This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a 'cowboy cavalry' into the battle-ready 'Rough Riders' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Few figures in American history loom as large as Teddy Roosevelt. The man embodied the can-do American spirit and the gritty resolve of the American fighting man.


But when the former “Rough Rider” was offered up his first military command, the gutsy Roosevelt initially demurred.

Theodore Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy when war with Spain broke out in April 1898. As soon as Congress authorized three volunteer cavalry regiments, Secretary of War Russell Alger offered command of one of those regiments to Roosevelt.

A former frontiersman and staunch advocate for American intervention in Cuba, Roosevelt was eager to join the fight. But as ready as Roosevelt was to go, he had no idea how to lead men in combat, as he explained in his recollection of the war:

“Fortunately, I was wise enough to tell the Secretary that while I believed I could learn to command the regiment in a month, yet that it was just this very month which I could not afford to spare, and that therefore I would be quite content to go as Lieutenant-Colonel, if he would make [Leonard] Wood Colonel.”

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’
In case you were curious what a young TR looked like on the American frontier. #Amerigasm

The next month, Roosevelt resigned his position in the Navy Department to join his friend Leonard Wood in raising the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. The original recruiting plan called for nearly 800 volunteers from New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and the Indian Territory. However, the regiment was allowed a strength of 1,000 men drawn from anywhere. So Roosevelt recruited his old acquaintances from Harvard as well as other Ivy League men from Princeton and Yale.

The regiment would eventually consist of cowboys, ranchers, and miners from the territories, former lawmen and soldiers, college scholars and athletes, as well as Indians and even a few foreigners. Considering the diversity of his volunteers, Roosevelt was often worried discipline would be an issue. But in the end, he was “agreeably disappointed.”

The men gathered in San Antonio, Texas, to begin preparations for war. It was around this time that the term “Rough Riders” was first applied to the unit. Though Wood and Roosevelt initially fought against it, they eventually embraced the name.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’
You don’t get your own GI Joe without a combat deployment.

While Wood had the military wherewithal to lead the men, it was Roosevelt’s connections that made it all possible. Roosevelt used his political connections to ensure his people received the same equipment as regular army units. Wood, knowing the system, expedited the requests through the ordinance and quartermaster departments. Roosevelt then greased the wheels in Washington to make sure their equipment arrived promptly.

The regiment issued the Krag-Jorgensen .30-caliber carbine and Colt .45 revolver to its troops. The regular army equipment was vital, as it meant the Rough Riders could link up with regular army cavalry units and share supplies. Roosevelt’s affluence and family ties also garnered a pair of M1895 Colt machine guns from a wealthy donor.

Finally, the unit adopted a uniform appropriate to its nickname. The Rough Riders’ uniform consisted of a slouch hat; blue flannel shirt; khaki trousers; leggings; boots and a handkerchief tied loosely around the neck. It was “exactly as a body of cowboy cavalry should look.”

Once equipped and outfitted with the necessities, the unit set about training as a standard cavalry unit. Wood was mostly engaged in acquiring the equipment necessary to deploy the regiment. This left much of the training in the hands of Roosevelt. Though most of the men were already excellent horsemen, they drilled in shooting from horseback and fighting in military formation. After some deliberation, Roosevelt decided to neither train nor arm the men with the standard cavalry saber, as they were wholly unfamiliar with it. Instead, their secondary weapon would be the revolver, a weapon the cowboys knew well.

By the end of May, with scarcely a month of training, the men departed San Antonio for Tampa, Florida, where they would embark for Cuba. A transportation shortage meant only eight of the regiment’s 12 companies would make the trip – with no horses. Those companies arrived in Cuba on June 23, 1898, and were assigned to the Cavalry Division, Fifth Army Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. William Rufus Shafter.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’
This is what deploying in 1898 looked like.

The very next day, the Rough Riders saw their first action at the Battle of Las Guiasimas. Led by Gen. ‘Fighting Joe’ Wheeler, a former Confederate officer, the Rough Riders –  along with the 1st and 10th Cavalry Regiments and Cuban units – advanced against a Spanish outpost. In the excitement of the fighting, Wheeler is said to have exclaimed “Let’s go boys! We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run again!” confusing his time in the Civil War over 30 years prior.

This small fight brought initial fame to the Rough Riders when the stories hit newspapers back home. But the Rough Riders were not done yet. A week later, the unit would go down in history its their part in the battle of San Juan Hill.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’
Roosevelt poses with soldiers during the Spanish American War

On July 1, the bulk of Fifth Corps advanced on Santiago de Cuba. A bloody fight broke out at San Juan and Kettle Hills outside the city. Roosevelt was now leading the Rough Riders after Wood’s promotion to Brigade Commander. Disturbed by the inaction and slow pace of orders being given by Shafter, Roosevelt pressed his men forward under heavy Spanish fire. Roosevelt felt the orders to progress slowly were inadequate to take the hill. He ordered his men into a full frontal assault.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’
Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill by Frederic Remington. In reality, they assaulted San Juan Heights and the portion later called Kettle Hill by the Americans.

The Rough Riders, joined by surrounding units who were encouraged by their tenacity, surged forward in a series of rushes against the Spanish trenches and blockhouses. They succeeded in taking the position, though casualties were high. Roosevelt’s leadership during the battle earned him the Medal of Honor in 2001.

After the battle of San Juan Hill, the Rough Riders assisted in the siege of Santiago and the final defeat of the Spanish in Cuba. During the campaign, the Rough Riders suffered 23 killed in action and just over 100 wounded. On September 18, 1898, just four months after its initial formation, the Army disbanded the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the story of the last AC-130 lost in combat

Spirit 03 is a revered name in the AFSOC community, often spoken of in hushed and pained tones. It was the call sign of the last AC-130 gunship shot down in combat.

The story of Spirit 03, whilst sad, was also one of heroism — the kind you’d find in the US Air Force Special Operations Command community. It was a story of American airmen putting the lives of their brothers in arms engaged in grueling ground combat above their own.


This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

The city of Khafji before the battle

(Photograph by Charles G Crow)

On January 29, 1991, over 2000 Iraqi troops under the direction of Saddam Hussein streamed into the Saudi Arabian city of Khafji in an attempt to draw American, British, and Saudi forces into a costly urban battle which would tie up Coalition troops until the Iraqi military had time to reorganize and get themselves back in the fight.

Just days before Khafji fell, American surveillance jets had detected large columns of mechanized Iraqi units pouring through Kuwait’s border in a mad dash towards the city. Though the warning was passed on, Coalition commanders were far more focused on the aerial campaign, which had seen the virtual annihilation of the Iraqi Air Force.

Thus, Khafji fell… but it wouldn’t be long until Saudi forces scrambled to action, barreling towards their seized city to drive the occupiers out. American and British aerial units were soon called into the fight, and in record time, engines were turning and burning at airbases within reach of Khafji while ground crew rushed around arming jets for the impending fight.

Among the aerial order of battle was a group of US Air Force AC-130H Spectre gunships — converted C-130 tactical transport aircraft that were armed to the teeth with a pair of 20 mm M61Vulcan rotary cannons, an L60 Bofors 40 mm cannon, and a 105 mm M102 howitzer. These Spectres, based out of Florida, were eager to be turned loose, planning on adding any Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles they caught around Khafji to their kill tallies.

On the 29th, Iraqi mechanized units moved towards the city under the cover of night, repeatedly engaging Saudi elements set up to screen inbound enemy ground forces coming in from Kuwait. The Spectres were already in the air, racing towards the fight and running through checklists in preparation for the destruction they were about to dish out on Saddam’s armored column.

Within minutes of appearing on station, the AC-130s leapt into action, tearing into the Iraqi column with impunity. What the enemy forces had failed to realize was that Spectres — living up to their name — operated exclusively at night so that they were harder to visually identify and track, and the gunners aboard these aircraft were incredibly comfortable with that. Spectres began flying race track patterns in the sky, banking their left wing tip towards the ground as their cannons opened up.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

An AC-130H Spectre in-flight with its guns visible towards the right side of the picture

(US Air Force photograph by TSgt. Lee Schading)

Despite the AC-130s inflicting casualty after casualty, the resilient Iraqi invasion force continued to advance to Khafji and managed to briefly take over and lay claim to the city. American and Saudi ground combat units, including Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and Marine artillery and infantry elements responded in kind, and launched a blistering offensive against the Iraqis as night turned to day and the AC-130s returned to base to rearm, refuel and wait for nightfall to resume hunting.

On January 30th, Spirit 03, one of the AC-130s, was loaded for bear and launched with the intent of providing Marine forces with heavy-duty close air support. Spirit 03 arrived on station and started hacking away at targets. In the hours around dawn on the 31st, the AC-130s were recalled to base when radios lit up with numerous calls for fire support from the beleaguered Marines on the ground.

An Iraqi rocket battery needed to be dealt with quickly.

The crew of Spirit 03 took charge of the situation immediately, judging that they had enough fuel and ammunition left for a few more passes. Not quite out of the combat zone, the aircraft turned around and pointed its nose towards its new target. It was then that all hell broke loose. A lone shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile arced towards the AC-130, detonated and brought down the aircraft.

There were no survivors.

In the months and years that followed, the loss of Spirit 03 was investigated and then quickly hushed up. Some indicated that the official report blamed the crew for knowingly putting themselves in danger by continuing to fly in daylight, allowing themselves to be targeted.

Others knew that the story was vastly different—that the 14 men aboard the AC-130 knew that they were the only ones in the area able to provide the kind of fire support the Marines needed, and so paid the ultimate sacrifice while trying to aid their brothers in arms.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This might be the most important moment in Marine aviation

In the 109 years of Marine Corps aviation, there have been significant accomplishments, happenings and many global conflicts. However, there’s one moment that’s considered the defining moment in Marine Corps aviation history. Marine 1st Lt. Alfred Cunningham was the first Marine on record to report for flight instruction all the way back in 1912. Over the course of the last 109 years, the most defining moment of aviation came on August 7, 1942, when members of the First Marine Division landed ashore on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

Marine Corps aircraft weren’t on the scene that day, but that doesn’t mean aviation wasn’t central to the operation. In fact, it was explicitly because the Japanese were constructing an airfield on Guadalcanal that the Marine Corps participated in the first Allied offensive action in the first place.

The Japanese airfield was a direct threat to Australian communication. When the Marines captured it, it remained Henderson Field, after Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241 commanding officer Maj. Lofton Henderson. Henderson had been killed at the Battle of Midway in June 1942. 

Once captured, the airstrip became the object of destructive and concentrated assaults by Japanese ground forces, complete with repeated bombings by enemy ships and air attacks by Japanese airplanes.

Navy, Army Air Corps, and Allied forces all joined in the battle to assist and aid the Marines. However, it was Marine pilots and aircrew who were directly involved with the operations of Cactus Air Force, the Allied codename for Guadalcanal Island. Like the rest of the Allied forces, the Marines came with one central mission in mind – to decimate the enemy and take control of the island and the airstrip.

After the first Marine aircraft landed on the island on August 20, 1942, there was no stopping what they could do. Between first landing in August and six months later in February when the island was considered secure, five Marine aviators performed such heroic acts that they all received the Medal of Honor for their bravery. Additionally, several Marines received the Navy Cross, including famous fighter ace pilots Capt. Marion Carl and Maj. Jack Cram. 

When enemy ships threatened to overtake Guadalcanal, Maj. Cram jumped into Brig. Gen. Roy Geiger’s assigned PBY Catalina and used the lumbering flying boat to make a torpedo attack against a Japanese transport carrier. 

The Battles of the Eastern Solomons and the Battle of Santa Cruz both reduced the number of aircraft carriers operating in Guadalcanal’s waters. As this shift occurred, land-based aviation became more critical than ever to help provide defense against the Japanese ships that were attempting to gain back control of the land. 

World War II encompasses so many firsts for military strategy, aviation and geopolitics. But nowhere during the war did Marine aviation personnel operate under such hardship conditions as they did during the six month Guadalcanal campaign. Combat aside, the island’s living conditions were absolutely terrible, and many Marines became ill with unfamiliar tropical diseases. Supplies were scarce, so there were reduced rations, inadequate medical supplies, and virtually no help from outside the island. For those who participated in the combat, Guadalcanal got a new name – Operation Shoestring.

The Battle of Midway helped to blunt the Japanese conquest of the Pacific and initiate offensive actions, but it was the protracted offensive actions at Guadalcanal that proved to be the turning point for the Pacific Theater. The flying leathernecks were no match for the Japanese crews that they encountered in the skies. 

In the 245 years that our Marine Corps has existed, there are several battles that epitomize what it means to be a Marine – Iwo Jima, Chosin, even Chesty Puller all bring to mind what it means to serve the Corps. But in terms of sterling Marine aviation, nothing compares to the efforts of the First Marine Division at Guadalcanal.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How one man defeated the US military by enlisting 8 times

In 1980, Walter Banks Beacham enlisted in the United States Navy. He was excited for the signing bonus of $4,000, a cool $12,000 when adjusted for inflation in 2018. In 1984, Mark Richard Gerardi joined the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1986, Cedrick L. Houston joined the Navy. The next year, Chris Villanueva joined the Army. Zachary Pitt joined the Navy in 1989. And, finally, in 1992, George Perez joined the Army.

The trouble was that these were all the same person.


Beacham assumed the identities of six different individuals he came across through his life in coastal California. The Oakland native even somehow managed to enlist as himself, social security number and all, twice. The Los Angeles Times reported that Beacham was able to do this because he looked like he could be any of a number of ethnicities and he was able to procure fake drivers’ licenses, social security cards, and other identifying paperwork to support his claims.

Keep in mind, this was during the height of the Cold War and military recruiters have quotas to make. They relied a lot on personal integrity to make sure they put good — and real — people into the U.S. military. And there was a time when young Walter Beacham really did want to serve his country, but he failed to adapt to military life when it counted, and the rest is history.

*Note: Beacham is not in any of the photos below. I used photos that give an idea of how much time passes.

1. Walter Banks Beacham

The first time he enlisted, Beacham was drawn in by the guaranteed signing bonus and he really wanted to defend his country. When the recruiter came to his home, he saw Beacham and a few of his friends sitting, smoking, and drinking. He was able to recruit them all.

But the Navy wasn’t really for him. After six weeks and a few AWOL incidents at boot camp near San Diego, he was done.

“I put away my uniform, I got my money, I took a cab out of the front gate and then a Greyhound to L.A.,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

What graduating from Army basic training looked like in 1980.

2. Walter Banks Beacham, Jr.

Maybe it wasn’t the military that was the problem — maybe he just wasn’t cut out for the Navy. Six months after leaving the Navy, he was on a bus, headed for Army basic training. This time, he simply threw a “Jr.” on the end of his name. When the Army asked if he’d ever served before, he said no, and that was that.

For about six months.

The Army eventually realized his Social Security Number matched that used during his previous, Navy life and he was promptly discharged from the U.S. Army.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

What graduating from the Navy’s boot camp looked like in 1980.

3. Walter Banks Beacham

When he got back to his native Oakland, it was only three months before he decided to give the life of a sailor another chance. He dreamed of foreign lands and exotic ports and was ready to forego the sign-on bonus (if necessary). He again used his real name and was shipped back to San Diego. He made it through five weeks this time.

“I would have made it through but, five weeks into it, they found drugs in my urine and one of the company commanders was still there from the time before and he saw my name on a list,” Beacham said. “I went AWOL.”

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

A U.S. Army Korean DMZ patrol in 1984.

4. Mark Richard Gerardi

In 1984, he joined the Army again, this time using an alias of his high-school friend. Beacham borrowed his friend’s diploma and birth certificate and was off to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training — which he completed.

He was sent back to California, attached to a unit in San Francisco, and eventually sent over to Korea for three weeks. It was all for naught when he got a girl pregnant and then left her. She threatened to turn him in to the Army. Beacham tried to play it cool, but eventually bolted. He never heard from them again.

“I guess they just cut you loose after awhile. I don’t know,” Beacham told the Los Angeles Times.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Navy boot camp graduates in San Diego, 1986.

5. Cedrick L. Houston

In 1986, Beacham used the name of someone he met in Hollywood who was trying to be a dancer. He told the aspiring dancer he would get him work if he could use his identification papers… to join the Navy.

He actually finished Navy basic training this time around and was sent to learn to be a submariner on the East Coast of the United States. Of course, it didn’t last. He used a racial slur during the course of his duties and the Navy ended up booting him out for it.

“I was selling doughnuts on the base there until classes started and I called this sailor a silly-ass cracker,” Beacham said.
“And they put me out of the Navy for that.”

6. Chris Villanueva

Back in California in 1987 and using the name Walter Banks Beacham again, he went down to Glendale, outside of Los Angeles, to join the Army as a truck driver, which is where he got his new name, Chris Villanueva. The real Villanueva was an unemployed truck driver Beacham ran into in the Valley one day. The born-again Villanueva (Beacham) was sent to basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. and was sent to Germany right after.

He survived another boot camp only to come under suspicion for some cocaine found in soldier’s duffel bags while in Germany. He was afraid he would get arrested for it, so he went AWOL again and headed for home.

7. Zachary Pitt

Beacham doesn’t even remember the real Zachary Pitt, but the new Zachary Pitt made it through Navy training in San Diego in 1989 and was inducted into the Navy as a Mess Management Specialist — better known as “a cook.” When his ship was set to leave for Japan, Zachary Pitt just walked out and disappeared.

“I met him in the Bay Area. I don’t even remember if he was white or Mexican,” Beacham said of the real Zachary Pitt.
This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Army basic training graduates in 1992.

8. George Perez

In his last enlistment in 1992, he left before he even received his signing bonus. Now George Perez, Beacham completed Army basic training at Fort Bliss in Texas and was back at Fort Sill for AIT, where he became an artillery unit’s forward observer. This time, he just couldn’t do it.

“Something happened,” he recalled later. “I couldn’t stick around. Time was choking up on me. I was in trouble for staying out late, and I was afraid I’d be busted right then.”

Eventually, he was caught by civilian police officers and turned over to the U.S. military, who court-martialed him on multiple counts of wrongful enlistment, AWOL charges, and desertion. At age 34, he pled guilty to all of them. The old U.S. military would have executed this guy. Luckily for Beacham, there was no war on and he spent just under eight months in an Army prison and was released with a dishonorable discharge.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

For almost 40 years, the Irish people endured a constant state of fear stemming from a low-level war that killed thousands of Irish civilians, British troops, and Irish fighters – all in a stunningly understated conflict called “The Troubles.” While British and U.K. loyalist forces were well-equipped and armed for the task, the Irish Republican Army, fighting for a united Ireland, had to improvise a little.


This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

This is why “Irish Car Bombs” are a thing.

The Irish Republican Army was a homegrown paramilitary organization that was at best outlawed, and at worst, designated a terrorist organization. They were committed to a fully united Ireland by any means necessary and resisted the United Kingdom’s occupation of Northern Ireland, also by any means necessary. This usually meant improvised guns, bombs, and even mortars. That’s how they created what British troops called the Mark 15. The IRA called it the “Barrack Buster.”

Barrack Busters first started to appear in the IRA arsenal in the 1990s and was an improvised 36-centimeter mortar capable of firing three-foot-long propane tanks filled with high explosives. The Mark 15 was usually made of a cooking gas container created for use in rural areas of Ireland. It was capable of launching one of these powerful explosive containers nearly a thousand feet.

The IRA improvised mortars of various sizes and power, and hit not only military barracks, but bases and even 10 Downing Street.

The Mark 15 was described as having the effect of a flying car bomb, that has taken down barracks, helicopters, and even Royal Air Force planes. It was the fifteenth in a line of development that stretched as far back as the early 1970s. It was the largest homemade mortar developed by the Irish Republican Army. The development does stretch to a Mark-16, but that weapon was more of a recoilless rifle than it was a traditional mortar.

Introduction of the giant mortar did have an impact on British forces. The United Kingdom was forced to pull its checkpoints away from the Irish border after the introduction of the Mark 15 mortar. It was so effective as a weapon it was adapted for use by paramilitary forces in other countries and conflicts, including the FARC in Colombia and the Free Syrian Army in Syria.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The most intense military medical training no one talks about

It’s no secret the military trains the way they fight — which is pretty hardcore. Marines and sailors train in the terrible heat and rough terrain of the Mojave Desert to prepare them to face the enemy in the harsh conditions of Afghanistan.


During their pre-deployment workup, troops pretend to get hurt so that nearby medics can practice rendering proper treatment. This training only goes so far, though, as the semi-stressful situations can’t compare to the real vigors of war.

So, to get young medical professionals ready for bloody working conditions overseas, some of the troops are sent to a live-tissue training course stateside where they must keep wounded pigs or goats alive for hours  — or fail the course.

These animals are chosen specifically due to their tissue similarities to humans.

Related: The ‘Prisoner Exchange’ is the coolest Army-Navy tradition no one talks about

Before heading down to the live-tissue training grounds, young troops go through three days’ worth of brutal training missions throughout Camp Pendleton. These missions consist of hunting down mock “high-value targets,” several hours of intense physical training, and miles of foot patrols with little to no sleep. Then, troops board a bus that takes them to an undisclosed location — the live-tissue training grounds.

“The instructors worked us hard all day and night,” one former hospital Corpsman recalls. “We all were completely exhausted before the lab even started.”

Once at the training ground, the troops gear up in full battle rattle, place their highly anesthetized agricultural animal on an Army litter, and carry it up a steep hill where the training begins. After dropping the animal off at the first station, medics seek cover until signaled to retrieved their severely wounded patient.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’
These Marines pull their wounded patient from a vehicle during the live-tissue training course.

Once the troops retrieve their patient, the docs make lifesaving interventions.

Three or four battle-themed stations and several massive wounds later, the troops enter a large metal container and load their “patient” on board as if it were a medical evacuation helicopter. After being locked in for several minutes, the container’s door opens to a mock-hospital, where the troops continue to care for their patient.

If the animal dies throughout this process, the student fails.

Also Read: How one vet learned to actually appreciate his deployment to Iraq

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Compared to a computer simulator, the “pig lab,” as many refer to it, puts actual life into the student’s hands, forcing them to think on their toes to keep their patient alive.

Although humans control the stimulator, this lab comes with an extreme level of unpredictability and is considered “great training.”

“It was the best damn training I’ve ever received,” the former hospital Corpsman remembers. “I felt much more confident to take care of one of my Marines if they got hurt.”

Although considered to be “great training,” PETA, or the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has voiced, on many occasions, that they are entirely against using agricultural animals for military training.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Red Army taunted its fleeing Nazi enemies in the race for Berlin

The violence of the final weeks of World War II on Europe’s Eastern Front was matched only by its chaos, as exhausted and outmanned German forces withered under attacks from well-equipped and highly motivated Soviet troops.

The front line became more fluid, with Soviet forces quickly enveloping Nazi units that then made shambolic retreats and launched desperate breakout attempts.


At times, Soviet forces arrived at vacated German positions so quickly that the Russians found opportunities to taunt their reeling enemies.

The Soviet race to Berlin began on April 15 from positions east of the city, and by the morning of April 21, 1945, staff officers at the German army and armed forces joint headquarters at Zossen, south of Berlin, were girding themselves for capture after Hitler denied a request for them to relocate away from the Soviet advance.

But Soviet tanks ran out of gas south of the headquarters, and the delay allowed Hitler’s staff to reconsider, ordering the headquarters to move to Potsdam, southwest of Berlin. The officers at Zossen got the order just in time.

“Late that afternoon, Soviet soldiers entered the concealed camp at Zossen with caution and amazement,” historian Antony Beevor writes in his 2002 book, “The Fall of Berlin 1945.”

Just four German defenders were left. Three surrendered immediately. The fourth was too drunk to do anything.

“It was not the mass of papers blowing about inside the low, zigzag-painted concrete buildings which surprised [the Soviets], but the resident caretaker’s guided tour,” according to Beevor. The tour, he writes, took the Soviet troops down among the two headquarters’ maze of bunkers, filled with generators, maps, and telephones.

“Its chief wonder was the telephone exchange, which had linked the two supreme headquarters with Wehrmacht units,” Beevor writes.

“A telephone suddenly rang. One of the Russian soldiers answered it. The caller was evidently a senior German officer asking what was happening,” Beevor writes. “‘Ivan is here,’ the soldier replied in Russian, and told him to go to hell.”

Soviets troops found other ways to taunt the Germans using their own phone lines.

A few days later, as Russian armies advanced to the outskirts of Berlin, the senior officers in the Fuhrer bunker, which didn’t have proper signaling equipment, were increasingly in the dark about troop movements. In order to supply Hitler with up-to-date information, they had to turn to Berlin’s residents.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’
Three senior German officials emerge after Germany’s unconditional surrender terms were formally ratified in Berlin, May 9, 1945.
(U.S. Signal Corps photo)

“They rang civilian apartments around the periphery of the city whose numbers they found in the Berlin directory,” Beevor writes.

“If the inhabitants answered, they asked if they had seen any sign of advancing troops. And if a Russian voice replied, usually with a string of exuberant swearwords, then the conclusion was self-evident.”

In the final days of April 1945, Berliners started calling their city the “Reich’s funeral pyre,” and Soviet troops were calling them to rub their looming victory in to their nearly vanquished enemy.

“Red Army soldiers decided to use the telephone network, but for amusement rather than information,” Beevor writes.

“While searching apartments, they would often stop to ring numbers in Berlin at random. Whenever a German voice answered, they would announce their presence in unmistakable Russian tones.”

The calls “surprised the Berliners immensely,” wrote a Soviet political officer.

Amid those taunts, the battle for Berlin and the fighting that preceded it left widespread destruction and death.

The battle began with one of the most powerful artillery barrages in human history, and by the time it was over on May 2, about 100,000 German troops — many of them old men and children — and more than 100,000 German civilians had been killed. Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7 and 8.

Soviet forces lost about 70,000 troops in the fight for the city. Many of their deaths were caused by the haste of the Soviet operation, which was driven by commanders’ desire to impress and please Stalin and by Stalin’s own desire to seize Nazi nuclear research.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Dutch resistance member basically MacGyver-ed the first artificial organ

What could you do with some tin cans, an old washing machine, sausage casings, and salt water? If you’re Dr. Willem Kolff, you could replace a human kidney. The Netherlander spent his formative years studying medicine in the Netherlands, especially interested in how a young twenty-something could be dying of renal failure. It was in the middle of World War II that he managed to become the father of artificial organs.


This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Thanks for nothing, MacGyver.

Kolff came to the Dutch University of Groningen in 1938, two years before the Nazis invaded Holland. As he watched a 22-year-old die slowly from kidney failure, he came to believe if he could find a way to remove the toxins from his body – the job normally performed by the kidneys – he could have saved the man’s life. Eventually, using sausage casings and salt water, he discovered the sausage casings would effectively separate urea, the waste products filtered by the kidneys, from the salt water.

Then, the Nazis invaded Holland.

His hospital in Groningen was soon filled with Nazi sympathizers. Rather than accept this and allow his advances to be used by the Third Reich, Kolff left the city and moved to rural Holland. While there, he not only defied the Nazis but took in some 800 people whom he hid from the Gestapo in his hospital, all the while continuing to work on his artificial kidney.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

The first artificial kidney, created by Dr. Kolff.

Eventually, Kolff would complete the artificial kidney, as the rest of Europe was engulfed in World War II. His design used 50 yards of sausage casing wrapped around a wooden drum, all in a salt solution. As the blood was fed into the device, the machine was rotated, which cleaned the blood. Using orange juice cans and a washing machine, he designed a water pump based on Ford motor designs. The first 15 patients died on these early dialysis machines. Then a 67-year-old woman survived.

It changed the medical world forever. Thousands of people who would otherwise die a painful death from kidney failure now had a chance at survival. By 1956, Kolff was an American citizen. He would later develop the means to oxygenate blood during bypass surgery and even an artificial heart.

Kolff died in 2009 at age 97 – of natural causes.

MIGHTY HISTORY

When the Navy sank nuclear waste with machine guns

In the 1950s, nuclear reactors and weapons were all the rage. Bombs were getting bigger, people were hosting nuclear parties, and reactors were enabling the Navy to launch submarines and ships that could go years without refueling.

But all that nuclear activity had a dark consequence — and no, we’re not talking about the fun Super Mutants of Fallout.


This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

We love them, too, Vault-Tec boy!

As most everyone knows, using radioactive materials to generate power also creates waste. Triggering the nuclear process in a material (which is what you need to do to create said power) is basically irreversible. Once activated, nuclear material is dangerous for thousands of years.

The Navy was still in the process of learning that fact in the 1950s as they tried to decide what to do with a newfound problem: dealing with nuclear waste.

Their initial solution, unsurprisingly, was similar to how they dealt with chemical waste and other debris at the time. They dumped it — usually in 6,000 to 12,000 feet of water.

At this point, Godzilla is your best-case scenario.

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Sailors like George Albernaz, assigned to the USS Calhoun County in the ’50s, were left to decide how they’d go about their job dumping the materials, typically low-level nuclear waste.

They would take about 300 barrels per trip out into the ocean from docks on the Atlantic Coast and roll them to the edge of the ship. When the ship tipped just right on the waves, they would push the barrels over.

Most of them, filled with dense metals, salts, and tools encased in concrete inside the barrel, would sink right away. Barrels that bobbed back up were shot with a rifle by a man standing on the end of the ship, which usually sent it directly to the bottom of the sea.

But the rifle fire wasn’t always enough.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Navy aircraft take off after during operations in 1957.

(US Navy)

In July 1957, two barrels bobbed back up during a dumping mission and simply would not sink. So, the Navy sent two aircraft to fire on them with machine guns until they finally sank to Poseidon’s depths.

While shooting radioactive barrels actually sounds sort-of fun, the sailors involved said that the Navy failed to properly inform them of the dangers of working with radiation, took shortcuts on safety and detection procedures, and failed to provide necessary safety gear.

That left men like Albernaz susceptible to a number of diseases and conditions associated with radiation, including cancer and other lifelong ailments.

A 1992 article in the New York Times detailed other shortcomings of the Navy’s programs, including instances where dumps occurred mere miles from major ports, like Boston, in only a few hundred feet of water, increasing the chances that radioactive particles could make their way into civilian population centers.

These days, Navy nuclear waste is taken to be stored on land, but the U.S. still lacks permanent storage for high-level nuclear waste. Instead, nearly all high-level nuclear waste in the U.S. is stored in temporary storage, often on the grounds of nuclear power generation facilities.

It’s not ideal, and a number of potential permanent sites have been proposed and debated, but at least barrels probably won’t come bobbing back up.

If they do, well, even the F-35 could probably sink them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Thousands more died in the Nazi blitz due to ignored spy reports

Imagine you had some of the world’s best spymasters, espionage rings, and analysts in the world, that intellectuals around the world were enamored with you and wanted to feed you information, and that all of that intelligence was needed to protect your massive military as it faced off against an existential threat to your people, your government, and your nation.

Then imagine you ignored all of that information because, like, can you ever really trust a spy?


This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Richard Sorge, one of the most successful (and dead) spies of World War II.

(Bundesarchiv)

That was the reality for many of the spies in World War II, especially Richard “Ika” Sorge, whose spy reports gave a detailed breakdown of the Nazi blitz preparing to smash into the Soviet Union. He watched his nation fail to marshal its troops to face the threat.

Sorge born in 1895 to a German engineer working in Baku, Azerbajin, then a part of the Russian Empire and a major oil-producing region. He served in World War I with the German military but fell in love with communist ideology. After the war, he began teaching Marxism and got a PhD in political theory.

He moved to Moscow in 1924 and was recruited into Soviet intelligence and sent to China, then Japan. Through a surprising bit of luck, Sorge was able to meet up with a German officer named Lt. Col. Eugen Ott in Japan and become a member of the Nazi party.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Richard Sorge was wounded in World War I.

(Photo by Eva Tilden)

As the conflicts that would flare up into World War II grew, Sorge was a member of the Soviet intelligence as well as the Nazi party and was respected in China and Japan. Better, he had intelligence assets available in all four countries. He was also a famous womanizer. In all four of these countries, he had women who fed him intelligence information that they wouldn’t dare tell anyone else.

He used the intelligence he gathered in Tokyo to ingratiate himself with the Germans who wanted to keep an eye on their Pacific ally. The trust he built up through feeding Berlin information allowed him to gather a lot of intelligence about the Nazis that he could feed to his true masters in Moscow.

In 1938, Sorge got in even deeper with the Nazis when his German handler got sick and his old friend Ott, who had helped him join the Nazi party in the first place, asked him to take on the task of drafting the German Embassy’s dispatches to Berlin, filled with all sorts of great information to pass on to his Moscow superiors.

In 1940 and 1941, Sorge was able to tap into his networks in China and Germany to paint a detailed picture of one of the most important points in the war: The German blitz against the Soviet Union.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

A Soviet T-34 burns in the field during Operation Barbarossa.

(Bundesarchiv)

Sorge, reporting from Tokyo, achieved a shocking level of precision, detailing the size of the force and pinpointing the week that the Nazis would invade. He reported that the attack would take place sometime between June 20 and 25. Operation Barbarossa, as it was named, launched on June 22.

Between Sorge and a spy in China, Walther Stennes, Moscow received 42 reports, all of them brushed aside by Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin who thought he had the measure of Hitler.

When the Germans struck, they hit with almost 4 million soldiers who were reinforced over the following weeks and months by units from Italy, Croatia, Slovakia, and Hungary.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

German officers pose with a captured Soviet plane.

The Soviet military, ill-positioned and -prepared, saw entire units swallowed up, killed, and captured as the Nazis cutoff unprotected supply lines and overran barely fortified positions. 600,000 Soviet troops were killed, captured, or seriously wounded in the first week while 4,000 aircraft were destroyed, many of them still on the ground.

Germany penetrated the Soviet Union 200 miles deep along a nearly 1,800-mile front in only seven days.

Of course, the Soviets were able to push the German forces back, largely thanks to delusional planning on the German side. Germany had expected to conquer Moscow before true winter set in and failed to properly equip its troops for fighting in the frozen wasteland that Russia quickly became. Commanders, chasing the operation’s impossible timetable, failed to secure their gains and left their own lengthening supply lines too lightly guarded.

The harsh winter and Soviet counterattacks hit hard. Russia, with its superior resources and manpower, was able to bleed Germany for its treachery and bloodshed.

But all of this came too late for the thousands unnecessarily lost in those opening days, as well as for Richard Sorge. Sorge continued to send information back to Moscow, including one important report that was actually read and believed. He was able to determine with a high degree of certainty that Tokyo would not enter the European Theater unless it was clear that Russia had lost, preferably if Moscow fell.

The Red Army moved massive numbers of troops from their Easter Front to the west, hastening their success against Hitler.

Even more impressive, Sorge had a contact with the Japanese premier’s closest advisers, and he was able to feed them information convincing them to keep invading further south into China and towards European positions in Asia, relieving pressure from Soviet Forces on the Eastern Front.

But Sorge’s luck ran out. On Oct. 10, 1941, security police arrested two members of Sorge’s espionage ring, and one of them spilled all the beans. Sorge was arrested and eventually cracked, admitting to being a communist spy. He was executed on Nov. 7, 1944, refused even his dying cigarette.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a now-famous cadet fought in battle and went back for sophomore year

He was one of the top officers in World War II, an expert in submarine and aviation combat, and a veteran of three wars. And Ernest J. King got his start by lobbying for a ship assignment during the Spanish-American War while the rest of his freshmen class at the Naval Academy went on leave. When he returned for his sophomore year, he was wearing two new medals celebrating his work in combat.


This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Naval cadet Ernest J. King, a future fleet admiral.

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph)

It started in 1897. The Ohio-native entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis that year, fulfilling a long-time dream. But in February 1898, the U.S. Navy battleship USS Maine blew up in Havana Harbor. The naval cadets (now known as midshipmen) continued their studies until that April when the U.S. declared war.

Then, the Navy came calling for the seniors (more properly known as cadets first-class.) Those men were sent to the fleet as midshipmen, not yet commissioned officers but considered ready for service on board. The cadets second-class, basically college juniors, took exams and then, if they passed, were sent to the fleet as midshipmen.

But the underclassmen were sent home on leave. As a cadet fourth-class, the equivalent of a freshman, King was supposed to go home and wait for his classes to resume. But he heard a rumor about a cadet allowed to serve on board a ship. King wanted that chance.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

The USS San Francisco, a cruiser of the U.S. Navy.

(NavSource, Library of Congress)

So he went to Washington with four other classmates and asked for assignment in the fleet. He was granted a spot on the USS San Francisco, an aging cruiser commissioned in 1890 that was assigned to patrolling the coast of Florida and into Cuban waters.

For most of the short war, the San Francisco just guarded port cities and patrolled its designated waters. But, then it was sent to blockade the ports of the north side of the island. At one point, it was sent to the mouth of Havana Harbor to prevent a possible breakout attempt by Spanish ships.

The Spanish shore batteries tried to drive the San Francisco off, and the ship traded blows with the men onshore before withdrawing. It was a short and relatively consequence-free bit of fighting, but it still made King a combat veteran of a war.

The young academy student was awarded two medals, the Spanish Campaign Medal and the Sampson Medal. The first was for all who fought in the Spanish-American War, and the second was for those personnel who fought under Rear Adm. William T. Sampson in the West Indies and Cuba.

It was likely a big surprise for his classmates when he returned to school later that year. Only a handful of the new cadets third-class were able to get into the short war. He graduated from the academy in 1901 and would be commissioned as an ensign two years later with experience on cruisers and battleships.

He served in World War I and then spent time on submarines and earned his aviator wings and commanded the carrier USS Lexington in the interwar years. By the time America was pulled into World War II, he was one of the best and most experienced sailors in American history, and he was one of only four men ever promoted to fleet admiral.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this heroic sailor earned 12 medals for valor

When Boatswain’s Mate First Class James E. Williams finally allowed the Navy to retire him after nearly twenty years of service, he was the proud holder of the Navy’s top seven awards for valor as well as three Purple Hearts and a number of other accolades.

Nearly all of those awards, which ranged from multiple Bronze Stars with “V” devices to the Medal of Honor, were earned in a less than seven-month period.


This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Boatswain’s Mate First Class James E. Williams, the Navy’s most decorated enlisted sailor.

(U.S. Navy)

So, how did a young Cherokee boy grow to become one of the U.S. military’s greatest heroes? Well, first, in 1947, he convinced a county clerk to falsify a birth certificate so he could join at the age of 16. His first tour was uneventful, an experience he hated at the time, but learned from, according to a 1998 interview in All Hands Magazine.

“I’d joined the Navy to see the world — and doggonit, I wasn’t moving. I’d got orders to an [landing ship, tank] that just sat around a buoy in the San Diego harbor.”
This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Landing Ship, Tanks were large supply vessels that could deposit most cargo directly onto the shore when necessary.

(U.S. Navy)

But a senior sailor gave him some perspective.

“An old chief told me, ‘Son, you got to learn to take orders, even if you disagree with them. That’s the first step to being a good Sailor and a good leader. If you can’t take orders now, you certainly won’t be respected when you give them later.’ Well, I got the message,” said Williams. “Learning discipline was the springboard that helped my Navy career. From then on, I had the sharpest damn knife and the shiniest shoes in the Navy. That’s what I was taught.”

And that sharp knife would come in handy.

Williams got his first taste of small craft and riverine warfare in Korea, where he was sent on raiding parties against small crafts near the shore.

It was this experience and his years of shining shoes and sharpening knives that led to Williams’ proudest day.

“The proudest day of my life had nothing to do with medals, ribbons, citations,” he told All Hands Magazine. “It was when they made me a patrol officer. That position was held only by chiefs and officers. It showed the trust the Navy had placed in me. I always wanted the opportunity to show what I could do. This Vietnam thing was it for me. The Navy gave me the chance to do my job.”

His job would be to take Patrol Boat, River-105 into the small, Viet-Cong-filled rivers of Vietnam.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

A Patrol Boat River in the waters of Vietnam.

(U.S. Navy)

The crew went out with Williams starting in May, 1966, and the fighting started early. While many of the patrols were quick forays into the river traffic to look for contraband, Williams and his crew saw major combat multiple times before the end of July.

On July 1, Williams and PBR 105 spotted an enemy sampan in the early morning darkness and gave chase. The sampan made for a friendly landing and Williams and his crew quickly came under fire from both the ship and shore. Maneuvering deftly, the men killed five enemies on the boat, captured the vessel and a few ship’s occupants, which were of “significant intelligence value.” He was later awarded the Bronze Star for his actions.

Just 22 days later, PBR-105 once again chased down an enemy sampan, this time at night. Again, they came under fire from enemies on shore but continued to fight. The crew killed six occupants of the boat, one enemy who had made it ashore, and captured the enemy sampan with its cargo and documents intact — again, these were of significant intelligence value. He would later be awarded a Bronze Star for his actions.

Less than a month later, Williams was leading PBR-105 and PBR-101 through the Mekong River in the early evening when they came under fire multiple times from a suspected 100-enemy-gun emplacements on both shores. They stayed in the kill zone, maneuvering and destroying multiple emplacements.

The men intercepted a sampan with two high-ranking Viet-Cong, but Williams was wounded in the face while salvaging documents from it. He kept up his men’s fire and captured 71 classified and sensitive documents before withdrawing. He would later be awarded the Silver Star.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

A machine gunner on a Patrol Boat River with his two machine guns.

(U.S. Navy)

His greatest heroism under fire came two months later in October, 1966, when PBR-105 and another boat went on what Williams thought would be a routine patrol.

“October 31, 1966, was supposed to be a restful day in the steamy heartland of the Viet Cong,” he said. “But it’s one of those times I won’t never forget, no matter how hard I try. We were on a day patrol, kind of like the ‘relax and recreation’ patrol — nothin’ too heavy.”

But, early in the patrol, the forward machine gunner yelled that he saw two motorized sampans. The motorized boats nearly always carried high-ranking Viet Cong. The Americans gave chase.

The boats attempted to scatter, forcing Williams to choose which to follow, but the Americans quickly killed one and began tracking down the other. The second sampan used the little time it had gained to turn down a shallow canal where the patrol boats couldn’t go.

Williams checked his map. The enemy’s most likely course of action was to follow the canal to its other end, a third of a mile away. He ordered his boats to intercept. Things immediately went sideways.

“We wanted to get them real bad,” he said. “I went around that corner at max sped to cut him off — and, lo and behold, I looked up and didn’t see nothing but boats and people and more boats and more people.”

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Not a lot of armor or firepower when you’re dealing with thousands of enemy troops in the water and on shore.

(U.S. Army Center of Military History)

Williams and his boats had run straight into a massive enemy staging area. Suddenly, they found themselves surrounded by multiple companies of Viet Cong fighters. Williams, at the helm, immediately maxed out his engines and used his wake to disrupt the first sampan’s aim, then took off through the gauntlet.

Surprisingly, they made it. Williams later said that it seemed like the sampans were hitting each other more than him as the patrol boats made their mad dash through. Unfortunately for the Americans, they turned with the river only to have their luck worsen.

Their attempted escape landed them in another enemy staging area. Williams decided that the only way to save his shipmates was to fight it out with the Viet Cong, and they did. For over three hours, the patrol boats maneuvered at high speeds and provided fire for one another, cutting down enemy boats and shore positions as fast as they could in a desperate attempt to keep each other alive.

And it worked. The two boats and 10 Americans who went into the river all came back after inflicting a suspected 1,200 enemy casualties and destroying 65 boats. Williams would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, but he still wasn’t done in Vietnam.

Less than three months later, Williams was on a patrol when he saw a dredge strike a mine on Jan. 9, 1967. PBR-105 immediately gave aid and was picking up survivors when the crew heard a tapping coming from inside the hull. Williams jumped into the water.

During repeated dives, he directed the elderly man trapped inside to a nearby hatch, loosened two heavy pipes blocking the hatch, and then ran a line from a nearby tug around the pipes so they could be pulled free. Once the obstruction was removed, Williams and a crew member swam into the still-sinking dredge and pulled the man free, saving his life. He would later receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

A Patrol Boat River and a sampan in Vietnam.

(U.S. Navy)

On January 15, less than a week later, Williams was leading a patrol on the Mekong when the crew spotted a large enemy supply movement across one of the river branches. The boat moved to intercept but quickly came under heavy fire from fortified positions on the river banks.

The boat dropped back and called in Vietnamese artillery and U.S. air strikes to reduce the enemy positions, and then forayed back into the river branch. Once again, heavy fire came at them from the shore.

This time, the Americans stayed in the thick of it and took aim at enemy sampans the Vietnamese seemed eager to protect. The PBRs destroyed them before withdrawing. Williams was injured during the withdrawal, but continued to direct the movement and the PBRs’ fire.

The enemy force that the patrol had encountered was later assessed as three heavy weapons companies with 400 men. The patrol was credited with killing sixteen enemies and wounding 20 while destroying nine enemy watercraft, seven structures, and 2,400 pounds of rice. Williams would later receive the Navy Cross for his actions.

Finally, Williams let the Navy send him home to a very well-earned retirement at just under the standard 20 years. He received his Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson and entered a quiet nursing home to raise petun….

No. Of course not. He took his retirement and his Medal of Honor and became a U.S. Marshal, serving his country once again. This time, in South Carolina, Georgia, and Washington D.C.

He died on October 13, 1999, the Navy’s 224th birthday. According to The United States Navy Memorial, an unidentified, retired admiral spoke at Williams’ funeral and said,

“Willie did not seek awards. He did not covet getting them. We did not seek to make him a hero. The circumstances of time and place and the enemy’s presence did that. I know through personal investigation of each incident that he never placed his crew nor his patrol boats in danger without first ensuring the risk was calculated and that surprise was on his side. He always had the presence of mind not to endanger friendly villages. He inspired us all, junior and senior alike. It was my greatest honor to have served with the man who truly led us all with his example of unselfish devotion to duty.”

The Aegis destroyer DDG 95, christened in 2003, was named in his honor. Over the course of his career, he received the following awards for his service:

  • The Navy Cross Silver Star (with one gold award star)
  • The Legion of Merit (with valor device)
  • The Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star Bronze Star Medal with two gold stars
  • Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Gold Star and Palm
  • Navy Commendation Medal
  • Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation with one service star
  • Purple Heart with two gold stars
  • Vietnam Service Medal with bronze service star
  • Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal with bronze service star
  • United Nations Service Medal
  • Korean Service Medal with two bronze service stars
  • Korean Presidential Unit Citation
  • Korean War Service Medal
  • The Navy Good Conduct Medal with four bronze service stars
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a troop trying to kill himself accidentally saved the President

On Apr. 4, 1951, a Navy inductee burst into the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, blood gushing from his nose, doubled over in pain. There was no trauma, but the soon-to-be sailor could barely walk and was covered in blood. The doctors began to suspect poison was the culprit – and they were right.


The name of the would-be recruit was not recorded in the literature, but he was slated to join the Army during the Korean War. But he soon regretted his decision and tried to shirk his duties by shuffling off his mortal coil. His preferred method of self-inhumation was poison: rat poison.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Proving that US troops can and will eat anything.

The man had been so desperate not to deploy that he would rather have offed himself with rat poison. Eventually, while taking the load of rat poison he thought it would require to kill an adult male, his senses returned to him, and he decided that would not be the best course of action. It took him more than four days to realize that rat poison wasn’t going to kill him, but it was going to be a very painful experience. That’s when he went to the hospital.

How did he manage to survive a dose of poison that should have easily killed its intended target? The toxic substance he used was Warfarin, an agent derived from a notorious poison affecting livestock. Warfarin decreases the body’s ability to clot blood, and the colorless, odorless substance is used to kill rats and vampire bats by forcing internal bleeding.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

I’m suddenly okay with that.

Warfarin is in the powerful family of anticoagulants found accidentally by farmers who wondered why their livestock suddenly bled to death after eating slightly spoiled sweet clover. It turns out mold can reprogram a certain chemical in the clover. While the anticoagulant kills animals, it keeps humans from clotting in seriously life-threatening situations, like surgery and World War II – which is exactly how the substances in the clover were first used.

Researchers at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation derived more versions of the anticoagulants based on the chemical in sweet clover. One of them proved mighty useful in killing rats. That compound was dubbed “warfarin.” While America began to use it in pest control substances, researchers kept testing its blood-related properties. So when the sailor stumbled into the hospital with a belly full of Warfarin, the team was able to reverse the effect by dosing him with Vitamin K.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

Attempted suicide is some hardcore skating.

And now that there was a tested, effective antidote, the team could go to work researching the effects on Warfarin on humans. On top of preventing fatal blood clots throughout the human body, they found the drug could restore blood flow in stroke victims. The FDA soon approved its use for treating blood clots. But the true test came after President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack.

He was in Denver in 1955 visiting friends and family when he suffered the attack. Doctors were concerned that errant blood clots throughout his body could soon cause a stroke, killing or incapacitating the 34th President. They gave him the newly-approved Warfarin, saving the President’s life and allowing him to serve two terms in the White House.

This is how Theodore Roosevelt turned a ‘cowboy cavalry’ into the battle-ready ‘Rough Riders’

“President Nixon” would just have to wait.

Because one depressed would-be sailor attempted suicide using rat poison and doctors were able to give him an antidote, thousands of tests were able to be conducted on the efficacy of the dangerous drug. Warfarin has since saved countless cardiovascular patients in the United States and abroad, including the man that led the United States into its mid-20th Century Golden Age.

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