How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the US military launched a half a billion needles into space

In the early 1960s, international communications were limited to transmissions through undersea cables or occasionally unreliable radio signals bounced off of the ionosphere. As you might imagine from this, many in the Western world weren’t too keen on the state of the situation given that were to someone, say, the Soviet Union, cut those cables before launching an attack, international communications with overseas forces and foreign allies would have to rely on the mood of said ionosphere.

For those unfamiliar, the ionosphere is a layer of the upper atmosphere about 50 to 600 miles above sea level. It gets its name because it is ionized consistently by solar and cosmic radiation. In very simple terms, X-ray, ultraviolet, and shorter wavelengths of radiation given off by the Sun (and from other cosmic sources) release electrons in this layer of the atmosphere when these particular photons are absorbed by molecules. Because the density of molecules and atoms is quite low in the ionosphere (particularly in the upper layers), it allows free electrons to exist in this way for a short period of time before ultimately recombining. Lower in the atmosphere, where the density of molecules is greater, this recombination happens much faster.


What does this have to do with communication and radio waves? Without interference, radio waves travel in a straight line from the broadcast source, ultimately hitting the ionosphere. What happens after is dependent on a variety of factors, notable among them being the frequency of the waves and the density of the free electrons. For certain types of radio waves, given the right conditions, they will essentially bounce back and forth between the ground and the ionosphere, propagating the signal farther and farther. So clearly the ionosphere can potentially play an important part in the terrestrial radio and communication process. But it is the constantly shifting nature of the ionosphere that makes things really interesting. And for that, we’ll have to get a little more technical, though we’ll at the least spare you the math, and we’ll leave out a little of the complexity in an effort to not go full textbook on you.

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

To begin with, the ionosphere’s composition changes most drastically at night, primarily because, of course, the Sun goes missing for a bit. Without as abundant a source of ionizing rays, the D and E levels (pictured right) of the ionosphere cease to be very ionized, but the F region (particularly F2) still remains quite ionized. Further, because the atmosphere is significantly less dense here then the E and D regions, it results in more free electrons (the density of which is key here).

When these electrons encounter a strong radio wave of certain types, such as AM radio, they can potentially oscillate at the frequency of the wave, taking some of the energy from the radio wave in the process. With enough of them, as can happen in the F layer, (when the density of encountered electrons is sufficient relative to the specific signal frequency), and assuming they don’t just recombine with some ion (which is much more likely in the E and D layers in the daytime), this can very effectively refract the signal back down to Earth at sufficient strength to be picked up on a receiver.

Depending on conditions, this process can potentially repeat several times with the signal bouncing down to the ground and back up. Thus, using this skywave certain radio signals can be propagated even thousands of miles and, most pertinent to the topic at hand, across oceans.

Of course, given the unpredictability of this form of communication, and potentially even times when communication would be impossible, military brass during the Cold War wanted another option.

Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Labs, the project was initially called “Project Needles” by Professor Walter E. Morrow in 1958 when he first dreamed up the idea. It was later re-named “West Ford”, presumably after Westford, Massachusetts, a nearby town. The idea was to place potentially even billions of tiny (1.78 centimeters 0.7 inches long and microscopically thin) copper antennae or dipoles in a medium Earth orbit to be used for communication signals at 8 Ghz.

The first set of well over a hundred million needles was launched on Oct. 21, 1961, but unfortunately this test failed when the needles didn’t disperse as planned.

On a second attempt in May 9, 1963, a batch of 350 million needles was placed on the back of an Air Force satellite and sent into orbit. Once dispersed, properly this time, the needles spread to form a sparsely concentrated belt with approximately 50 dipoles per cubic mile.

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

Needles from “Project Needles” compared to a stamp.

While you might think surely this wouldn’t be dense enough to be effective for use in communication, in fact early results of the experiment were extremely promising, with communication established using the needle array from California to Massachusetts, some 3K or so miles or 4,800 km apart. As such, there were reports that the Air Force was considering launching two more belts to be placed more permanently in orbit.

There was a problem, however. Beyond the Soviets, allies and even Americans opposed the further deployment and continuance of this program.

Why? Astronomers, in particular, were afraid that the belt would interfere with their observations. The outrage of scientists and the reason for it was perhaps best expressed by Sir Bernard Lovell of the Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory who said: “The damage lies not with this experiment alone, but with the attitude of mind which makes it possible without international agreement and safeguards.” After all, the space above the Earth is not the United States’ alone to do with as it pleases without consulting other nations of Earth.

While you might consider this a bit of an overreaction, it’s important to understand the context here, with the U.S. up to and around this point having done a series of things in space without oversight that the international community was more than a little upset about. For example, consider that also smack dab in the middle of this time, the United States was busy accidentally nuking Britain’s first satellite, among many, many others.

The satellite in question was the Ariel-1, which was developed as a joint-venture between the United States and Britain, with Britain designing and building the core systems of the satellite and NASA launching it into orbit via a Thor-Delta rocket.

Around nine months after the launch of the first batch of needles, on July 9, 1962, mere weeks after Ariel-1 was put into orbit and had successfully begun transmitting data about the ionosphere back to Earth, British scientists were shocked when the sensors aboard Ariel-1 designed to measure radiation levels suddenly began to give wildly high readings.

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

Ariel-1 satellite.

As it turned out, as Ariel-1 was happily free-falling around the Earth, the US military had decided to detonate an experimental 1.4 megaton nuclear weapon named Starfish-Prime in the upper atmosphere as part of Project Fish Bowl.

The explosion, which happened on the other side of the planet to Ariel-1, sent a wave of additional radiation around the Earth that ultimately damaged some of the systems on Ariel-1, particularly its solar panels, killing it and about 1/3 of the rest of the satellites in low-Earth orbit at the time.

Most pertinent to the topic of communications, this famously included the Telstar satellite, which was the first commercial communication relay satellite designed to transmit signals across the Atlantic and managed around 400 such communications before the U.S. accidentally nuked it. Funny enough, the Telstar actually wasn’t in orbit at the time of the explosion, being put there the day after the Starfish-Prime detonation. However, the additional ionizing radiation created by the explosion took years to dissipate and was not anticipated by the designers of this particular satellite. The immediate result being the degradation of Telstar’s systems, particularly the failure of several transistors in the command system, causing it to stop working just a few months after being placed in orbit. They were eventually able to get it back online for a short period via some clever software workarounds, but it didn’t last thanks to the extra radiation further degrading its systems.

It’s also noteworthy here that The Starfish explosion was actually supposed to have happened a couple weeks earlier on June 20th, but the rocket carrying it failed at about 30,000 feet. Once this happened, the self-destruct on the nuclear warhead was initiated and it broke apart, raining its radioactive innards down on Johnston and Sand Islands, as well as in the ocean around them.

It should also be noted that the effects of Starfish-Prime weren’t just limited to low orbit.

The electromagnetic pulse created by the blast ended up being much larger than expected and, in Hawaii some 900 or so miles away from the blast, the pulse ended up knocking out a few hundred street lights and damaged the telephone system. Today in our digital world, of course, a similar electromagnetic pulse would have much more catastrophic effects, especially if near more populated centers, potentially even revealing the Lizard people’s Matrix, which would be catastrophic to our Draconian overlords’ (may they reign forever) plans…

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

The flash created by The Starfish explosion as seen through heavy cloud cover from Honolulu 1,445 km away.

Needless to say, this, the needles in space, and other such projects had many in the international community concerned with the lack of any oversight on the United States’ activities in space. (Presumably it would have been even worse had everyone realized the United States had, a few years before this, planned to nuke the moon, more or less just because they could…)

Going back to the needle issue, a compromise measure was reached thanks to incorporating a sort of planned obsolescence; that is, none of the needles would remain in orbit longer than five years. (Or so they thought, more on this in a bit.)

Thinking more long term, several groups of scientists, including the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) demanded access and consultation in this and other such projects in the future. Ultimately an agreement was reached which granted the scientists the ability to participate in the planning and evaluation of space projects.

Of course, this particular issue quickly became moot as shortly after the second group of needles was dispersed, the military deployed its own first communication satellite system in 1966, making the needle system, while effective, obsolete. With this deployment of one object instead of hundreds of millions, the furor died down and people, for the most part, forgot about West Ford.

That said, while the project is largely forgotten, its effects are not with the consultation provisions of the original West Ford agreement with the IAU included in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, an agreement entered into by ninety-nine countries, that was designed to protect against the militarization and degradation of outer space. Among other things, in a nutshell, it provides that no country can claim ownership of space nor any celestial bodies; all countries will avoid contaminating both and are liable for any damage they cause; no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) will be deployed or placed in orbit or on any celestial body; and no military bases may be placed on any celestial bodies, including the Moon, something that unfortunately saw a planned military installation by the U.S. fully scrapped, as we covered in our article: That Time the U.S. was Going to Build a Massive, Death Ray Equipped, Military Moon Base.

On the bright side, the treaty also includes a Good Samaritan law that provides that astronauts are “envoys of mankind in outer space and [all] shall render to them all possible assistance in the event of accident, distress, or emergency landing.”

Going back to the needles, in case you’re wondering, despite the planned obsolescence, as of 2019, a few dozen clumps of them remain in orbit and are closely tracked to make sure they don’t cause any problems with all the other stuff floating around our little beautiful home space craft known as Earth.

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

Bonus Facts:

  • Given AM radio signals can propagate for thousands of miles via the aforementioned skywaves, particularly at night, this can become a major problem as there are only a little over 100 allowed AM radio frequencies (restricted to keep signals interfering too much with one another), but around 5,000 AM radio stations in the United States alone. As a result, at night, AM stations in the United States typically reduce their power, go off the air completely until sunrise the next day, and/or possibly are required to use directional antennas so their specific signal doesn’t interfere with other stations on the same frequency. On the other hand, FM stations don’t have to do any of this as the ionosphere doesn’t greatly affect their signals, which has the side benefit (or disadvantage, depending on your point of view) of severely limiting the range of the FM signals, which rely on groundwave propagation.
  • Speaking of Radio and space, while not a job ever mentioned by my school career counselor, it turns out “Space DJ” is a thing, if you work at NASA, going all the way back to 1965 during the Gemini 6 mission on December 16th, likely initially as a joke. During this mission, astronauts Walter Schirra and Tom Stafford were woken up by a recording of singer Jack Jones and Hello Dolly. This musical wake-up call quickly became a regular occurrence intended as a way of bolstering morale while allowing astronauts a few minutes to wake up slowly before having to respond to ground control. Over the years, wake-up calls became one of NASA’s most beloved traditions, with the role of picking the songs given to the mission’s Capsule Commander (CAPCOM)… Yes, just to be clear, not only do these people get to put CAPCOM for NASA on their resume, but they can also add in “Space DJ”. Thanks Career Councilor…
    If you’re wondering, the songs chosen over the years have been wildly eclectic, ranging from classical music by composers like Bach and Beethoven to Metallica and the Beastie Boys. Thanks to the extensive records NASA keeps, we not only know every song played for astronauts in orbit since 1965, we also have the astronaut’s responses to some of the more unusual choices played. For example, for a 2008 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, officially designated as STS-123, CAPCOM played a brief snippet of the theme song from the presumably epic film Godzilla VS Space Godzilla as well as part of the Blue Oyster Cult song, Godzilla, for Japanese astronaut Takao Doi, signing off by saying:
    Good morning Endeavour. Doi san, ohayo gozaimasu, from mission control here in Houston, take on today like a monster.
    An amused Doi responded that he was “happy to hear Godzilla,” before himself signing off to get to work. According to Fries’ extensive archives, Godzilla’s iconic theme song is apparently a popular choice for Japanese astronauts, as are the themes from other well-known films like Star Wars, Star Trek and Rocky.Predictably, songs with a space theme are also popular choices, with David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Elton John’s Rocket Man being noted as some of the most commonly played.In addition to songs, NASA has, at various points, played private messages recorded by the astronauts’ loved ones (including the occasional singing of “Happy Birthday” where applicable) and even occasional messages from celebrities. Notable examples of the latter include personalised greetings from William Shatner, Paul McCartney and Elton John, a skit performed by Jim Henson involving Miss Piggy, and even a song sung by Darth Vader set to backing music from The Beatles.Perhaps best of all was the crew of Atlantis on November 25, 1991 being woken to none other than Patrick Stewart stating (with Star Trek: The Next Generation theme music playing in the background),
    Space: the final frontier. This is the voyage of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Its ten-day mission: To explore new methods of remote sensing and observation of the planet Earth… To seek out new data on radiation in space, and a new understanding of the effects of microgravity on the human body… To boldly go where two hundred and fifty-five men and women have gone before!Hello Fred, Tom, Story, Jim, Tom, and especially Mario — this is Patrick Stewart, choosing not to outrank you as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, saying that we are confident of a productive and successful mission. Make it so.
    As for today, with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, this wake-up call tradition has partially been left in the dustbin of history, though occasionally is still observed on the International Space Station, and presumably will be reinstituted as a regular activity once NASA begins sending people to space themselves again.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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Articles

6 heroes who kept going after insane injuries

Most of us would quietly go home after losing limbs, our eyesight, or other vital capabilities while in service to our country.


But for these six badasses, grievous physical injury was just the warm up:

6. French Legionnaire Jean Danjou led one of the Legion’s most famous fights after losing a hand

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon
French Foreign Legion sappers (Image: Imgur)

French Foreign Legion Capt. Jean Danjou was working as a staff officer in Mexico in April 1863 after losing his left hand while fighting rebels in Algiers. When the command needed an officer to lead a convoy of pay for legionnaires, Danjou volunteered.

His column of 65 men came under attack by 3,000 Mexican soldiers near Camerone and he led his men in a fighting withdrawal to a nearby inn. Despite certain doom, Danjou and his men held out for hours and refused repeated requests to surrender. They killed 90 Mexicans and wounded hundreds more before the last two French Legionnaires were allowed to leave the battlefield with Danjou’s body.

The Legion now parades Danjou’s hand every year on the anniversary of the Battle of Camerone.

5. At least three soldiers have returned to front line combat in the modern U.S. Army after leg amputations

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon
(Photo: U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Bryan Mitchell)

Typically, amputations are career-ending injuries, and the small handful of people who go back to active service are typically restricted to desk jobs. But the Ranger Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, and the 101st Airborne Division have all deployed with soldiers suffering from a leg amputation.

Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski asked doctors to remove his leg after it failed to heal from a grenade blast, then conducted four combat deployments with his prosthetic. Airborne 1st Lt. Josh Pitcher led a 21-man platoon through a deployment to the Afghan mountains with one leg. And Capt. Daniel Luckett came back from a double amputation to earn the Expert Infantry Badge and deploy with the 101st.

4. Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez defied doctors to go to Vietnam, then kept fighting after dozens of potentially lethal wounds

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon
(Photo: Department of Defense)

Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez walked onto a mine in 1965 and suffered an injury that was supposed to stop him from ever walking again. Against the orders of doctors, he rehabilitated himself in secret at night and walked out of the ward on his own power instead of accepting his military discharge.

He deployed to Vietnam again and — on May 2, 1968 — learned that a 12-man sniper team was under extreme fire and three extraction helicopters had been driven away. He rode in on the fourth and rescued the wounded while killing dozens of enemies and suffering 37 wounds, including a number of bayonet and gunshot wounds.

He was rolled up in a body bag but spit in the doctor’s face to let him know he was alive.

3. Canadian Pvt. Leo Major lost an eye, broke his back, then earned three Distinguished Conduct Medals in two wars

Léo_Major,_Libérateur_-Canadian sniper liberated Zwolle Netherlands Canadian sniper Leo Major liberated a Dutch town on his own during World War II. (Photo: Jmajor CC BY SA 3.0)

Canadian Army Pvt. Leo Major was severely wounded during the D-Day invasions when a phosphorous grenade took part of his vision. He also could have turned back later in 1944 when a mine broke his back.

Instead, he captured 93 German troops in 1944 and was supposed to get the Distinguished Conduct Medal from Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Major didn’t like Montgomery and refused the award, but he did get one in 1945 from King George V after he liberated a Dutch town on his own.

His last DCM came during the Korean war when he lead a group of snipers to take and hold a hill from the Chinese Army for three days.

2. Douglas “Tin Legs” Bader lost both legs in an air show accident and then became a stunning flying ace in World War II.

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon
Royal Air Force Spitfires, like the plane Douglas Bader piloted, fly in formation. (Photo: Public Domain)

As a young pilot in 1931, Douglas Bader was a bit showy and lost both of his legs after an accident during an airshow caused him to lose both of his legs. He begged to stay in the service but was denied with the suggestion that he try again if war broke out.

He spent the next few years training on his own and re-entered the Royal Air Force in 1939. In the first two years of the war, he earned 23 kills including a victory over the beaches of Dunkirk. In August 1941, he was shot down and became a prisoner of war. He spent the rest of the conflict pissing off his captors with comedic hijinks and attempts to escape.

1. Admiral Horatio Nelson stomped multiple navies after losing an eye and an arm

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon
Nelson’s death at Trafalgar. (Painting: Public Domain)

The future admiral Horatio Nelson first joined the navy at the age of 12 as an apprentice, but was so skilled that he rose to captain by the age of 20. He fought in the West Indies during the American Revolution before reporting to the Mediterranean to fight French revolutionaries where he lost the use of his right eye.

Despite this handicap, he fought a massive Spanish fleet in 1797 and managed to capture two of their man-of-wars, using the first one captured to attack the second. But then he lost his right arm at the Battle of Tenerife later that year.

Luckily, that handicap didn’t stop him from annihilating the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, the Dutch at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, and the French and Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The victory at Trafalgar protected Britain from a possible invasion by Napoleon, but cost Nelson his life when he was shot twice by snipers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Ever wonder what the first day at West Point is like for a new cadet? Watch this.

Every July, more than 1,200 cadet candidates arrive at West Point, the US military academy in West Point, New York. Established in 1802, it’s around 50 miles north of New York City. The location of the academy has significance in US history. Say what you want about West Pointers (or military academies in general) but getting into West Point is a pretty significant feat!

Located on the western point of the Hudson River right where it bends, West Point has historical significance in America’s quest for independence from the British. During the War of Independence, the British had to attack coming down the Hudson River. From West Point, they could see them coming. 

Reception day, also known as R-Day, is always on a Monday and marks the first of each student’s four-year journey to graduation. In that journey, Cadets will follow through four programs: Character, Academic, Physical and Military.

west point
Clip from video footage of a West Point graduation ceremony.

Their civilian days are officially over right from the start 

The first day at West Point involves a transformation from civilian status through a series of activities. At the end of the day, the Military Academy requires them to take an oath to serve in the US Army. Upon arrival, cadet candidates and their families begin the day with an orientation. However, when that’s over, they have just 60 seconds to bid their families farewell. After that, they will have extremely limited contact with the outside world for six weeks. 

That obligatory West Point haircut is all the rage 

Walking out the door of Eisenhower Hall, students officially become “new cadets” and receive their physical training uniforms and a bag. That bag holds everything they are permitted to carry during their first six weeks. Immediately after, new cadets must head to the barbershop. Male cadets have to pretty much shave their heads, though females do not

After that, new cadets get their assignments at companies that teach them the basics of taking orders and how to properly march. Upperclassmen help to lead the new cadets, operating as a learning environment for both. New cadets learn the basics of leadership skills while upperclassmen practice them. R-Day ends with the Oath Ceremony, where everything the new cadets have learned is reiterated. 

Nothing’s truly free

Attending West Point is free, but it’s not easy to get in. Aside from being a US citizen, students must also be in good physical condition, pass a specific medical exam and show a history of high academic achievement. Also, that free tuition comes with a different kind of debt: service. This includes five years of active duty in the Army and three years as Reserves. All who complete the initial six weeks of basic training are then formally accepted into the corps of cadets. 

Related: Navy intelligence once launched an investigation to find Bill the Goat

MIGHTY HISTORY

First combat vets of the Korean War are honored by South Korean cities

“When they stopped us on the road, they lined us up, they set up machine guns across from us and I thought this is the end,” recalled former U.S. Army Cpl. Raymond Mullin, who served as a medic with Task Force Smith, the first U.S. Army ground maneuver unit to enter combat in the Korean War.


The city of Osan hosted its 68th TF Smith Memorial Ceremony, July 6, 2018, at the city’s UN Forces First Battle Memorial, to honor the bravery and sacrifices made by the members of the task force. Attendees included: Republic of Korea Lt. Gen. Yoon Seung Kook, who was a captain when he served as ROK liaison officer to TF Smith, former U.S. Army Cpl. William Coe, a radio operator, and Mullin. Among the distinguished guests in attendance were: ROK Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Pi Woo-Jin; U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. Andrew Juknelis, operational chief of staff, Eighth Army; Governor of Gyeonggi Province Lee Jae-myung; and Mayor of Osan City Kwak Sang-wook.

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

Richard Salazar shares photos of his father, and Task Force Smith member, Sgt. Richard Salazar, Sr., with Osan City Mayor Kwak Sang-wook at the 68th TF Smith Memorial ceremony.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

Mullin spent 37 months as a prisoner of war, one of 82 captured by North Korean forces in the first day of the first battle involving a U.S. unit sent to Korea under a United Nations mandate. Mullin was emblematic of those selected to fill the ranks of TF Smith, young and lacking combat experience. He had been at Camp Wood, Japan, for just 10 days working at a clinical laboratory when he arrived in Korea, July 1, 1950. Like most of the nearly 500 soldiers arriving from Japan, Mullin said he had no combat training since Basic Training.

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

Political, military and civic leaders, veterans of the Korean War, soldiers and guests, honor the flags of the Republic of Korea and the U.S. during the playing of the two nations’ national anthems at the 68th TF Smith Memorial Ceremony.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

The Korean War began June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded and occupied the capital city of Seoul. The UN, led by the U.S., mustered a makeshift unit of soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Japan-based 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, and a battery from the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, 24th Infantry Division. The task force, named after its commander, Lt. Col. Charles B. Smith, left Japan on the morning of July 1, 1950.

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

The UN Forces First Battle Memorial served as the setting for the 68th anniversary of the first battle of the war involving U.S. Soldiers.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

Upon their arrival, TF Smith was given the mission to take up positions to delay the North’s advance as far north as possible. Smith decided two hills overlooking a major north-south highway in Osan, provided an ideal position to carry out their mission. That is where they dug in, July 4.

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

Lee Jae-myung, governor of Gyeonggi Province, addresses attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony,

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

The following morning, a North Korean force, about 5,000 strong, led by Soviet-made tanks, were soon observed rumbling toward Osan. TF Smith opened fire, initially with artillery, followed by anti-tank rockets. Although they were able to hold their lines for nearly three hours, it soon became apparent TF Smith lacked the necessary firepower to survive against the heavily armed formation in front of them.

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

Brigadier Gen. Andrew Juknelis, operational Chief of Staff, Eighth Army, addresses attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

Outflanked and severely low on ammunition, Smith ordered his men to fall back to a second defensive line at Pyongtaek and Cheonan to join other units of the 24th Inf. Div. Only a little more than fifty percent of the task force safely made it to friendly lines. In what is now known as the Battle of Osan, TF Smith suffered 60 dead, 21 wounded and 82 captured, 32 of whom died in captivity. According to official accounts, the casualty counts for the North Koreans were estimated at 42 dead, 85 wounded. Ultimately, though, the North Koreans were delayed approximately seven hours.

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

U.S. Army Corporals Raymond Mellin and William Coe, members of Task Force Smith, acknowledge attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

In his remarks to attendees, Juknelis highlighted the bravery of TF Smith against overwhelming odds.

“Outnumbered nearly 10 to 1, and equipped with antiquated weapons left over from World War II, TF Smith valiantly held their position in the face of an overwhelming force,” Juknelis said. “TF Smith’s dedication to duty and country in the face of such overwhelming odds laid the foundation of service and courage that enabled the Republic of Korea-US alliance to ultimately reclaim this side of the peninsula for South Korea.”

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

Osan City Mayor Kwak Sang-Wook places a flower at the Task Force Smith Memorial.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

One U.S. Army unit currently stationed at nearby Suwon Air Base attended the ceremony as a leader development opportunity to learn about the important history of TF Smith and its heroic stand against the invading forces from the North. For one soldier, learning about the Korean War while serving in Korea, is very personal. Both of his grandfathers fought in the Korean War as ROK soldiers.

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

Cpl. William Coe, a veteran of the Korean War and a member of Task Force Smith, places a flower at the TF Smith memorial.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

“This event means a lot to me,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Yi Jae, a Korean-American who serves as a vehicle mechanic with F Company, 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade. “I feel like I am continuing their service, their legacy, their sacrifices.”

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

Lt. Col. Jeff Slown and Command Sgt. Major Wilfredo Suarez, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade deputy commander and command sergeant major, respectively, approach the Task Force Smith memorial with a flower.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

The ceremony concluded with attendees placing white flowers at the base of the UN Forces First Battle Memorial to pay respect to the members of TF Smith for their sacrifices. The City of Osan is preparing to build a Peace Park encompassing the memorial and will serve as a place for visitors to discover the history of the site, as well as quietly reflect on the sacrifices made there. Completion of the park is scheduled for July 2019, and it is part of the city’s firm intention to never forget the soldiers who came to South Korea willing to lay down their lives in its defense.

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

Lt. Col. Matthew Walker and Command Sgt. Major Gene Harding, commander and command sergeant major, respectively, of 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade, places flowers at the Task Force Smith Memorial.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

“How could we even imagine the noblest sacrifice of those who came to an unknown land to fight without adequate combat equipment,” said ROK Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Pi Woo-jin. “Without the sacrifice and contributions of the UN Forces, such as Task Force Smith, today’s Republic of Korea, with its miraculous industrialization and remarkable democratization, would never exist. We will never forget their sacrifices.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What it’s like to survive being scalped by native warriors

No one knows for sure just how the practice of scalping came to be, but for at least a century, removing the scalp of a fallen enemy as proof of valor and skill in combat has been synonymous with the native tribes of the Great Plains and beyond. They may not have started it, but if they didn’t, they sure got good at it. And if they did, it had the desired effect on their enemies.

One man could tell you exactly what it felt like.


William Thompson wasn’t a soldier or an outlaw. He was actually just a working-class, regular joe. His job was fixing telegraph wires along the Union-Pacific Railroad in Nebraska. One day, he was just chugging along to his work when his train was attacked by a band of Cheyenne warriors. When the train derailed, the warriors set out to kill everyone and remove their scalps, and that’s what they did.

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

The extreme solution to dandruff.

Warning: This is not for the faint of heart.

Except William Thompson didn’t die. He lost his scalp, all the same, but he survived the gunshot wound and the scalping the Cheyenne inflicted on him. The practice of scalping means that Thompson’s skin was removed by a blade from his forehead on back. When the man awoke, he could see his blood-splattered hair tuft sitting next to him. He did what any of us would do if we just lost part of our head: he picked it up and tried to put it back on.

That, of course, did not work. So, he took it back to Omaha, the nearest city and enlisted the help of an actual surgeon. But even a pair of trained hands couldn’t put William Thompson back together again. When that didn’t work, Thompson was probably dismayed at the idea of his new forced hairstyle, but he made the best of it, putting it on display to earn a bit of money.

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

Thompson, post-scalping.

After it stopped being the lucrative cash cow we all know it would certainly have been, Thompson sent it back to Omaha, to the doctor who he originally asked to reattach it. The doctor donated it to the local library, where it still lives to this day. Although it’s not on permanent display, it is sometimes brought out for exhibition. Maybe if you ask nicely, they’ll let you see it.

Check out the scalp here.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the real Ragnar Lothbrok is so shrouded in mystery

The Viking Age spanned from the sacking of the abbey on Lindisfarne in June, 793, and is generally accepted as ending with William the Conqueror’s ascension to the English throne in 1066. The Norse traveled outward from Scandinavia, reaching everywhere from Estonia to Canada to Spain to Baghdad. Despite their many accomplishments in exploring and trading, history knows them as warriors who welcomed battle and death.


No viking warrior has a reputation for badassery quite like that of Ragnar Lothbrok. His lifestyle was so badass that it’s been made into television series on History, aptly named Vikings. According to the show, Lothbrok single-handedly lead the assaults on Lindisfarne, Paris, and Wessex, and his eventual death sparked his sons to form the Great Heathen Army.

Looking at the timeline of those events in the real-world, that would mean he had a roughly 73-year viking career. The vikings, historically, made those victorious raids in 793, 845, and 858, before his death in 865. While it’s not entirely impossible for someone to raid for 73 years, the show’s creators are open about their creative liberties. The biggest of them being that there may have been many people named Ragnar Lothbrok — or no one at all.

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

I mean, if your BS story makes a cold-hearted deathbringer think twice, it’s worth the risk.

(Vikings Heading for Land / Frank Dicksee / 1873)

The Norse weren’t keen on preserving their own history. They did tell stories orally, which is how they still exist today, but historical records kept by the vikings are scarce at best. As with most stories, there was room for exaggeration. Plus, the people who wrote the stories of the vikings were almost always on the receiving ends of raids, concerned more with exaggerating their ferocity and triumphs over vikings than accurately retelling their defeats.

This leads us to the biggest debate surrounding Ragnar Lothbrok: When and where he actually died. Many have claimed responsibility for death: from Carlingford Lough to East Anglia to Anglesey to where the show places his death, Northumbria, everyone wanted to be known for slaying the fearsome Lothbrok. Taking credit for such a victory could ward off potential raids, but there’s little proof to back up most of these claims.

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

The battles of the Great Heathen Army were entirely accurate. They destroyed the hell out of Old England.

The only legitimate source for information on Ragnar Lothbrok is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of documents detailing Anglo-Saxon history originally published around the time Ragnar was said to exist. His name does appear, but there is a debate within the historical community if that the name “Ragnar” has been attributed to several other Norse leaders and not one single badass.

This puts a new perspective on the term “Son of Ragnar,” as it might have been more of a title than an actual blood relation. In the television series, many of Ragnar’s sons are born from his multiple wives. The two sons that actually have been historically proven to exist are Bjorn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless, both from different mothers. But any stories of their exploits, once again, fall firmly in the “with-a-grain-of-salt” category, seeing as The Saga of the Sons of Ragnar is, like much of viking history, more of a collection of campfire stories than historical evidence.

Though Vikings may not be a completely historically accurate telling of events, they do the vikings plenty of justice by interweaving the vast collection of Ragnar Lothbrok tales and piecing them into a single, compelling, easy-to-follow narrative. The facts are a bit hazy, but it’s still one of the more accurate representations of vikings in modern media. It just takes some liberties with individual characters.

Of course, there was no one assuming the mantle of “Ragnar” at the Lindisfarne raid. The actual viking, Rollo, who became the First Duke of Normandy in the year 911, lived nearly fifty years after Ragnar’s death, which means it’s impossible for them to be brothers. Even his first wife, Lagertha, may also be more myth than fact.

But on the bright side, the greatest scene in the entire series — if not television history — is actually very historically accurate.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 historical events that happened on Christmas

Who’s ready for some holiday cheer? Christmas has been a federal holiday since 1870, so we’re pretty accustomed to having a couple of days off to spend with family and drink too much eggnog. Christmas wasn’t always such a big party, however. Throughout most of human history, important political figures didn’t let a pesky holiday get in the way of their plans. 

Let’s check out a few of the most significant historical events that happened on December 25th. 

1066: William the Conqueror was crowned king. 

Ever heard of William, Duke of Normandy? What about his more ominous nickname- William the Conqueror? The man was a pretty big deal. In October of 1066, he invaded the British Isles and conquered King Harold II at the legendary Battle of Hastings. After his victory, he wasn’t going to keep his boring old title. What better day to get a new one than Christmas? 

On Christmas Day at Westminster Abbey, William was crowned king of England. This was the beginning of a highly influential 21-year long rule. True to his French roots, the Norman king infused his own culture and language with those of the English people he governed. In doing so, he changed the development of the English language. He also offered generous land grants to his French allies, which was partially responsible for the birth of the feudal system that continued throughout most of the Middle Ages. 

1776: Washington crossed the Delaware. 

George Washington wasn’t our first president for no reason. During the American Revolution, he wasn’t about to take a cocoa break on Christmas. No way. At 6 pm, Washington pushed his exhausted, borderline hopeless troops across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania at McConkey’s Ferry. For those who have only seen the Delaware as a blue line on a US map, that might not sound like such a remarkable feat. In reality, the crossing was treacherous and daring to the extreme. 

When Washington first arrived at the riverside, he was short on supplies and at least 1,700 of his soldiers were too ill or injured to fight. Even more of his men were needed to stay back to guard them. That left 2,400 to prepare a variety of boats and ferries for the crossing. The river was over 30 feet deep in some areas and freezing cold. The boats were loaded with cannons and artillery, and the crossing began. Over the course of several hours, the men made picked their way across, dodging floating ice through the night. 

Their eventual success marked a turning point in the Revolutionary War. After the crossing, Washington led a series of attacks while the opposing forces were still off their game from nights of holiday merrymaking. His risky move resulted in victories in Trenton and Princeton shortly after the new year, restoring hope to the weathered Continental Army. 

1814: The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812

After the Revolutionary War was won, America was far from finished arguing with the British. Great Britain continued trying to restrict U.S. trade and expand its own territory, and Americans weren’t having it. They took on the naval superpower in a conflict that would last nearly three years. The fighting was destructive and costly, reaching a peak when the British burned down the White House

It wasn’t sustainable for either party, so they met in Ghent, Belgium to negotiate a peace agreement. After four months of arguing, a settlement was finally agreed upon. The treaty basically called the war a truce, and all prisoners and captured ships were returned to their home nations. The Treaty didn’t go into effect until February of 1815, so the war didn’t instantly cease. The Battle of New Orleans actually took place in January after it was signed on Christmas. Still, the Treaty of Ghent was effectively responsible for ending the war. 

1868: Andrew Johnson pardoned confederate soldiers

The Civil War isn’t exactly America’s most shining moment, but after it was over, unifying the country was necessary to restore stability. Lincoln’s vice president and successor, Andrew Johnson, did this by doling out a truly massive Christmas gift: With Proclamation 179, he offered amnesty to every single person who fought against the US throughout the Civil War. 

The proclamation was actually the fourth order of its kind, with earlier agreements reestablishing legal rights to confederate soldiers if they signed oaths of loyalty to the United States. The Christmas proclamation brought the postwar agreements to a close. 

1968: Apollo 8 went into orbit around the moon

Not all holiday historical events were political. Gazing at the winter moon on Christmas Eve sounds romantic enough, but In 1968, three astronauts spent the night orbiting around it. Originally, the Apollo 8 mission was intended to be no more than a test run for a lunar landing. When progress on the lunar module took longer than anticipated, NASA decided to adjust their mission plan, transforming it into a full-blown moon mission. 

The mission was a huge success. Borman, Lovell, and Anders were the first men to escape  Earth’s gravitational pull, see the Earth from space, and orbit the moon, and it all happened on Christmas Eve! From orbit, the astronauts broadcasted a report back to Earth, ending in, “Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.” To date, that moment is one of the most-watched in all of television history. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

What life was like in an American concentration camp

On Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese navy, killing more than 2,400 service members spearheading President Roosevelt’s decision to enter into World War II.


After the bombing, Japanese-Americans lived under extreme scrutiny.

Two months after the deadly air raid, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which called for the relocation of more than 110,000 Japanese men, women, and children (many of whom were American citizens) into internment camps for fear of terrorism.

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon
Japanese-Americans loading onto a train to relocate to the internment camps. (Source: History/Screenshot)

Related: This American admiral planned the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1932

With 10 internment camps set up across the country, many Japanese-Americans who served in the military had to visit their detained families through barbed wired fences while under the constant supervision of armed sentries.

“It’s kind of a strange feeling that here I was fighting for a country and my parents and brother and sisters were in a friendly country behind barbed wires,” Jimmie Kanaya remembers. “I think that gave us more reason to fight for our country; we had reason to go back and prove that we are loyal.”

Many detained Japanese men volunteered to join the military to prove their patriotism to America.

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon
A high angle of Puyallup fairgrounds in western Washington that was converted into an internment camp. (Source: Densho/YouTube/Screenshot)

At the camps, large families were forced to live in filthy hovels that just a few weeks prior housed pigs, cows, and other livestock.

In 1944, Roosevelt rescinded his executive order, and the camp’s residents were allowed to return to their homes.

Also Read: This battleship went from Pearl Harbor to D-Day to nuclear tests

More than 40 years later, Congress attempted to award any surviving intern $20,000 as a way to apologize for the two and a half years of confinement.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel video below to see for yourself what life was like in the internment camps.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Green Beret spent his life fighting communists in three different armies

As the Red Army pressed into Finland, their progress was continuously slowed. Their soldiers were being harassed by Finnish infiltrators before they could reach the frontline. Even the Soviet commando teams dispatched to hunt the evasive Finns were being cut down. The havoc that these raiders created led the Soviets to place a bounty on the unit’s leader – 3,000,000 Finnish Marks for the head of Lauri Allan Törni.

Born in Finland on May 28, 1919, Törni started his career of service early, serving in the Civil Guard (a volunteer militia) as a teenager. In 1938, he entered military service and joined the 4th Independent Jäger Infantry Battalion, a unit that specialized in sabotage, guerilla warfare, and long-range reconnaissance. When the Soviet Union carried out a surprise attack on Finland the next year and started the Winter War, Törni’s battalion was quickly brought to the frontline.


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

Törni after graduating cadet school in 1940 (Finnish public domain)

At Lake Lagoda, a body of water previously shared by Finland and the USSR, the Soviets attacked the Finns with superior numbers of infantry and armor. During their defense, the Finnish troops lost contact with their headquarters. Without hesitation or orders, Törni stealthily skied through the Soviet lines to re-establish communications. Upon his return to the Finnish lines, he took command of a Swedish-speaking unit of demoralized troops. Though he didn’t speak their language, Törni organized the troops with a series of gestures, shouts, and punches. For his bravery during this engagement, Törni was promoted to 2nd Lt. However, despite some Finnish victories and high Soviet casualties, the Winter War soon ended with a Soviet victory and Finland was forced to concede 11% of its territory.

In the months following the Winter War, Nazi Germany became a strong Finnish ally, and in June 1941, Törni went to Austria for seven weeks to train with the Waffen SS. During this training, Törni wore an SS uniform and swore an oath of loyalty to the Nazi party, both of which would haunt him for the rest of his life. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa, Finland made a push to retake the land they had lost to the Soviets in what became known as the Continuation War.

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

Törni in an SS uniform (Finnish public domain)

At the onset of the Continuation War, Törni was given command of a Finnish armored unit, employing captured Soviet tanks and armored cars. On March 23, 1942, Törni was skiing behind enemy lines to capture Soviet prisoners when he skied over a friendly mine. He recovered from his injuries, immediately went AWOL from the hospital and returned to the front. Törni’s unit was tasked with hunting Soviet commandos that had infiltrated Finnish lines, and eventually infiltrated Soviet lines themselves to attack headquarters and communication sites. Impressed with his ruthlessness and efficiency on the battlefield, Törni’s commanders allowed him to create a hand-picked, deep-strike infantry unit that became known as Detachment Törni.

Törni and his raiders conducted sabotage and ambush missions deep behind Soviet lines. Operating separately from the rest of the Finnish Army, Detachment Törni equipped themselves with Soviet weapons which both confused their enemy and made ammunition plentiful for the raiders. Their engagements often led to close-range, hand-to-hand combat in which they brutalized Soviet troops. Their reputation on the battlefield spread and resulted in the Soviet bounty on Törni’s head. For his leadership and bravery, Törni was awarded the Mannerheim Cross, Finland’s highest military honor, on July 9, 1944.

Despite Törni’s efforts and other Finnish victories, the sheer size of the Red Army could not be matched and the Continuation War ended in a Soviet victory in September 1944. Finland was forced to concede more territory, pay reparations, and demobilize most of their military, including Detachment Törni. Unhappy with this result, Törni joined the Finnish Resistance and went to Germany for training in 1945.

Törni went to Germany with the intention to return to Finland, train resistance fighters and free Finland from the Soviet Union. In order to conceal his involvement with the Nazis, Törni assumed the alias Lauri Lane. During his training, the Red Army had taken over all of Germany’s eastern ports. With no way to return to Finland, Törni joined a German Army unit and was given command as a captain. Though he spoke poor German, Törni used the same ruthless tactics he employed against the Soviets in Finland and gained a reputation for bravery, quickly earning the respect and loyalty of his soldiers.

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

Törni (center) as Finnish Army Lieutenant (Finnish public domain)

By March 1945, the German Army was all but defeated. To avoid capture or death at the hands of the Soviets, Törni and his men made their way to the Western Front where they surrendered to British troops. Imprisoned in a POW camp in Lübeck, Germany, Törni feared that the British would turn him over to the Soviets or discover his past connection to the SS and try him for war crimes. To avoid either fate, Törni escaped the camp and made his way back to Finland. While trying to locate his family, Törni was caught and imprisoned by the Finnish State Police. He escaped, but was imprisoned again in April 1946. Törni was tried for treason, having joined the German Army after Finland signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, and was sentenced to six years in prison.

During his time in prison, Törni made several escape attempts. Though all of them failed, he was released in December 1948 after Finnish President Juho Paasikivi granted him a pardon. Törni made his way to Sweden where he became engaged to a Swedish Finn named Marja Kops. Hoping to establish a career before settling down, Törni adopted a Swedish alias and sailed to Caracas, Venezuela as a crewman aboard a cargo ship. From Caracas, Törni joined the crew of a Swedish cargo ship bound for the United States in 1950.

While off the coast of Mobile, Alabama, Törni jumped overboard and swam to shore. He made his way up the east coast to New York City where he found work in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park “Finntown” as a carpenter and cleaner. In 1953, he was granted a residence permit and joined the U.S. Army in 1954 under the Lodge-Philbin Act which allowed the recruiting of foreign nationals into the armed forces.

Upon enlisting, Törni changed his name to Larry Thorne. He befriended a group of Finnish-American officers who, along with his impressive skill set and combat experience, helped him join the elite U.S. Army Special Forces. As a Green Beret, Thorne taught skiing, survival, mountaineering, and guerilla tactics. After attending OCS in 1957, he was commissioned as a 1st Lt. and was eventually promoted to Captain in 1960. In 1962, while assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group in West Germany, Thorne served as second-in-command of a high risk mission in the Iranian Zagros Mountains. The team searched for, located, and destroyed Top Secret material aboard a crashed U.S. plane. Thorne’s performance during the mission earned him a positive reputation in the Special Force community.

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

Thorne’s official Army photo (U.S. Army photo)

In November 1963, Thorne deployed to Vietnam with Special Forces Detachment A-734 as an adviser to ARVN forces. During an attack on their camp at Tịnh Biên, Viet Cong forces managed to breach the outer perimeter and nearly overran the U.S. and South Vietnamese troops stationed there. All members of the Special Forces detachment were wounded during the attack, including Thorne who was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valor. The character Captain Steve “Sven” Kornie in Robin Moore’s book, The Green Berets, is based on Thorne and his courageous actions at Tinh Biên.

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

A U.S. Army H-34 Choctaw similar to the one that carried Thorne on his final mission. (U.S. Army photo)

Thorne volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam and was put in command of a MACV-SOG unit. On October 18, 1965, Thorne led a clandestine mission to locate Viet Cong turnaround points on the Ho Chi Minh trail and destroy them with airstrikes as part of Operation Shining Brass. The mission was the first of its kind and the team was composed of Republic of Vietnam and U.S. forces. During the mission, the U.S. Air Force O-1 Bird Dog observation plane and the Republic of Vietnam Air Force H-34 Choctaw helicopter carrying Thorne went missing and rescue teams were unable to locate either crash site. After his disappearance, Thorne was presumed dead, posthumously promoted to the rank of Major and awarded the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross.

It was not until 1999 that Thorne’s remains were found by a Finnish and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Team. It was concluded that Thorne’s Choctaw had crashed into the side of a mountain while flying nap-of-the-earth. His remains were repatriated and formally identified in 2003. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on June 26, 2003 with full honors along with the remains of the RVNAF casualties from the crash. Thorne is the only former member of the SS to be interred at Arlington.

Though he was engaged at one point, Thorne spent most of his life committed to fighting communist forces. He left behind no wife and no children. His ex-fiancée would go on to marry another man. Instead, Thorne’s legacy is one of a warrior who ruled the battlefield. He was a scourge on the Soviets in Europe and a deadly threat to Viet Cong in Vietnam. His service and commitment to both his home country of Finland and adopted country of the United States stand as models for anyone willing to take up the profession of arms.


MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy initially denied Grace Hopper’s enlistment. Then she revolutionized computers.

Grace Hopper, WAVE mathematician, assigned to Harvard University to work on the computation project with a Mark I computer, was instrumental in ushering in the computer age. Hopper went on to become a Rear Admiral, held a Ph.D. from Yale, and tried to enlist during WWII but was rejected because of her age. As a computer scientist, Hopper made significant strides in coding languages. Here’s a profile of her life and how she directly impacted yours.

Who was she?


The fact that you’re able to read any of these words on your device is thanks, in part, to Grace Hopper, one of the most formidable American computer scientists. Serving as a Navy Rear Admiral, Hopper was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. Her impact on our modern lives is significant and nothing to be trifled with; let’s take a look at how Hopper directly impacted everything we do today.

In 1934, Hopper earned a Ph.D. in math from Yale. Her dissertation was published the same year. By 1941, she was an associate professor at Vassar.

Hopper’s great grandfather was an admiral in the U.S. Navy and fought in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. At the onset of WWII, Hopper tried to enlist in the Navy but was turned away because of her age. At 34, she was too old, and her height to weight ratio was too low for Navy standards. Hopper’s enlistment was also denied based on the criteria that her job as a mathematician was valuable to the war effort.

Undeterred, Hopper took a leave of absence from Vassar in 1943 and then joined the United States Navy Reserve. She was one of several women who volunteered to serve in WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Service), as part of the US Naval Reserve.

What were her contributions?

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

Hopper had to receive an exemption to enlist because she was fifteen points underweight. After training at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Smooth College, Hopper graduated first in her class in 1944. She was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard. There, she and Howard Aiken co-authored three papers on the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, also known as Mark I.

Mark I was used during the war effort during the latter part of WWII. It helped compute and print mathematical tables and directly contributed to the Manhattan Project. Specific sets of problems were run through the Mark I to help create simulation programs to study the atomic bomb’s implosion.

Despite her contributions, Hopper was denied a transfer to the Navy at the end of the war because of her “advanced” age of 38.

Hopper moved on to the private sector and set at work recommending the development of a new programming language that would entirely use English words. She was told that this was impossible since computers didn’t understand English and it took three years for the idea to be accepted. That was the beginning of COBOL – Common Business Oriented Language, a computer language for data processors. During this time, Hopper served as the director of the Navy Programming Languages Group and was promoted to the rank of captain in 1973.

What was her impact?

Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve as a commander in 1966 at the age of 60. She was then recalled to active duty in August 1967 for what started as a six-month assignment but turned into an indefinite appointment. Then in 1971, she retired again … only to be called back once more to active duty. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt presided over her promotion in 1973.

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

(Wikimedia Commons)

A joint resolution originating in the House of Representatives led to her promotion in 1983 to commodore by special appointment from President Reagan. Hopper remained on active duty for several years after the mandatory retirement age. IN 1985, the rank of commodore was renamed rear admiral, and Hopper became one of the Navy’s few female admirals.

Admiral Hopper’s career spanned more than four decades, and she retired in 1986. She was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat decoration awarded by the DoD.

At the time of her retirement, Admiral Hopper was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the Navy. To commemorate her 42 years of service, Hopper’s retirement ceremony was held aboard the oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy. Admiral Hopper is interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.


MIGHTY HISTORY

How Panama actually started its war with the United States

On Dec. 20, 1989, President George H. W. Bush launched Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invasion of Panama. The goal was to oust Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and maintain the neutrality of the Panama Canal while protecting American citizens there. Some 27,000 U.S. troops toppled Noriega’s regime in just over a month and they started it – just like the U.S. planned.


Some people would swear that a small Central American dictatorship with a patronage-based military starting a war with a world superpower is a terrible idea. Those people would be correct, especially considering the superpower already controlled a huge chunk of the country, and staged military units from inside that zone of control.

Until 1979, it was known as the Panama Canal Zone. By 1989, that area was full of U.S. military personnel.

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

Just a sliver. No big deal.

At the time, the United States still controlled the canal. The terms of the Carter-Torrijos Treaty stated that Panama would gain full control of the canal on Dec. 31, 1999. But even after the canal was given to Panama, the U.S. retained the right to defend the canal to keep it a neutral lane for all ships of all countries. So, the United States already had 12,000 combat-ready forces in the country before the invasion even began.

Still, the United States worked to provoke the Panamanians into committing overtly hostile acts toward U.S. troops. The Americans gave money to the campaign of Guillermo Endara, a politician in direct opposition to Noriega’s regime. When Endara won the national election over Noriega’s chosen candidate, the dictator ruled the vote invalid and then declared himself the sole ruler of Panama.

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

Drug and human trafficker-in-chief, Manuel Noriega.

Alarmed at Noriega’s shocking display of power, the U.S. military began stepping up its provocation efforts, staging military exercises in former Canal Zone areas, driving through Panamanian territory, and challenging the Panamanian Defense Forces to stop them from moving as they pleased. The Bush Administration also expanded sanctions on Panama and even funded a coup attempt against Noriega.

On Dec. 15, 1989, Noriega even declared war on the United States — but even that didn’t precipitate the invasion. The next day, four military officers were stopped by the Panamanian military on their way to dinner at the Marriott in downtown Panama City. The four officers were driving in a private vehicle when they hit a roadblock and were suddenly surrounded by PDF troops. The Panamanians fired at the vehicle, hitting Marine Capt. Richard E. Hadded in the foot and wounding Marine 1st Lt. Robert Paz, who was rushed to the hospital, where he died of his wounds.

Two Americans, a Naval officer and his wife, witnessed the event. They were detained and beaten by the PDF. That’s when President Bush called down the thunder.

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

Cue the Van Halen song.

The Panamanian Defense Forces got hit hard. In the middle of the night, tens of thousands of American troops using mechanized infantry, Special Forces, and even airborne assaults, made a move to cripple the Panamanians and capture Noriega. It was the largest combat operation since the Vietnam War, an invasion of an area the size of South Carolina.

By one in the morning on Dec. 20, 1989, U.S. troops installed Endara as Panama’s new President. Meanwhile, Army helicopter gunships and USAF F-117 Nighthawks were hitting targets around the country and the U.S. Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and U.S. Marines hit the ground in full force. They first captured special military targets, like the PDF’s La Comandancia and the Bridge of the Americas over the canal itself. SEALs destroyed Noriega’s personal boat and jet as the dictator took refuge inside Vatican City’s diplomatic mission in the capital.

He would not be there long.

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

Netflix, here’s your next season of Narcos.

Noriega hid under the protection of the Holy See as the United State military cleaned up the remnants of the Panamanian Defense Forces. Meanwhile, the Americans blasted rock and heavy metal music at the mission in an attempt to force Noriega to leave the building and face justice.

Related: Listen to the playlist that ousted Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega

He finally did on Jan. 3, 1990. Noriega was flown back to the U.S., where he faced indictments for drug trafficking in Miami. The onetime dictator would spend the rest of his life in prison.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Asian-Americans have served in the Coast Guard for 165 years

Asian-American men and women have participated in the U.S. Coast Guard for over 165 years, playing an important role in the history of the service and its predecessor services.

Cultural contact with Asian peoples came only as the nation’s borders expanded to the Pacific Rim. The first documented case of an Asian man serving aboard a Coast Guard asset took place in 1853, when the San Francisco-based cutter Argus rescued the lone survivor of the dismasted junk Yatha Maru, fed and clothed him, and enlisted him into the crew. The cutter’s commanding officer, Lt. William Pease, phonetically spelled this first Asian recruit’s name as “Dee-Yee-Noskee.”


Cutter muster roles tell the rest of the story of Asian participation in the 19th century. Ethnically Asian names begin to appear on cutter muster rolls just after the Civil War. Expanded revenue cutter operations in the Pacific and the purchase of Alaska in 1867 presented an opportunity for more Chinese, Japanese and Filipino men to enter the rolls on West Coast cutters. As with other minorities, these men initially filled positions in food service or non-ranking enlisted rates. By the end of the century, virtually every Pacific-based cutter employed Asian crew members.

Two notable Asian service members defied the West Coast pattern and enlisted on the East Coast. Chiaio-shung Soong emigrated from China to Boston as a teenager to work in his uncle’s teashop. Dissatisfied with this work, Soong enlisted aboard the cutter Schuyler Colfax in 1879 and transferred to the North Carolina-based cutter Gallatin a year later. After his brief career in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, Soong attended Duke and Vanderbilt universities before returning to China as a missionary. He became a wealthy and influential power broker in Chinese politics and his children were among early 20th century China’s most powerful military, political and economic leaders. In addition, April 1904 saw 37-year-old F. Miguchi, of Kobe, Japan, enlist as a cook aboard the cutter Gresham. Before he left the service in December 1905, he had advanced in rate from ship’s cook to wardroom steward; saved the life of a drowning cutterman; and received the first Silver Lifesaving Medal awarded to a minority Coast Guardsman. Little else is known about Miguchi and even his first name remains a mystery to this day.

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon
Photo of Chiaio-shung Soong during his years in the United States. This image was taken at his church in Wilmington, N.C.
(Courtesy of the 5th Avenue Methodist Church, Wilmington)

Wars in the Pacific had a major influence on Asian-American service in the Coast Guard. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Asian recruits continued to serve mainly on cutters based out of the West Coast. However, the 1898 Spanish-American War altered the service’s recruiting and the early 1900s saw countless Asian enlistments from captured territory, primarily the Philippines. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese-Americans were excluded from participating in the Coast Guard bringing to a temporary close an 85-year record of ethnically Japanese service members. That policy was later rescinded and Japanese-Americans returned to the service.

During World War II, Filipinos comprised the largest Asian group to serve in the Coast Guard. Most of these men were American citizens, but many native Filipino military men transferred to the Coast Guard after the Japanese captured their homeland in 1942. The exiled president of the Philippines even transferred the patrol boat Bataan and its crew to the Coast Guard for the duration of the war. Native Filipino Florence Finch worked for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence office before the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. After the fall of the island nation, she smuggled supplies to American prisoners-of-war and Filipino guerrillas. The Japanese arrested Finch, but American forces freed her in early 1945 and she boarded a Coast Guard-manned transport bound for the U.S. She next enlisted in the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, or SPARs, becoming the first Asian-American woman to don a Coast Guard uniform.

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon
Florence Smith Finch supplied food and medicine to American prisoners of war in the Philippines then became a Coast Guard SPAR late in World War II.
(Coast Guard Collection)

Asian-Americans were also the first minority graduates of the Coast Guard Academy. In 1949, Chinese-American Jack Ngum Jones became the first minority officer to graduate from the Academy. Native Chinese Kwang-Ping Hsu graduated from the Academy in 1962. He was the first foreign-born Academy graduate and one of the Coast Guard’s first minority Coast Guard aviators, flying missions primarily in the Arctic and Antarctic. Harry Toshiyuki Suzuki graduated in 1963. In 1979, Filipino Wilfredo Tamayo completed the Academy’s International Cadet Program. He was one of the first graduates of the program and he later became the 22nd commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard. The year 1980 saw Japanese-American Moynee Smith become the first minority female graduate of the Academy and, in 1982, Jeanien Yee became the second Asian-American graduate. In 1986, Hung Nguyen became the first Vietnamese-American graduate of the Coast Guard Academy.

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon
Kwang-Ping Hsu, born in mainland China was one of the service’s first minority aviators and became known for polar aviation missions.
(Coast Guard Collection)

Recent decades have seen Asian-American service members enter senior officer and enlisted levels in all branches of the service. For example, 1958 saw Manuel Tubella transfer from the Marine Corps to become the service’s second minority aviator and advanced to the rank of captain. In 2013, Rear Adm. Joseph Vojvodich became the Coast Guard’s first Asian-American flag officer and, in 2016, Rear Adm. Andrew Tiongson became the service’s second Asian-American flag officer.

For over 165 years, thousands of ethnically Asian men and women have served with distinction in the U.S. Coast Guard. They have been diligent members of the long blue line and they will play an important role in shaping the service in the 21st century.

This article originally appeared on the United States Coast Guard. Follow @uscg on Twitter.

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