These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor is well-known as the U.S. military’s highest honor for acts of valor in the face of the enemy. It is bestowed for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” Usually, only members of the military earn the award. But a few, rare civilians have, too. 


It’s kind of a big deal.

Created in 1861 as a Navy medal, there have been 3,513 Medals of Honor bestowed, with roughly half going to veterans of the U.S. Civil War. The medal is generally given only to U.S. military members, but in the history of the United States, eight civilians have received the honor for their actions on the battlefield.

A purge of Medal of Honor recipients in 1917 stripped the eight of their awards (with a total of 911 previous awardees) after Congress tightened the rules.  Seven were restored in 1989, and one more in 1977.

“Buffalo Bill” Cody

 

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor

In 1872, Buffalo Bill was a scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars. He received the medal for gallantry in combat after leading a cavalry charge against a band of Sioux warriors. He killed two of the warriors, recovered their horses, and then chased them off the battlefield. His medal was restored in 1989.

Amos Chapman Billy Dixon

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
Billy Dixon during his days as an Indian scout.

Chapman was also a civilian scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars of the late 19th century. He was a half-Native who also worked as an interpreter. While working with Lt. Frank Baldwin out of Fort Dodge, he and another civilian scout, Billy Dixon, along with four soldiers, were confronted by a joint force of more than a hundred Comanche and Kiowa warriors. The six retreated to a buffalo wallow, essentially a mid-sized hole in the ground. On the way there, Dixon was injured, so Chapman picked him up and carried him to the defensive position. He stopped to fight off attackers on occasion, but was shot in the leg a quarter mile from the wallow. He dragged himself and Dixon the rest of the way to the wallow. The six held out until weather forced the enemy withdrawal, three days later.

James Dozier

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor

Another civilian scout during the Indian Wars, Dozier was awarded the honor for gallantry at the Little Wichita River, Texas in 1870. Dozier and another scout tracked a band of the Keechi to Bluff Creek. Dozier fired down on the Keechi from a higher position, wounding Chief Keesh-Kosh. Noticing that U.S. soldiers below were exposed to direct fire from a band of Keechi on a hillside, Dozier mounted his horse and attacked the band by himself. Dozier suffered serious injuries when his horse was shot out from under him, but was credited with the campaign’s success.

John Ferrell

Ferrell was a civilian in the service of the Union Navy during the Civil War. While acting as a Navy pilot near Nashville, Tennessee, an engagement with Confederates saw the flag of their ship, the Neosho, shot down. Ferrel and the ship’s quartermaster ran through the enemy fire to reraise the flag.

Martin Freeman

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
Not this Martin Freeman.

Another U.S. Navy civilian in service to the Union during the Civil War, Freeman was at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama. He was the pilot of the Union Flagship. He piloted the Navy’s ships into the bay under “terrific” enemy fire, from Fort Morgan, the CSS Tennessee, and a flotilla of Confederate gunboats. The boats were captured, the Tennessee surrendered, and the Fort’s guns were silenced.

Mary Edwards Walker

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
Walker with her Medal of Honor

Walker received her Medal of Honor recommendation from General William Tecumseh Sherman himself. She worked as a contract surgeon at the battles of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chattanooga, and Chickamauga. During battles, she would frequently cross enemy lines and treat civilians. Throughout the war, she was contracted as a surgeon by the Army of the Cumberland, the 52d Ohio Infantry, and the Patent Office Hospital in Washington, D.C. She would be arrested by the Confederacy as a spy in 1864 and spend four months as a POW. She received the Medal of Honor from President Andrew Johnson, and refused to give it back when Congress erased her award. She died two years later. President Jimmy Carter restored her status in 1977.

William H. Woodall

Woodall was a civilian employee of the Union Army during the Civil War. At the Battle of Namozine Church, while riding as a scout with Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps, Woodall was with a group of scout spies dressed in Confederate uniforms when they captured Confederate General Rufus Barringer. Woodall captured the general’s headquarter’s flag.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The raid on Camp Bastion was a bloody first for some Marine aviators

On Sept. 14, 2012, 15 heavily armed Taliban fighters disguised in U.S. Army uniforms infiltrated Camp Bastion, a large Marine Corps and British forces base and Afghan National Army training complex. Camp Bastion could accommodate some 30,000 people, so when the Taliban split into three teams to wreak havoc on the base’s interior, things could have gone very badly for the Marines.

The infiltrators made it all the way to the flight line, where their coordinated, complex attack began by targeting the Marines’ Harrier aircraft. It would be the single biggest loss of American airpower since the Vietnam War. It would also be the first time that the maintainers and pilots of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) operated as riflemen since World War II.


These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
A video released later showed the attackers dressed for the assault.

 

The fighting began at 10pm local time with one Taliban team engaging the flight line personnel, another targeting the refueling area, and a third focusing on destroying aircraft using explosives and RPGs. It was an aircraft explosion that signaled the start of the attack.

Within minutes, six Harriers were burning on the tarmac, the Marine helicopter area was surrounded by fires, and the cryogenics and fuel pit areas were on fire as small arms crackled and tracers lit up the night sky. The Taliban brought everything from hand grenades to heavy machine guns and caught the Marines completely off guard.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
Lt. Col. Christopher Raible’s memorial.

 

Marines scrambled to protective barriers as RPGs exploded around the flight line. They initially believed it was an attack of opportunity from outside the base — a random, lucky hit from rockets or mortars. But after ten explosions, one every ten seconds, it was clear that this was more than a few lucky shots. The Troops in Contact alarm began to sound. They called in the British quick reaction force, but they were on the other side of the base and the Marines would have to hold their own until they arrived.

The Marines quickly moved to don their flak jackets and retrieve their rifles. The Taliban weren’t going to stop at the aircraft. They fired RPGs at the building that housed Marine workstations while another hit a building that contained the medical section. An anti-personnel RPG killed the commander of VMA-211, Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, before he could organize a defense. Shrapnel from one of the RPGs lodged in his neck as he was leading a crew full of mechanics and maintainers out into the night as a rifle unit.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor

By this time, every Marine was operating as a rifleman. Weapons and ammo were doled out to anyone without one and Marines began taking up their fields of fire. The air wing was a total, confusing mess as the fuel bladders blew up, temporarily turning the night into day.

A Huey aircraft commander and two enlisted Marines were the ones who brought the weapons to the flight line area. They went to check on the entry control point and began to take fire from the cryogenics area. A Huey crew chief manned an M240 to suppress the enemy fire.

At the same time, Marines were struggling to get remaining aircraft in the air to provide close-air support. All they could muster was two Hueys and a Cobra, but the Marines managed to get them ready to fly in the midst of the confusing, intense attack. Thick smoke, burning ordnance, and enemy fire loomed as flight line Marines took up defensive positions to cover the helicopters’ takeoff.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
One of the Harrier jets destroyed in the raid.

 

When the helicopters were airborne, things changed quickly on the ground. They told the JTAC to concentrate fire toward the enemy position in the cryogenics facility. When the southern wall of that building lit up with tracers, the AH-1 Cobra helicopter peppered the building with 20mm rounds and UH-1V Venom Hueys tore through it with 300 .50-cal rounds while a gunner on the ground hit it with 600 rounds from a GAU-17.

After the aerial hit, the British quick reaction force arrived and cleared out the infiltrating Taliban in the cryogenics facility with 40mm grenade launchers. That left four Taliban hiding in the T-walls near the flight line. As Marines on the ground attempted to converge on the remaining Taliban attackers, guns from the helicopters eliminated the last of the threat.

When the smoke cleared, two Marines, Lt. Col. Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell, had been killed. Allied wounded numbered 17, six Harriers were completely destroyed, and another two were damaged, along with an Air Force C-130E. Three fuel bladders and a few sunshade hangars were also destroyed. All but one of the attacking Taliban fighters were killed in action. The attack caused some 0 million in damages.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, left, and Maj. Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant were forced to retire just one year after the raid.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

 

The story doesn’t end there. The Marine Corps wanted to know how 15 heavily armed Taliban fighters were able to get onto the base in the first place. It turned out the commander of Bastion, Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, reduced the number of Marines patrolling the base of 30,000 from 325 to 100 just one month before the attack, leaving the base guarded by troops from Tonga. He and Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant were forced to retire in the days following the incident. Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, said the two failed to accurately assess the strength and capabilities of the enemy in the area and failed to protect their troops.

Sturdevant was the Marine aviation commander of the base and was blamed for inadequate force protection measures on the flight line area that night. The two Marines who went to check the entry control point found it unmanned before they started taking fire from the cryogenics facility. Meanwhile, the British review of the attack found that only 11 of 24 guard towers were manned that night. Both generals retired with fully pay and benefits.

Later, it would be revealed that the attackers spent months posing as poppy farmers, probing the base defenses and testing reactions from perimeter guards. They were able to map out the base, its defenses, its fuel farms, and the airfield. They were even trying to target Prince Harry, who was stationed on the base at that time.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why WWII troops are to thank for the rise of comics

It was June of 1938 when the world first got their hands on Action Comics #1. This new, featured character, Superman, embodied all that was good about the United States. He fought for truth, justice, and the American way. For a whole ten cents, kids could get their own issue, read fantastic stories, and escape from the harsh realities of the Great Depression. But comics found a secondary audience — young adults who were also looking for an fantastical escape from the bleak world around them.

Comic sales suffered alongside the economy at large. Kids simply couldn’t fork over ten cents every week and the entire industry was almost kneecapped before it could became the multi-billion dollar business it is today.

Everything changed on December 20, 1940 (cover-dated for March, 1941) — an entire year before the attack on Pearl Harbor — when another superhero, named Captain America, hit the shelves. He donned star-spangled colors, and the very first public-facing image of Cap featured him delivering a swift punch directly to Hitler’s jaw.

Sales rose into the millions — but not because of kiddies with spare dimes. The audience that bought en masse was, unsurprisingly, the very demographic that wanted to knock Hitler out themselves: the 24-year-old men being shipped off to war.


These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor

The creators knew their audience, and they found ways to show their support for the troops in nearly every issue.

(DC Comics)

Despite comic books’ reputation of being pulpy kids’ fiction, troops, at the time, became the primary consumers. Comics were the perfect rucksack stuffer. They were small, easy to fold or roll, and could be fit into anything. You could read it once, share it around, and then enjoy it again when it circled back around. If they got damaged or destroyed, it was fine because it only cost ten cents.

The heroic stories within took troops’ minds temporarily off of the war in front of them. Comic books had mastered escapist fantasy during the Great Depression — and that came in handy among troops fighting in WWII.

Lucky troops could find the newest issues of their favorite series around Europe — most often when in England, before heading back into the fray. But troops would also often request comics in care packages from back home.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor

These comics were often printed on higher quality paper so they could withstand the trials of daily military life.

(David McKay Co.)

It wasn’t just the stories of Superman and Batman fighting the good fight back home that connected with the troops. In fact, Captain America was a super-soldier fighting in the same war as the audience for the same reasons against the same enemy.

But the superheroes we love today didn’t steal the show. Non-fiction series stood above them during that era.

In these comics, the characters had no superhuman powers. They weren’t fighting some devious, otherworldly villain. These comics featured real stories told by the troops who were fighting. It wasn’t uncommon for GIs in Europe to enjoy the comics about actions in the Pacific Theater, like Guadalcanal Diary, or for island-hopping Marines to read about the U.S. soldiers in France, in comics like USA Is Ready.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor

One man in particular, Bob Kanigher, used his first-hand experience on the front lines to give the veteran comic book readers arguably one of the finest stories in the medium: Sgt. Rock of Easy Company.

(DC Comics)

The troops’ love of comic books continued well after many made the transition back into civilian life. From then on, the lion’s share of the comic book marketplace featured more mature themes, like crime, supernatural horror, and war — things that returning veterans would enjoy.

This came into direct conflict with a narrative that insisted comic books were for kids. The Comics Code Authority went into effect in 1954, censoring all the “foul” stuff veterans came to love. Comic sales plummeted. This should have been the final nail in the coffin for the medium — but it wasn’t, not by a long shot.

World War II veterans who had read and loved all the stories during wartime elbowed their way into the industry, giving rise to the Silver Age of comic books. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Syd Shore, Alice Marble, Curt Swan, and Bob Kanigher all served their country in the second World War. Together, they brought comic books back into the spotlight, steering them to the bright future they enjoy today.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Looking back at the Battle of Stalingrad 75 years later

As the initial results were seen of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22 1941, observers around the world had every reason to believe that Germany was on a course to win the war and become one of the most powerful nations in all of history.


Four million men crossed the border into the Soviet Union during the invasion and quickly claimed large swaths of territory and inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviet Union. By the end of the summer, the Wehrmacht had swept through the Baltic states, the Soviet portion of Poland, and the western half of Ukraine. German forces had made their way to Moscow by October before the bitter cold set in and Soviet General Zhukov could organize a successful defense of the city.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
A Soviet soldier waving the Red Banner over the central plaza of Stalingrad in 1943. (Photo by Georgii Zelma)

The following spring, Hitler devised a new offensive in the East that would target the oil fields of southern Russia and capture the city of Stalingrad on the Volga river. Capturing the city would disrupt supply routes along the Volga and allow German forces to turn north and once again encircle Moscow. The Soviets were no less determined to defend the city as an important industrial and transportation center and a psychologically important city that bore the name of the Soviet Premiere.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
The initial phase of the German invasion, 1941. (Map created by the History Department of the U.S. Military Academy)

In September 1943, German forces entered Stalingrad, which provoked fierce house by house and street by street fighting. The brutality of the fighting is difficult to even imagine. 1.1 million Soviet soldiers became casualties, along with another 800,000 Axis fighters. But beyond the gruesome statistics, the battle for Stalingrad was the psychological turning point of all of the Second World War.

According to British historian Antony Beevor, Soviet soldiers shouted to German Prisoners of War after they had been captured, “This is how Berlin is going to look!” Advances to the east by German soldiers were about to be replaced with Soviet marches westward and no intelligent German believed that they could ever win a war of attrition, which is what Stalingrad became.

Also read: This is how Stalingrad’s most epic sniper duel ended

The fighting was also romanticized almost immediately. First, by the Soviet propaganda machine and later by Hollywood, which produced films like Enemy at the Gates. The center of the fighting is now strewn with monuments celebrating Communism’s great victory over Fascism.

The real legacy of Stalingrad, however, was the wasted lives of so many young men (and women). Germany did not need to make Stalingrad a city of vital strategic importance. The main aim of the campaign was the capture of oil fields in the caucuses. That could have been achieved without taking Stalingrad. Hitler directly intervened to overrule his Generals, who were about to withdraw from Stalingrad to capture targets further south en route to the Baku oil fields. Hitler’s primary aim was the propaganda value of the city.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
Soviets preparing to ward off a German assault in Stalingrad’s suburbs.

Soviet preparedness for war was one of the primary reasons why Germany was able to so effectively fight the Red Army in the opening months of the war. Stalin had only recently purged the armed forces of needed officers out of a desire to further consolidate his power. Zhukov was spared but later said he always kept an emergency bag packed in case a knock on the door arrived. Had he been purged, it seems likely the Soviet Union would not have been able to win the war.

Stalingrad was ultimately a microcosm of the broader war in the east: a war of ugliness, cruelty, hatred, racism, misogyny, rape, and plunder. It is a leading candidate for the most brutal war ever fought.

Related: This colorized German war footage shows why Stalingrad was hell on Earth

Of course, some very important military principles were either learned or reinforced through Stalingrad. Military leaders must be cautious in spreading their troops too thinly, soldiers and civilians in a fight for their own country will often prove more motivated and willing to expend themselves, and that guerrilla warfare is a completely different matter than conventional warfare.

More: The 11 eeriest unsolved mysteries of World War II

But, the symbolism of Stalingrad does continue to live on in more inspiring ways than simple cruelty due to the clashing egos of two very powerful men. It really did change the course of history and involved ordinary men and women, in addition to professional soldiers, fighting for their very lives. Today, in Volgograd, there are echoes of the conflict still, as the descendants of those fighters continue on in the legacy left for them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A 60-year-old D-Day veteran beat Special Forces climbing Pointe du Hoc

“They hug the cliff too much,” Herman Stein said as he approached a waiting crowd on an overcast day in June 1984. Stein was a former Army Ranger with Dog Company who landed at Pointe du Hoc during World War II. He was slightly older than 60, but he had just beaten a dozen Special Forces soldiers up the cliffside.

“All these younger guys will be alright if they just stick with it,” Stein said.


Stein was one of 225 Rangers of the 2d Ranger Battaltion who landed there on D-Day, Jun. 6, 1944, to scale the cliff face and take out the Nazi guns. Some 40 years later, the climb was re-enacted for onlookers celebrating the 40th anniversary of the operation, the largest amphibious landing ever performed, which led to the end of the war.

The original recreation was supposed to consist of a dozen Ranger-qualified Green Berets, but Herman Stein wasn’t about to let them go alone. Stein, a roofer back in the United States, was still in top shape for the job. Despite the worries of his fellow veterans, he not only made the climb, but left the much-younger Special Forces in the dust.

This event was recounted in Patrick K. O’Donnell’s book, “Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc.”

The first time he went to scale the cliffs of Normandy, they were part of Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall,” and time was of the essence. Although the Nazis believed the Americans weren’t crazy enough to attempt a landing at the cliff face, They were wrong. Stein and Dog Company landed on the West side of Pointe du Hoc and scaled the 90-foot cliff under heavy fire.

As President Ronald Reagan would remark at the 40th Anniversary event:

“The American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear arms.”

The Rangers were successful in neutralizing the guns and other Nazi positions at the top of the cliffs but they face stiff resistance and a harsh counterattack throughout the rest of the day and into the night. By the time a large relief column arrived for them, they had suffered a 70 percent casualty rate.

Later, Stein would recall meeting President Reagan during the event. He said the President was visibly inspired by Stein’s performance in climbing the cliff face and outdoing the Special Forces.

“Reagan was all over the moon about my climbing to the top of Pointe du Hoc,” Stein said. “I think he wished he could have done it with me.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The United Kingdom had special battalions for short soldiers in World War I

At the outbreak of the 20th century’s first global conflict, when you might think they’d take anyone who wanted to fight,  the British Army was actually turning able-bodied men away. 

On the surface, that’s nothing new. Armies all over the world turn men away all the time. The U.S. military will turn troops down for things like flat feet, scoliosis, or hemorrhoids (to name a few). 

But in 1914, the British were turning men down for lack of height, even if they were roaring to fight the German menace. 

There was one miner from Birkenhead, Cheshire who couldn’t make the minimum height of 5’3”, and was turned away from every recruiting station in which he tried to enlist. Frustrated, he challenged to fight anyone who said his height mattered – and took down six people before the police had to step in. 

But word got around to the local Member of Parliament, the ironically-named Alfred Bigland. Bigland reached out to Secretary of State for War Lord Herbert Kitchener about the plight of the vertically-challenged in his district.

Bigland believed that refusing these otherwise healthy and fit men service in the Army was a mistake and that the Kingdom should form a regiment to prove they were just as capable as taller men.

Kitchener and the War Office replied with the military equivalent of “sure, whatever,” agreeing to allow Bigland to raise a regiment of short people but opting not to fund it at all. 

The result was that the 15th Battalion, 1st Birkenhead, The Cheshire Regiment was formed, calling for men between 4’10” and 5’3” to enlist in the British Army. Men came from across Britain and Canada to finally get their chance to fight in France.

Originally, they were known as the Bantams, but when other height-capable units were raised, they became known as “Bantam battalions.” Though small in stature, they did not shy away from conflict – and when it came time to fight, they did not disappoint. 

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
A British trench near the AlbertBapaume road at Ovillers-la-Boisselle, July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. The men are from A Company, 11th (Service) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment.

Even if those fights were in the taverns of Glasgow with fellow British Empire troops, scuffles which earned them the backhandedly complimentary nickname “Devil Dwarfs.” 

In battle against the Germans, however, the Bantams earned a reputation for bravery and ferocity that had Entente soldiers talking about them wherever they were found along the front. 

As the war ground on and the British were forced to be less choosy about who they decided to accept (and then who they had to conscript), the Bantam battalions faded away as a separate unit, replaced by a regular mix of tall and not-so-tall soldiers. 

Articles

That time the Air Force landed bombers on tank treads

During the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force experimented with a seemingly crazy idea for dispersing the weight of their heaviest bomber across the tarmac of airports and bases. They would fit the bombers with tank tread-inspired landing gear.


The B-36 Peacemaker was the largest plane ever built by America. Originally designed before the Pearl Harbor attacks, the B-36 was supposed to be a cross-ocean bomber that could drop 10,000 pounds of ordnance on Berlin or Japan while taking off and landing in the U.S.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
Convair XB-36 takeoff during its first flight on March 29, 1950. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

When flying shorter routes, the plane could carry as much as 86,000 pounds.

The massive B-36 was slowly developed throughout World War II but was finished too late for the war. The first bomber rolled off the line six days after the Japanese surrender. But the plane’s capabilities, carrying 10,000 pounds of ordnance to targets thousands of miles away, made the plane perfect for a nuclear strike role in the Cold War.

There was one big problem, though. The B-36 was extremely heavy, about 419,000 pounds when fully armed. And all that weight initially sat on two smaller tires in the front and two larger ones under the wings.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
Convair XB-36 in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The weight on each tire was so great, the Peacemakers risked sinking into the concrete if they were parked for too long on most airstrips.

So the Air Force tried out a novel solution. They installed tank tread landing gear under the nose and both wings of the plane, allowing the weight to be spread over a much larger area.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
Side view of Convair XB-36. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Initial tests of the system were successful, but the Air Force scrapped it anyway. It focused on improving more airstrips rather than putting the bulky system on production B-36s. It did start buying the planes with four smaller wheels under each wing instead of the single large one, which also helped with the pressure per square inch on airfields.

The weight-to-surface-area problem would come up again with the B-47, the Peacemaker’s successor. B-47s dispersed during the Cuban Missile crisis sunk into the concrete of Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts and pilots had to hire a tow truck driver to pull them out of the holes they created.

Articles

Comanches renamed a medicine man when his magical prediction failed in combat

In 1874, the Comanche tribe was fighting for its very survival. Though decades past the height of their power on the Great Plains, the Comanches were not going down without a fight. They were long the dominant tribe on the plains and were known to aggressively resist Mexican or American expansion into Comancheria, their homeland. 

The U.S. Army was trying to expel not just the Comanche, but also the Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapaho nations out of the southern Great Plains, forcing them to resettle inside the Indian Territory, in what is today Oklahoma. 

The tribes were in violation of the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty which called for them to stop their aggression against settlers moving west in exchange for housing, agricultural training and supplies. For a time, the treaty worked but settlers soon began thinning out Buffalo herds to sell hides, threatening the tribes’ way of life. 

Comanches stood up to fight the settlers and the U.S. Government in what would become known as the Red River War. Their leader, Kwihnai Tosabitʉ – Comanche for “White Eagle” – was a Comanche medicine man who preached that a great war between the natives and the white men who were killing the buffalo was unavoidable.

Kwihnai Tosabitʉ claimed that he had ascended to the skies, flew above the clouds and spoke with the Great Spirit. He told his fellow tribesmen the Great Spirit had given him incredible powers that would help revive their once-great people and rid them of the white men forever. He claimed he could cure the sick, raise the dead and control the weather. 

Most importantly, he claimed he could stop the white man’s bullets from flying and when he couldn’t, he would make the Comanche warriors immune to gunshots. When he correctly predicted both a drought and astronomical events, the people of his tribe believed he was imbued with the powers he claimed, and they were ready to go to war with the U.S. 

An overwhelming number of warriors rallied to this cause, prepared to go to war with the bulletproof powers provided by White Eagle. The Kiowa people rallied alongside their Comanche neighbors and prepared for their own attacks.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
A Kiowa ledger drawing possibly depicting the Buffalo Wallow Battle in 1874, another clash between South Plains Indians and U.S. Army troops (Wikimedia Commons)

Their first attack came in the Texas panhandle, at a 28-man strong settlement called Adobe Walls. The complex was just a group of buildings designed to handle the needs of local buffalo hunters and should have been an easy target for bulletproof Comanche warriors. The tiny outpost was a threat to their existence. 

Just before dawn on June 27, 1874, 700 native warriors arrived at Adobe Walls and charged the settlement, believing they were impervious to the white man’s weapons and fighting alongside the Great Spirit in a mission to reclaim their homelands. 

Unfortunately, the natives’ surprise raid was spoiled by the collapse of a building’s roof inside the settlement. Earlier in the morning, a large crack erupted from one of the buildings, awakening most of its inhabitants. When they realized it was a roof caving in, many of the men awoke to help. So when the natives arrived to the area, the target white men were awake and somewhat ready to move. 

The Comanche nearly won. They rode into the encampment and operated at such close quarters that the buffalo hunters’ rifles were nearly useless. For days they harried the hunters, killing four of them. 

As the Comanche surveyed the battlefield, legendary frontiersman Billy Dixon – one of only eight civilians to receive a Medal of Honor – took aim at one of the leaders atop his horse from an estimated 1,500 yards with a buffalo hunting rifle. In an admittedly lucky shot, his target went down. The Comanche left the battlefield that day.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor
Kwihnai Tosabitʉ, AKA Isatai’i, in 1880 (Wikimedia Commons)

Because of his failed visions and leadership, the medicine man Kwihnai Tosabitʉ, or White Eagle, received a new name from the Comanche people: Isatai’i, or “Coyote Vagina.”

Feature image: Kim Douglas Wiggins/ Wikimedia Commons

Articles

The first aerial refueling was straight-up nuts

Aerial refueling has always been risky business. Tankers fly through the sky, loaded to the gills with flammable fuels while dragging long hoses or booms behind them as jets chase after them like hungry mosquitos.


But if that’s risky, the first aerial refueling was straight-up crazy. Wesley Mays, a famous daredevil of the late-1910s and early-1920s, climbed from one biplane onto another with a 5-gallon jug of fuel strapped to his back.

Three men worked together to pull off the stunt. Mays, the daredevil, was joined by two pilots, Frank Hawks and Earl Daugherty. Mays rode along with his gas can in the plane piloted by Hawks. Then, he climbed out of Hawks’ passenger seat and walked onto the right wing tip.

From there, he waited for Daugherty to bring his wingtip in range and grabbed it. Mays lifted himself onto the wing and worked his way between the planes’ wings and into the cockpit. He poured the gas into the engine and strapped himself into his waiting seat, sealing his place in history.

The Army Air Corps got in on the aerial refueling action 2 years later in Jul. 1923, but they needed a way to transfer much more than 5-gallons at a time. So they opted to use a tanker aircraft, a hose, and a receiving aircraft. First Lt. Virgil Hines flew a DH-4B outfitted as the tanker ahead of 1st Lt. Frank W. Seifert’s DH-4B receiver. Hines dangled the hose behind and beneath his aircraft where Seifert could reach it.

 

The fuel was transported without incident, but engine trouble in Seifert’s plane prevented the duo from achieving a planned endurance record. Still, they developed techniques that allowed another Air Corps team to set the record with a 37-hour, 25-minute flight in Aug. 1923.

Today, aerial refuelings are usually conducted by specially designed aircraft, though modified fighters and attack jets such as the F/A-18 have been pressed into service when needed. The Navy has even looked at using its unmanned X-47B as an automated tanker, but the two aircraft sit in hangars and have not yet been modified for the test missions.

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These are 4 of the most underrated American military commanders ever

We’ve all heard about military leaders from American history who totally rock. Washington, Stonewall Jackson, and Ike are certainly among them.


But it’s worth noting some military commanders who didn’t get the accolades, but really should have.

Some, you may know a little bit about, and some you might never have heard of until now.

Let’s take a look at who might need some more compliments for their military prowess.

1. Raymond A. Spruance

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Raymond A. Spruance, the victor of Midway. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

Samuel Eliot Morison called Raymond Ames Spruance “the victor of Midway” in his “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.”

Morison noted in that Spruance, upon reviewing the text, requested that “the victor of Midway” be changed to “who commanded a carrier task force at Midway.” Morison declined to make the change, but it shows the modest character of Spruance, who was arguably America’s best naval combat commander in the Pacific Theater.

Look at his results.

At Midway, Spruance smashed and sank four Japanese carriers. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, his fleet pulled off the Marianas Turkey Shoot, and later sank a carrier and two oilers (American subs sank two more carriers). Here’s how thoroughly Spruance beat the Japanese: At the start of the battle, CombinedFleet.com noted the Japanese had 473 aircraft on their carriers. After the battle, WW2DB.com noted the Japanese carriers had 35 planes total among them.

In the Navy, it is an honor to have a ship named after you. When your name goes on the lead ship of a class of destroyers, it speaks volumes about how you did.

Spruance’s name was on USS Spruance (DD 963), the first of 31 Spruance-class destroyers. An Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer (DDG 111) also bears his name.

2. John Buford

Sam Elliot gave a memorable performance of this general in “Gettysburg.”

 

We may very well owe the fact that the Union won the Civil War to John Buford. Everything that happened at Gettysburg was due to Buford’s actions on June 30 and July 1, 1863. An excerpt from a U.S. Army training manual notes, “Buford’s deployment and delaying tactics blocked Confederate access to Gettysburg while gaining time for reinforcing Union columns to arrive on the battlefield.”

He identified the terrain that mattered, he then bought time for the Union Army to arrive, and to eventually regroup on Cemetery Ridge. The U.S. Army manual says that, “[H]is morning actions ensured that the Army of the Potomac secured the high ground. Over the next two days, General Lee’s army would shatter itself in repeated attacks upon these heights. The battle of Gettysburg very much reflected the shaping influence of Buford’s cavalry division.”

3. Ulysses S. Grant

 

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Mathew B. Brady

 

Butcher. Drunk. Those are common perceptions of Ulysses S. Grant, but they miss the point.

If Robert E. Lee’s biggest fault was the failure to keep in mind the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the two sides in the Civil War, Grant was someone who keenly grasped them. Yes, Union troops suffered heavy casualties at battles like Cold Harbor or the Wilderness, but where other generals pulled back, Grant pressed forward.

Edward H. Bonekemper noted at the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable that in the Overland Campaign, “Grant took his aggressiveness and persistence beyond the levels he had demonstrated in the Western and Middle Theaters.” Bonekemper also expressed his belief that had Petersburg not held, Grant’s campaign would have won the war in two months.

Eventually, he broke Lee’s army, and with it, the Confederacy.

4. Daniel Callaghan

 

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(Photo: U.S. Navy)

 

Like John Buford, Callaghan really had one big moment. But what a moment it was.

Against overwhelming odds, Daniel Callaghan saved Henderson Field from a massive bombardment, making the ultimate sacrifice in doing so. Yet far too many historical accounts, like Richard Frank’s Guadalcanal (see pages 459 and 460), act as if Callaghan blundered into the fight.

On the contrary, Callaghan, by forcing a melee, bought enough time that the Japanese had to postpone having a battleship bombard Henderson Field for two critical days — enough time for American fast battleships to arrive.

Articles

The U.S. military’s actual plan for a moon base

Everyone is up a tizzy now about the possibility of an actual Space Corps, the sixth branch of the military. But this isn’t America’s first pass at space occupation. The Army and Air Force launched two separate studies in the late 1950s about establishing a base on the moon and permanently occupying it.


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The proposed U.S. Army Moon base in 1965, near the end of construction. (Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

Since America ultimately won the first round of the Space Race, it’s easy to forget that the Soviet Union spent years firmly in the lead. It launched the first man-made satellite in 1957 and landed the first man-made object on the moon in 1959.

So the U.S. looked quickly for a way to catch up. The CIA was stealing technology as quickly as it could, Eisenhower ordered the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (now DARPA), and the Army and Air Force got to work planning moon bases.

While it may sound odd today, both military studies took it as a given that someone would occupy the moon relatively soon and that it should be America — even if there wasn’t a firm plan yet on what to do with it.

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(Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

The Army said:

The primary objective is to establish the first permanent manned installation on the moon. Incidental to this mission will be the investigation of the scientific, commercial, and military potential of the moon.

The Air Force was more direct, saying, “The decision on the types of military forces to be installed at the lunar base can be safely deferred for 3 to 4 years provided a military lunar base program is initiated immediately.”

But both services did have their own plans on what to do with it, even if they were relatively hazy ideas in the far future.

Both services wanted to use the moon base as a point for intercepting Soviet signals, an idea partially proven by the 1948 detection of air defense radar signals bouncing off the moon and later by “ELINT” which detected cutting-edge Soviet radar technology via lunar reflection.

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A space station would serve as a midway point for many missions to the moon under the Army plan. The Air Force plan called for direct flights from the Earth to lunar surface. (Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

The Army and Air Force were both interested in using the moon as an observation platform from which to watch activity in the Soviet Union.

But the most surprising proposed use of the moon base came from the Air Force, which twice mentioned the possibility of a “Lunar Based Earth Bombardment System,” a weapon projected to be accurate within 2-5 nautical miles.

The study doesn’t go into detail on what ordnance the LBEBS would use, but…pretty much the only weapon that can destroy an enemy installation by landing within five miles of it is a nuke.

When it came to planning the construction of the base, both services focused on their strong points.

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(Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

The Army, used to building large and complex bases around the world while under fire or during other adverse conditions, wrote up a detailed plan on how a 12-man team could bury modular containers three feet under the surface to establish a base for them to live in. They would use a special tractor and other excavation equipment to do so. It even planned out potential meals.

The Army does spend a few dozen pages discussing how to get everything to the moon, but is counting on nuclear-powered Saturn rockets to carry the heavy payloads. While the U.S. has tested nuclear-powered rocket engines a few times, it’s never made the jump to actually constructing one.

The Air Force, meanwhile, spends a lot of time and energy discussing how to send automated rocket flights with equipment payloads to specific points on the surface for later construction. But the study essentially kicks the can down the road when it comes to assembling those payloads into a functioning base.

A nuclear power plant was slated to power each base.

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The Army’s plan called for regular flights to and from the moon in cramped capsules. (Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

The timelines for the projects were ambitious, to say the least. The Air Force called for an operational lunar base by June 1969. In reality, Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the moon a month later, almost two years after the Air Force’s projection for the first manned mission.

The Army was even more optimistic, envisioning that the first people would reach the moon in 1965 and that the first outpost would be fully-functioning by the end of 1966.

Instead, here we are in the new millennium without a single moon base. The Space Corps is going to be busy playing catch up if it ever actually gets formed.

You can see all the studies at the links below:

Air Force Lunar Expedition Plan

Air Force Military Lunar Base Program

Army Lunar Outpost Summary and Supporting Consideration

Army Lunar Outpost Technical Considerations Plans

MIGHTY HISTORY

No, NASA didn’t waste millions making the space pen

Look, this whole article is basically a rant written because we’re getting tired of seeing comments about this every time we talk about NASA and/or Roscosmos. Somewhere in the comments on those articles, on our videos, or really anywhere across the internet as a whole, you’ll see someone sharing that same stupid story of NASA investing millions in space pens while Russia sensibly used pencils instead.

Nearly all of that story is complete and utter nonsense.


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NASA astronaut and former Air Force test pilot Col. Gordon Fullerton, wearing communications kit assembly mini headset, watches a free-floating pen during checklist procedures on the aft-deck of Space Shuttle Columbia during the third shuttle mission, STS-3, in 1982.

(NASA)

A few quick things: First, neither NASA nor Roscosmos spent a single dime developing the space pen. NASA and Roscosmos both gave their spacefarers pencils and both of them hated to do so because floating graphite flakes can cause fires in sensitive electronics in zero gravity.

NASA, to cut down on the chance of a fire destroying their multi-million dollar spacecraft and killing their priceless astronauts, invested in insanely expensive mechanical pencils. The pencils were 8.89 each, or a grand total of ,382.26 for 34.

Man, imagine having to go to the supply sergeant for a box of those every time the major loses a few.

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Astronaut Walter Cunningham writes with a space pen during the Apollo 7 mission in 1968.

(NASA)

Taxpayers, predictably, freaked out. They felt like pencils shouldn’t cost over 0 — fair enough.

So, NASA went back to cheaper pencils, but remained worried about their spacecraft and astronauts. Russia, in a similar vein, was worried about their cosmonauts.

Then, the Fischer Pen Company came to them with an offer to sell “anti-gravity” pens that could write upside down, under water, and in any temperature that humans could survive. It was the uber pen.

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A photo of an Apollo astronaut taking notes in space.

(Project Apollo Archive)

NASA paid a grand total of .39 per pen for 400 of them — a total of 6. Russia also bought the pen for the same price per unit (Well, Scientific American thought the cost was .39 each. A NASA historian citing old media reports pegged the number at per — still, not millions in either case).

Thus concludes NASA’s total sunk costs for the first delivery of pens. They paid in development or research costs. None.

Now, the Fischer Pen Company did spend a lot of money developing the pens — about id=”listicle-2608414142″ million, but they’re a private company counting on future sales to make up for the development costs.

And that was a sound bet. After all, lots of industries and the military need pens that can write in any situation. Miners, loggers, divers, soldiers, and a ton of other people in other professions need to be able to write in wet environments. So, Fischer would earn their research money back regardless.

So, please, when you want to make fun of the military or the government for wasting money, point to something else. The multi-million dollar space pen is and has always been bupkis.

Maybe point to the anti-aircraft weapon that attacked toilets or the slew of awesome weapons the military investigated but was unable to bring to fruition.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time some guy seized power in Montenegro and won a full-scale war

There’s been a lot of attention on the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro in recent days — are they an aggressive people? Are they any more or less aggressive than any other people? What’s the metric to use for aggression? That equation changes when you combine Serbia with Montenegro, like the rest of the world did until 2006.

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In that case, you can measure aggression by the number of World Wars started.

But there is one story in Montenegro’s military history that stands out above all others. In 1767, a man dressed in the rags of the monastery in which he lived arrived in the country’s capital of Cetinje, claiming to be the long-thought-dead Tsar Peter III of Russia. And everyone believed it.

He became Šćepan Mali — known in the West as Stephen the Small.


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Ah, the days before Google.

Today, no one knows who he really was before he became the absolute ruler of Montenegro and no one knows his real name. All we know is that the little country was in a full-on war with the Ottoman Empire, then a major world power, who was not thrilled to have a Russian Tsar next door. The tiny, mostly Eastern Orthodox Christian country sought support from mighty Orthodox Russia for its rescue from an Islamic invasion, but Russia was not about to lend help to this pretender to the Montenegrin throne.

They knew Tsar Peter was dead. In his place, Catherine II ascended to the throne. She would later be honored as Catherine the Great and her first step toward greatness was having her husband Peter murdered.

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Catherine the Great pictured with all the f*cks she gives.

While most people might think a homeless, religious nut taking control of their country and immediately getting invaded by their larger neighbor would be an absolute disaster, Montenegrins’ fears were put to rest in a hurry. It turns out Stephen was really, really good at this whole “Tsar” thing.

With 50,000 Turkish soldiers marching into a country the size of the greater Los Angeles area in 2018, Stephen managed to silence his naysayers (one bishop who had actually met Tsar Peter III tried to sound the alarm, but no one listened), use his natural charm to win the support of the country’s religious establishment, and then unite the country’s tribes for the first time in centuries.

He’s like a Montenegrin Ronald Reagan.

These 8 civilians received the Medal of Honor

Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem… specifically, every government but me.”

The first thing Stephen did was send the Turks packing. With his outdated and outnumbered Montenegrin forces, he routed the Turks just south of Montenegro’s capital and took to the internal matters of his small but new job.

By this time, Catherine sent a delegation of Russians to Montenegro to out the impostor as a fake or kill him, but one of the things she didn’t know about Stephen (which was actually a lot) is that he was really, really likable. So likable, in fact, that when the Montenegrins learned he wasn’t actually Tsar Peter III (for real, though), they shrugged and declared him Tsar Šćepan. Most importantly, no one killed him — they enjoyed his company instead.

The Russians now accepted that there was no getting rid of Stephen and that his strict control of the country actually reduced instability there. And so, they began to help him. They sent the supplies and cash he needed to upgrade his military.

Just in time to fend off another invasion of Montenegro. This time, 10,000 Venetians landed in Montenegro to avenge their Ottoman allies’ crushing defeat, only to be defeated themselves near Kotor. Venice was forced to retreat, taking heavier casualties, having to pay Stephen for permission to leave, and being forced to leave their weapons behind.

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Montenegrins don’t take kindly to sucker punches, as it turns out.

This particular victory was so great, even Catherine sent Stephen a medal, a Lieutenant General’s rank, and the uniform to go along with it.

But Montenegro’s glory was short-lived. The Tsar was murdered in his sleep by his barber, whose family was taken hostage by the Ottoman Turks. The Ottomans threatened horrible things unless the Greek barber did their bidding. Sadly for his country, the peace enforced among its tribes by their Little Tsar quickly fell apart without him. The Turks invaded again while they were distracted by infighting.

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