The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

Phyllis “Pippa” Latour Doyle parachuted into Normandy in early May 1944, posed as a teen whose family had moved to the region to escape Allied bombing, and sold soap to German soldiers. 

Meanwhile, she obtained military intelligence about them and encoded it, hiding it on silk she kept in her hair.

A teen used soap to spy on nazis
Soap: Now a weapon against Nazis.

Codenamed Genevieve, Latour was a flight mechanic with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a teen. At the age of 23, she was selected for a covert mission, which required training in unarmed combat, weapons, morse code and parajumping. 

In one of her few interviews, she told New Zealand Army News that she joined the fight to honor her godmother’s father, who had been shot by the Nazis.

For months, she lived behind enemy lines, gathering intelligence on German forces. Her father was a French doctor who had married a British citizen living in South Africa. Fluent in French, she lived undercover as a teenage French girl, riding bicycles to pass along her coded messages. 

At one point, she directed the bombing of a German listening post, which resulted in the deaths of a German woman and two children. “I heard I was responsible for their deaths,” she said in her interview. “It was a horrible feeling. I later attended the funeral of a grandmother, her daughter and her two grandchildren, knowing I had indirectly caused their deaths.”

She was detained once by the Germans, who never thought to look for a message knitted into a hair scarf and released her.

After the war, she married an engineer and lived in Kenya, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. She did not share her military stories; instead, her family learned about her heroics by reading about them online. In 2014, she was presented with France’s highest decoration, an appointment as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, as part of the 70th anniversary of the battle of Normandy.

In April 2021, she will celebrate her 100th birthday.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The British Museum will return these war trophies to Afghanistan

Over the years, the British have taken a good many significant artifacts back to England with them. To its credit, the British Empire did an excellent job of preserving those relics. Still, plundering any country’s cultural treasures is kind of an a-hole thing to do. But there is one set of priceless antiquities that the British can feel good about rescuing and returning.

This one isn’t their fault.


One of the most troublesome incidents of the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years was the theft and complete loss of priceless cultural treasures from the distant fields and local museums around these two countries. Many of the things looted in the chaos of these two conflicts may never be seen again. Not so for nine sculpted heads from the Fourth Century AD. These were intercepted at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2002 on a flight from Pakistan. The British Museum took control of the sculptures and restored them – but how did they get there?

It’s because the Taliban are the a-holes in this situation.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

They usually are the a-holes in any situation.

These statue heads would have been atop artworks in the Buddhist temples of the ancient kingdom of Gandhāra some 1,500 years ago. The kingdom of Gandhāra straddled parts of what is today India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan at the time. As for what happened to the temples and the statues, the Taliban blew them up with dynamite. The terror group’s biggest destructive act was the use of anti-tank mines on Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Temples, which destroyed the beautiful pre-Islamic statues along the temple walls. The heads that were found in London were probably smuggled through Pakistan and on their way to the black market.

After their discovery, the British Museum was called in to document and catalog the priceless ancient sculptures. The heads will be on display in the museum for a short time, but will then be returned to the people of Afghanistan.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The unsung African-American heroes of D-Day

The salty spray of the ocean battered their faces as the boat rocked with the waves. High above in the thick grey clouds, the thunderous drone of Allied planes could be heard. In the words of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, these men were, “about to embark on the Great Crusade.”

Operation Overlord, D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, Omaha beach—these words invoke the memory of the events of June 6, 1944 when the combined allied nations assaulted the Western Front of Hitler’s Fortress Europe. As a result of media entertainment, the images that are associated with these words are often historical films of men running ashore through the high surf, John Wayne and Henry Fonda in The Longest Day, and Tom Hanks and Tom Sizemore in Saving Private Ryan. Unfortunately, this remembrance of D-Day omits the contributions of the African-American troops who supported the invasion at Normandy.


The 621 men of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion were split up amongst the thousands of troops who would storm the beaches on June 6. Their job was to go ashore and raise hydrogen-filled barrage balloons to protect the landings from strafing runs by enemy aircraft. Despite their defensive mission, these men were not immune to the merciless fire of the German guns.

“…the 88s hit us. They were murder.” Waverly Woodson Jr., a corporal and medic with the 320th, recalled during a 1994 interview with The Associated Press. “Of our 26 Navy personnel, there was only one left. They raked the whole top of the ship and killed all the crew. Then they started with the mortar shells.” Woodson was wounded in the back and groin by a mortar shell. After receiving aid from another medic, he went on to tend to the other wounded men aboard the landing craft.

Despite his own injuries, Woodson went ashore and continued to provide medical aid to his wounded comrades. For the next 30 hours on the blood-soaked beach, Woodson removed bullets from wounds, dispensed blood plasma, reset broken bones, amputated a foot and saved four men from drowning. Only after he collapsed from exhaustion and his own wounds, was Woodson evacuated to a hospital ship.

For his actions on D-Day, Woodson received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Woodson’s commanding officer had originally recommended him for a Distinguished Service Cross, and a memo from the War Department to the White House uncovered in 2015 revealed that Woodson had been recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor. The push to upgrade Woodson’s award continues to this day.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

Waverly Woodson in his Army photograph (photo provided by Joann Woodson)

Another corporal in the 320th, William Dabney, had his barrage balloon shot out above him. Without a replacement balloon to raise, Dabney dug in and did everything he could to survive. “The firing was furious on the beach. I was picking up dead bodies and I was looking at the mines blowing up soldiers…I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not,” Dabney recalled in a 2009 interview with The Associated Press. Dabney survived D-Day and continued the war providing barrage balloon cover for an anti-aircraft gun team. “I followed the big gun wherever it went. I went to Saint Lo, then near Paris, and then later to Belgium and Holland.” In 2009, Dabney was awarded the French Legion of Honor at the 65th Anniversary D-Day Ceremony at Normandy.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

William Dabney and his son, Vinnie Dabney, at the French Embassy in Washington D.C., before their trip Normandy in 2009 (photo provided by Vinnie Dabney)

The men of the 320th that survived the invasion of Europe were eventually reassigned to the Pacific Theater. They trained at Camp Stewart, Georgia, to fight the Japanese and protect friendly forces from the suicidal kamikaze planes. The 320th made it as far as Hawaii before the war ended.

Johnnie Jones, Sr. was a warrant officer responsible for unloading equipment and supplies at Normandy. As he came ashore, Jones and his men came under fire from a German sniper. “The bullets were going in front of you, back of you, side of you, everywhere,” Jones recounted. He grabbed his weapon and returned fire with his fellow soldiers. As he attempted to suppress the sniper, Jones witnessed another soldier rush the pillbox concealing the enemy. “I still see him, I see him every night. I know he didn’t come back home. He didn’t come back home but he saved me and he saved many others.” Jones is one of the last surviving African-American veterans of D-Day.

The contributions of these men and their African-American comrades was invaluable in saving lives and achieving victory in WWII. Though many of them have passed away, their memory lives on in our remembrance of D-Day as their stories are finally told.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Soviet Union wanted to nuke this hot dog stand

For around 30 years, the food court at the center of the Pentagon’s courtyard was an easy source of mid-afternoon calories for the hungry planners of a potential World War III with the Eastern Bloc. There was just one problem, and it wasn’t the food.

It was said the Soviet Union had at least two nuclear missiles pointed at it at all times.


The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

Target Acquired.

The hot dog stand, replaced in the early 2000s with another, presumably less hot dog-oriented food stand, was the center of life for a lot of the Cold War lunches had by the staff at the nation’s most important military building. It was said that the Soviet Union watched the comings and goings of top U.S. military brass in and out of the tiny structure in the middle of the courtyard every day.

They surmised it must be an important planning center or command and control bunker. So, obviously, when the war broke out, it would have to be one of the first things to go. Two ICBMs should take care of it.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

And most of the DMV area.

“Rumor has it that during the Cold War the Russians never had any less than two missiles aimed at this hot dog stand,” Brett Eaton, an information and communications officer for Washington Headquarters Services, told DoD News. “They thought this was the Pentagon’s most top-secret meeting room, and the entire Pentagon was a large fortress built around this hot dog stand.”

No one in Russia has ever confirmed this rumor, but the stand still earned the moniker “Cafe Ground Zero.” In reality, substantiated or not, the hot dog stand was smack dab in the middle of the United States’ most important military building. Since the blast radius of the Soviet Union’s best and biggest nuclear missile was big enough to wipe out New York City along with parts of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, it stands to reason that destroying the hot dog stand at the center of the Pentagon would just be a win for clogged arteries.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

A real victory.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 incredible photos of Navy ships barely fitting through the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is a man-made 52-mile-long waterway through Panama that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. When it opened in 1914, about 1,000 vessels transited the canal. By 2012, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through. In 2016, the waterway was expanded to allow larger vessels with more cargo. Here are five impressive pictures of massive U.S. naval vessels passing through the Panama Canal.

1. USS Saratoga (CV-3)

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap
USS Saratoga (CV-3) transits the canal during the inter-war period (U.S. Navy)

2. USS Lexington (CV-2)

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USS Lexington (CV-2) in one of the Panama Canal’s locks in March 1928 (U.S. Navy)

3. USS Boxer (CVS-21)

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap
USS Boxer (CVS-21) passes through the canal in 1958 before she was redesignated as an experimental amphibious assault ship (LPH-4) in 1959. Note the personal vehicles carried on her flight deck (U.S. Navy)

3. USS Valley Forge (CV-45)

ship in panama canal
USS Valley Forge (CV-45) was one of the last aircraft carriers to transit the Panama Canal (U.S. Navy)

4. USS Missouri (BB-63)

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap
USS Missouri (BB-63) had just 8 inches of clearance on either side (U.S. Navy)

5. USS New Jersey (BB-62)

ship in panama canal
USS New Jersey (BB-62) transits the Panama Canal in 1984 (USS New Jersey)

6. USNS Comfort (T-AH-20)

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap
USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) passes through the Miraflores Lock (U.S. Navy)
Articles

3 examples of how battlecruisers sucked in a fight

There are some battlecruisers that might have lasted for a bit, but all too often, battlecruisers had a very short combat career — usually ending in a spectacular fashion.


They had originally been designed to carry a set of big guns to blast apart enemy cruisers, but they also had a very high top speed, so they could outrun anything that could give them a fair fight.

The Royal Navy was familiar with battlecruisers blowing up when hit. They saw it happen at Jutland and the Denmark Strait. But Japan had its own bad experience with battlecruisers. Here are three case studies.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap
HIJMS Akagi (US Navy photo)

1. HIJMS Akagi

Okay, technically, this is an aircraft carrier, but she was converted from a battle cruiser. Akagi was impressive – ww2db.com notes she displaced 36,500 tons and was over 850 feet long. She carried as many as 90 planes.

She went down because of one bomb. Granted, it was a 1,000-pound bomb, but it was still just one conventional bomb.

According to the book “Shattered Sword” by Jon Parshall and Anthony Tully, that bomb (plus the presence of aircraft being armed and fueled) lead to catastrophic fires that eventually forced Isoroku Yamamoto to order his old command to be scuttled.

Akagi had packed a powerful punch in six months of combat – including credit for wrecking the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37) and damaging the USS West Virginia (BB 48). But she proved to have a glass jaw.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap
Battlecruiser HIJMS Hiei at Saesbo in 1926. She was sunk in 1942. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. HIJMS Hiei

On paper, the HIJMS Hiei (along with her sister ship HIJMS Kirishima) should have torn through Daniel Callaghan’s force at Guadalcanal like a kid through Christmas presents. They were two of the four Kongo-class battlecruisers, and brought the biggest guns to the fight.

But instead, it was Dan Callaghan who triumphed that night (at the cost of his life). As for Hiei? She took an 8-inch armor-piercing shell in the steering compartment, and was left a cripple. The next morning, planes from Henderson Field finished her off.

Crippled by a cruiser, then sunk by planes from the airfield she was supposed to bombard, makes Hiei a classic loser.

Her sister, Kirishima, didn’t fare much better. She went toe-to-toe with the USS Washington (BB 56) two nights later, and was reduced to a wreck before she was scuttled.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap
Two views of HIJMS Kongo as she looked in 1944, the year she was sunk by USS Sealion (SS 315). (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

3. HIJMS Kongo

The lead Kongo-class battlecruiser lasted longer, mostly because during World War II, carriers were rightly seen as the more valuable targets. But when the USS Sealion (SS 315), commanded by Lt. Cdr. Eli Thomas Reich, got her in its sights, Kongo ended up as just another battlecruiser statistic.

Here sources disagree on how many hits she took. Anthony Tully notes at CombinedFleet.com that the Kongo took at least two hits, leading to an eventual capsizing and explosion.

Rear Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison said in the “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II” that a single hit lead to the explosive end of Kongo.

So, there you have it. Three more reasons why battlecruisers are losers — provided by the Japanese Navy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

US troops in Australia got lucky thanks to rationing

While no one was keeping good track of exactly how often troops got laid in World War II, historians studying tensions between U.S. and Australian soldiers in northern Australia have noted that rationing, combined with differences in pay and uniform design, gave at least the impression that U.S. soldiers were getting a leg up in romance down under.


The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

Men of USS Northampton and USS Salt Lake City were welcomed when their ships visited Brisbane.

(Australian War Memorial)

First, let us say that there’s no appearance that anyone was doing this on purpose so Americans could bring adorable wallababies back home after the war. But a series of decisions and facts combined to make a perfect storm.

Number one: U.S. troops were sent to help defend Australia from Japanese incursions, necessarily putting them in proximity with Australian civilians, including the female ones they were most likely to pursue romantically.

Number two: U.S. troops were paid much better than their Australian counterparts with privates collecting about three times as much if they flew Ol’ Glory instead of whatever Australia calls their flag.

Number three: U.S. troops had access to Post Exchanges that sold items, like pantyhose, at low prices that weren’t available at any price to an Australian soldier (unless the Aussie bought it from an American). And, U.S. rationing of alcohol and other consumables was generally done on a unit-per-time scheme, such as two drinks per day, while Australian troops could consume a set amount at a very specific time, like X number of drinks during this specific hour.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap
U.S. military police outside the Central Hotel, Brisbane.

All of this combined meant that an Australian soldier who wanted to woo a woman could invite her out to a date, but had to be careful about costs. They could invite her to drinks, but the couple could only drink for a very limited period at a specific place. And he could give her a gift, but typically just items that were available in the Australian civilian market.

An American soldier, on the other hand, could spend more money, could get more alcohol in a more flexible way, and could purchase gifts made of silk or nylon that would otherwise be nearly impossible for the woman to procure.

Believe it or not, historians think this might have been the cause of some of the tensions between U.S. and Australian troops in World War II. If you’ve never heard about those tensions, whoa boy. This’ll be fun.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

U.S. troops disembark at New Britain in December 1943 where they worked with Australian troops.

(Harold George Dick, Australian Government)

U.S. and Australian troops had such a fraught relationship that the military dedicated multimedia efforts to trying to keep them tied together, putting out comics, pamphlets, and other short materials to try to bridge the gap between them. Slang translation guides were released, and U.S. troops were told how key Australia was to Allied victory.

Japan, meanwhile, knew about some of the tensions and released propaganda with an opposite message: U.S. troops are there to steal your women and destroy your culture. Kick them out or risk the unmaking of your society.

On at least one occasion, this tension erupted into violence. The “Battle of Brisbane” was a riot in that Australian city that raged for two days between U.S. troops and Australian troops and civilians. A number of the Australian complaints during the riot are listed above, including the presence of the American PX mentioned above.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

U.S. and Australian troops celebrate 100 years of “Mateship” in 2018.

(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

One person died, and at least 18 were seriously wounded. Rioters in some places beat U.S. soldiers to the point of hospitalization, and U.S. military police fired weapons at a crowd at one point, injuring eight and killing one. We won’t go through the whole thing here (Blake Stilwell already did a good job of it last year), but it’s a good example of the tensions between the forces overflowing.

But of course, Australian and American soldiers were able to get along when it counted, especially when they were deployed too far forward to fight over women. U.S. and Australian troops fought near each other during landings in North Africa and Sicily as well as in Europe. The bulk of Australian service was in the Pacific, and U.S. fought hand-in-hand with Australia against Japan at the Solomons, Borneo, and other areas.

And now, Australian soldiers have the same access to nylons that the U.S. does, so it’s probably not an issue anymore.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the Army and Air Force ‘treaty’ on aircraft

In the years after World War II, the biggest fights were not between the United States and the Soviet Union. They were between the various armed services of the United States military — and things were getting ugly.


The Air Force and Army went through a messy divorce after World War II — mostly due to festering issues that cropped before the war. These issues were largely due to a controversial figure in Colonel Billy Mitchell. Mitchell, a long-time airpower advocate, had rubbed many people the wrong way, even though his experiments did highlight the fact that battleships were vulnerable to planes. His heavy-handed advocacy for airpower angered many in the Army while those who agreed with him felt the Army was shortsighted. He wouldn’t live to see WWII, but the debate he started would live on.

 

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap
Naval aviation, including carriers like USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), was left intact by the Key West Agreement. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class John L. Beeman.)

 

So, in 1948, the top officers of the Army, Air Force, and Navy took a trip to Key West, Florida — but this was no spring break. The three services were there to hash out and define the responsibilities of each branch. The result was a “treaty” of sorts that became known as the Key West Agreement.

The is how the agreement broke things down: The Air Force would handle combat in the air and air transport but also promised to provide close-air support for the Army. The Navy and Marine Corps were to handle naval combat – including amphibious assault. The Army was tasked with fighting on land. What was interesting was that the Army was also allowed “such aviation and water transport” that was organic to providing support to combat units.

 

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap
This is why the Army’s aviation component primarily consists of helicopters like the AH-64 Apache. (US Army photo)

 

Now, the Key West Agreement was not a complete success. The Air Force tried to assert its nuclear bombers could do everything – and convinced the then-Secretary of Defense to cancel a supercarrier under construction. That triggered the Revolt of the Admirals, which didn’t quite stop major cuts in naval forces.

The Korean War, though, forced the services to get their act together. Ultimately, the Key West Agreement has largely worked for over 70 years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Stalin tried to blame the massacre of Katyn on the Nazis

On April 13, 1943, Nazi Germany announced the discovery of a series of mass graves containing the bodies of thousands of Polish officers who had been arrested and then executed by the Soviet Army. Seventy-five years later, the Katyn massacre is still a sensitive issue between Poland and Russia.


MIGHTY HISTORY

The Nazis had a super creepy breeding program

It may seem like attempted genocide on an international scale would have been enough for the Nazis and their dreams of racial purity. But they were proactive ethno-nationalists who were just as interested in extra-marital breeding and kidnapping as they were in mass murder. That interest led to Lebensborn, a literal Aryan breeding program.


As the Nazis cemented power in Germany in the 1930s, they instituted a series of discriminatory policies against the Jewish, Roma, and other peoples deemed immoral or undesirable by the Third Reich. On December 12, 1935, Germany instituted the Nuremberg Laws that banned intermarriage between most Germans and Jewish people. But Lebensborn was enacted in secret the same day.

The program was led by Heinrich Himmler himself. Women were recruited from the Band of German Maidens, the female wing of the Hitler Youth. (Yes, the Nazis filled their breeding roster with their version of Girl Scouts.) Women and girls who wanted to participate had to prove their racial purity going back three generations.

The “studs” of the program were primarily officers recruited from the SS and the Wehrmacht. Again, they were partnered with young women who had just made it out of the Fascist Girl Scouts. And the officers were typically partnered with multiple girls/women, sleeping with them at a time scheduled to match their peak ovulation.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

A German officer with a baby at a Lebensborn Society.

(German Federal Archives)

Women could join the program whether they were wed or unwed, though Himmler stopped advertising that fact after the Germans protested the immorality of babies being bred out of wedlock.

The babies born to the mothers were quickly weened and placed in the care of the SS. Many would be adopted out to German families, but others would live in special Lebensborn houses. There were at least 26 of these spread across Nazi-occupied Europe. An estimated 20,000 children were born to Lebensborn women.

But as creepy as all of that is, there was an even darker side to the program. Potentially hundreds of thousands of children deemed “racially pure” were kidnapped from countries conquered by the Nazis and sent to Lebensborn houses where they were indoctrinated to be German and then adopted out.

Children who refused to believe that they were abandoned by their parents or who refused to identify as German were beaten. If they continued to resist, they were sent to concentration camps and eventually killed.

The Allies found the evidence of these crimes as they liberated Europe, same as the discovery of concentration camps. On May 1, 1945, 300 children were discovered—alive but abandoned—in the town of Steinhoering. When the relatives of a kidnapped child could be identified, Allied personnel sought to reunite them with their family.

But the Germans had destroyed much of the paper trail as the Allies advanced, and many children were too brainwashed to leave their adopted families. A 1946 estimate put the number of children kidnapped at 250,000. Only 10 percent—25,000—were successfully reunited.

All of this led to a terrible legacy. Hundreds of children born or kidnapped into Lebensborn only discovered their heritage as adults. For their childhoods, they either had gaps in the knowledge of their family or else were fed lies about who their fathers were.

And, unsurprisingly, there is no sign that the breeding program led to genetically superior people. The children born of these “racially pure” unions often had blond hair and blue eyes, but there wasn’t anything remarkable about them — certainly nothing that would justify such a despicable practice by the Nazis.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Honoring our fallen isn’t political. It’s American.

I nearly died just days after arriving in Iraq. This was my first deployment and although I had never seen combat, I was a well-trained, physically fit, mentally prepared Marine. None of that mattered when a grenade landed near us. Luckily, we all walked away. That first patrol seemed like a blur at the time but years later the memory is still scarred into my brain, like a small burn on a child’s hand. It’s not about what happened that day but the reminder of what could have.



That reminder came just days after I returned home. One of my fellow Marines, a friend, was killed by a sniper’s bullet, then, another fell from a roof and died, and yet another lost his legs in an IED attack. I had survived months without a scratch but my friends who were just as well-trained were killed and injured within a week. My brain couldn’t understand the logic of what happened … because there is no logic in war.

You don’t get to pick where the bullet goes, you just have to face it. Since the founding of the United States, thousands of men and women have stared down our enemies. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice and are still buried on the battlefields where they said their last words.

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Sunrise in Section 35 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 25, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/ Arlington National Cemetery / released)

Today, the living reminder of the fallen remains in places like Gettysburg, Arlington National Cemetery and Aisne-Marne, France. Over 100 years before I stepped foot into Iraq, thousands of Marines patrolled the forests of Belleau Wood. They were all that stood to protect Paris, and the war effort, from a German assault. Outnumbered, isolated and low on ammunition, they fought and held the line. Their tenacity in battle earned them the name “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs” by the Germans. This is a name that Marines proudly still use today.

In battle, words matter. “Covering fire” has a completely different meaning than “take cover.” “Fix” is different from “flank” and so on. In peace, words matter even more. When we think of war in terms of winning and losing, we not only do ourselves the disservice of simplifying the chaos of battle but we negate the reminder that the fallen give us.

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A Sailor assigned to Special Operations Task Force West folds an American flag during a memorial marking the anniversary of the death of Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Trahan, an explosive ordnance disposal technician. Trahan was killed in action April 30, 2009 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. U.S. Navy photo/Aaron Burden

While war may have a clear victor, there are no winners on the battlefield. The gravestones, memorials and scars – both physical and invisible – that veterans carry are the reminders of that.

We are the land of the free because of the brave. Countless men and women have raised their hand to serve our country with nothing expected in return. As it’s said, “All gave some, some gave all.” The very least we can give those who paid the ultimate price is to honor their memory, acknowledge their unyielding patriotism and cherish their last great act with awe and humility, for they willingly gave their lives in service of our great nation.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 10 weirdest military mysteries

The world is full of mysteries and the military world is no exception. Each war has been accompanied by strange stories, potential double agents, secret messages and unsolved disappearances. Scary? Intriguing? You tell me! Keep scrolling to learn about the top 10 mysterious events in military history.


1. The foo fighters were more than a band name. 

Almost everyone has heard of the foo fighters, but few realize the origins of the 90s rock band name. In WWII, the foo fighters were a genuine concern. At night, American and British aircraft pilots frequently spotted bright lights in the distance. At first, they assumed the lights were Russian or German flyers. Until they began to move, that is.

The lights would change direction and speed away faster than any aircraft possibly could. Hundreds of reports were recorded, with some pilots even reporting dogfights with them. Since no one was able to figure out what the crafts were or who piloted them, they were given the nickname “foo fighters.” To this day, it’s one of the biggest military mysteries of WWII.

2. The Red Baron’s killer was never found. 

The Red Baron, a German fighter pilot during WWI, was so famous that even Snoopy knew of his aerial prowess. He was one of the most lethal fighters in history, with over 80 confirmed kills. He was a serious threat to the Allied forces throughout the majority of WWI, until he was mysteriously shot down.

A Canadian pilot named Roy Brown claimed to have shot down his plane, but the details of his story didn’t quite make sense. No one knows for sure who killed him, but whoever it was would have had their name in the history books. The Red Baron was such an amazing pilot that the Allies helped to give him a decent burial in France in honor of his skill.

3. A Hungarian soldier turned out to be a serial killer…and he was never found. 

During WWI, a man named Bela Kiss enlisted in the Hungarian army. He notified his landlord that he would be away for some time, and left for war. Some time later, the landlord heard that Kiss had died in combat, so he decided to rent the house to someone else. When he arrived to clean it out, however, he walked into a house of horrors. Several bodies were inside preserved in alcohol, all belonging to women who had disappeared.

It turns out, Kiss had been tricking women into marriage before killing them and taking control of their finances. Despite an extensive search, and a few reported sightings, he was never found.

4. A plane vanished out of thin air, starting the legend of the Bermuda Triangle. 

It’s hard to imagine that six planes could straight up disappear, but that’s what happened. On December 5, 1945, five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers, collectively known as Flight 19, stopped responding to the control tower while on a training flight. A Mariner flying boat was deployed to search for the missing planes, but the Mariner soon vanished too. While no bodies or wreckage was ever found, 27 men and six aircrafts were never seen again.

While many rumors cropped up over the years, the disappearance probably has nothing to do with the supernatural. The most likely explanation is that Flight 19’s leader, Navy Lieutenant Charles Taylor, got so disoriented that he led the planes out to sea until they ran out of gas and crashed into the Atlantic. The rescue sea plane is likely to have exploded, as flying boats were prone to catching fire. Still, after all these years the resting place of the planes have never been found.

5. A strange ad was placed in the New Yorker magazine. But who published it? 

Anyone can put an ad in the paper, but one published in the New Yorker was more than a little suspicious. The ad was for a real game called “Deadly Double,” but the copy gave a not-so-secret message: “We hope you’ll never have to spend a long winter’s night in an air-raid shelter, but we were just thinking … it’s only common sense to be prepared. If you’re not too busy between now and Christmas, why not sit down and plan a list of the things you’ll want to have on hand. … And though it’s no time, really, to be thinking of what’s fashionable, we bet that most of your friends will remember to include those intriguing dice and chips which make Chicago’s favorite game: THE DEADLY DOUBLE.”

A similar ad for the same product included the phrase, “Warning! Alerte! Achtung!” Okay, then. The dice shown in the ad’s images were even more strange. Instead of numbers 1-6, numbers like 7, 20 and 12, were shown. Some believe these bizarre ads were really a hint to American spies that an attack on Pearl Harbor was on the horizon. The creator’s widow has denied any suggestion that the game had any connection with spy activity, but it still seems a little fishy.

6. Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis predicted the bombing of Pearl Harbor over 20 years before it happened.

In 1920, Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis was a bit of an oddball in the Navy. He was known for being pretty solitary and working late into the night. When asked what he was doing in his office so late, he said he was working on “a special project.” A year later, he appeared to go mad. He gave a lengthy prediction of the future, including Japan’s attack on several islands on the Pacific, the targeting of Pearl Harbor, and the use of torpedo planes. Considering torpedo planes hadn’t been invented yet, he sounded crazy…except he was right.

All his predictions were dead on. After his prediction, he asked for a 90-day leave, which was personally approved by the Secretary of the Navy. He was given a sealed envelope and sent off to Europe, but he never arrived. He went to Japan instead, where he mysteriously died. A man who knew him travelled there to search for him…but he was found dead too! It’s a strange story with many loose ends, but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the details.

7. Ralph Sigler’s death doesn’t seem like an accident. 

Ralph Sigler, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, arrived in America when he was eight. He enlisted in the Army in 1947 and got married to a German woman shortly after while he was stationed abroad. When his tour was over, he brought her back to the states and the couple had a child. Over a decade later in 1966, FBI agents arrived at his doorstep to let him know he had been randomly selected to participate in counterespionage. The family’s ordinary life was turned upside down overnight.

In the following years, Sigler fed a great deal of false information to the SVR, Russia’s intelligence agency. When he met Russian officials in person, he quickly earned their trust. He identified 14 SVR agents and over time grew worried that the Russians were starting to suspect something. The FBI approached him by this time, but Sigler made plans to retire from the Army

His first contact with Russian officials came in 1968 in Zurich, and he soon earned their trust. Authorities have speculated that Sigler’s work led to the identification of 14 SVR agents. He was given an estimated 0,000 in compensation, every last penny of which he gave to the Army.In the mid-1970s, Sigler worried that he was “getting in too deep” and the Russians were becoming suspicious, which may have led him to offer extra information under pressure. By this time, the FBI had approached him.

The situation grew complicated, and some American intelligence officers were suspicious of his loyalties too. He was forced to take a polygraph test, which showed he was extremely on edge. Concerned, the Army arranged for Sigler to stay at a motel. Sadly, he never left. His body was found in the motel room after he had been electrocuted by two motel lamps. While the Army ruled his death a suicide, most believe he was killed and possibly tortured by Soviet agents. In his last call to his wife, he ominously told her, “I’m dying. I never lied.” He was later awarded the Legion of Merit cross for his sacrifices.

8. During the Vietnam War, troops on both sides claimed to be attacked by large, ape-like creatures. Vietnam doesn’t have apes.

The Vietnam war was chaotic to say the least, but there’s one mystery that has never been explained. Troops from both sides often reported exchanging blows with a group of human-like creatures who had reddish hair and ape-like features. Strangely, there isn’t a single known species of ape in Vietnam.

Other soldiers reported an enormous snake around 100 feet long with a massive, three-foot head. In Vietnamese folklore, such a creature was known as a “Bull Eater.” For comparison, the largest snake ever recorded is a reticulated python named Medusa, who’s 25’2″ long. Either that was a massive exaggeration or a tall tale…or a 100-foot mystery monster is lurking in the jungle.

9. A Revolutionary War hospital dealt with plenty of death, yet no one knows where the dead were laid to rest.

During the American Revolution, there were obviously a lot of injuries. To serve these wounded soldiers, a hospital was built in the new town of Easton, Pennsylvania. Needless to say, 18th-century medicine wasn’t the best. While medical records were poorly kept, it’s safe to say that hundreds or thousands died there. The strange part is that there’s no record at all of where they were buried. Since there was no formal grave yard nearby, the easiest assumption is that somewhere around Easton, there’s a mass grave from the Revolutionary War that has yet to be found. If I lived in Easton, I might move.

10. What happened to Paul Whipkey?

Fast forward a few years to the 50s. Lieutenant Paul Whipkey was working in the Air Force at Fort Ord, California. He was one of the first to witness an atomic bomb test, and he was doing pretty well. When 1957 arrived, however, things began to go awry. Whipkey stopped acting like himself, dropped weight, and appeared to be constantly ill. He developed black moles all across his body and lost all his teeth. While he was at work, two men in suits frequently arrived to speak with him, and colleagues reported that he always appeared tense when the men left. On July 10th, he left on a trip to Monterey, but he was never seen again.

The events following are shrouded in secrecy. The army cleaned out his apartment almost instantly, and he was classified as a deserter. The army seemed reluctant to search for Whipkey, and in 1977 they destroyed all files on him, yet his status was updated from “deserter” to “killed in action.” Some believe he died on a secret CIA mission, but most people believe he suffered from radiation poisoning due to the atomic bomb detonation he witnessed. I guess we’ll never know!

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a truck driver helped solve one of WWII’s most enduring mysteries

The USS Eagle 56 was only five miles off the coast of Maine when it exploded.

The World War I-era patrol boat split in half, then slipped beneath the surface of the North Atlantic. The Eagle 56 had been carrying a crew of 62. Rescuers pulled 13 survivors from the water that day. It was April 23, 1945, just two weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany.

The United States Navy classified the disaster as an accident, attributing the sinking to a blast in the boiler room. In 2001, that ruling was changed to reflect the sinking as a deliberate act of war, perpetuated by German submarine U-853, a u-boat belonging to Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine.


Still, despite the Navy’s effort to clarify the circumstances surrounding the sinking, the Eagle 56 lingered as a mystery. The ship had sunk relatively close to shore, but efforts to locate the wreck were futile for decades. No one could find the Eagle 56, a small patrol ship that had come so close to making it back home.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap

German submarine U-853 and crew.

Then, a group of friends and amateur divers decided to try to find the wreck in 2014. After years of fruitless dives and intensive research, New England-based Nomad Exploration Team successfully located the Eagle 56 in June 2018.

Business Insider spoke to two crew members — meat truck driver Jeff Goodreau and Massachusetts Department of Corrections officer Donald Ferrara — about their discovery.

Goodreau and Ferrara, along with their crewmates Ryan King, Danny Allan, Bob Foster, Nate Garrett, Josh Cummings, and Mark Bowers, are featured in “The Hunt for Eagle 56,” a Smithsonian Channel documentary series set to air at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019.

Goodreau works as a meat truck driver in Massachusetts. But diving has been his passion since the age of 18, after his employer hosted a number of scuba excursions.

“I was hooked from the first dive,” Goodreau said. “It was really cool. I found out early shipwrecks are what I’m meant to do. I really believe that that’s what I was put here to do, to find shipwrecks.”

Ferrara said he was first sucked into the world of diving by watching famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau on television, as a kid.

Sunken Navy warship found off Maine coast

www.youtube.com

Goodreau described becoming interested in pursuing “deeper and darker” dives as time went on; or, as Ferrara puts it, “crazier and stupider” underwater adventures. They became immersed in the world of technical diving, which National Association of Underwater Instructors defines as “a form of scuba diving that exceeds the typical recreational limits imposed on depth and immersion time (bottom time).”

King, Allan, and Goodreau first teamed up to find the Eagle 56 in 2014. The rest of the crew came together in the subsequent years. The Eagle 56 was an obvious choice for the for the Nomad team.

“I’m a shipwreck nerd, always have been,” Goodreau said. “The Eagle 56 was always the shipwreck to find. That was the great ghost of New England. A lot of people looked for it. Nobody could find it.”

But the Eagle 56 was never going to be an easy find. Goodreau described the ocean floor north of Cape Cod as a labyrinth of rocky mountains and canyons. The Eagle 56 was a “fairly small” boat. And, though the crew didn’t know this at the time, it was lodged in a trench.

“It’s kind of like the equivalent of dropping a soda can into canyon and putting on a blindfold and going and finding it, because you can’t just look down and see it,” Goodreau said. “Visibility’s 10 feet. It’s pitch black.”

Even worse, the crew’s expensive magnetometer ended up being somewhat of a bust, thanks to the undersea terrain.

“It turns out that the rocks off of Maine aren’t only big, they’re full of iron,” Goodreau said.

Again and again, the crew would finish out a summer diving season empty-handed. They spent the winters intensively reading up on the sinking, trying to pinpoint the ship’s coordinates. That research had an unintended side effect.

The teen who spied on Nazis as she sold them soap


A plaque on the grounds of the Portland Head Light at Cape Elizabeth, Maine, describes the loss of USS Eagle-56.

“You kind of get to know these guys,” Goodreau said, of the Eagle 56 crew members.

Ferrara added that, as a Marine veteran, he feels an affinity for the crew members who died in the attack. He said that most of the men on board were quite young.

“They were lost for 73 years,” he said.

But the team stuck with the search and, ultimately, found the wreck in June 2018. Goodreau and Ferrara say that, as a result, they’ve gotten to know plenty of relatives of the lost crew members.

The Nomad team members were even invited to the July 2019 Purple Heart ceremony for Seaman 1st Class James Cunningham, who died in the Eagle 56 sinking. Cunningham was 21-years-old at the time of the sinking. Goodreau and Ferrara say that Cunningham came from a family of Tennessee sharecroppers, and that he enlisted in the Navy when he was 18. Cunningham sent them his Navy paychecks so that they could buy a house, a property which the family still owns today.

Sadly, one group that the Nomad team will never be able to share their discovery with are the 13 survivors of sinking. They have all died.

“Some of the survivors were engineers,” Goodreau said. “Some went to their graves feeling that people blamed them for the explosion.”

The Nomad diving team will now search for the torpedo that took down the Eagle 56. And, in the meantime, they will remain cautious when diving in the area where the ship sank.

“You don’t want to disturb them,” Ferrara said. “You want to be very respectful, when you’re there.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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