The world of American small business was a very different place a hundred years ago. Business in America has always been a sort of fight to the death, but in the days before we were all connected by things like the internet, television and the rule of law, things could go south in a hurry.
That fact is especially true in the South, which has always moved at its own pace. Back in the 1920s, taking a guy to court to stop painting over your business’ sign wasn’t the easiest way to get things done. Shooting him wasn’t either, but that’s what happened to Harland Sanders.
Everyone’s favorite chicken mascot used to be a real guy and yes, he did served in the U.S. military — only he wasn’t a colonel. He was an enlisted teamster who lied about his age to join at 16. After a year in Cuba, he returned home and was discharged.
Like many veterans, he bounced around from job to job before finding his true calling: entrepreneur. He opened a Shell station in North Corbin, Kentucky. This is where he first started serving food to hungry travelers and locals. But he found competition in the oil business could be a little bit aggressive.
A competing gas station owner named Matt Stewart ran the local Standard Oil station in North Corbin. As a business tactic, he would paint over Sanders’ Shell Oil sign that told motorists where to find the station. He repeatedly warned Stewart to stop, until one day Sanders caught his competition in the act.
Maybe you’ve heard about the hot tempers of old time Southerners. Harland Sanders was no different. He threatened to shoot Corbin for painting over the sign, which is a nicer way to say what Sanders actually said, which was that he would “blow [his] g-d head off.”
But when Sanders approached Stewart that day accompanied by two Shell Oil managers, it was Stewart who opened fire on Sanders. Stewart killed one of the managers, while Sanders retrieved the dead man’s gun. Sanders and the remaining manager returned fire, wounding Stewart.
When the dust settled, Stewart would survive getting shot by Sanders, but he was on his way to prison for murder. Sanders, acting in self-defense, was not charged. With his competition eliminated, Sanders’ business thrived. He was able to pursue his true passion, the one that would soon involve 11 herbs and spices.
He became a Kentucky Colonel by Gov. Ruby Laffoon in 1935 for founding the restaurant next to his gas station. His colonelship was later reaffirmed in 1949. In the 1950s, he was able to found and grow Kentucky Fried Chicken, his claim to fame. The days of shootouts with the competition long behind him.
Inside Northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, one people have guarded the secrets and spirit of Genghis Khan for the past 800 years. They are the Darkhad, a group of nomadic warriors who have spent generations protecting the area where the Great Khan was laid to rest – but even they don’t know where that is.
It is said that Khan’s funeral procession murdered everyone it came across. After the slaves finished burying his remains, soldiers escorting the train killed the slaves. Upon the soldiers’ return, they too were killed to keep anyone from knowing the Khan’s final resting place.
It’s also said the Darkhad were given the order to protect this area some 37 generations ago, slaughtering the curious and the grave robber alike. They and their families have been there ever since.
A lot of things have happened to this region in the 800 years since. There were three Chinese imperial dynasties, two opium wars, and a Boxer Rebellion, not to mention the slaughter suffered by the Chinese people at the hands of the invading Japanese during World War II and the endless suffering caused by the first decades of Chinese Communism.
During the Soviet Era, however, the Mongolian People’s Republic, backed by the Soviet Union, kept the area restricted and the Darkhad people briefly took a back seat to satellite technology.
These days, of course, no one will kill the curious traveler (or even the archaeologist) for entering the area and searching for the Great Khan’s tomb. But the Darkhad, now some 16,000 strong, continue to guard the living spirit of Genghis Khan in relics related to him. They were housed in eight white yurts passed on from father to son, emblems of the nomadic lifestyle of the Mongolian people. It was the Darkhad who protected the yurts from the emperors, the Japanese, the Chinese Nationalists, and the Chinese Communists.
In 1956, the Communists constructed the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, to be a permanent home for the Khan-related relics. The Mausoleum is open to the public, but does not include the remains of the Mongols’ “Son of Heaven.”
Standing among the greatest warriors are the troops who go above and beyond the call of duty for their comrades when the odds are at their slimmest. This is the story of Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au.
Herbert K. Pilila’au was a native Hawaiian, born and raised on the island of O’ahu. Those who knew him growing up would describe him as a gentle kid who would spend much of his time reading the Bible and listening to classical music.
He was drafted into the Korean War at the age of 22 and attended Basic Training at Fort Shafter. His peers were in awe as they watched the stillest, quietest soldier in their company turn out to be the most physically fit and strong of the recruits. Despite being the most talked-about soldier, he remained humble and continually wrote home.
(Photo courtesy of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation – Hawaii)
Very shortly after basic training, he was attached to Charlie Company of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division and entered the fray in Gangwon Province, Korea. He volunteered to be the squad’s automatic rifleman saying, “someone had to do it.”
He first showed his prowess in battle alongside the rest of the 23rd Infantry Regiment as they fought at the Battle of Bloody Ridge in August of 1951. This victory lead United Nations troops to march on what is now known as the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge.
(Courtesy of the National Archives)
Pilila’au would meet his destiny on September 17th, 1951, when his platoon was tasked with protecting the ridge-line of Hill 931. After suffering a barrage of North Korean artillery strikes on their position, his platoon was forced to retreat. As they started to rejoin the rest of the unit, North Korean infantrymen descended on their position.
Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au volunteered himself to cover the retreat of the rest of his platoon with his Browning Automatic Rifle. He laid fire into every North Korean that came his way until he ran out of bullets. He then switched to throwing every grenade he had with him. When the grenades were gone, he pulled out his trench knife and carved into any attacker he could while punching them with his free hand. It was only after his platoon was safe that he would be surrounded and, finally, fall to an enemy bayonet.
When his platoon retook the position the next day, they discovered the bodies of forty North Koreans around his. He was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. On June 18th, 1952, Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and became the first Native Hawaiian to receive the United States Military’s highest decoration.
During the pre-dawn hours of October 25, 1893, a British column of 700 men from the British South African Police under the command of Maj. Patrick William Forbes camped in a defensive position next to the Shangani River. While they slept, the Matabele king Lobengula ordered an attack on the column, sending a force comprised of up to 6,000 men – some armed with spears, but many with Martini-Henry rifles.
Among its weapons, the column possessed five Maxim guns – history’s first recoil-operated, belt-fed machine gun. Once a British bugler sounded the alert, the machine guns saw action, and the results were horrific. More than 1,600 of the attacking Matabele tribesman were mowed down like grass. As for the British column, it suffered only four casualties.
The British military not only measured the Maxim gun’s success by the number of Matabele killed in action. They could gauge the Maxim’s potential as a weapon of psychological warfare. In the aftermath, several Matabele war leaders committed suicide either by hanging themselves or throwing themselves on their spears.
The Maxim gun was an earth-shattering a weapon in its heyday – and a true weapon of empire.
Hiram Maxim‘s invention brought industrial-level killing to the battlefield. More than any other weapon developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the Maxim gun is responsible for changing the nature of warfare forever.
The British square and “the thin red line” of massed infantry firepower eventually went the way of the dodo. When the Maxim gun opened fire at 500 rounds per minute, the tactic of soldiers firing in ranks became suicidal – from then on, the infantryman would have to dash and weave, relying on his ability to maneuver to bring fire to bear on the enemy and to stay alive.
The Maxim gun has two phases to its history. The first is when it was used as the weapon of choice to help expand the British Empire during the late 19th Century. The weapon’s devastating use during The Great War launched the second phase of its history as one of the guns of modern 20th Century warfare.
But to really understand the weapon you have know something about Maxim, an American who was both an impressive genius and a shrewd businessman.
Born in Maine in 1840, tinkering came naturally to Maxim. While still a teenager, he literally built the better mousetrap – his automatically reset and rid local mills of rodents. At 26, he patented a curling iron, the first of 270 more patents to come. Then, Maxim became chief engineer of the United States Electric Lighting Co. in New York, where he introduced longer-lasting carbon filaments for electric light bulbs.
But he wanted fame and fortune – particularly fortune. He went to Europe in an effort to seek wealth by developing peacetime inventions like he had in the United States.
“In 1882 I was in Vienna, where I met an American whom I had known in the States,” Maxim wrote in his memoir. “He said: ‘Hang your chemistry and electricity! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility.'”
Sound advice: In 1884, he harnessed the recoil of a bullet with a spring-loaded bolt mechanism and feeding device that fed ammunition into the gun on a cloth belt. The Gatling or Nordenfelt rapid-firing guns of the time were hand-cranked, gravity-fed weapons with multiple barrels prone to jamming.
Maxim also invented a cleaner burning, smokeless powder that he called cordite, which fouled a weapon much less than the black powder of the era. The combination of mechanized automatic fire and cleaner ammunition was revolutionary. By 1889, the British army adopted the Maxim gun; a year later, the armies of Austria, Germany, Italy and Russia all had Maxims.
The quintessential incarnation of the Maxim gun came when the inventor partnered with the British Vickers Co. The result was a water-cooled, tripod-mounted machine gun in .303 caliber, fed by ammunition on a 250-round belt.
It came just in time for World War I. However, many generals and military planners doubted the effectiveness of the Maxim gun as well as similar machine guns against troops of Western European powers.
They still preached the bayonet charge. As one infantry manual said, “The spirit of the bayonet must be inculcated into all ranks, so that they go forward with aggressive determination and confidence of superiority born of continued practice, without which a bayonet charge will not be effective.”
Not even the evidence of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1906) with its long sieges and trench warfare – an eerie predictor of The Great War’s horrors to come – could persuade military observers of the Maxim gun’s lethality on the modern battlefield.
“The observers watched Russian and Japanese being mowed down in swathes by machine-gun fire and returned home to write: The machine gun is a vastly overrated weapon; it appears highly doubtful that it would be effective against trained European soldiery,” James L. Stokesbury drily comments in A Short History of World War I. “Apparently, they did not consider Japanese, or even Russians, to be in that supposedly elite category.”
The reality on the Western Front was something quite different. Some called The Great War “the machine gun war” – although artillery fire often caused the bulk of the casualties, soldiers vividly recounted watching their comrades drop like flies as machine guns traversed their ranks while firing.
In just one day during the Battle of the Somme – July 1, 1916 – the British saw 21,000 men slaughtered. The great majority of the casualties were killed by Spandau machine guns, the German version of the Maxim.
Maxim – wealthy, famous, and knighted by the queen – died on November 24, 1916, in London, his home after he became a naturalized British subject. A few weeks before, the Battle of the Somme had ended. The result was more than a million casualties.
After relieving the 1st Marine Division and securing the defeat of the Japanese at Guadalcanal, the 2nd Marine Division prepared for the first major assault of the Pacific island-hopping campaign. Their target was a small coral atoll called Tarawa.
The Japanese garrison on Betio, an island of the Tarawa atoll, stood in the way of communications lines between Hawaii and other objectives in the Central Pacific.
The operation, codenamed Galvanic, combined an assault by the 27th Infantry Division on Makin Island and a later landing on Apamama would clear the Gilbert Islands and, according to Admiral Nimitz, “[knock] down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific.”
Unfortunately for the Marines, their earlier diversionary raid against Makin Island had alerted the Japanese to the importance of the Gilbert Islands. They had fortified Betio accordingly.
The island was small, only about three miles long and no wider than 800 meters, but within that confined space the Japanese had constructed some 500 pillboxes, four eight-inch gun turrets, and numerous artillery and machine gun emplacements. A coral and log seawall ringed most of the island and 13mm dual-purpose anti-boat/antiaircraft machine guns protected the most likely approaches.
The Marines were bringing one division. Leading the way would be the 2nd Marine Regiment under Col. David Shoup. Aimed at Red Beach 1 and leading the charge for the regiment were the men of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines. To their left, hitting Red Beaches 2 and 3, were their sister battalion 2/2 Marines, and 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines.
On the morning of Nov. 20, 1943, after a scant three-hour naval bombardment, the Marines headed for shore.
Immediately issues began to develop. First, the naval gun fire ceased at approximately 0900 while the Marines in their Landing Vehicles, Tracked (LVT) were still 4,000 yards off shore. Second, an unexpected neap tide had failed to cover a reef in the lagoon. The LVTs could easily crawl over it, but the Higgins boats carrying later waves would not have sufficient depth to clear the reef.
As the Marines approached the shore, they realized the naval bombardment had been rather ineffective. They started taking heavy fire from the Japanese as they made their way across the lagoon. One Marine recalled a Japanese officer holding a pistol and defiantly waving the Americans ashore.
The Marines of the Amphibious Tractor Battalion battled back, blasting over 10,000 rounds at the Japanese from their .50 caliber machine guns. But the exposed gunners paid a heavy price.
Finally, at 0910, LVT 4-9 carried the first Marines from 3/2 onto the beaches of Betio. The driver slammed it into the seawall in hopes of scaling it but stalled out.
A Marine sergeant jumped up to lead his men into the fray and was immediately cut down by gunfire. The remaining Marines jumped out and assaulted several Japanese positions before they all became casualties.
As the successive waves of the 3rd Battalion landed they fared even worse. Fully alerted to the incoming Americans, Japanese gunners now targeted the approaching LVTs. The unarmored vehicles offered little protection and many were sunk or damaged beyond repair.
The initial assault companies, K and L, suffered over 50 percent casualties in the first two hours of the assault. The following waves were in even more trouble. Embarked in landing craft, they had no choice but to unload at the reef due to the neap tide. This meant wading ashore some 500 yards under heavy fire.
This was how the men of L company under Major Mike Ryan made it ashore. Rather than leading his men directly into the carnage of Red Beach 1, Ryan followed a lone Marine he had seen breach the seawall at the edge of Red Beach 1 and Green Beach, the designated landing area that comprised the western end of the island.
Ryan’s landing point caught the eye of other Marines coming ashore who diverted towards his position.
As more Marines from successive waves and other survivors worked their way to the west end of the island Ryan took command and began to form a composite battalion from the troops he had. These men would come to be known as “Ryan’s orphans.”
Adding to the chaos for 3/2 was the fact that their commanding officer had still not landed. Seeing his assault forces shattered on the beach and following waves cut down in the water he radioed Shoup for guidance. When Shoup directed him to land at Red 2 and work west he simply replied, “We have nothing left to land.”
On the beach, the Marines of 3/2 continued to fight for their lives. After managing to wrangle two anti-tank guns onto the beach they realized they were too short to fire over the seawall. As Japanese tanks approached their positions cries went up to “lift them over!” Men raced to get the guns atop the seawall just in time for the gunners to drive off the Japanese tanks.
Meanwhile Maj. Ryan’s composite battalion of 3/2 Marines and others had acquired a pair of Sherman tanks. Learning on the fly, the Marines coordinated assaults on pillboxes with infantry and tank fire. This gave the Marines on Betio their most significant advance of the day as Ryan’s orphans were able to penetrate 500 meters inland.
3rd Battalion was badly mauled in the initial assault on Betio. Surrounded by strong Japanese fortifications the survivors on Red Beach 1 would fight for their lives for the remainder of the battle.
Ryan’s orphans made a significant contribution to the battle in opening up Green Beach so men of the 6th Marine Regiment could come ashore to reinforce the battered survivors.
Now reformed, 3/2 would take part in one of the final assaults to secure the island helping to reduce the dedicated Japanese fortification at the confluence of Red Beaches 1 and 2. The island was declared 76 hours after the first Marines had landed.
The Marines suffered over 1,000 men killed and over 2,000 wounded.
Col. David Shoup summed up the experience, “with God and the U.S. Navy in direct support of the 2d Marine Division there was never any doubt we would get Betio. For several hours, however, there was considerable haggling over the exact price we were to pay for it.”
Britain formed a number of commando units in World War II that operated from Burma to India to Europe and even north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. The No. 14 (Arctic) Commando trained specifically to sink German ships, destroy infrastructure, and interrupt operations in order to cripple Axis efforts in the Atlantic.
But Gunnerside had also shown a shortage of suitable transportation and experienced personnel, so British leadership allowed members of the 12 Commando unit to form the ‘Fynn Force’ as well as to create an all new commando unit, 14 Commando, in 1942.
Troops were recruited from units with experience in cold climates, especially those who already knew how to ski and canoe. Yes, canoe. The unit was to be split into two, each specialized for certain operations. One group would specialize in transiting via skis, and the other would row in canoes.
Canadians were in high demand for the unit, but British and Norwegian sailors and commandos joined as well. It was a job that required steady nerves. Most missions proposed for the Arctic commandos were obvious suicide missions. One raid scheduled for the winter of 1942-1943 called for a group of skiers to parachute in and destroy a viaduct critical for iron ore transportation.
The unit commander voted against the mission on the basis that the party would almost certainly not be able to escape, but was overruled because of the value of success even if the commandos were lost. Luckily for them, weather made the mission impossible.
They went forward on a motorboat and then split up. Four men stayed with the boat while four men went forward in two canoes. The men in the canoes were able to plant a limpet mine against the hull of ships, sinking a German minesweeper before they escaped.
But the mission fell apart there. The men on the motorboat had been forced to move from the rendezvous point, and the quartets were forced to escape and evade separately. Neither group made it out. They were captured during a massive search involving German forces and Norwegian civilians.
Thanks to the new order from Hitler to kill all captured commandos, issued just months before in October 1942, all eight were sentenced to die. Seven were executed after forced labor in concentration camps while the other died of typhus.
The rest of No. 14 Commando was later absorbed into other units after the organization was disbanded.
The “nuclear football” is guarded by a senior military aide-de-camp and kept in close proximity to the US president whenever he is away from the White House. Following World War II, nuclear weapons were a new reality of the world’s superpowers, and when the US and Soviet Union squared off in the Cold War these superweapons were strategic methods for deterrence. After the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, President John F. Kennedy questioned whether there was a need for a doomsday weapon capability that could allow its operator to order a nuclear strike from anywhere in the world.
“What would I say to the Joint War Room to launch an immediate nuclear strike?” he asked, according to declassified reports. “How would the person who received my instructions verify them?”
The solution was a 45-pound aluminum-framed black leather briefcase, officially called the Presidential Emergency Satchel. It became more commonly known as the nuclear football because the nuclear plan was code-named Operation Dropkick — it needed a “football” to complete the sequence. The most common misconception about the nuclear football is that the president flips a switch or hits a big red button and the world ends moments later. If that were the case, the world should be very concerned. Fortunately, it verifies the identity of the president and connects him to the Pentagon, which is responsible for carrying out the military strike.
In 1980, Bill Gulley, the former director of the White House Military Office, wrote a tell-all book, Breaking Cover, describing the shady money deals under four different administrations — those of Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. TheWashington Post gave Gulley, who even disclosed the different components of the nuclear football, the unflattering title of the “mercenary snitch.”
“There are four things in the Football,” Gulley writes. “The Black Book containing the retaliatory options, a book listing classified site locations, a manila folder with eight or ten pages stapled together giving a description of procedures for the Emergency Broadcast System, and a three-by-five inch card with authentication codes [which the president usually carries separately from the football].”
Carter later found these retaliatory options super complicated, so he started the process of simplifying the nuclear codes, or “the biscuit.” Air Force Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson, a senior military aide-de-camp responsible for President Bill Clinton’s nuclear football, explained the refined codes were similar to a “Denny’s breakfast menu” because “it’s like picking one out of Column A and two out of Column B.” On the day when the Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal hit the national press, the president forgot where he had put the nuclear football.
“I was floored — and so was the Pentagon,” Patterson recalled. “It had never happened before.”
Although Clinton once lost the nuclear football and then left it behind at a NATO meeting on another occasion, he wasn’t the only president guilty of misplacing the highly sensitive and secret world-ending capability. Carter lost the biscuit when he left the card in his suit and it was sent to the dry cleaners. When President Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt in 1981, his biscuit was thrown away in a trash can in the George Washington University Hospital.
The most recent ordeal involving the nuclear football came in 2017 when President Donald Trump visited China. A scuffle between Chinese security officials and the US Secret Service ensued after the nuclear football wasn’t allowed inside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
“Then there was a commotion,” Axios reported in 2018. “A Chinese security official grabbed [Chief of Staff John] Kelly, and Kelly shoved the man’s hand off of his body. Then a U.S. Secret Service agent grabbed the Chinese security official and tackled him to the ground.”
Since the nuclear football was first photographed on May 10, 1963, it has become the focus of the media, a concern for foreign governments, and a token of strength and military might for the US government. It was even replicated by the Soviet Union, which created its own version called the Cheget.
Three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Capt. Colin Kelly, Jr. was set to fly over Taiwan in his B-17 Flying Fortress in one of the first American counter attacks of World War II. Kelly was stationed on Luzon, in the Philippines and survived the massive Japanese attack on that island nation as well. Kelly died after attacking a Japanese heavy cruiser, one of the first casualties of the Pacific War and the first graduate of the United States Military Academy to die in combat.
He was also one of the first heroes of the Army Air Corps in World War II – and President Roosevelt would not forget him.
Instead of Taiwan, the 26-year-old pilot dropped a bomb load on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Ashigara as it supported the landing invasion forces on Luzon. He was immediately swarmed by Japanese Zeros. The B-17 pilot never had a chance. Before he could bail out, the plane exploded with Kelly inside. He stayed at the controls so his crew could bail out.
This painting of Colin Kelly, Jr. hangs in the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
“Out of ammunition, I flew alongside the B-17 and saw the pilot trying to save the burning aircraft after allowing his crew to escape,” a Japanese pilot who was over Luzon that day remembered. “I have tremendous respect for him.” Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross
Americans responded to the news of Colin Kelly’s death by setting up a fund for his son’s education, once he reached college age. But one person in particular wanted to make sure the son of America’s first World War II hero had the chance to do whatever he wanted in life.
That person was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
When watching a movie like Saving Private Ryan for the first time, I scoffed at the idea that someone so high up in the government would be able to watch a situation like World War II from the ivory tower of the White House and have such a granular effect on the individuals affected by the war. And maybe President Roosevelt didn’t have time for everyone, but for Colin Kelly III, Capt. Kelly’s son, he sure did.
Roosevelt penned a letter to the future, specifically, to the future President of the United States in 1956. That would be the year Colin Kelly III would start looking for a university and Roosevelt want to ensure he did everything he could for the boy.
I am writing this letter as an act of faith in the destiny of our country. I desire to make a request which I make in full confidence that we shall achieve a glorious victory in the war we now are waging to preserve our democratic way of life.
My request is that you consider the merits of a young American youth of goodly heritage—Colin P. Kelly, III—for appointment as a Cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. I make this appeal in behalf of this youth as a token of the Nation’s appreciation of the heroic services of his father, who met death in line of duty at the very outset of the struggle which was thrust upon us by the perfidy of a professed friend.
In the conviction that the service and example of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., will be long remembered, I ask for this consideration in behalf of Colin P. Kelly, III.
1956 just so happened to be Ike’s re-election year.
“Most people in my parents’ generation or a bit older or younger seem readily to remember being deeply touched by what President Roosevelt did for the infant son of the young pilot killed in the Pacific,” Colin Kelly III later wrote for theNew York Times. “It was one of the first actions of F.D.R. as the wartime President, a special White House ceremony in which he personally signed the papers appointing me to the Academy.”
In 1956, that future President was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike received FDR’s letter, read it, and honored the request of his Presidential predecessor – but Colin Kelly III didn’t accept the appointment, he decided to earn his place at West Point, competing with the other potential plebes and graduating in the class of 1963.
The younger Kelly spent his time in the Army as a tank commander in West Germany. After his time in the service was up, he left and went to divinity school, only to return to the U.S. Army as a chaplain, saying
“The Lord called me when I was 14, but I believed I was called to complete my West Point opportunity first.”
Like father, like son. West Point graduates and U.S. Army Captains Colin P. Kelly.
Kelly was too young to remember his heroic father, but his memory lived on through the people that knew him best: neighbors, relatives, and close friends. Over the years, Colin Kelly got to know his father through their eyes while making his own way through life, still following in his father’s footsteps.
The Battle of the Coral Sea was a game-changer in terms of naval battles. Not only did it mark the first time the Allies turned the Japanese back during World War II, it was the first time ships fought without sighting each other. That means the primary weapons weren’t guns, as they had been for centuries — they were planes.
At that point in World War II, the air groups on fleet carriers usually consisted of three types of planes: fighters, dive-bombers, and torpedo planes. We’ll look at the aircraft that did most of the fighting.
The Grumman F4F Wildcat walked a long road in becoming one of the most successful naval fighters of all time. At first, the US Navy didn’t even want the plane, opting instead to field the Brewster F2A Buffalo. By the time the war started, however, the Wildcat won out. The F4F-3 that fought at the Coral Sea packed four .50-caliber machine guns. 20 F4F-3 s were on USS Yorktown (CV 5), and 22 were on USS Lexington (CV 2).
Mitsubishi A6M Zero – “Zeke”
This was Japan’s best fighter in World War II. In China, it racked up a huge kill count and went on to dominate against British, Dutch, and even American fighters over the first six months of World War II. It packed a pair of 7.7mm machine guns and two 20mm cannons. The Japanese fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku each had 21 Zekes on board, and the light carrier Shoho added 12 more.
Douglas SBD Dauntless
This plane became America’s most lethal ship-killer in World War II —and it did so using 1,000-pound bombs. The plane also packed two .50-caliber machine guns in the nose and a twin .30-caliber machine gun mount used by the radioman. That combination proved lethal to a number of Zekes. USS Yorktown had 38 on board, USS Lexington had 36.
Aichi D3A – “Val”
Japan’s primary dive bomber was only capable of carrying a 550-pound bomb, which left it unable to land a killing blow. Even after suffering repeated strikes, a target could still float, lingering. Still, it was capable of doing damage. Shokaku had 20 Vals on board, Zuikaku had 21 at the start of the battle.
Douglas TBD Devastator
The Douglas TBD Devastator is best known as the plane that was decimated at Midway. It could carry a single Mk 13 torpedo, but also was able to be used as a level bomber. It had a single .30-caliber machine gun in the nose, and was built for a single .30-caliber machine gun to be used by a rear gunner, who doubled as the radioman. USS Lexington had 12 planes on board, USS Yorktown had 13.
Nakajima B5N – “Kate”
This was the plane that a Japanese carrier used as its ship killer. It carried a crew of three and could carry a torpedo or be used as a level bomber. Unlike the Devastator, the Kate’s mark in history can be listed in the ships it sank: USS Arizona (with a level bomb), USS Oklahoma (with torpedoes), and USS Lexington (torpedoes) were three of the most notable prior to the Battle of Midway. It had a single 7.7mm machine gun used by the radioman and some additional guns in the wings. Shokaku and Zuikaku each had 21 of these planes on board, and Shoho added nine more.
When the 6th Marine Division stormed ashore at Okinawa on April 1, 1945 they knew they were in for a fight. Okinawa is a Japanese prefecture, therefore home turf, and would be ruthlessly defended.
But, their first month on the island was almost uneventful as the Marines swept across the northern part of the island.
All of that changed when they shifted to join the attack in the south.
The Japanese commander’s plan was to concentrate his forces in the hills of southern Okinawa and wage a war of attrition on the Americans that he hoped they could not withstand.
All along the front, American units took a beating from the Japanese. Slowly but surely though, they crept forward. This monumental effort broke the first defensive line, the Machinato line. This led the Americans to the next, and even more formidable defense, the Shuri line.
The Shuri line was the Japanese Main Line of Resistance. It ran from coast to coast across Okinawa roughly in line with Shuri castle.
All along the line, the Japanese defenders were chewing up entire American divisions. However, the worst of it would come for the 6th Marine Division at an unassuming little hill they called “Sugar Loaf.”
Though barely 75 feet high and some 300 yards in length the small hill was teeming with an entire Japanese regiment. The Japanese were dug into intricate tunnels with machine gun and mortar nests covering every approach with interlocking fire.
Artillery from Shuri heights behind Sugar Loaf added more devastation.
On May 12 Company G, 22nd Marines advanced on the hill. Confidence was high as they crossed the first 900 yards to Sugar Loaf’s slopes. Then all hell broke loose. The first two platoons were suddenly ripped apart and pinned down by heavy Japanese machine gun and artillery fire.
Capt. Owen Stebbins, and his XO, Lt. Dale Bair rushed forward leading the remaining platoon. Before they could even make the slopes, Stebbins and 28 other Marines were cut down.
Bair assumed command but was wounded instantly himself. Despite his wounds, he rallied his men and surged to the crest of Sugar Loaf. Blasting at the Japanese with only one good arm Bair inspired his men before Japanese fire repeatedly struck him. Continuing to fight through the pain Bair did everything in his power to suppress the Japanese. He was later awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.
As the Japanese fire intensified, the few remaining Marines evacuated the summit. However, the fight was not over. G Company would assault Sugar Loaf and take the summit three more times that day before being forced to withdraw for the night.
Company G was down to 75 able-bodied men after only the first day. The next day other elements of the 22nd Marines captured the summit of Sugar Loaf only to be driven off.
On May 14, elements of the 29th Marines joined in on the attack and the combined effort managed to get two companies to the top of the hill. Withering fire from the Japanese forced them back down.
An attack in the afternoon by the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Marines stalled and left Maj. Henry Courtney, the battalion XO, stranded on the slopes along with 44 other Marines. From his precarious position, Courtney surmised that their only hope was to assault.
Leading the way through ferocious Japanese fire Courtney led his men through fierce combat. After gaining a better position, Courtney sent for reinforcements and ammunition. He then pushed forward to the crest of the hill, demolishing Japanese positions with grenades as he went. Observing a large force assembling for a counterattack Courtney pushed on and routed the enemy from the top of Sugar Loaf.
Courtney order his men to dig in and hold for the night. Unfortunately, accurate Japanese mortar fire mortally wounded him and determined Japanese resistance reduced his small force to only 15 men. Unable to hold they once again yielded the summit.
May 15 was no better for the Marines. Company D, 29th Marines battled to the top before fighting a bitter engagement with the Japanese. A single platoon exhausted some 350 grenades and were down to eleven men before they retreated.
On the 16th, the Marines renewed their assault. The 22nd Marines once again went up Sugar Loaf while the 29th Marines attacked Half Moon hill, a small landmass interconnected with Sugar Loaf’s defenses, from which they could provide supporting fire.
Sugar Loaf changed hands four separate times before the Marines withdrew. The final attempt seemed to be holding when they ran out of ammunition and had no choice but to forfeit the hill once more.
The first good news of the battle came on May 17 when a battalion from the 29th Marines finally secured most of Half Moon hill.
The next day, the Marines launched diversionary attacks all along the line and then snuck a unit of tanks and infantry between Sugar Loaf and Half Moon. These Marines then attacked Sugar Loaf from the rear and finally drove out the remaining Japanese defenders. This was the twelfth times the Marines had made the summit and they were loath to relinquish it.
The beleaguered and angry Marines mowed down the retreating Japanese.
The fight for Sugar Loaf Hill had cost the Marines over 2,600 causalities with nearly 1,300 more evacuated for exhaustion or illness. But, the Marines hard-won victory finally cracked the Shuri line and spelled the end for the Japanese defenders on Okinawa.
They watched for bubbles to surface as the man with a crude scuba mask swam across the basement pool of a prominent Washington hotel 75 years ago this week.
That top-secret World War II-era experiment, seeking to develop the sabotage skills of America’s first elite swimmer-commandos, was the critical opening chapter in the evolving history of the U.S. Navy SEALs.
That afternoon, covert operatives watching Christian Lambertsen’s underwater swim were focused more on whether the air bubbles would break the surface and betray his mission. Nobody saw any.
Last week, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel above Rock Creek Park, in the same room that once housed the pool, a crowd gathered to commemorate that fateful event.
They included some prominent former SEALs — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Joseph Kernan, and Rep. Scott Taylor, Virginia Republican — in addition to veterans of the fabled World War II espionage unit and predecessor to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Society, which sponsored the affair.
Combat historian and best-selling author Patrick K. O’Donnell discussed Lambertsen’s newly revealed story. In his 2015 book, “First SEALs: The Untold Story of the Forging of America’s Most Elite Unit,” Mr. O’Donnell explored what triggered Washington’s scramble for swimmer-commandos and traced it back to an incident in the waters off the coast of Egypt less than two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
On the night of Dec. 19, 1941, the British navy suffered a devastating sabotage attack. A tanker and two battleships were sunk in Alexandria Harbor, the home of the British navy’s eastern Mediterranean fleet.
Perplexed British intelligence officers soon determined who did it: Six Italian swim commandos, or “frogmen,” using underwater breathing devices, had covertly infiltrated the harbor. The news rattled the British and U.S. governments.
“As a result of [the Italians’] daring attack, the balance of maritime power in that part of the world shifted, setting off an underwater arms race,” Mr. O’Donnell wrote.
Because America had no special operations units in 1942, officials turned to the OSS to create them.
Launched by the legendary Gen. William Donovan, whose statue now stands outside CIA headquarters, the OSS in its heyday deployed more than 13,000 operatives, a third of them women, in addition to four future CIA directors.
Pioneers of intelligence collection and unconventional warfare, OSS agents were, in Gen. Donovan’s words, “glorious amateurs” who undertook “some of the bravest acts of the war.” Agents quickly dove into developing underwater combat swim technology for its Maritime Unit, or MU.
Finding that the Navy lacked equipment, the OSS enlisted Mr. Lambertsen. At the time, he was a young civilian medical student at the University of Pennsylvania who had developed what he called an underwater “rebreather,” cobbled together from an old World War I gas mask, a bicycle pump, and other parts.
Mr. O’Donnell said the early secret tests on the rebreather were dicey. Once, OSS scientists filled an airtight chamber with poisonous gas, a dog, a canary, and Mr. Lambertsen.
“First the canary and then the dog fell over, as expected (they were not wearing rebreathers), but when Lambertsen leaned over to check the animals, he fell over too,” Mr. O’Donnell writes. “Fortunately, Lambertsen survived, and development of the device continued.”
Experiments continued at the Shoreham hotel because its basement pool was one of the largest in the city at the time.
Soon, the OSS and Mr. Lambertsen were supervising the manufacture of America’s first rebreather for military use, in addition to wetsuits, swim fins, face masks, motorized surfboards, floating mattresses, and even one-man submarines.
The OSS MU then kicked into high gear, recruiting a motley, street-smart, distinguished crew of lifeguards, doctors, Olympic-caliber swimmers, and surfers, a roster that included future San Francisco 49ers receiver and kicker Gordon Soltau and Marine Sterling Hayden, who went on to Hollywood fame in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” as the paranoid, nuclear-war-starting Gen. Jack D. Ripper and as Capt. McCluskey in “The Godfather.”
The unit conducted some of the war’s most perilous missions across Europe and Asia, conducting sabotage, gathering intelligence, supplying resistance movements, capturing high-value targets, and infiltrating enemy coastlines using floating mattresses.
The SEALs, which stands for “sea, air, land,” were formally established by President Kennedy in 1962. Today, they rank as some of the world’s most elite troops partaking some of the riskiest missions.
But the role of the OSS is not forgotten. The Maritime Unit that got its start in a Washington hotel pool began to formulate the capabilities of today’s SEAL teams, according to naval historians.
As for Mr. Lambertsen, he would become known as the “Father of American Combat Swimming” after coining the term “scuba.”
“The OSS Maritime Unit is a case study in innovation and American exceptionalism,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “A small group of men with hardly any funding but a lot of courage took an idea and forged a reality that lives on today.”
In 2016, after years of lobbying by the OSS Society, Congress awarded OSS veterans the Congressional Gold Medal. The society is now fundraising to build a National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations in Northern Virginia. Charles Pinck, the society’s president, said the museum’s purpose will be to “honor Americans who served at ‘the tip of the spear’ and inspire future generations of Americans to serve their country.
Forty years ago, a two-day, American rescue mission launched on April 24 to free the hostages held by Iran in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. For John Limbert, who was held hostage for more than a year during his role as a diplomat in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, it feels like yesterday.
Last fall, the documentary “Desert One” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, telling the story of Operation Eagle Claw, the secret mission to free the hostages.
“For better or worse, the film does bring back memories,” Limbert told We Are The Mighty.
“Memories fade, you don’t remember all the details and particularly when you’re in the middle of it, but that was one of the powers of the film.”
Desert One is a 107-minute documentary directed by Barbara Kopple. The film gives viewers an intimate look into the military response led by then-President Jimmy Carter to rescue 52 hostages that were being detained in Tehran, Iran in the U.S. Embassy and Foreign Ministry buildings. Ultimately, the mission was aborted due to unoperational helicopters, with zero hostages rescued, eight servicemen dead and several others severely wounded. The crisis received near 24-hour news coverage and is widely considered a component of Carter’s eventual landslide loss to Ronald Reagan.
Through interviews with hostages, Delta Force soldiers, military personnel and President Carter, as well as animation done by an Iranian artist intimately familiar with the topography of the country, Kopple’s film chronicles the mission from every aspect, taking care to tell the story through people who lived it, a detail that was paramount for the two-time Academy Award winner.
“You can’t tell a story unless you have a lot of different angles of people coming at it from different places,” Kopple said. “They’re all feeling something. Whether it’s the special operators, or the hostages, or the people in Carter’s administration – there are so many different elements to it, which is also why it drew us in. We didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. Why should we tell everything about the Americans’ experience and not tell everyone about the Iranian’s experience? We’ve got to know these things exist to communicate. That’s so important. It’s a tough thing to do, but a very important thing to do.”
The ill-fated Operation marked the emergence of special operations in the American military. In 1986, Congress passed the Nunn-Cohen Amendment, citing this tragedy as part of their justification. The amendment mandated the President create a unified combatant command for Special Operations, and permitted the command to have control over its own resources.
“The film captures the best of our military colleagues,” Limbert explained. “This wasn’t a suicide mission, but that’s what it was. They didn’t have to go, but they did it. I have nothing but admiration for them. It was me and my colleagues that they were trying to rescue. They were willing to do this for people they didn’t know. It’s absolutely amazing. That’s the strength of the film. That willingness to self sacrifice so beautifully.”
Added Kopple, “What I felt is that these guys were all willing to give up their lives for the rescue. That was incredible that they wanted to get the American hostages out and they were a team. Even if one of them doubted it, they thought … well my buddies are going. They all had each other’s back — that thing inside of them not to leave anybody behind. That was their duty and that was their job.”
For Kopple, the hardest part of the filmmaking process was tracking down President Carter to speak on camera for his role in the mission and how it impacted his presidential legacy.
“I tried for three months [to get access] and there’s a guy named Phil who works for his administration who would never call me back,” she said. “So I started to have a relationship with his voicemail. I would tell them all about filming and every few days, I would call and beg him, ‘Please let us film President Carter.’ Three months had gone by and Phil called, and he introduced himself and I said, ‘I know, I’d know your voice anywhere.'”
Kopple was eventually granted just 20 minutes of access to the former president for the making of the film.
“He gave us 19 minutes and 47 seconds and we used a lot of it in Desert One,” Kopple said.
Desert One is expected to be released in movie theaters in late 2020 or early 2021, with an eventual television debut on the HISTORY channel.
“When you’re [making a film], you don’t think – where will this show?” Kopple said. “Hopefully the film presents an opportunity for Iranian and American audiences to find healing and reconcile with this very complicated history, not to stereotype people, [and] to really see who people are as individuals.”
The Mi-24 Hind had a reputation as a cinematic bad guy in “Rambo III” and the original 1980s Cold War flick “Red Dawn.”
Helping the Mujahidin kill it was the focus of 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.” But how much do you really know about this so-called “flying tank?”
Let’s take a good look at this deadly bird. According to GlobalSecurity.org, this helicopter can carry a lot of firepower, including 57mm and 80mm rockets, anti-tank missiles, and deadly machine guns or cannon. But it also can carry a standard Russian infantry section – eight fully-armed troops.
So, it’s really not a flying tank. It’s a flying infantry fighting vehicle.
There really isn’t a similar American – or Western – helicopter. The UH-1 and UH-60s were standard troop carries, but don’t really have the firepower of the Hind. The AH-64 Apache and AH-1 Cobra have a lot of firepower, but can’t really carry troops (yeah, we know the Brits did that one time – and it was [very] crazy!).
While the Mi-24 got its villainous cinematic reputation thanks to 1984’s “Red Dawn,” and the 1988 movie “Rambo III,” its first action was in the Ogaden War – an obscure conflict that took place from 1977-1978. After the Somali invasion of Ethiopia, the Air Combat Information Group noted that as many as 16 Mi-24s were delivered to the Ethiopians by the Soviets.
It has taken part in over 30 conflicts since then.
The Hind was to Afghanistan what the Huey was to Vietnam: an icon of the conflict. GlobalSecurity.org reported that as many as 300 Mi-24s were in Afghanistan.
In the Russian war movie “The Ninth Company,” the Mi-24 gets a more heroic turn than it did in Red Dawn or Rambo III.
At least 2,300 have already been built, and versions of the Mi-24 are still in production, according to the Russian Helicopters website. This cinematic aviation bad boy will surely be around for many years to come.