were below the gunner and aimed remotely, similar to the configuration of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress in WWII.

Just as the B-52s were entering the threat area, Turner’s radar screen lit up with two bogeys at 6 o’clock low. One MiG came in hot pursuit, closing fast on the bomber from behind. When his instruments indicated the bogey was in range Turner let loose a long burst from his quad .50s. A terrific explosion lit up the night and Turner’s radar now showed only one threat. After seeing his wingman obliterated, the second MiG disengaged.

After a successful second night of bombing, in which no American aircraft were lost, disaster struck on the third night.

Using the same tactics for the third night in a row, the bombers flew into a maelstrom. Six B-52s were sent earthward along with a Navy fighter. Reeling from the loss but intent to carry on the mission, the Air Force quickly revamped its tactics.

The fourth day of missions saw the loss of two B-52s and another Navy fighter, but the Americans were putting their experience to good use. For the next three days, the Air Force bombers pounded North Vietnamese targets without the loss of any B-52s. Each bomber demolished entire grid squares.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story
B-52s pounding North Vietnamese targets during Linebacker II.

On the seventh night, Christmas Eve, the Americans got an early Christmas present and another morale boost. A1C Albert Moore became the second B-52 tail gunner to score a kill on an enemy fighter. He is also the last known aerial gunner in history to accomplish such a feat.

In similar fashion to the MiG that attacked Turner’s B-52, a lone bogey charged the bomber from 6 o’clock low. The eighteen-year-old Moore steadied himself, called out his target, and let loose a burst.

He missed.

He fired another burst. This, too, failed to connect with the encroaching fighter.

Desperate to protect his crew and with scant few seconds remaining before the MiG began firing itself Moore unleashed a torrent of bullets from his guns. Unable to see the MiG directly, he watched as its radar signature grew to three times normal size and disappear.

A fellow tail gunner saw the action and confirmed that Moore had destroyed the enemy aircraft.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

On Christmas Day, the Americans took a tactical pause to evaluate their efforts, give their weary crews some rest, and signal to the North Vietnamese that it was time to come back to the negotiating table.

The North Vietnamese instead restocked their supply of SAMs and prepared to do battle once again.

Undeterred, the bomber crews came back with a vengeance. Employing new tactics and hitting more targets, they wore the North Vietnamese down.

In the days after Christmas, four more B-52s were shot down, but the pressure on the North Vietnamese was intensifying. Their defenses were crumbling.

After the losses on Dec. 20, the Air Force had called for more attacks against SAM sites and radar stations. Both bombers and fighters struck with deadly precision, crippling the North’s ability to defend itself.

By the final day of bombings on Dec. 29, the communists were only able to muster 23 SA-2 attacks throughout the entire mission.

From Dec. 18 to Dec. 29, American aircraft flew over 1,500 sorties, dropped over 15,000 tons of bombs, and succeeded in bringing the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table. The 11 Days War, as it came to be known, was just the success the United States had been looking for in the war in Vietnam. The only question on many veterans’ minds at that point, though, was why hadn’t they employed strategic air power sooner?

MIGHTY HISTORY

This 1871 expedition is the other Korean War

In 1871, an American fleet led by a diplomatic and merchant ship entered Korean waters and were fired upon by antiquated shore batteries, leading to a battle where 650 Marines and sailors landed on one of the island and fought against Korean personnel to capture five forts.


The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

Officers of the USS Colorado pose on the ship in Korean Waters near the end of the Korean Expedition in 1871.

(U.S. Navy)

The mission of the fleet was to open up trade and diplomatic relations with the Korean people, a mission that was fraught with dangers stemming from a bloody history.

The expedition is sometimes known as the Punitive Expedition and may or may not have come as a result of a previous expedition in 1866 where the USS General Sherman sailed upriver to Pyongyang, clashed with local authorities, and fought with large crowds of Koreans before Korean people managed to burn the vessel and kill the survivors.

Meanwhile, the General Sherman incident followed years of Korean atrocities against their Christian populations, largely a response to perceived encroachment by missionaries and other western influences.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

U.S. Navy officers pose during a council of war aboard the USS Colorado in June 1871 while preparing to make landfall on a Korean island.

(U.S. Navy)

So, when the fleet arrived in Korea, they shouldn’t have expected a warm welcome. But they were still surprised when the lead vessel, an unarmed merchant ship, came under a sustained 15-minute barrage from shore batteries.

But the American fleet was only moderately damaged from the fusillade and the Americans simply withdrew. They returned 10 days later, made landfall, and spoke to Korean authorities.

The Koreans refused to apologize, and the Americans launched a concerted assault on Ganghwa Island, the source of the earlier fire. The island boasted five forts, but they were mostly armed with outdated weapons and the troops lacked training in the tactics of the day.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

Marine Corps Cpl. Charles Brown and Pvt. Hugh Purvis stand in front of a captured Korean Military Flag in June 1871 following the capture of Korean forts on June 11. Brown and Purvis received Medals of Honor for their actions during the short conflict.

(National Museum of the U.S. Navy)

Approximately 650 Marines and sailors, nearly all the men of the expedition, attacked one fort after another, pushing the Korean forces back and inflicting heavy casualties while suffering relatively little in return. The fighting was over before nightfall, but the Americans achieved a dramatic success.

They captured five forts, killed 243 Korean troops, and suffered three deaths and little damage to equipment.

The Koreans refused to enter negotiations with the Americans, and simply closed themselves back off for another two years.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

Korean troops killed during the 1871 Korean Expedition.

(Ulysses S. Grant II Photographic Collection)

While the force failed to meet its political and strategic goals, it had been a smashing tactical success. This was partially thanks to the superior American weaponry, but also thanks to the bravery of individual fighters.

Fifteen Medals of Honor for actions in the one-day battle were approved. They range from citations for fighting hand-to-hand with the enemy to save a fellow American like Marine Corps Pvt. John Coleman to “carrying out his duties with coolness” like Quartermaster Patrick Grace did.

This engagement took place before the Battle of Little Bighorn triggered a review of the Medal of Honor standards, resulting in a slow increase in what was necessary to earn one of the medals.

As for Korean relations, they wouldn’t take off until the 1882 Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce, and Navigation. Relations under the treaty continued until 1910 when Japan established colonial rule, which didn’t end until 1945 and Japanese capitulation in World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This real soldier’s photo is still hanging at Checkpoint Charlie

It’s been almost 30 years since the infamous Checkpoint Charlie, the primary crossing post between East and West Berlin, was taken down with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The original guardhouse was little more than a temporary shack for much of its life and has since been replaced. As the area in Berlin began to grow and become a tourist attraction, more and more Cold War-era sights were added to the checkpoint.

One of those sights is a photo of a real American soldier, looking East.


These days, the area in Berlin that saw some of the most intense showdowns between East and West is full of tourists and Berlin residents who probably wish they had taken a different route to work. For three Euro, you can take a photo with one of the soldier-reenactors who dress up to man the post. If you’re hungry, there’s a McDonald’s across the street. It’s very much not the Checkpoint Charlie of old, but still worth a visit. For military veterans approaching the once-legendary area, there might be a different question – who is that guy in the photo?

The “soldiers” holding the U.S. flag and posing for tourists were never troops, that’s just fun for the onlookers. But staring at the photo of the American soldier posted at the guardhouse, it’s clear that he’s wearing a real U.S. Army uniform.

His name is Jeff Harper.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the checkpoint’s rise as a prime tourist attraction in the German capital, the photos of Sgt. Harper and his Soviet counterpart on the other side have become as synonymous with the checkpoint as anything else in Cold War lore. But Harper wasn’t exactly the stereotypical Cold Warrior. He was a U.S. Army tuba player with the 298th Army Band in Berlin from 89-94 and never pulled guard duty at the checkpoint. He was just 22 when the photo was taken.

In an interview with the German publication Der Tronkland, Harper said he almost dropped his coffee when he first saw his face up on the sign. That was 1999.

“I am very proud to have become part of the story to this extent and still be part of what is happening in Berlin today,” Harper said. “I can hardly imagine in how many photo albums I have been immortalized.”

Harper has since retired from the Army, but he was still in Berlin for the fall of the wall.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

Jeff Harper after his retirement in 2010.

The most important thing to know about the photos is that they’re not part of any authentic recreation of the site. They’re an art exhibit, called Ohne Titel – or “Light Boxes.” The photo was taken by Berlin photographer Frank Thiel in 1994, as an attempt to capture photos of the last Allied soldiers in the city. The young Russian troop isn’t wearing a Soviet military uniform, he’s wearing a 1994 uniform of the Russian Federation.

“… These portraits translate the omnipresent sector signs of the past – “You are leaving the American/British/French sector” – into picture form. They are likewise a reference to the historical moment when Soviet and American tanks faced off against each other right here,” said Thiel. “By using two portraits to symbolize almost 50 years of history, I am suggesting that these two faces are representative.”

These days, Harper is enjoying the retired life driving his motorcycle around the highways of the American West. He says the highlight of his career in Berlin was being able to play in the band for President Bill Clinton. As for the Russian soldier on the opposite side, no one really knows who he is or where he ended up.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Germans are reusing these invincible Nazi towers

During World War II, Hitler personally ordered the construction of massive, steel-plated towers that bristled with anti-aircraft guns, tearing planes from the sky like King Kong on angel dust. For modern Germans, these nearly indestructible towers provide a unique problem: They don’t want to waste well-engineered buildings and materials, but they’re not super into maintaining relics of Nazi triumph.

So the Germans have found interesting ways to re-purpose the old fortresses.


The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

​A German flak tower under construction in 1942 as part of Germany’s defenses against Allied bombing raids. Some of the expensive towers have been re-purposed in the decades since the end of the war.

(German Military Archives)

The strategy of constructing the towers was questionable to begin with. It required massive amounts of concrete and steel for the walls that, in some cases, are over two feet thick. Construction in Berlin was completed in six months and additional towers were built in Vienna and Hamburg before Germany was defeated. Construction took so much material that rail shipments had to be rearranged around them, slowing the flow of needed materiel and troops to battlefields and factories.

Just the Zoo Tower in Berlin required 78,000 tons of gravel, 35,000 tons of cement, and 9,200 tons of steel. The towers were built in pairs. For each primary tower devoted to anti-aircraft operations there was a second tower that had some anti-aircraft weapons, but also sported communications and other support equipment.

But the towers, once completed, were nearly impregnable. They relied on no single support pillar, and nearly every structural support was so strong that they were almost impossible to destroy from outside. When Germany was conquered, Soviet forces who took Berlin had to lay siege out of range and negotiate a surrender of the towers.

But there was one major shortfall to the towers. They were designed to stop air raids on Berlin, and it was dangerous to attack the city within range of the towers. So, planes simply flew outside of their range or approached them en mass, fielding so many planes that the Germans simply couldn’t get all of them at once.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

German soldiers man a flak gun on a tower in World War II. The massive towers were a significant obstruction to air raids on three German cities, but were part of a questionable military strategy.

(German Military Archives)

Plus, Germany lacked proximity fuses during the war, meaning their flak weapons were less effective than those used by the Allies — at least, when the Allies were willing to use the fuses and risk their capture.

After the towers finally surrendered, engineers worked to destroy them, but quickly found that massive amounts of explosives were needed and, even then, many would still stand. The Zoo Tower, mentioned above, survived two attempts at destruction. The first attempt used 25 tons of explosives and the building shrugged it off.

The third attempt, powered by 35 tons of dynamite, finally did the job.

Outside of Berlin, some of the towers survived destruction attempts while a few were simply left in place. Instead of destroying them, locals decided to re-purpose them over the years.

At first, Germans simply stripped the towers of valuable materials and left the steel-reinforced buildings in place. But, over the years, the brilliant German engineers found ways to make use of buildings with excellent thermal insulation and structural integrity.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

A storehouse for art in Vienna, Germany.

(Photo by Bwag)

In Vienna, one of the six towers is now an aquarium maintained by the Aqua Terra Zoo. Visitors can see over 10,000 fish and other aquatic organisms in the tower. On the outside of the tower, visitors can use the climbing wall that has been added.

Another Vienna tower has been turned into an antenna for cellular phones, and one is used to store art in controlled conditions.

In Hamburg, two towers have been re-purposed. One holds nightclubs and businesses and the other provides energy storage for part of the city.

Solar collectors cover the tower and work with butane and wood burners to heat large water tanks inside the tower. The thick concrete walls provide insulation and the water is pumped to nearby buildings, heating them during the cold months. The tower is also used to generate electricity for 1,000 homes.

While most of the towers in Berlin were destroyed to one degree or another, in one case, the rubble was simply covered over with dirt, forming two hills in a public park for visitors to sit on.

Check out the YouTube video below from Real Engineering to learn more.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 of the stupidest wars ever fought in world history

There are a lot of good reasons humans have gone to war in the past few centuries, believe it or not. Halting or preventing genocides, declaring independence to give oppressed people a homeland, and of course, defending ones homeland from an invader would all be good reasons to take up arms against another country.

These wars were none of those things, and are presented in no particular order.


The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

It is, admittedly, a nice bucket.

The War of the Oaken Bucket

While the War of the Oaken Bucket sounds more like a college gameday rivalry, it was really a 1325 war between two Italian states, Bologna and Modena, that killed 2,000 people. It was really a proxy war between supporters of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy and before I get too far into the details here, what you really need to know is that it was started because some Modenese soldiers took the bucket from Bologna’s town well.

Even dumber is lopsided victory the Modenese won in defending that bucket. At the Battle of Zappolino, some 32,000 Bolognese marched on 7,000 Modenese – and were chased from the battlefield.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

Surprisingly unrelated to the ongoing debate over Canadian bacon being real bacon.

The Pig War

This is a war that could have devolved into a much larger conflict, which makes it even stupider than it sounds. On San Juan Island, between the mainland United States and Canada’s Vancouver Island, was shared by both American settlers and British employees of the Hudson Bay Company. While the island was “shared” in practice, both countries had a claim to the northwestern island and it created a lot of tensions in the region. Those tensions boiled over in June 1859 when an American farmer shot a British boar for tearing up his potato crop. Arguments ensued and the farmer was almost arrested by the British.

The U.S. Army got wind of the situation and sent Capt. George Pickett (later of Pickett’s Charge fame) with a company of soldiers, who promptly declared the island American property. Of course the British responded by sending in its trump card, the Royal Navy. For weeks, it appeared the standoff would spark a greater war between the two powers, but cooler heads prevailed and the sides took joint custody of the island.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

Adwarable.

War of the Stray Dog

Another war that is exactly what it sounds like, except this one really did cause a number of deaths, as well as a 1925 fight that saw 20,000 Greeks meet 10,000 Bulgarians on the battlefield. The catalyst was a dog that had gotten away from a Greek soldier. The soldier chased after the dog, even though it ran across the Greek border with Bulgaria. Bulgarian border guards, seeing a Greek soldier running through their territory, of course shot him.

The Greeks then began an invasion of Bulgaria, occupying border towns and preparing to shell and take the city off Petrich before the League of Nations intervened, negotiating a cease fire.

Featured

Why America has always had a silly history with turkeys

Every Tuesday before Thanksgiving, there’s a ceremony held in which the President of the United States gives an official proclamation before a large crowd, pardoning a turkey for all the crimes they may have committed.

The turkey pardon is a fun — albeit goofy — ceremony that helps the country get into the holiday spirit, even if it began in ’87 as a means of distracting people from the Iran-Contra Affair. Since then, every president has kept the tradition going because, well, America seems to love turkeys this time of year.

As strange as this tradition might seem, it’s really not all that out of place. The relationship between Americans and turkeys has been weird since the beginning.


The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

In those days, the meal was “scraping together what they had.” By today’s standards, a feast of venison, lobster, and duck is far more fancy than a deep-fried turkey.

(“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth.” 1914. Painting. Jennie A. Brownscombe)

Long before the Europeans arrived in the Americas, indigenous peoples had sort of domesticated the turkey and started breeding them, making them plumper so that they’d make for a better meal. And it made good sense to do so. Turkeys are simple creatures that, when nourished, develop into large birds with plenty of delicious meat and they’re covered in large feathers that are great for crafting.

Furthermore, wild turkeys can survive in a range of environments. They were found all across the New World, from the Cree peoples’ lands near the Hudson Bay in Canada to the lands of the Aztecs in Mexico. Columbus himself even once remarked on how great the birds tasted. Eventually, turkey became a staple in most settlers’ diets… which makes it all the more odd that there wasn’t any turkey served for dinner at the first Thanksgiving.

The Wampanoag people were well known for their hunting skills and brought venison because it was showcased their talents as hunters. The pilgrims brought lobster and water fowl because they were much more common. Since the settlers didn’t really leave Plymouth, turkey was of off the menu unless they ventured into native territory.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

Not going to lie, that’s kind of badass.

(U.S. Diplomacy Center)

When everyone’s gathered around the table eating turkey this Thanksgiving, you’re bound to overhear that one uncle say, “Did you know the US almost made the turkey its national bird?” in an attempt to look smart. Unfortunately for your uncle, no. That never happened. Not even close. That’s fake news. Yes, all of these links go to a different source disproving your uncle. But it’s not your uncle’s fault — this myth has been perpetuated for hundreds of years.

This myth got its start just two years after the creation of the Great Seal of the United States when Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter about the design choices. He jokingly said that bald eagles had “bad moral character.” He also said the bird of prey was more of a scavenger (they’re not). He went on to praise the seal of the Order of the Cincinnati, a fraternity of military officers, that had a turkey on it.

In case you were wondering, Franklin’s actual recommendation for the Great Seal was of Moses parting the Red Sea with fire raining everywhere and the motto of, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story

These loud, slow-moving, flightless birds will wreak havoc on farms in the spring time when the seeds are sewn. That’s why turkey season falls around then… in most states, anyway. Some states hold it in fall so that citizens can hunt down their own Thanksgiving dinner. Happy Thanksgiving!

(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

Soon after the United States became the United States, Americans quickly started hunting down and eating wild turkeys. They hunted them so thoroughly that pioneers would almost drive them to extinction wherever they went. The turkeys survived westward expansion and steadily climbed — then, the Great Depression hit and, for obvious reasons, they almost went extinct again in the 1930s.

After World War II, some troops returning from war went on to become game wardens, and began relocating turkeys en masse to avoid their being hunted into extinction. But how did these military veterans manage to catch large quantities of elusive turkeys in the wild? With modified howitzers shells that launched nets, of course!

No, seriously. These turkey-net cannons actually worked. The turkey populations went from just under 500,000 across the entire U.S. in 1959 to the roughly seven million that are fair game for hunting each and every year.

Articles

America’s Patton tanks saw combat from Korea to Desert Storm

For over 40 years, some variant of the Patton family of tanks served America. From the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, and through the deserts of the Middle East Patton tanks bested America’s enemies time and again.


In 1950, the first Patton tank, the M46, entered service. The M46 was originally based on the WWII M26 Pershing heavy tank. However, after extensive redesigns and improvements, it received its own designation and a new namesake — Gen. George S. Patton, a hero of WWII.

The confusion of war: A Pearl Harbor survivor story
A Marine checks his tank after taking Howitzer hits. (Dept. of Defense photo)

The M46 was armed with a 90mm main gun, a .50 caliber machine gun, and two .30 caliber machine guns, one mounted coaxially, the other forward-firing in the hull.

The arrival of the Patton into service was just in time as in June of that year North Korea, armed with formidable Russian T34 tanks, rolled across the 38th Parallel into South Korea. Fighting alongside WWII-era M4 Shermans and the M26 Pershings it was meant to replace, the M46 would see heavy combat in Korea.

Also read: This is what makes tankers so deadly

The first M46 tanks landed inside the Pusan Perimeter in August 1950 as part of the 6th Tank Battalion. They would prove critical in the defense. More M46s landed at Inchon with the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Tank Battalion.

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Pro tip: the paint doesn’t need to be realistic if your enemy is superstitious. (U.S. Army photo)

In an attempt at psychological warfare, the tankers of the 24th Infantry Division’s 6th Tank Battalion painted tiger faces on their tanks thinking it would demoralize their superstitious Chinese adversaries.

By mid-1951 the Patton tanks had replaced all M26 Pershings in service in Korea. However, the M46’s own shortcomings had already led to the development of a replacement — the M47 Patton.

Though the M47 was introduced in 1952, it would be too late for it to see combat in Korea. However, the M47 was important because even though it shared design features and components with the M46 Patton, it was considered America’s first all-new tank design since WWII.

The M47, though, was just an interim design while engineers completed work on its successor, the M48 Patton. The M47 would never see combat but the M48 would be a workhorse of American and allied armored units.

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Like its predecessors, the M48 also mounted a 90mm main gun; it was the last tank to do so, but had significant improvements in armor and performance.

The M48 was also introduced too late to see combat in Korea, but just over a decade later the Marines would take it to Vietnam. Soon, Army units were bringing their own Pattons to the fight.

Due to the nature of the conflict, the M48s did not often have the chance to go toe-to-toe with North Vietnamese armor. One of the few instances of tank combat came during the NVA assault on the Ben Het Camp where elements of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment were stationed. The American Pattons easily defeated the NVA’s PT-76 tanks and BTR-50 APCs.

More often than not though, the M48s were relegated to infantry support — a role they excelled at. The Patton’s ruggedness allowed it to absorb a good amount of damage and its 90mm main gun was a welcome addition against dug-in enemies. A favorite of the troops was the Patton’s canister rounds, which acted like a giant shotgun through the jungle, cutting down man and tree alike.

A number of M48s were also converted to M67 “Zippo” tanks that mounted flamethrowers for dealing with stubborn Vietcong and NVA soldiers.

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An M67 throwing flames. No big deal. (U.S. Army photo)

The Patton was also one of the few vehicles that could withstand the landmines that were employed against American forces. As such, it was often used as a route clearance vehicle to “sniff out” the explosive devices.

While the M48 was slogging it out in Vietnam, the next in line of the Patton family of tanks was coming into service with the American military: the M60 Patton, the M48s eventual replacement.

The M60 was the final tank in the Patton family line and America’s first Main Battle Tank. It mounted a modern 105mm main gun, a .50 caliber machine gun for the commander, and a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun.

The M60 also was the basis for the M60 Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge and the M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle, both of which were deployed to Vietnam alongside the M48s.

The M60 itself would not be deployed to Vietnam, but would be a mainstay of American armored formations, particularly in Europe.

One of the more interesting developments of the M60 Patton was the M60A2. Derisively known as the “Starship” because of its overly complex technology, the M60A2 mounted the same 152mm gun/missile system as the M551 Sheridan. A redesigned turret and an abundance of new technology gave the A2 variation a distinct look. However, the design was an overall disappointment and it was quickly retired.

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An M60A2 tank driving off an amphibious landing craft. (U.S. Army photo)

Despite entering service some 30 years’ prior, the M60 Patton would not see significant combat until the end of its service history during the Persian Gulf War. Outfitting Marine tank battalions, the M60s performed admirably.

The Marines’ M60s spearheaded the assault to liberate Kuwait. In the fighting for Kuwait City, the M60 bested its original rival, the Soviet T62, time and again while sustaining only one tank lost to combat and no casualties. Marines manning Patton tanks destroyed over 100 Iraqi tanks and numerous other vehicles in the fighting.

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Marines from Company D, 2nd Tank Battalion, drive their M-60A1 main battle tank over a sand berm on Hill 231 while rehearsing their role as part of Task Force Breach Alpha during Operation Desert Storm. (Dept. of Defense photo)

Shortly after the Gulf War the M60 Patton was retired from combat service in favor of the new M1 Abrams. The last Pattons would return to Germany, the final resting place of their namesake, where they acted as OPFOR at the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels before they too were retired in 2005.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how Alexander Hamilton Jr brilliantly avenged his father

Revenge is a dish best served cold — but it doesn’t always require bloodshed.

On the early morning of July 11th, 1804, two rivals met in the forest outside Weehawken, New Jersey. This bitter reunion was years in the making, as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr finally said enough was enough and decided to settle their differences via a now-famous duel.

The former Secretary of the Treasury missed but the sitting Vice President of the United States did not. Hamilton was shot in the lower abdomen, mortally wounding him. He would die the next day.

Most Americans know this story — but they might not know about the sequel.

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You know, it’d be a good story, too, if Lin-Manuel Miranda was ever looking into writingu00a0a musical in the vein of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo.’
(Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)


After he was shot, Hamilton was ferried into the nearby Greenwich Village and was paid final visits by his friends and family. Among them was his son, Alexander Hamilton Jr., a budding student of law.

This wasn’t the first death in the family as a result of dueling. Hamilton’s eldest son, Phillip, had fallen in a duel to George Eacker, a lackey of Aaron Burr, after Eacker singled out the Hamilton family at a Columbia College commencement ceremony. Eacker’s spite-filled speech contained damning phrases like, “the mistakes of the father are often visited upon the son” as he stared directly toward oldest Hamilton boy. Philip died defending his family’s honor on the same dueling grounds his father would lay upon just three years later.

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A pretty terrible place to be a Hamilton.
(Photo by Billy Hatorne)

Alexander Hamilton Jr.’s father was killed just weeks before his graduation from Columbia College. According to the Saint Andrew’s Society, the death held him back and he didn’t graduate on time. But this wasn’t the only toll the deaths of Alexander Sr. and Phillip Hamilton would take on the family. Elizabeth, the matron of the Hamilton family, had to sell off their Harlem estate while Angelica, Alexander Jr.’s sister, suffered a mental breakdown from which she never recovered.

Stricken with sadness, he did what any good American lost in emotions would do — he joined the military. The young Hamilton sailed to Spain in 1811 and fought under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, against Napoleon’s forces. There, he learned military strategy.

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Kind of helps to learn from the guy who literally defeated Napoleon.
(Painting by Thomas Lawrence)

Meanwhile, Aaron Burr fled the country after he was charged with treason for his conspiring to fabricate a war between Spain and Mexico so he could found a new country consisting of the Spanish territory of Florida, the Louisiana Purchase, and the American Southwest. Now a political outcast, he first sought aid from Britain and, when he found no success there, he sided with Napoleon — coincidentally around the same time period Hamilton Jr. was fighting him.

Hamilton Jr. would later use his new-found military knowledge during the War of 1812 as an infantry captain. This gained the attention of his father’s old friend, General Morgan Lewis. Burr, on the other hand, found his political career destroyed and became penniless after his journey to find new roots.

After the war, Hamilton Jr. returned to a life as a lawyer — just as his father and older brother before him did — and would eventually take a seat as a New York state legislator. His prowess in the courtroom landed him the role of United States attorney for the newly formed Eastern Florida territory in 1822. There, he helped shape Florida into an American state.

Years passed and the Hamilton finally returned to New York City. There, he started selling real estate and became a leading name in Wall Street. He used his own money and what remained after his mother’s sale of their Harlem estate to buy his mother a new home on the East side.

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The universalu00a0real sign that you’veu00a0accomplished your dream is when you can buy your momu00a0a house on the East side.

Meanwhile, the poverty-stricken Burr took on a new surname of “Edwards” to avoid creditors and to hide from his treasonous past. This is when he married the newly widowed and then-richest woman in America, Eliza Jumel. It’s said that his intentions of preying on her were entirely monetary. Quickly, he tried to use her money to purchase land in Mexican Texas — which was made worthless when the immigration of US citizens was outlawed.

Only four months into the marriage, Burr committed adultery many times and mismanaged almost all of Jumel’s enormous fortune. She did what any reasonable person would do after such a situation: She filed for divorce in 1833.

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And she knew just who to find as the perfect lawyer to make things sting that much more.
(Courtesy Image)

It was unclear how it happened, exactly, but Alexander Hamilton Jr. came to Jumel’s aid as her attorney in the divorce proceedings. At this point, Hamilton Jr. had lived a long and fulfilling life. He had been the one of the country’s best lawyers, a fantastic military mind, and a New York real estate tycoon. By all logical conclusions, this case should have been leagues below his status — but he took it on anyways.

The divorce court dragged on for almost three years. Hamilton brought every misdeed done by Burr to light. During the trial, Burr suffered a debilitating stroke but, by the end, Burr had been stripped of everything. Eliza Jumel and Alexander Hamilton Jr. took what remained of his money, his health, and his legacy.

Just hours after the divorce was finalized, Burr passed away. He spent his last moments knowing that the son of the man he killed succeed in nearly everything he did, including taking everything away from him in return.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Ketchup became the classic American condiment

No American cookout would be complete without ketchup. Millions of Americans douse their french fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, and other cookout favorites with the condiment every day. The tomato-based sauce is even a staple for military personnel and astronauts!

Catsup, now more commonly known as “ketchup,” was a British term designated for any “spiced” sauce. The British had access to a myriad of spices from their exploits across the world. Their ketchup was made of oysters, cloves, cayenne, cherries, walnuts, vinegars, mace, and more.


Americans were the first to create ketchup with tomatoes, a crop native to North America, and an 1896 issue of The New York Tribune even declared tomato ketchup to be America’s national condiment found “on every table in the land.” The most famous tomato ketchup is the Heinz 57 variety. Apparently, founder Henry Heinz purposely created his own spelling of “ketchup” to differentiate from his “catsup”-peddling competitors.

Early tomato ketchup was made from fermented skins and cores. But these fermenting tomato leftovers could explode and burst their containers! The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, finally made this dangerous condiment safe to consume – and keep in the cupboard.

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The U.S. military has spent billions of dollars on ketchup since the late 19th century, from manufacturing the condiment to supplying all soldiers with packets of the sauce to spruce up their rations of mass-produced food.

Astronauts even carry ketchup into outer space! NASA provides nonperishable, shelf-stable food, but crews like to amp up the products with their favorite condiments.

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The STS-79 and Mir 22 crews gather on the Atlantis’s middeck for a meal of barbecue served by the STS-79 crew. Mission commander William Readdy offers the Mir 22 crew a bottle of ketchup to use on their meal.

Wherever you are this Fourth of July, we hope you are enjoying this historic condiment on your favorite foods!

This article originally appeared on National Archives. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter.

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This SEAL Team 6 vet idolizes ‘Rough Rider’ Teddy Roosevelt

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Official portrait of Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) (Photo by United States Congress)


Inter-service rivalry is very common in the military. But one Navy SEAL Team 6 vet with a long service record is openly admiring an Army hero.

According to the blog of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the Interior, applauding the values former President Theodore Roosevelt brought to conservation and land management.

“I am an unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt and believe he had it right when he placed under federal protection millions of acres of federal lands and set aside much of it as National forests,” Zinke said during his confirmation hearing.

Zinke, who spent 23 years in the Navy, was the first SEAL to win a seat in the  House of Representatives according to law360.com. The San Diego Union-Tribune noted when his nomination was announced that he would also be the first SEAL to hold a Cabinet position. According to his official biography on his congressional web page, Zinke’s decorations include two awards of the Bronze Star for service during Operation Iraqi Freedom, which included a stint as acting commander of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula. Among the SEALs who served under him were Marcus Luttrell (of “Lone Survivor” fame), Rob O’Neill (who claims to have killed Osama bin Laden), and Brandon Webb (founder of SOFREP.com).

Like Zinke, Teddy Roosevelt was an avid hunter and outdoorsman, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Association. Roosevelt was also a military badass, receiving the Medal of Honor for his actions on San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War.

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Roosevelt, though, also had a keen interest in naval affairs before serving with the Army. Prior to becoming Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President William McKinley, the Theodore Roosevelt Association noted that he wrote a history of the War of 1812, publishing it at age 24. Roosevelt would help turn the United States Navy into the global instrument of power projection it is today.

So, yeah, while inter-service rivalry has its place, in this case, we can understand – and approve – of a SEAL admiring a soldier like Teddy Roosevelt.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the first military helicopter rescue ever

In April 1944, an intrepid pilot swooped into the jungle in Burma and scooped up three wounded British soldiers and began to fly them out. It would have been a grand escape, a small part of the growing story of air ambulances in World War II. But this story isn’t about that pilot, Tech Sgt. Ed Hladovcak.


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An L-1A Vigilant similar to the plane piloted by Tech. Sgt. Ed Hladovcak before he went down.

​(U.S. Air Force Museum)

Or at least, it’s not primarily about him, because he crashed. He would later acknowledge that he might have been flying too low, but he couldn’t be sure. And, regardless of the cause, Hladovcak’s landing gear snapped off during the landing. His plane wasn’t taking off again, and the group was 100 miles behind Japanese lines. He moved the three wounded into the jungle before Japanese patrols found the wreckage.

They were alone behind enemy lines. Low-flying planes of the 1st Air Commando Group, of which Hladovcak was a member, found the struggling survivors. But while the air commandos had planes specially made for jungle and short airstrip operations, even those planes couldn’t get the four men out of the jungle they were in. So the order was given to send in a YR-4B, the first military production helicopter.

The YR-4B was an experimental aircraft, but it worked and went into production. The early models had bomb racks and were used in a variety of combat trials while the later R-4 had the racks stripped off. There were so few helicopter pilots in the world in 1944 that there was only one qualified pilot in the China-Burma-India Theater: 1st Lt. Carter Harman.

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1st Lt. Carter Harman, standing at left, and other members of the 1st Air Commando Group medical evacuation mission.

(U.S. Air Force)

Harman had joined the Air Corps to avoid being drafted into the infantry, but fate steered him into helicopter flight. Despite Harman’s martial misgivings, he took to the “whirlybirds” and became just the seventh Army pilot to fly a helicopter solo. When he shipped to India, he was the only one who could fly the “eggbeater.”

And he was needed 600 miles away, over mountains and through thin air which his helicopter could barely traverse, as fast as possible if the four men on the ground were going to get away without being captured or killed by the Japanese troops already searching for them.

Harman packed the YR-4B with extra fuel and took off on a marathon flight, hopping through the terrain until he reached a jungle airstrip known as “Aberdeen.” Then, despite the jungle air inhibiting the performance of his air-cooled engine and the lift of his rotors, he took off over the trees.

A liaison airplane, one of those models built to perform in the jungle, led Harman to the downed airmen. But thanks to that jungle air mentioned above, Harman could only lift one patient at a time. So, he landed April 24 and spoke to Hladovcak, and Hladovcak helped load a British soldier. It was Hladovcak’s first time seeing a helicopter.

Harman carried him and then a second British soldier back to Aberdeen and came back for the third man, but his engine gave out under the strain. He was forced to land on a small sandbank as Japanese troops prowled the nearby jungle, searching for him. Alone behind enemy lines, Harman slowly repaired his engine. On the morning of April 25, he was back in the air.

He quickly got the third British soldier to a waiting liaison plane and then pulled out Hladovcak, flying his 1st Air Commando counterpart to Aberdeen. Harman would later receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. This and other rescues in World War II proved the value of helicopter evacuation, leading to its extensive use in Korea and then Vietnam.

It was there, in the jungles of Vietnam, that the helicopter cemented its place in military aviation. It didn’t just serve medical evacuation; it was used extensively to move supplies and troops, and Bell Helicopters sold the Army its first dedicated attack helicopter, the AH-1 Cobra.