The Marines tried to use this missile for close support - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support

The Marines have always tried to ensure that the grunts on the ground get reliable support from other assets, whether that asset is naval gunfire, artillery, or aircraft. Historically, they’ve been willing to consider solutions that might seem completely outside the box in order to get the grunts the support they need to survive — and win — a firefight.


In the earlier years of the Cold War, the Marines turned to a ballistic missile for close support — the MGM-18 Lacrosse. This missile was to supplement artillery by taking out specific targets on the battlefield.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
The MGM-18 Lacrosse on the back of a truck. (U.S. Army photo)

To get this missile into the theatre of operations, the Marines developed a mobile ballistic missile that could be mounted on the back of a truck. The Lacrosse had a range of 12 miles and could be armed with a selection of warheads — either a 540-pound shaped charge or a W40 nuclear warhead. Regardless, whatever this missile hit was sure to feel it.

The United States Army was intrigued by the MGM-18 and quickly took over the program — though the Marines stayed involved. The Lacrosse was guided by forward observers using radio control. Not bad for the late 1950s, but it was very cumbersome, and if the signals were jammed, it could put friendly troops at risk.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
The MGM-18 Lacrosse was retired in 1964. (Photo by White Sands Missile Museum)

The MGM-18 Lacrosse was decades ahead of its time. Ultimately, the Marines decided not to buy the system, but the Army put it to work from 1959 to 1964. Today, sophisticated evolutions of this concept are still used. Troops can designate targets for laser-guided missiles, like the AGM-114 Hellfire, and artillery rounds, like the Copperhead. They also have weapons like the BGM-71 TOW missile and the FGM-148 Javelin. The Lacrosse may not have been the right solution at the time, but today, the idea behind it is going strong.

Learn more about this advanced missile by watching the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DRhtqM3jx8
(Jeff Quitney | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Story Behind Chesty Puller’s 5 Navy Crosses and 2 Other Major Valor Awards

Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller is something like a god to United States Marines. To call Chesty a legend feels like an understatement for any Marine who has been properly indoctrinated in the ways of the World’s Finest Fighting Force. Marines are taught in boot camp about the most decorated Marine in the service’s history.

Over a 37-year career in the Corps, Chesty rose from the rank of private to lieutenant general. He saw combat in numerous conflicts and earned an unprecedented five Navy Crosses, a Distinguished Service Cross, and a Silver Star Medal. The Navy Cross is the nation’s second-highest military award for valor in combat — second only to the Medal of Honor. The Distinguished Service Cross is the Army equivalent of the Navy Cross, which is awarded by the Navy and Marine Corps. The Silver Star is the United States’ third-highest military award for valor in combat.

While most Marines are familiar with Chesty’s chest candy, the stories behind his biggest awards are less known. Strap in, folks.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support

First Navy Cross, Nicaragua

As a first lieutenant, Chesty earned his first Navy Cross for commanding a Nicaraguan National Guard unit. From February through August 1930, Chesty led five successful engagements against superior numbers of armed bandits, completely routing the enemy forces each time, according to his award citation.

“By his intelligent and forceful leadership without thought of his own personal safety, by great physical exertion and by suffering many hardships, Lieutenant Puller surmounted all obstacles and dealt five successive and severe blows against organized banditry in the Republic of Nicaragua,” his citation reads.

Second Navy Cross, Nicaragua

Chesty earned his second Navy Cross while commanding a 40-man Nicaraguan National Guard patrol from Sept. 20 to Oct. 1, 1932. The first lieutenant and his men patrolled nearly 100 miles north of their nearest base, penetrating deep into isolated mountainous bandit territory. Chesty’s patrol was ambushed Sept. 26 “by an insurgent force of 150 in a well-prepared position armed with not less than seven automatic weapons and various classes of small arms and well-supplied with ammunition,” according to Chesty’s award citation.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
Chesty Puller, second from left, and William Lee pose for a photo with Carlos Gutierrez and Carmen Torrez, members of the Nicaraguan National Guard Detachment, circa 1931. Official US Marine Corps photo.

After a Nicaraguan soldier was killed by the initial burst of fire and Chesty’s second in command was seriously wounded and reported dead, the legendary combat leader went to work.

“With great courage, coolness and display of military judgment, [Puller] so directed the fire and movement of his men that the enemy were driven first from the high ground on the right of his position, and then by a flanking movement forced from the high ground to the left and finally were scattered in confusion with a loss of 10 killed and many wounded by the persistent and well-directed attack of the patrol,” the award citation reads. “This signal victory in jungle country, with no lines of communication and 100 miles from any supporting force, was largely due to the indomitable courage and persistence of the patrol commander. Returning with the wounded to Jinotega, the patrol was ambushed twice by superior forces on Sept. 30. On both occasions the enemy was dispersed with severe losses.”

Third Navy Cross, Guadalcanal

Chesty earned his third Navy Cross as commanding officer of the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, on the Pacific island of Guadalcanal in World War II. On the night of Oct. 24-25, 1942, Lt. Col. Puller’s battalion was holding a mile-long defensive front under heavy rain and in some areas of dense jungle when a massive Japanese force launched a violent assault against the Marines.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
Chesty Puller, center, on Guadalcanal in 1942. Official US Marine Corps photo.

“Courageously withstanding the enemy’s desperate and determined attacks, Lieutenant Colonel Puller not only held his battalion to its position until reinforcements arrived three hours later, but also effectively commanded the augmented force until late in the afternoon of the next day,” Chesty’s award citation reads. “By his tireless devotion to duty and cool judgment under fire, he prevented a hostile penetration of our lines and was largely responsible for the successful defense of the sector assigned to his troops.”

The famous battle at Guadalcanal was immortalized in HBO’s The Pacific miniseries, which also recounts in inspiring detail the heroic actions of Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone (another highly decorated Marine legend) and Chesty’s push for Basilone to receive the Medal of Honor.

Fourth Navy Cross, Battle of Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain

Chesty earned his fourth Navy Cross while serving as executive officer of the 7th Marines during the Battle of Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain from Dec. 26, 1943, to Jan. 19, 1944.

“Assigned temporary command of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, from Jan. 4-9, Lieutenant Colonel Puller quickly reorganized and advanced his unit, effecting the seizure of the objective without delay,” his award citation reads. “Assuming additional duty in command of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Jan. 7-8, after the commanding officer and executive officer had been wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Puller unhesitatingly exposed himself to rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire from strongly entrenched Japanese positions to move from company to company in his front lines, reorganizing and maintaining a critical position along a fire-swept ridge. His forceful leadership and gallant fighting spirit under the most hazardous conditions were contributing factors in the defeat of the enemy during this campaign.”

Fifth Navy Cross, Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, Korea

Known for its miserable subzero conditions and nightmarish brutality, the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir holds a special place in Marine Corps lore (the gut-wrenching documentary Chosin does a great job of capturing the absolute hell that battle was), and Chesty Puller had a pretty big role there. So central that his actions at Chosin earned him his fifth Navy Cross and his only Distinguished Service Medal.

As a colonel, Chesty was serving as commanding officer of the 1st Marine Regiment when he learned his Marines were completely surrounded by tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers and famously declared, “We’ve been looking for the enemy for several days now, we’ve finally found them. We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them.”

During the period of Dec. 5-10, 1950, “Colonel Puller drove off repeated and fanatical enemy attacks upon his regimental defense sector and supply points,” his award citation reads. “Although the area was frequently covered by grazing machine-gun fire and intense artillery and mortar fire, he coolly moved along his troops to insure their correct tactical employment, reinforced the lines as the situation demanded, and successfully defended the perimeter, keeping open the main supply routes for the movement of the Division. During the attack from Koto-ri to Hungnam, he expertly utilized his Regiment as the Division rear guard, repelling two fierce enemy assaults, which severely threatened the security of the unit, and personally supervised the care and prompt evacuation of all casualties. By his unflagging determination, he served to inspire his men to heroic efforts in defense of their positions and assured the safety of much valuable equipment, which would otherwise have been lost to the enemy. His skilled leadership, superb courage and valiant devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds reflect the highest credit upon Colonel Puller and the United States Naval Service.”

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support

Distinguished Service Cross, Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, Korea

Apparently Chesty bolstered his Battle of Chosin bling and scored the Army’s equivalent of the Navy Cross for his actions Nov. 29 to Dec. 4, 1950. Chesty’s citation for this award is sparse on details but cites his “extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as commanding officer, 1st Marines […] Colonel Puller’s actions contributed materially to the breakthrough of the 1st Marine Regiment in the Chosin Reservoir area and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.”

Silver Star, Inchon Landing, Korea

Before Chosin, Chesty pulled off an extraordinary feat when he executed Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s bold gamble to change the course of the Korean War with an amphibious landing of forces at the Port of Inchon.

The Marine Corps Times reported in 2019, “The bold landing at Inchon was a major gamble by MacArthur. Critics of the Army general’s plan noted Korean defenses, a heavily mined approach to the port and obstacles like seawalls.” MacArthur, who commanded American and United Nations forces during the Korean War, awarded the Silver Star to Chesty as a symbol of respect for the Inchon landing.

Chesty’s Silver Star citation highlights his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while commanding the 1st Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces during the amphibious landing resulting in the capture of Inchon, Korea, on Sept. 15, 1950, in the Inchon-Seoul Operation. His actions contributed materially to the success of this operation and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Military Service.”

At this point, any Marine reading this listicle should be standing at attention and saluting while sounding off with a chesty “OOHRAH! Semper Fi!”

Good night, Chesty Puller, wherever you are.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy SEALs you didn’t see in Black Hawk Down

The Battle of Mogadishu is one of the most infamous and controversial engagements in modern U.S. military history. The battle has been documented in books and film, most notably the 2001 film Black Hawk Down. The film depicts the Rangers, Delta operators, 160th SOAR pilots, and Air Force Pararescuemen that made up the ill-fated Task Force Ranger. Even the 10th Mountain Division and Pakistani UN Peacekeepers were mentioned and depicted respectively. However, the film does not depict or even refer to the Navy SEALs from the elite SEAL Team Six that joined the raid on October 3, 1993, all of whom received Silver Stars for their actions during the battle.


The Marines tried to use this missile for close support

Wasdin (second from the left) with the rest of the DEVRGU sniper team (Howard Wasdin)

HT1 Howard Wasdin enlisted in the Navy in 1983 as an antisubmarine warfare operator and rescue swimmer. He served with distinction in Anti-Submarine Squadron 7 (HS-7) and even survived a helicopter crash over water before he re-enlisted to attend BUD/S. Wasdin graduated with Class 143 in July 1987 and was assigned to SEAL Team TWO in Little Creek, Virginia. He completed deployments to Europe and the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War before he volunteered for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group in November 1991, better known as SEAL Team Six. Wasdin completed an eight month specialized selection and training course to join DEVGRU and later completed the USMC Scout Sniper Course.

In August, 1993, Wasdin deployed to Mogadishu with three other snipers from SEAL Team Six and their skipper, Commander Eric Thor Olson, as part of Task Force Ranger. The special task force’s primary mission was to capture the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid who had been attacking UN supply convoys and food distribution centers. The task force also included Air Force Combat Controllers who, like the SEALs, were omitted from the 2001 film. In the time leading up to the October 3rd raid, Wasdin and the other SEALs conducted a number of missions in and around Mogadishu. On the day of the raid, the four-man team returned to the airfield from setting up CIA repeaters in the town to find the task force gearing up. The intel driving the raid had developed earlier in the day and the mission was planned quickly.

The SEALs received the hour to hour and a half-long mission brief from Cdr. Olson in just a few minutes. “You’ll be part of a blocking force. Delta will rope in and assault the building. You guys will grab the prisoners. Then get out of there,” Cdr. Olson said, slapping Wasdin on the shoulder. “Shouldn’t take long. Good luck. See you when you get back.” With that, the SEALs, and three soldiers joined the convoy of trucks and drove into the city.

Not long into the mission, the convoy received sporadic fire. The SEALs’ Humvee, referred to as a “cutvee”, had no roof, doors, or windows. The only protection that it offered was the iron engine block and a Kevlar ballistic blanket underneath the vehicle. Neither of these were able to protect one SEAL, known as Little Big Man, from taking a round on the way to the target building. “Aw hell, I’m hit!” He shouted. Wasdin pulled over to check his buddy out and found no blood. Rather, he saw Little Big Man’s broken custom Randall knife and a large red mark on his leg. The knife, strapped to Little Big Man’s leg, had absorbed most of the bullet’s energy and prevented it from entering the SEAL’s leg.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support

(Kneeling, left to right) Little Big Man, Casanova, Wasdin, and Sourpuss, with other operators of Task Force Ranger (Howard Wasdin)

The convoy made it to the target building and the SEALs joined their assigned blocking position with the Rangers and Delta operators as the Delta assaulters infilled on the roof. Wasdin engaged a handful of enemy snipers with his CAR-15 for 30 minutes before the call came over the radio to return to the convoy. It was then that he took a ricochet to the back of his left knee. “For a moment, I couldn’t move,” he recalled. “The pain surprised me, because I had reached a point in my life when I really thought I was more than human.” Wasdin’s SEAL teammate, nicknamed Casanova, quickly neutralized two militia fighters as Air Force CCT Dan Schilling dragged Wasdin to safety for a medic to patch him back up.

37 minutes into the routine mission, a call came over the radio that changed the mission, and Wasdin’s life. “Super Six One down.” CW3 Cliff “Elvis” Wolcott’s bird had been shot down by an RPG, turning the raid into a rescue mission. Wasdin hopped back behind the wheel and the SEALs joined the convoy to secure Wolcott’s crash site. Holding the wheel with his left hand, Wasdin returned fire with his CAR-15 in his right hand.

On the way to the crash site, five Somali women walked up to the roadside shoulder to shoulder, their colorful robes stretched out to their sides. When a Humvee reached them, they pulled their robes in to reveal four militia fighters who would open fire on the soldiers. Seeing this, Wasdin flicked his CAR-15’s selector switch to full-auto and emptied a thirty-round magazine into all nine Somalis. “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six,” he said of the incident. Shortly after, the call came over the radio that CW3 Mike Durant’s Super Six Four had also been shot down. With two birds down, ammunition running low, casualties mounting, and an entire city out to kill Americans, things looked grim for the men of Task Force Ranger.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support

Sgt. First Class Randy Shughart and Master Sgt. Gary Gordon were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for trying to rescue Mike Durant before they were overrun (U.S. Army)

To make matters worse, the convoluted communication network between the observation aircraft, the JOC, the C2 bird, and the convoy leader was further mired by the misunderstanding of sending the convoy to the closest crash site rather than the first crash site. This led to the bullet-ridden convoy going literally in circles and passing the target building that they raided at the start of the mission.

Even the AH-6J Little Birds providing direct fire support from the air were feeling the strain of the not so routine mission. “We’re Winchestered,” one pilot told Wasdin as he called for air support. With no ammunition left, the Little Bird pilots flew low over the enemy positions in order to draw the attention of the militia fighters skyward and off the beleaguered convoy. “The pilots didn’t just do that once. They did it at least six times that I remember,” Wasdin said, recalling the bravery of the Night Stalkers. “Our Task Force 160 pilots were badass, offering themselves up as live targets, saving our lives.”

Contact was so heavy that Wasdin ran out of 5.56 for his CAR-15, including the ammo given to him by the wounded Rangers in the back of his cutvee, forcing him to draw his 9mm Sig Sauer sidearm. As the convoy slowed, a militia fighter emerged from a doorway with an AK-47. Wasdin and the fighter exchanged rounds. The first double-tap from the Sig missed and the fighter put a round through Wasdin’s right shinbone before a second double-tap put the fighter down.

His right leg hanging on by a thread, Wasdin switched seats with Casanova and continued to return fire with his sidearm despite the incredible pain. Five to ten minutes later, Wasdin was wounded a third time, taking a round to his left ankle. “My emotions toward the enemy rocketed off the anger scale,” Wasdin recalled. “Suddenly, I realized I was in trouble.” As the convoy pressed on, the SEAL cutvee hit a landmine. Though the occupants were protected by the Kevlar blanket, the explosion brought the vehicle to a halt. With three holes in him, Wasdin thought of his family and likened his situation to one of his favorite films, The Alamo. Not willing to give up without a fight, he continued to return fire. “Physically, I couldn’t shoot effectively enough to kill anyone at that point,” Wasdin said. “I had used up two of Casanova’s pistol magazines and was down to my last.”
The Marines tried to use this missile for close support

The only picture taken on the ground during the battle (U.S. Army)

As if scripted in a movie, the Quick Reaction Force soon arrived to extract the battered convoy from the city. With the arrival of the QRF, the militia fighters retreated and gave the convoy a much-needed reprieve. “Be careful with him,” Casanova said as he helped load Wasdin onto one of the QRF’s deuce-and-a-half trucks. “His right leg is barely hanging on.” The convoy returned to the airfield without further incident.

The scene at the base was unreal. Dozens of American bodies laid out on the runway as medics tried to sort out the most critically wounded. “A Ranger opened a Humvee tailgate—blood flowed out like water.” The sight enraged Wasdin who itched for payback. Many of the chieftains in the Aidid militia, anticipating the revenge that Wasdin and his brothers sought, fled Mogadishu. Some even offered to flip on Aidid to save themselves. “Four fresh SEAL Team Six snipers from Blue Team were on their way to relieve us. Delta’s Alpha Squadron was gearing up to relieve Charlie Squadron. A new batch of Rangers was coming, too.” Ultimately, there would be no counteroffensive.

With the broadcast of the results of the battle on American televisions, the Clinton administration feared the negative publicity that further operations could bring. “In spite of the gains, President Clinton saw our sacrifices as losses,” Wasdin recalled angrily. “He ordered all actions against Aidid stopped.” Four months later, all prisoners taken by Task Force Ranger were released.

On what should have been a routine snatch and grab operation, special operators were left exposed and eventually trapped by thousands of Somali militia fighters. Conducting the raid in the afternoon without the cover of darkness removed one of the biggest advantages that the operators had. Sending them into the city without armored fighting vehicles or Spectre gunships further reduced the American technological advantage. For warriors like Wasdin though, the ultimate defeat was not finishing the job.

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This hard-drinking salty Coast Guard sea dog was banned from Greenland

One enlisted Coastie mutt – no disrespect, Sinbad was a “mixed breed” – earned a reputation that rivaled any sailor’s in any war before or since. He was one of only two non-humans to reach NCO status, even making Chief by the time of his retirement.


Sinbad was arguably the Coast Guard’s most famous mascot. He was enlisted into the USCG by Chief Boatswain’s Mate A. A. “Blackie” Rother of the Campbell. Sinbad was supposed to be a gift for Blackie’s girlfriend, but her building didn’t allow pets, so Rother took the dog back to the Cutter George W. Campbell.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
U.S. Coast Guard photo

A full-fledged member of the crew of the Campbell, Sinbad had to fill out his paperwork, wear his uniform, and was given pay commensurate with his rank. When World War II broke out in the Atlantic, Sinbad wasn’t about to play dead when it mattered most.

The dog wasn’t just for fun. He had a watch, a general quarters duty station, and his own bunk. Sinbad certainly didn’t roll over for anyone. When the Coast Guard wanted to use him as a PR tool in allied ports, the pup raised hell from Morocco to Greenland.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
Especially Greenland. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The Campbell saw plenty of action. She once rammed an enemy U-boat and was also strafed by a Nazi aircraft in the Mediterranean. During a fight with U-606, the ship was severely damaged and the CO ordered that essential personnel only would remain on the Campbell. Sinbad stayed aboard ship.

Signing his enlistment papers with a pawprint, he served on Atlantic convoy duty with the rest of the Campbell crew. Just like a sailor, he had to be disciplined. One author wrote:

“Sinbad is a salty sailor but he’s not a good sailor. He’ll never rate gold hashmarks nor Good Conduct Medals. He’s been on report several times and he’s raised hell in a number of ports. On a few occasions, he has embarrassed the United States Government by creating disturbances in foreign zones. Perhaps that’s why Coast Guardsmen love Sinbad, he’s as bad as the worst and as good as the best of us.”

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
U.S. Coast Guard photo

The precocious pup did earn medals, however. His awards include the American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and Navy Occupation Service Medal.

The crew loved Sinbad, even if no one really took responsibility for the dog. They said he earned his enlistment by drinking coffee, whiskey with beer chasers, and having his own shore liberty. He was reportedly the first off the ship at every port.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
Sinbad presumably waiting for the whiskey.

He would hit the bars hard, hopping up on empty bar stools, where his whiskey and beer habit was tended to by every bar in the area. He never paid for a drink but returned the ship “bombed” every night, with only an aspirin to tend to his hangover the next day. Sometimes his drinking led to a Captain’s Mast. He was demoted in rank for actions that generally made him a bad dog. These include:

• Missing a sailing in Italy; captured by the Shore Patrol.

• AWOL trying to rejoin the Campbell.

• Going overboard trying not to miss a sailing.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
Sinbad recovering from shore leave.

His most notorious trial was being banned from the island of Greenland altogether. During one port call, Sinbad “made his name infamous among sheep farmers.”

Captain James Hirschfield told the media that as long as Sinbad was aboard, nothing bad could happen to the ship. In a nod to Capt. Hirschfield’s statement, a statue of Sinbad is on the deck of the current Famous-class Cutter Campbell. It is considered bad luck for anyone below the rank of Chief to touch Sinbad or his bone.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
Wikimedia Commons

In his retirement days, the aging pup was sent to Barnegat Lifeboat Station in northern New Jersey, After 11 years of service. He slept, watched the ocean, and waited for Kubel’s Bar to open in the mornings until he died in 1951.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Ohio and Michigan sparked an angry border war

Forget Texas and Oklahoma, Alabama’s internal division, or even the rivalry between the Army and the Navy academies. There’s only one state rivalry that ever erupted into armed conflict: the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.


The reason? Toledo.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
Go Rockets? (photo by Maryam Abdulghaffar)

Admittedly, the war wasn’t over football. 

The spike in tensions was about not just the city of Toledo, but the entire area covered by a portion known as the Toledo Strip. In 1835, Michigan wanted to become a state but it had to settle ownership of Toledo first.

It may not be the city it once was (and the video below acknowledges that) but the strategic importance of the city meant control of the Lake Erie coastline and complete control of the Maumee River, a critical trade and transportation hub.

The Toledo War (as it came to be called) sparked more than just a long-lasting rivalry. Ohio’s importance as a swing state for Andrew Jackson’s Democrats led to political corruption that put the Toledo area in Ohio’s borders, even though Michigan was (technically) right.

At this point, it’s important to tell the reader that this author and the narrator of the video below are both Ohioans.

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support
President Biden, get ready to pose. (White House photo)

 

The “war” did turn into armed conflict, firing a total of 50 bullets and injuring one militiaman in the leg. And Jackson removed the governor of Michigan. At the time Michigan was a U.S. territory, so its governor was a Presidential appointee, which is how Jackson was able to sack him.

But while Ohio won the war for Toledo, Michigan gained its statehood AND its resource-rich upper peninsula as an extra point.

The record remained 1-1 for another 60 years when the states began to settle their scores through college football.

For more awesome, informative videos, check out KnowledgeHub’s YouTube page.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An Army astronaut may be first prosecuted for space crime

The legal community is getting geared up for what might be the first trial involving criminal activity in space as a decorated Army officer and astronaut faces accusations of identity theft after she accessed a bank account belonging to her former spouse while on the International Space Station. If formal charges are filed, it would be the first prosecution of a space crime.

(Yeah, we were hoping that the first space crime would include theft of a rocket or mounting a laser on the Moon, too. But this is the world we live in.)


The World’s First Space Crime? IN SPACE! (Real Law Review)

www.youtube.com

First, a quick rundown of the facts: Lt. Col. Anne McClain acknowledges that she used the login credentials of her former spouse, fellow Army veteran Summer Worden, to access their shared finances from the ISS. Technically, that act could constitute identity theft, but McClain says her actions were a continuation of how the couple managed finances while married.

The two women are going through a divorce that also includes a contentious custody dispute.

You may know McClain’s name from the planned all-female spacewalk in March 2019 that was canceled because there was only one spacesuit that would fit the two women scheduled for the spacewalk. Fellow astronaut Nick Hague took McClain’s place on the spacewalk, and Saturday Night Live did a fake interview with McClain the same week.

When it comes to the law that pertains to McClain in space, it does get a little murky. According to attorney Devin Stone, a practicing lawyer who runs the YouTube channel LegalEagle took a look at what laws could be brought to bear on McClain if it’s deemed that she committed a crime.

Well, for that, Stone points to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of 1967. (It’s more commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.)

Article VI of that treaty says that governments are responsible for ensuring that all activities undertaken by their representatives or nationals conform to the rules of the treaty. The treaty also charges national bodies with creating the laws necessary for controlling their nationals’ conduct in space.

And Article VIII of the same treaty says that each state that is a party to the treaty will retain jurisdiction and control of any object that state launches into space as well as any personnel it sends into space.

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(NASA/Roscosmos)

And, as Stone points out in the video above, the ISS is controlled by another agreement signed in 1998 that further defines criminal jurisdiction aboard the ISS. Basically, Article 22 of that agreement states that any governments that are part of the ISS program retain criminal jurisdiction of their nationals while that national is aboard the ISS.

So, those articles together mean that McClain was subject to all applicable U.S. laws while in orbit. And presenting the digital credentials of another person in order to gain access to their financial information is identity theft.

If a U.S. attorney brings charges against McClain, it would be under Title 18 U.S. Code § 1028 Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information. The maximum punishment for a single offense under that law is 30 years, but McClain’s actions, as reported in the press, would constitute a relatively minor offense under the code.

If McClain did not remove any money and only presented one set of false identifying documents—if she just logged in with Worden’s username and password, but didn’t create a false signature or present other false credentials—then the maximum punishment for each false login would be five years imprisonment.

And even then, the law allows for judges to assign a lower sentence, especially if there are mitigating factors or if the defendant has no prior criminal history.

But there are still some potential hiccups in a potential prosecution of McClain. As Stone discusses in his video, a murder investigation in Antartica was derailed after competing investigations and jurisdictional claims prevented a proper inquiry into the crime. The rules governing space jurisdiction has a strong parallel in the treaties and laws governing conduct in Antartic research stations.

Hopefully, for McClain and the Army’s reputation, no charges are filed. But if charges are filed, someone gets to become the first space lawyer to argue a space crime in space court. (Okay, it would just be normal federal court, but still.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This famous inventor designed drones before World War I

Nikola Tesla, the famed pioneer of electrical technology who rivaled even Thomas Edison, designed and displayed a working drone in 1898 — nearly 16 years before World War I — that he saw as a weapon that would end all wars.


Tesla’s drone was a 4-foot-long, remotely controlled boat that could be maneuvered via radio waves. He first displayed the craft during an 1898 demonstration in Madison Square Garden in New York.

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Nikola Tesla’s remote control boat, patented in 1898. (Photo: Public Domain via the Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrad)

At the show, crowds were shocked to see the boat respond to Tesla’s commands without any visible connection between the control box and the small craft. When Tesla patented the invention, he billed it as a tool of exploration, transportation, and war.

Tesla’s military plan was that the drone boat would give way to other drones, each more destructive than the last. Once nations could fight wars using robots without risking their troops, the potential for unlimited destruction was supposed to stay people’s hands and bring about a “permanent peace among nations.”

Unfortunately for Tesla, military interest in the weapon was muted, and his patent expired without any serious interest from the War or Navy Departments. Drones didn’t take off as a weapon until the end of the 1900s, and their ever-widening adoption has not ended warfare.

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The Kettering Bug followed a pre-programmed flight path to its target. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum)

The first drones didn’t even make use of remote control technology. America’s first drone-type weapon was the Kettering Bug aerial torpedo, a plane modified to follow a pre-set course and fly into its target with a large load of explosives in World War I.

Though the Kettering Bug was based on a remote-control target aircraft, the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, the bug had no radio controls of its own.

The Army did attempt to use remote-control aircraft as bombs in World War II in Operation Aphrodite. Engineers modified B-24s with the addition of radio controls and thousands of pounds of explosive. These flying bombs, dubbed the B-8s, would be flown to altitude by two pilots who would bail out at 10,000 feet. From there, a bombardier in a “mother ship” B-24 would fly the plane remotely to its target.

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A BQ-8 takes off. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

Aphrodite was a major failure with more damage done to England by malfunctioning B-8s than was done to Germany. Some B-8 pilots were killed by premature detonations including future-President John F. Kennedy’s older brother, Navy Lt. Joseph Kennedy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the US Army had a Camel Corps

Camels have been used as beasts of burden for millennia and the creature is, in many ways, vastly more suited to the task than even the sturdiest of equids. For example, a typical camel can carry in excess of 300 kilos (661 lbs) of supplies without issue, more than twice the weight an average horse or mule could carry with similar distances/speeds. In addition, camels are also largely indifferent to relatively extreme heat, can go for days without needing to take in additional water, and can happily chow down on many desert plants horses and mules wouldn’t eat if they were starving (meaning more of what they can carry can be cargo instead of food for the animals). When not under heavy load, camels can also run as fast as 40 mph in short bursts as well as sustain a speed of around 25 mph for even as much as an hour. They are also extremely sure footed and can travel in weather conditions that would make wagon use impractical.


For this reason a small, but nonetheless dedicated group within the American military in the mid 19th century was positively obsessed with the idea of using camels as pack animals, and even potentially as cavalry.

It’s noted that the largest proponent of camel power at the time was the then Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis — yes, THAT, Jefferson Davis. Davis particularly thought the camel would be useful in southern states where the army was having trouble transporting supplies owing to the desert-like conditions in some of the regions.

To solve the problem, Davis continually pushed for importing camels, including in a report to congress he wrote in 1854 where he stated, “I again invite attention to the advantages to be anticipated from the use of camels… for military and other purposes, and for reasons set forth in my last annual report, recommend that an appropriation be made to introduce a small number of the several varieties of this animal, to test their adaptation to our country…”

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Camel at Drum Barracks, San Pedro, California (1863 or earlier)

Finally, in early 1855, Congress listened, setting a $30,000 (about $800,000 today) budget for just such an experiment. One Major Henry C. Wayne was then tasked with travelling all the way across the world to buy several dozen camels to bring back to America, with Wayne setting out on this trip on June 4, 1855.

Besides going to places like Egypt and other such regions known for their camel stock, Wayne also took a detour through Europe where he grilled various camel aficionados and zoological experts on how to best take care of the animal.

After several months, Wayne returned to America with a few dozen camels and a fair amount of arrogance about his new endeavor. On that note, only about four months after taking a crash course in camel care, Wayne proudly boasted that Americans would “manage camels not only as well, but better than Arabs as they will do it with more humanity and with far greater intelligence.” Of course, when initial efforts on that front demonstrated a little more experience was needed, various Arab immigrants who had experience managing the beasts were hired to head up the task.

The newly formed United States Camel Corps quickly proved its worth, such as early on managing to carry supplies from San Antonio, Texas to Camp Verde, Arizona during a severe rainstorm that made using wagons practically impossible. In another expedition, the man in charge of the trip, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, afterwards reported back that just one camel was worth four of the best mules on that trip.

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Gwinn Heap’s illustration for Jefferson Davis’ (at that time Secretary of War) report to the U.S. Congress in 1857. The drawingu00a0illustrated the journey of the camels to the United States.

Robert E. Lee would later state after another expedition where conditions saw some of the mules die along the journey, the camels “endurance, docility and sagacity will not fail to attract attention of the Secretary of War, and but for whose reliable services the reconnaissance would have failed.”

Despite the glowing reviews, there were various complaints such as the camel’s legendary reputation for stubbornness and frequent temper tantrums and that horses were nervous around them. Of course, horses could be trained to put up with camels. The real issue seems to have been the human factor- soldiers just preferred to deal with more familiar horses and mules, despite the disadvantages compared to camels in certain situations. As Gen. David Twigg matter of factly stated: “I prefer mules for packing.”

Later, just as big of an issue was the fact that it was Jefferson Davis who championed the idea in the first place. As you might imagine, during and after the Civil War, ideas he’d previously prominently pushed for were not always viewed in the best light in the North.

Unsurprisingly from all this, the Camel Corps idea was quietly dropped within a year of the end of the Civil War and later, largely forgotten by history. However, some of the imported camels, including thousands imported by businesses around this same time that were rendered mostly useless with the establishment of the transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s, were simply set free, with sightings of wild camel still a thing in the South going all the way up to around the mid-20th century.

Bonus Facts:

  • Male Arabian camels begin courtship via more or less inflating a portion of his soft palate called a dulla with air to the point that it protrudes up to a foot out of his mouth. The result is something that looks somewhat akin to an inflated scrotum hanging out of its mouth. On top of this, they use their spit to then make a low gurgling sound, with the result being the camel also appearing to foam at the mouth at the same time. If this isn’t sexy enough for the lady camels, they also rub their necks (where they have poll glands that produce a foul, brown goo) anywhere they can and even pee on their own tails to increase their lady-attracting stench.
  • Even though today Camels can only naturally be found in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, Camels are actually thought to have originated in the Americas around 40 million years ago. It’s thought that they migrated to Asia shortly before the last Ice Age, though there were still Camels in North America as recently as 15,000 years ago.
  • America isn’t the only place that imported camels. Australia also imported up to 20,000 camels from India in the 19th century to help with exploring the country, much of which is desert. Ultimately many camels were set free and, unlike in the US, the camel population in Australia flourished. Today, Australia is estimated to have one of the largest feral camel populations in the world (estimated at 750,000 camels in 2009), which has since been deemed something of an environmental problem. As such, the government has set up a program to cull the camels, with around a couple hundred thousand being killed in the last several years in an attempt to control the population.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

The US Army’s highly secretive counterterrorist unit, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta, is without a doubt among the best counterterrorism units in the world. But it wasn’t the first.


While Delta is extremely well known, if only by its name, it wasn’t actually the first American counterterrorist force in existence. That honor goes to a different unit — now long lost to history — known as “Blue Light.”

Colonel Charlie Beckwith, a former Green Beret and the brains behind 1st SFOD-D, discussed the parallel history of Blue Light in his co-written book, “Delta Force.” Beckwith, after serving an exchange tour with the British Special Air Service, returned to the US with an idea for a dedicated counterterrorist unit, similar to the SAS.

With terrorism on the rise throughout the 1970s, it became imperative for the US military to create a force that would deal with terror threats with precision and extreme effectiveness.

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U.S. Army photo

The firebrand colonel would go on to outline his concept to the Pentagon, particularly Army generals and fellow colonels with enough sway to allocate funding for such a unit. Beckwith encountered resistance — especially from “old guard” officers who disagreed with allowing Delta to exist on its own with its own funding.

Rather, they felt that Delta needed to remain within an already established pecking order in the asymmetric warfare community — the US Army’s Special Forces.

Despite its official title, Delta Force had absolutely nothing to do with Army Special Forces Operational Detachments, also known as “A-Teams.” The title was just another vaguely-misleading cover for the unit’s real purpose.

Delta, instead, would have a direct line through the Department of Defense to the president’s office, circumventing Special Forces altogether. Further incensing the brass was the fact that Delta would be given free rein to recruit whoever interested them, including experienced Green Berets from the groups.

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Graduates of one of Delta Force’s Operator Training Courses in 1978. Blue Light would be disestablished that same year (Photo US Army)

 

Inner-Army politicking quickly led to Special Forces brass deciding it would create a counterterrorist unit of its own, ostensibly as an interim solution while Delta was getting up to speed, but with the inward hopes of it being a more permanent fixture.

The new unit — Blue Light — was staffed with commandos brought in directly from 5th Special Forces Group’s 2nd Battalion into a subordinate unit. There, they would be trained in an array of skills necessary for counterterrorist mission and be readied for real-world operations. Colonel Bob “Black Gloves” Mountel would be responsible for helming the new unit in its infancy.

Blue Light would only be equivalent to a company-sized element of troops, but would still draw its funding from Special Forces, and would push its members through further airborne and dive training, weapons courses and more.

It was assumed that because Green Berets were already highly-trained for asymmetric warfare, they would be ready to fight far quicker than Delta.

 

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Members of 5th SFG with ARVN troops in Vietnam (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

 

In the meanwhile, Beckwith and his cadre got to work designing and training the founding members of Delta Force, still very aware of the potential for Blue Light to completely take over their mission and tank 1st SFOD-D before it could even get off the ground.

Blue Light was beefed up with the presence of veteran operatives with significant combat experience under their belts, including Joseph Cincotti, a Vietnam-era Green Beret who would later go on to head up the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and who was responsible for creating the curriculum all Special Forces candidates undergo today.

In their book, “Special Forces: A Guided Tour of US Army Special Forces,” authors Tom Clancy and John Gresham claim that Blue Light was somewhat handicapped from the start. While Delta was designed to operate in every conceivable environment, using a multitude of mission-relevant skills, Blue Light was, in reality, only prepared for a few contingencies.

 

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Members of 10th Special Forces Group training alongside Lithuanian counterparts (Photo US Army)

 

Little by little, Delta Force took shape at Fort Bragg, NC, and by the end of the 1970s, Delta was ready for action. Bragg was also the home of Blue Light, and the rivalry between the two counterterrorist units was palpable. Former operator Eric Haney discusses the animosity between Blue Light and the 1st SFOD-D in his book, “Inside Delta Force.”

When Delta was declared fully operational, Blue Light faded into the shadows, eventually being disbanded in 1978. Its former members were either transferred to other units within the Army’s various Special Forces groups, or decided to retire altogether.

Beckwith, not willing to let an opportunity pass, extended invites to Blue Light commandos to try out for Delta Force, and at least four of the former counterterrorist unit’s operatives successfully passed selection and the arduous Operator Training Course to become Delta Force operators.

Former Blue Light officers would later play a part in planning Operation Eagle Claw, the failed mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Army Air Corps pilot stole a Nazi plane to escape from a POW camp

Jimmy Doolittle – the man who bombed Tokyo just 5 months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – called Bob Hoover “the greatest stick-and-rudder man that ever lived.” Hoover had only been flying for five years by the time World War II broke out.


Hoover was captured by the Nazis after being shot down on his 59th mission over Europe.

The ace wasn’t about to spend the war in a prison camp, though. After 16 months as a POW, he was determined to get out and get back to the action. He staged a fight between fellow prisoners, jumped over the Stalag’s barb wire fence, and stole an unguarded Focke-Wulf 190 from the nearby airfield. He then flew it to newly-liberated Holland.

After the war, Hoover had an illustrious aviation career. He became a test pilot and Air Force legend, even backing up Chuck Yeager when he broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 in 1947.

A “pilot’s pilot,” Hoover continued to fly in air shows until 2000.

Sadly, Hoover died on October 25, 2016, but was fondly remembered by his admirers and friends in the aviation community, including Buzz Aldrin, who tweeted:

 

Articles

10 brothers who received the Medal of Honor

How are babies made? Well, a mommy and daddy fall deeply in love, get married, and give birth to national heroes.


Here are five dinner tables from history where any third siblings must have felt really awkward as their brothers wore matching Medals of Honor every Christmas:

1. John and William Black

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(Photos: Public Domain)

Union Capt. William P. Black received the Medal of Honor for actions on March 7, 1862. His regiment was outnumbered by rebels and his Company I covered the retreat. Fierce fire cut down the Union soldiers and the younger Black was forced to hold the line on his own with a Colt revolving rifle after he was shot in the ribs. He later wrote home about the battle and left out his heroics.

The older brother, Lt. Col. John C. Black, received the Medal of Honor for actions on Dec. 7, 1862. His regiment was sent against Confederate lines that had just repulsed two other charges. Black sent out skirmishers and marched at the head of his men, but a large group of enemy infantry jumped from hiding places in the ground and fired. Despite serious wounds, Black led an organized withdrawal under fire and the regiment continued to protect Union artillery.

2. Charles and Henry Capehart

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(Photos: Public Domain)

Army Maj. Charles E. Capehart was leading a cavalry force at midnight on July 4, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg when he saw a column of retreating Confederates through the darkness. Heavy rains and a lack of light created dangerous conditions for horses at night, but Capehart led a charge that allowed the destruction and capture of most of the Confederate equipment and troops.

Doctor and Union officer Henry Capehart was leading a brigade of cavalry in West Virginia in combat on May 22, 1864, when he spotted a drowning soldier in the river. Under fire, he swam into the river and rescued his cavalryman.

3. Harry and Willard Miller

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(Photos: Public Domain)

Seaman Willard Miller and his younger brother, Quartermaster 3rd Class Harry Miller, were Canadians who enlisted in the Navy and volunteered for a risky operation at the start of the Spanish-American War. The Navy wanted to cut off Cuba’s communications with the rest of the world, requiring a raid on two underwater cables.

Two small boats went within 100 feet of batteries and rifle pits on the shore as the crews searched out the underwater cables, grappled them with hooks, and raised them to the surface to be cut with hacksaws. At one point, the boats were under pistol, rifle, and artillery fire from the shore and the U.S. naval artillery support was forced to fire just over the boat crew’s heads.

4. Allen and James Thompson

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(Photos: Public Domain)

During the Battle of White Oaks Road, Virginia, the Confederates carried the first day of fighting on March 31, 1865. The Union was trying to cut through the rebels and severe Gen. Robert E. Lee’s lines of communication with Maj. Gen. George Pickett.

On April 1, the Union was back at it and Privates Allen and James Thompson made a dangerous reconnaissance through the thick wood bordering the road. They found paths large enough for the heavy artillery to make it north and bombard the Confederate positions, assisting the Union’s victory that day. Allen was 17 and James was 15 at the time.

5. Antoine and Julien Gaujot

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Army Capt. Julien Gaujot (Photo: Public Domain)

Antoine and Julien Gaujot are the only brothers to receive the Medal of Honor in two different military campaigns.

In December 1899, Cpl. Antoine Gaujot was serving in the Philippines at the Battle of San Mateo. His unit was under heavy fire and needed to cross a river. He twice attempted to find a fording point. When that failed, he swam across the river and stole a canoe from the enemy side.

Twelve years later, Capt. Julien Gaujot was serving on the border with Mexico when a battle between Mexican government troops and rebels spilled over the border. Gaujot crossed to the Mexican side and negotiated a surrender of Mexican forces and helped them evacuate to American lines. He also rescued wounded from each side and took them to the U.S. for medical treatment.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Green Beret whistleblower risked his career to change US hostage policy

In 2001, Lt. Col. Jason Amerine was one of the first U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan to avenge the 9/11 attacks. He is a Green Beret, the U.S. Army’s elite special forces with five primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, and counterterrorism. Amerine helped tribal leader and future Afghan President Hamid Karzai launch a guerilla war against the Taliban with U.S. help and was instrumental in the capture of Kandahar.


 

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Amerine and fellow Green Berets with Karzai in 2001

 

Amerine was injured by friendly fire that killed three other special operators. He received a Bronze Star with Valor and a Purple Heart for his actions. In 2002, he was a special guest a President George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address. The Army made him a “Real Hero” in the video game “America’s Army.” They even made him into an action figure.

 

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In 2014, Amerine presented a plan to California Congressman Duncan Hunter to help with legislation concerning how the United States recovers hostages. Members of Congress have security clearances and are constitutionally charged with oversight. Amerine did not go to the media, put documents on the internet, or violate laws.

But he did hurt the FBI’s feelings.

The Army did not take kindly to Amerine’s disclosure to Congress and initiated what seemed to be a retaliatory investigation into his actions. It turned out the FBI complained to the Army about Amerine’s criticism of the Bureau’s efforts to recover Warren Weinstein, a captured aid worker who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, Caitlan Coleman, an American who was captured in Afghanistan while pregnant in 2012. Throughout the investigation, the Army prevented Amerine from retiring and even stopped paying him, unlike its treatment of alleged deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who were paid throughout their trials. He was under investigation for almost a year.

 

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“The investigation undermines the right of servicemembers to petition the government, and appears to violate the statutory protections for military whistleblowers,” Hunter said in a letter co-written by California Congresswoman Jackie Speier.

A spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division said of Amerine’s case, “We reject any notion that Army CID initiates felony criminal investigations for any other purpose than to fairly and impartially investigate credible criminal allegations that have been discovered or brought forward.”

A staffer of Representative Hunter’s said a plan was developed in the Pentagon to secure the release of Weinstein. The FBI would have released Haji Bashir Noorzai, a Taliban member in prison in the U.S. for drug trafficking, in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Berghdal, who was released by the time of the investigation into Amerine. Coleman, a U.S. citizen, and her husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle, held by the Taliban, and Dr. Shakil Afridi, a spy for the CIA in Pakistan, held by Pakistan as well as Weinstein. This deal did not take place and Bergdahl was released through a different deal.

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Weinstein as a captive.

 

CNN reported the key issues with current American strategy as of 2014 was lack of communication by the U.S. government to families of hostages and a lack of coordination about how to free them. If there were more coordination, the FBI could have told the CIA not to strike the house where Weinstein was being held. For the families, the government wouldn’t communicate because they don’t hold security clearances.

President Obama ordered a review of hostage procedures after three Americans, journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, were beheaded by ISIS. Representative Hunter’s bill proposed a “Hostage Czar,” a pointman who would coordinate hostage releases with necessary agencies.

Amerine’s West Point colleagues banded together to create a White House “We the People” petition, where 100,000 signatures would oblige the White House to respond to the petition that it provide whistleblower protection and end the investigation.

 

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Rep. Hunter, long a dogged supporter of the military and veterans (himself a former Marine officer and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran), announced Amerine’s retirement with full pay and benefits as a Lt. Col. Amerine was cleared of any wrongdoing and received the Legion of Merit.

“What’s most frustrating is that the FBI refused to work with Jason,” Hunter wrote on his Congressional website. “It’s my firm belief that failures to safely recover Americans held captive in hostile areas is a direct result of that refusal.  What’s also frustrating is that some senior Army leaders—including General Mary Legere—refused to give Jason the respect and opportunity to explain what we all knew was true: the FBI wanted Jason out of the way.  The easiest thing to do was whisper an allegation to the Army, and the Army took the bait, investigating Jason for reasons that were unsupported by any of the facts.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

Military history is chock-full of concepts that, at one point, needed to be made, seemed good on paper, were eventually implemented, but, somehow, never really became a thing. In retrospect, it’s easy to point fingers at the short-lived Balloon Corps fielded by the Union Army during the American Civil War and say it was silly.

At the time, however, it served a valuable niche. There was a definite need for air superiority, and using hot air balloons to get a height advantage gave Northern scouts an edge. The Balloon Corps actually played a valuable role in yielding Union success at Antietam, Yorktown, and the various battles along the Potomac River.

The balloons themselves weren’t bizarre. The Chief Aeronaut and Commander of the Union Army Balloon Corps, Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, on the other hand… was basically a cartoon mad scientist who somehow wound up in the service of the Union Army.


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He didn’t invent balloon travel. He just gave it a lot of style.

(National Archives)

A few things to note about Professor Lowe first: He wasn’t ever actually an officer in the U.S. Army. He held the position and received the pay of a Colonel (payment that he received in the form of ‘s worth of gold per day — about half of what a colonel made then), but he was one of the very few civilians to lead troops.

Lowe, technically, wasn’t an actual professor, either. In fact, he never even got past the fourth grade. He used the title during his charlatan days. He simply liked how it sounded on a traveling magician he knew growing up, so he adopted it, too.

What he lacked in the actual pedigree, however, he made up for with knowledge. He was, by all accounts, a self-taught man. He picked up medicine to please his grandmother’s wishes, laid the groundwork in most meteorological studies we still use today, and held 40 various patents. His was notable work was in pioneering balloon travel.

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I mean, I’m no aeronaut but I’m pretty sure you’d learn you’re flying into the south when you start hearing the banjos down below.

Lowe first tinkered with hot air balloons in hopes of eventually making a transatlantic voyage. The Smithsonian Institute became aware of his plans and even vouched for his research (referring to him as “Professor Lowe,” giving a degree of authenticity to his self-appointed title).

His first test flight from Pennsylvania to New Jersey aboard the Great Western ended when high winds ripped apart the aircraft. His second test in the smaller Enterprise went more successfully, but still went horribly wrong. The original plan was to fly from Cincinnati to Washington D.C., but high winds again flung him down south. His balloon landed in Unionville, South Carolina.

This second test happened just days after the Battle of Fort Sumter; the Civil War was now in full swing. Lowe was detained and arrested by Confederate troops who believed he was a spy for the North. They saw his balloon as a reconnaissance tool and saw him as a strategic threat. He reasoned with the Southerners, explaining that he was only a man of science in a failed experiment. Though true at the time, this sparked an idea in Lowe to actually use his balloons just as the Confederates had feared.

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They were even known to have been given fire bombs to lob down below if they drifted too far from their allies. Because why not?

(National Archives)

Professor Lowe equipped his balloons with telegraph sets and wire that ran down to the ground. He tested it above the White House for President Lincoln and sent the first ever aerial message to him. This impressed the President enough to give Lowe his first shot at military ballooning at the First Battle of Bull Run. It went, in a word, terribly.

His balloon landed behind enemy lines and he was quickly captured. As if this story weren’t yet goofy enough, his wife and mother of his ten children, Leontine Lowe, got word of his capture. So, she did what any loving wife would do, she dressed up as an old hag and hid him and his gear in a pile of sheets, like a cartoon prison break.

Professor Lowe managed to gather some valuable information before his capture and gave it back to Washington. For his work, he was given command over the Balloon Corps. Despite his early failures, his and his men’s work provided the Union with valuable information from their eyes-in-the-sky. From high above the mountains, they could telegraph down troop movements and exact locations near instantaneously.

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The moral of the story? Stay weird, my friends. Stay weird.

(Library of Congress)

Lowe’s military career was ended abruptly when he contracted malaria near the end of the war. His replacement, Captain Comstock, just didn’t understand the true insanity that was required to fly a giant hot air balloon into battle and, without a fearless leader, the Balloon Corps came to a close.

It took years for Lowe to recover, but he eventually moved out to California. There, he messed around with using hydrogen gas to cool things inside of an enclosed space. This was, essentially, the prototype of the more efficient refrigerator and compact ice machines we use today. He’d outfit several steamboats with these devices and transport fresh beef into cities without using preservative salts.

He was also the first to summit what is now known as Mt. Lowe, a relatively easy to hike mountain overlooking Pasadena, California, and earned naming rights to the mountain because, apparently, no one had ever bothered to try before.

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