Mort Walker, famed comic strip writer and former Army First Lieutenant, passed away on Jan. 27, 2018. His most famous work, Beetle Bailey, changed the way comics are enjoyed daily in 1950 and it continues to touch lives today. It fostered acceptance of the comic strip as an artistic medium by an older crowd and showed American military service in a new light.
The comic drew its humor from the realities of service, spotlighting both the good and the bad, and gave audiences around the world a more relatable soldier than any other in pop culture. Walker served on the Italian front of WWII and knew exactly how privates, sergeants, and officers all acted: kind of funny, sometimes.
Here’s how the comic strip spoke for all of us.
Privates will be lazy
The longest-running gag in the series is Pvt. Beetle Bailey trying to skip out of work. Given the opportunity, he’ll sleep. If he has to work, he’ll need a kick in the ass to get going — sometimes literally.
This is not unlike a large portion of the lower enlisted in the real-world military. As much as every NCO and officer would love to pretend like their troops are the pinnacle of perfection, they’re much more like Pvt. Bailey than they are Captain America. In a way, that humanizes the military. Civilians can relate to the “work” ethic of Bailey and, in turn, some of our troops.
The lower enlisted will master every rule and regulation just to find the one loophole they need. (Comic by Mort Walker and King Features Syndicate)
NCOs still have a good heart
Sgt. 1st Class Snorkel is a mix between an alcoholic, an asshole, and, in his own, unique way, Beetle Bailey’s friend. He’s got anger issues, but they’re never unjustified. He has to constantly burst Bailey’s bubble, but only because he’s got a job to do.
Non-commissioned officers in the real military are much the same way. Underneath their rank and loud voice, they’re still human. Caring humans who still have a job to do.
Officers’ ideas aren’t always the best
Brig. Gen. Halftrack is a goofy and inept General who sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. The gears will already be turning properly when he comes in and throws everything off kilter.
There’s a misconception among civilians and even in the military itself (especially from the officers) that their generals are near-mythical geniuses. Turns out, they’re just as flawed as everyone else. In the military, we call this the “Good Idea Fairy.”
Carl Gustav’s name is associated in most militaries with the recoilless rifle that bears his name, a weapon typically used in anti-armor/anti-personnel applications that is known for its range and lethality. But another weapon, a submachine gun that was reliable enough to serve special operators in the jungles of Vietnam, claims the name as well.
The Carl Gustav M-45 is a design originally ordered by the Swedish Army in World War II. They wanted new weapons to preserve Swiss neutrality and as potential exports to the warring nations.
The weapon used a simple blowback procedure to cycle the weapon. The operator would pull the trigger, the first round would fire and the force of the explosion would propel the bullet forward while also ejecting a spent casing and allowing a new round to enter the chamber.
But it could churn through those rounds in seconds. It had a firing rate of 600 rounds per minute and could only fire on full auto. The operator had to preserve ammo by shooting controlled bursts.
America never officially adopted the M-45, but U.S. special operators carried it in Vietnam because it was more reliable in the jungle environment than the M-16 that was standard-issued U.S. weapon. Special Forces soldiers and SEALs fought Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces on jungle trails with the little guns, spraying rounds at close range.
In Vietnam, the U.S. operators often carried the weapon with an American-made Sionics silencer and with new magazines that held up to 71 rounds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brian (military callsign “Bing”) entered service in World War II as a young family dog loaned to the British government; he served for about 18 months, jumping into Normandy and leading his fellow paratroopers across Nazi-held Europe and the Rhine River before returning to his civilian family after Germany’s surrender.
But Bing actually stumbled on his combat jump. He was supposed to be the “stick pusher,” the last one out of the plane. But he refused to jump into the flak-filled clouds over Normandy and one of the onboard jumpmasters had to throw him from the plane.
Worse, Monty suffered severe wounds on D-Day that ended his involvement in the war and Ranee was lost soon after the jump. Bing stayed with the paratroopers and two captured German Shepherds (German by both breed and national service) who replaced Monty and Ranee.
Just like a pointer drawing a hunter’s attention to game, Bing would freeze up and point with his nose when he found a potential batch of Germans expected to make trouble for his paratroopers.
Other British forces, including the SAS (Special Air Service), took dogs on airborne operations — as did a small number of American troops.
After the war, Bing returned to his civilian life as Brian the family dog, but was recognized in 1947 with a Dickin Medal — an award for animal valor — bestowed by Air Chief Marshall Sir Frederick Bowhill. He lived to the age of 13 before dying in 1955.
Three years of a heavy-casualty war came to a close on this date in 1953 when the Korean War Armistice was signed. This conflict ended America’s first brush with the Cold War concept of “limited war,” which was the first “hot” war of the Cold War, where the aim of US involvement was not the total defeat of the enemy but instead the “limited” goal of protecting South Korea. During the three years of war, over 55,000 American troops were killed in action.
Korea was a Japanese colony for 35 years, from 1910-1045 until the US and the Soviet Union occupied it after WWII. The US proposed that the country temporarily be divided along the 38th Parallel to maintain influence in the region. Three years later, in 1948, the American-baked anti-communist southern government administration declared itself the Republic of Korea. The Soviet-back, communist north was quick to follow and declared itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shortly after. Both governments were unstable, and border skirmishes were frequent before the Korean War officially began.
When the community of North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, the U.S. quickly acted and secured a resolution from the United Nations calling for military defense. Within days, US forces had joined the battle by land, air, and sea.
Even though the armistice officially stopped hostilities between North and South Korea, it’s not a permanent peace treaty. The armistice agreement suspended open hostilities and withdrew all military forces.
Lots of brass was on hand to sign several copies. Eighteen official copies were signed in three different languages by US Army Lt. Gen. Willian K. Harrison, Jr., senior delegate, UN Command Delegation, North Korean Gen. Nam II, senior delegate, and delegations from both the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers were present for signatures.
It took a while to get to the discussion table. The armistice marked the end of the longest negotiated armistice in history. Spread over two years and 17 days, 158 meetings took place.
The established committee of representatives from neutral countries worked together to decide what would happen to POWs. Eventually, it was decided that POWs could choose what they wanted to do – stay where they were or return to their own country.
There were plenty of high-level POWs. One of the most well known is when US Army Brigadier General Francis Townsend Dodd was held hostage by North Korean POWs during a camp uprising. The incident was used widely to showcase North Korean victories and eventually led to the end of Dodd’s career.
Death tolls on all sides were significant and heavy. Currently, there are still more than 7,000 US soldiers missing in action from the war. There were up to a total of 5 million dead, wounded, or missing on both sides. Half of them were civilians.
New borders were drawn at the discussion table. This new border gave South Korea additional territory and established the Demilitarized Zone as a buffer between the forces.
It took twelve hours for the truce to go into effect. It was signed at 1000 and activated at 2200. But then, the US decided to lengthen the war period to January 31, 1955, to extend benefits eligibility for service members.
The Korean War armistice is strictly a military document, so there’s no nation as a signatory to the agreement. In March 2013, North Korean decided that the 1953 armistice was no longer valid. And, since neither side can claim they won the war, the region is now at an impasse.
It’s often called “The Forgotten War,” partly because of the lack of media coverage about the Korean war, post-conflict. Compared to WWII, there are far fewer movies about the Korean War than WWII. Officially, it’s still classified as a “police action” because President Truman never asked Congress for a formal declaration of war.
Sixteen countries participated in the conflict, but it’s not considered a “World War” by historians, even though it set the tone for the decades of Soviet-American rivalry and profoundly shaped the world we live in today.
Speaking of numbers, the U.S. dropped more bombs in Korean than in the Pacific Theater during WWII. In addition to 32,557 tons of napalm, U.S. forces dropped 635,000 tons of bombs.
It might be the forgotten war, but may we never forget.
The universe has been finding ways to mess with people long before Edward A. Murphy uttered his famed statement in the aftermath of Dr. John Paul Stapp strapping himself onto a rocket powered sled. One of the earliest instances of this “law” being stated explicitly happened in 1877 where Alfred Holt, in an address to the Institution of Civil Engineers, said, “It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later…”
By 1908, it had become a well-loved maxim among magicians as well, as explained by Nevil Maskelyne in The Magic Circular: “It is an experience common to all men to find that, on any special occasion . . . everything that can go wrong will go wrong…”
This was reiterated by Adam Hull Shirk in The Sphinx in 1928, “It is an established fact that in nine cases out of ten whatever can go wrong in a magical performance will do so.”
This all brings us to our unsung hero of the hour, Dr. John Paul Stapp — a man whose work has saved hundreds of thousands of lives since, and who Joseph Kittinger — who famously did a high altitude jump from 102,800 ft — called the “bravest man I’ve ever met… He knew the effects of what he was getting himself into… And he never hesitated.”
Dr. John Paul Stapp.
Born in Brazil, the son of American missionaries there, Stapp eventually became an English major in college, but he changed career paths due to a traumatic incident that occurred during his Christmas break of 1928 when a 2 year old cousin of his was severely burned in a fireplace. Stapp helped to try to nurse the child back to health, but efforts failed and, 63 hours after getting burned, the toddler died. Said Stapp, “It was the first time I had ever seen anyone die. I decided right then I wanted to be a doctor.”
Unable to afford to go to medical school initially, after he earned a Master’s Degree in Zoology, he instead started teaching chemistry and zoology at Decatur College in Texas while he saved up money. Two years later, he attended the University of Texas where he got a PhD in Biophysics. Next up, he went to the University of Minnesota Medical School and got a Doctor of Medicine degree while working as a research assistant there.
Initially planning on becoming a pediatrician, Stapp changed career paths after joining the Army Medical Corps during WWII. While working as a flight surgeon, among other things, he was heavily involved in designing high altitude oxygen systems as well as studying the effects of high altitude/high speed flight on the human body. The end goal of all of this was to create better safety systems for pilots. During this time, he became puzzled at how some people would survive crashes, even extreme ones, while others in similar or lesser crashes would receive fatal injuries.
This all brings us around to Project MX-981 at the Edwards Air Force Base in 1945.
Up until this point, the prevailing theory was that a human body could not withstand more than 18Gs of force without suffering a fatal injury. The problem here was that airplanes of the age were flying faster and higher than ever. As such, the military wanted to know if their pilots could safely eject at these high velocities without being killed, as well as to try to design the safest possible system for doing so.
Testing towards this end was overseen by Dr. Stapp, using a rocket powered sled called the “Gee Whiz”. This was placed on rails on a 2000 foot track, at the end of which was an approximately 50 foot long section where a hydraulic braking system would stop the 1500 lb sled in its tracks.
Stapp rides the rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base.
The passenger aboard the cart was to initially be a 185 lb dummy named Oscar Eightball and then later chimpanzees. Stapp, however, had other ideas. He wanted to see what an actual human could handle, stating of Oscar Eightball at the project’s onset, “You can throw this away. I’m going to be the test subject.”
David Hill, who was in charge of collecting the test data throughout the experiments and making sure all the telemetry gear stayed working, said of this, they all thought Dr. Stapp must be joking as “We had a lot of experts come out and look at our situation. And there was a person from M.I.T. who said, if anyone gets 18 Gs, they will break every bone in their body. That was kind of scary.”
Dr. Stapp, however, used his extensive knowledge of human physiology, as well as analyzing various crashes where people must have survived more than 18Gs of force, and determined the 18G limit was absurdly low if a proper restraint system was designed and used.
That said, Dr. Stapp wasn’t stupid, but rather an excellent and meticulous researcher, who would soon earn the nickname, “The Careful Daredevil”.
Thus, step one was first to design a proper restraint system and work out all the kinks in the testing apparatus. Towards this end, they conducted nearly three dozen trial runs using the dummy, which turned out to be for the best. For example, in test run number one, both the main and secondary braking systems didn’t work owing to the triggering teeth breaking off, and, instead of stopping, Gee Whiz and Oscar Eightball shot off the tracks into the desert. Funny enough, after the teeth were beefed up, the braking cams engaged, but themselves immediately broke…
In yet another catastrophic failure, the forces were so extreme that Oscar broke free from his restraints. The result of this was his rubber face literally being ripped off thanks to the windscreen in front of his head. As for the rest of his body, it went flying through the air well over 700 feet (over 200 meters) from where the Gee Whiz stopped.
This brings us to about two years into the project on December 10, 1947 when Dr. Stapp decided it was his turn to be the dummy.
Initially strapping himself in facing backwards — a much safer way to experience extreme G-forces — the first run with a human aboard was a rather quaint 10Gs during the braking period.
After this, they continued to improve the restraint system as Dr. Stapp slowly ramped up the Gs all the way to 35 within six months of that first run. He stated of this, “The men at the mahogany desks thought the human body would never take 18 Gs; here we’re taking twice that with no sweat!”
And by “no sweat”, of course, he no doubt meant that throughout the tests, he’d suffered a hemorrhaged retina, fractured rib, lost several fillings from his teeth, got a series of concussions, cracked his collarbone, developed an abdominal hernia, developed countless bloody blisters caused by sand hitting his skin at extreme velocities, severe bruising, shattering his wrists, and fracturing his coccyx. But, you know, “no sweat”.
While recovering, if further tests needed conducting in the interim, he did begin allowing other volunteers to do the job, but as soon as he was healthy enough again, Dr. Stapp was back in the seat instead. One of his coworkers on the project, George Nichols, stated that Stapp couldn’t bare the idea of someone being seriously injured or killed in experiments he was conducting, so whenever possible made himself the guinea pig instead.
Of course, in order for the research to be as useful as possible and for other scientists to believe what Dr. Stapp was managing to endure, extremely accurate sensors were needed, which is where one Captain Edward A. Murphy comes in.
For a little background on Murphy, beyond very briefly helping out on this project, the highlights of his career included working on the SR-71, XB-70 Valkyrie, X-15 rocket plane, and helping to design the life support system for the Apollo missions.
Going back to Dr. Stapp’s project, at the time Murphy was working on a separate project at Wright Field involving centrifuge, including designing some new sensor systems in the process. When Dr. Stapp heard about this, he asked if Murphy wouldn’t mind adapting the sensors for use in Project MX-981, to which Murphy happily complied. More specifically, Murphy’s sensor system would allow them to directly measure the G forces on the passenger, rather than relying on measuring the G forces on the sled body itself.
Now, before we go any further, we should point out that exact details of what occurred over the two days Murphy was directly involved in the project have been lost to history, despite many first hand accounts from several people. You might think it would make it easy to sort out given this, but human memory being what it is, the accounts from those who were there vary considerably.
This acrobatic airplane is pulling up in a +g maneuver; the pilot is experiencing several g’s of inertial acceleration in addition to the force of gravity.
Illustrating this point in the most poignant way possible we have a quote from Chuck Yeager, who was good friends with Dr. Stapp. In the quote, Yeager was responding to the widely reported idea that Yeager had sought out Dr. Stapp to clear him for his famous flight where he broke the sound barrier. As to why he chose Dr. Stapp, Yeager supposedly felt that no other doctor but Stapp would clear him on account of Yeager’s supposedly broken ribs.
Yeager’s response to this almost universally reported story is as follows: “That’s a bunch of crap!… That’s the way rumors get started, by these people…who weren’t even there…”
He goes on,
that’s the same kind of crap…you get out of guys who were not involved and came in many years after. It’s just like Tom Brokaw’s book if you’ll pardon the analogy here, about the best of the breed or something like that. Well, every guy who wrote his story about World War II did it fifty years after it happened. I’m a victim of the same damn thing. I tell it the way I remember it, and that’s not the way it happened. I go back and I read a report that I did 55 years ago and I say, hmm, I’d better tell that story a little bit different. Well, that’s human nature. You tell it the way you believe it and that’s not necessarily the way that it happened. There’s nothing more true than that.
During this impressive and extremely accurate rant about how difficult it is to get an accurate report of some historic event, even from those who were there, he notes of those writing about these things after, “Guys become, if you’ll pardon my expression, sexual intellectuals. You know what the phrase is for that? Sexual intellectuals. They’re fucking know-it-alls, that’s what.”
And, we’re not going to lie, we mostly just included that little anecdote because we’re pretty sure “Sexual Intellectuals (Fucking Know-It-Alls)” is the greatest description of the staff and subscribers of TodayIFoundOut we’ve ever come across, and we kind of wish we’d named the channel that (and are pretty sure we’re going to make a t-shirt out of it…)
In any event, that caveat about the inherent inaccuracy of reporting history out of the way, this finally brings us around to the story of how Murphy and his law became a thing.
The general story that everybody seems to agree on is that Murphy or another worker there installed Murphy’s sensors and then a chimpanzee was strapped into the sled to test them out. (Note here, that years later in an interview with People Magazine, Murphy would claim it was Dr. Stapp that was strapped in.) After the test run, however, they found the sensors hadn’t worked at all, meaning the whole expensive and dangerous test had been run for nothing.
As to exactly why the sensors hadn’t worked, there are a few versions of this tale. As for the aforementioned David Hill, he states that it was one of his own assistants, either Jerry Hollabaugh or Ralph DeMarco, he couldn’t remember which, who installed the sensors incorrectly. As Hill explained in an interview with Nick T. Spake, author of the book A History of Murphy’s Law, “If you take these two over here and add them together. You get the correct amount of G-forces. But if you take these two and mount them together, one cancels the other out and you get zero.”
Cover of “A History of Murphy’s Law.”
George Nichols, however, claimed Hill and DeMarco had both double checked the wiring before hand, but had missed that it had been wired up backwards. That said, Nichols stated it wasn’t DeMarco nor Hill’s fault, as the wiring had been done back at Wright Field by Murphy’s team.
Said Nichols, “When Murphy came out in the morning, and we told him what happened… he was unhappy…” Stating, “If that guy [his assistant] has any way of making a mistake… He will.”
Nichols, however, blamed Murphy as Murphy should have examined the sensor system before hand to ensure it had been wired correctly, as well as tested the sensors before they were ever installed in the sled, and on top of it all should have given them time to test everything themselves before a live run on the sled. However, as Murphy was only to be there for two days, he’d supposedly rushed them. Nichols stated this inspired the team to not repeat Murphy’s mistakes.
Said Nichols, “If it can happen, it will happen… So you’ve got to go through and ask yourself, if this part fails, does this system still work, does it still do the function it is supposed to do? What are the single points of failure? Murphy’s Law established the drive to put redundancy in. And that’s the heart of reliability engineering.”
Hill also claims this ultimately morphed into the mantra among the group, “if anything can go wrong, it will.”
As for Murphy himself, years later in an interview with People Magazine, he would state what he originally said was, “If there’s more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then somebody will do it that way.” He then claimed when Dr. Stapp heard this, directly after the failed sled run, he shortened it and called it “Murphy’s Law”, saying “from now on we’re going to have things done according to Murphy’s Law.”
In yet another interview, Murphy painted an entirely different picture than accounts from Hill and Nichols’, stating he’d sent the sensors ahead of time, and had only gone there to investigate when they’d malfunctioned. He stated when he looked into it, “they had put the strain gauges on the transducers ninety degrees off.”
Importantly here, contrary to what the other witnesses said of how Murphy had blamed his assistant, in the interview, Murphy said it was his own fault, “I had made very accurate drawings of the thing for them, and discussed it with the people who were going to make them… but I hadn’t covered everything. I didn’t tell them that they had positively to orient them in only one direction. So I guess about that time I said, ‘Well, I really have made a terrible mistake here, I didn’t cover every possibility.’ And about that time, Major Stapp says, ‘Well, that’s a good candidate for Murphy’s Law’. I thought he was going to court martial me. But that’s all he said.”
Murphy then went on to explain to the interviewer that he actually didn’t remember the exact words he said at the time, noting “I don’t remember. It happened thirty five years ago, you know.”
This might all have you wondering how exactly this statement that nobody seemed to be able to remember clearly came to be so prevalent in public consciousness?
John Paul Stapp Fastest man on Earth – rocket sled Pilot safety equipment 1954
It turns out, beyond being incredibly brave, brilliant, and hell-bent on saving lives, even if it cost him his own, Dr. Stapp was also hilarious from all accounts from people describing him. He even wrote a book with jokes and various witty sayings called For Your Moments of Inertia. For example, “I’m as lonely as a cricket with arthritis.” or “Better a masochist than never been kissed…”
Or how about this gem from an interview where he was asked about any lasting effects on him as a result of the experiments — Dr. Stapp wryly responded, the only residual negative effect was “all the lunches and dinners I have to go to now…”
Beyond all this, he was also a collector of “Laws”, even coming up with one of his own, Stapp’s Law — “The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.”
When collecting these laws, he would name them after the person he heard them from, though often re-wording them to be more succinct, which, for whatever it’s worth, seems to align most closely to Murphy’s own account of how “his” law came about.
And as for this then becoming something the wider public found out about, during one of his interviews about the project, Dr. Stapp was asked, “How is it that no one has been severely injured — or worse — during your tests?”
It was here that Stapp stated, he wasn’t too worried about it because the entire team adhered to “Murphy’s Law”. He then explained that they always kept in mind that whatever could go wrong, would, and thus, extreme effort was made to think up everything that could go wrong and fix it before the test was actually conducted.
Going back to Project MX-981, having now reached 35 Gs after 26 runs by himself and several others by 11 volunteers, Dr. Stapp needed a faster sled. After all, at this point humans were flying at super sonic speeds and whether or not they could survive ejecting at those speeds needed to be known.
Enter the Sonic Wind at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. This sled could use up to 12 rockets capable of producing a combined 50,000 pounds of thrust, resulting in speeds as high as 750 mph. The track was about 3,550 feet long, with the braking system using water scoops. The braking could then be varied by raising or lowering the water level slightly.
This now brings us to December 10, 1954, when Dr. Stapp would pull off his most daring and final experiment.
Previous to this run, Dr. Stapp stated, “I practiced dressing and undressing with the lights out so if I was blinded I wouldn’t be helpless”, as he assumed he would probably be blind afterwards, if he survived at all. He would also state when he was sitting there waiting for the rockets to be fired, “I said to myself, ‘Paul, it’s been a good life.'”
In order to stop his arms and legs from flapping involuntarily in the wind during the test, they were securely strapped down and a mouth guard was inserted to keep his teeth from breaking off.
All set, he then blasted off on his 29th and final sled run, using nine solid fuel rockets, capable of producing 40,000 pounds of thrust.
As an interesting aside here, beyond ground based cameras, none other than Joe Kittinger piloted a T-33 over head with a photographer in back filming it.
As for the sled, it accelerated from 0 up to 632 miles per hour (1,017 kilometers per hour) in a mere 5 seconds, resulting in about 20 Gs of force on the acceleration phase. Then, in the span of just 1.4 seconds, he came to a full stop, experiencing 46.2 G’s of force in the other direction, meaning his body weighed almost 7,000 pounds at the peak G force! In the process, he had also set the record for highest landspeed of any human.
Col. John Paul Stapp aboard the “Gee Whiz” rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base.
(Air Force photo)
Said Kittinger of watching this, “He was going like a bullet… He went by me like I was standing still, and I was going 350 mph… I thought, that sled is going so damn fast the first bounce is going to be Albuquerque. I mean, there was no way on God’s earth that sled could stop at the end of the track. No way. He stopped in a fraction of a second. It was absolutely inconceivable that anybody could go that fast and then just stop, and survive.”
Nevertheless, when he was unstrapped from the chair, Dr. Stapp was alive, but as Nichols would observe, “His eyes had hemorrhaged and were completely filled with blood. It was horrible. Absolutely horrible.”
As for Dr. Stapp, he would state, it felt “like being assaulted in the rear by a fast freight train.” And that on the deceleration phase, “I felt a sensation in the eyes…somewhat like the extraction of a molar without anesthetic.”
He had also cracked some ribs, broken his wrists, and had some internal injuries to his respiratory and circulatory systems.
And on the note of his eyes, he was initially blind after, with it assumed that his retinas had detached. However, upon investigation, it was determined they had not, and within a few hours his sight mostly came back, with minor residual effects on his vision that lasted the rest of his life.
Apparently not knowing when to quit, once he had healed up, he planned yet another experiment to really see the limits of human endurance via strapping himself to that same sled and attempting to reach 1,000 mph this time…
When asked why, he stated, “I took my risks for information that will always be of benefit. Risks like those are worthwhile.”
To lead up to this, he conducted further experiments, going all the way up to 80Gs with a test dummy, at which point the Sonic Wind itself ripped off the tracks and was damaged.
It is probably for the best that it was here that his superiors stepped in. As you might imagine given his end goal was seemingly to figure out the extreme upper limit of G forces a human could survive with a perfected restraint system, and to use himself as the guinea pig until he found that limit, Dr. Stapp had previously run into the problem of his superiors ordering him to stop and instead to use chimpanzees exclusively. But while he did occasionally use chimpanzees, he went ahead and ignored the direct order completely. After all, he needed to be able to feel it for himself or be able to talk to the person experiencing the effects of the extreme Gs to get the best possible data. And, of course, no better way to find out what a human could take than use a human.
Rather than getting in trouble, he ultimately got a promotion thanks to the extreme benefits of his work. However, after his 46.2G run, they decided to shut down the experiment altogether as a way to get him to listen. After all, he had already achieved the intended goal of helping to develop better restraint and ejection systems, and proved definitively that a human could survive ejecting at the fastest speeds aircraft of the day could travel.
Now, at this point you might be thinking that’s all quite impressive, but that’s not Dr. Stapp helping to save “hundreds of thousands” of lives as we stated before. So how did he do that?
Well, during the experiments, Dr. Stapp became acutely aware that with a proper restraint system, most car accidents should be survivable, yet most cars of the age not only didn’t have any restraint systems whatsoever, they also were generally designed in ways to maximize injury in a crash with unforgiving surfaces, strong frames and bodies that would not crumple on impact, doors that would pop open in crashes, flinging occupants out, etc.
In fact, Dr. Stapp frequently pointed out to his superiors that they lost about as many pilots each year to car accidents as they did in the air. So while developing great safety systems in the planes was all well and good, they’d save a lot of lives simply by installing a restraint system into the cars of all their pilots and requiring they use them.
The military didn’t take this advice, but Dr. Stapp wasn’t about to give up. After all, tens of thousands of people each year in the U.S. alone were dying in car accidents when he felt many shouldn’t have. Thus, in nearly every interview he gave about his famous experiments almost from the very beginning of the project, he would inevitably guide the conversation around to the benefits of what they were doing if adopted in automobiles.
Not stopping there, he went on a life-long public campaign talking to everyone from car manufacturers to politicians, trying to get it required that car manufacturers include seat belts in their vehicles, as well as sharing his team’s data and restraint system designs.
Beyond that, he used his clout within the Air Force to convince them to allow him to conduct a series of experiments into auto safety, test crashing cars in a variety of ways using crash test dummies and, in certain carefully planned tests, volunteer humans, to observe the effects. This was one of the first times anyone had tried such a scientifically rigorous, broad look into commercial automobile safety. He also tested various restraint systems, in some tests subjecting the humans to as high as a measured 28 Gs. Results in hand, in May of 1955 he held a conference to bring together automobile engineers, scientists, safety council members and others to come observe the tests and learn of the results of his team’s research.
He then repeated this for a few years until Stapp was reassigned by the Air Force, at which point he requested Professor James Ryan of the University of Minnesota host the 4th annual such event, which Ryan then named the “Stapp Car-Crash and Field Demonstration Conference”, which is still held today.
Besides this and other ways he championed improvement in automobile safety, he also served as a medical advisor for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, in both heavily pushing for better safety systems.
It is no coincidence that not long after Dr. Stapp started these campaigns, car manufacturers started installing seatbelts as a matter of course, as well as started to put much more serious thought into making cars safer in crashes.
In the end, while Dr. Stapp got little public credit for helping to convince car manufacturers to prioritize automobile safety, and provided much of the initial data to help them design such systems, he was at least invited to be present when President Johnson signed the bill that made seat belts required in cars in 1966.
Besides ignoring direct orders to stop using himself as a guinea pig, other ways Dr. Stapp apparently used to frequently flout the rules was to, on his own time, freely treat dependents of people who worked at Edwards’ who were nonetheless not eligible for medical care. He would typically do this via doing house calls to airmen’s homes to keep the whole thing secret, including apparently attending to Chuck Yeager’s sons in this way according to Yeager.
It turns out Murphy was also good friends with none other than Lawrence Peter, remembered today for the Peter Principal — people inevitably get promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. According Murphy’s son, Robert, at one point Peter and Murphy tried to get together with Cyril Northcote Parkinson of Parkinson’s Law — “Work expands to meet the time and money that is available.” However, Robert claims that fateful meeting ended up getting canceled when other matters came up to prevent the get together.
One other strong safety recommendation Dr. Stapp pushed for, particularly in aviation, was to turn passenger seats around to face backwards, as this is drastically safer in crashes. And, at least in aviation would be simple to do on any commercial airline, requiring no modification other than to turn the seat around in its track. As Stapp and subsequent research by NASA shows, humans can take the most G-forces and receive fewer injuries overall with “eyes back” force, where the G-forces are pushing you back into your seat, with the seat cushions themselves also lending a hand in overall safety. This also insures tall people won’t smack their heads and bodies against anything in front of them in a crash. Despite the massive safety benefits here for people of all ages, outside of car seats for babies and toddlers, nobody anywhere seems interested in leveraging the extreme benefits of rear facing passengers to increase general safety.
If you’re wondering about the safest place on a plane to sit, funny enough, that’s the rear. In fact, you’re approximately 40% more likely to survive a plane crash if you sit in the back of the plane, rather than the front. The other advantage to the rear is that most passengers choose not to sit in the back. So unless the plane is full, you might get a row of seats to yourself. (Of course, a bathroom is also often in the rear on planes, soooo.) Another factor to consider is where the closest exit is. As a general rule, studies examining accidents have shown you’ll want to be within six rows of an emergency exit to maximize your survival chances. So if the plane doesn’t have a rear exit, that’s something to be factored in.
During Joe Kittinger’s then record leap from about 102,800 feet on August 16, 1960, the following happened during the ascent:
At 43,000 feet, I find out [what can go wrong]. My right hand does not feel normal. I examine the pressure glove; its air bladder is not inflating. The prospect of exposing the hand to the near-vacuum of peak altitude causes me some concern. From my previous experiences, I know that the hand will swell, lose most of its circulation, and cause extreme pain…. I decide to continue the ascent, without notifying ground control of my difficulty… Circulation has almost stopped in my unpressurized right hand, which feels stiff and painful… [Upon landing] Dick looks at the swollen hand with concern. Three hours later the swelling disappeared with no ill effect.
His total ascent took 1 hour and 31 minutes, he stayed at the peak altitude for 12 minutes, and his total decent took 13 minutes and 45 seconds, so his hand was exposed to a near vacuum for quite some time without long term ill effects. Incidentally, during his fall, he achieved a peak speed of 614 mph, nearly as fast as Dr. Stapp had managed in his little rocket sled. His experience, however, was very different than Dr. Stapp’s. Said Kittinger,
There’s no way you can visualize the speed. There’s nothing you can see to see how fast you’re going. You have no depth perception. If you’re in a car driving down the road and you close your eyes, you have no idea what your speed is. It’s the same thing if you’re free falling from space. There are no signposts. You know you are going very fast, but you don’t feel it. You don’t have a 614-mph wind blowing on you. I could only hear myself breathing in the helmet.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
How does one start a revolution? It begins with a group of like-minded individuals who are bold enough to carry out an action against a superior entity, ultimately to change control of power. In the days of the American Revolution, these individuals were known as the Sons of Liberty, and their supporters — patriots like Sarah Bradlee Fulton, among others — predicated their success on secret preparation. How could they lead a rebellion against England’s powerful King George III and inspire townspeople to join their cause?
It didn’t happen overnight, but a series of events emboldened them to launch into action with an idea that was formed behind closed doors. It became known as the Boston Tea Party and is one of the most impactful political protests in history.
1773: Working men disguised as Mohawks throw chests of tea into the harbour in protest against direct taxation by the British.
(Original Artist: Robert Reid. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.)
In the 1760s, the colonists living in Boston, Massachusetts, felt that the British were taking advantage of them. Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers who later penned America’s first political cartoon under the namesake “Join, or Die,” saw firsthand the strength and influence of a unified people. He shared these observations about his displeasure with the British through the written word, including poetry:
We have an old mother that peevish is grown,
She snubs us like children that scarce walk alone;
She forgets we’re grown up and have sense of our own,
Which nobody can deny, which nobody can deny.
Meanwhile, Boston’s economy thrived; they had successful taverns, the richest shipyard on the waterfront, 3,000 wooden and brick homes, and some 500 shops. The population of 16,000 were hardworking and young — half of them were teenagers. The majority in Boston were educated enough to read the ever-popular Boston Gazette newspaper and follow updates on how the British bullied and used them as pawns to fund their wartime debts (from the French and Indian Wars).
In 1765, Parliament, England’s governing body of the colonies, imposed the Stamp Act, which taxed Americans for anything made from paper after it arrived in colonial shipping ports. The Quartering Act followed, which demanded that citizens open their businesses and homes to British soldiers for housing and food. Two years later, the Townshend Act added paint, glass, lead, and tea to the list of taxable goods.
Join, or Die. by Benjamin Franklin (1754), a political cartoon commentary on the disunity of the North American British colonies, was later used to encourage the former colonies to unite against British rule.
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
The American colonists were naturally angry, and tensions were consolidated to an upheaval in anarchy. By this time, the secret society of rebels known as the Sons of Liberty had formed. Frontman Samuel Adams — among other members such as John Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere — held public gatherings at Faneuil Hall to gain notoriety. In secret, the future Founding Fathers also held private meetings at the Green Dragon Tavern or the “House of the Revolution,” previously located on Union Street in Boston’s North End. Samuel Adams’ individual actions had the British publicly cast him as “the most dangerous man in Massachusetts.”
Their freedoms were being infringed upon, writes Kathleen Krull in her book “What Was The Boston Tea Party?” They protested in small boycotts and skirmishes against loyalist businesses (those who sided with the British), which made the headlines in the next day’s newspaper — but, most importantly, it caught the attention of the royal tyrants. Adams encouraged other patriots who believed in their cause to act in defiance. They used intimidation, vandalism, and even defamation of tax collectors through a shameful punishment called tarring and feathering.
On Feb. 22, 1770, one of these strong-armed attempts turned violent when British customs officer, Ebenezer Richardson, fired his musket upon a group in his backyard, killing 11-year-old Christopher Seider. A month later, on March 5, 1770, Private Hugh White, a British soldier, used his bayonet against a patriot at the Custom House on King Street.
White escalated the verbal altercation to a physical one, and the angry mob countered with a volley of snowballs, rocks, and ice. Bells rang signalling a disturbance, and loyalists and patriots entered the street to see the commotion. As the riot ensued, the British fired their muskets, killing five colonists in what is today known as the Boston Massacre.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Boston Massacre” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1870.
After these two incidents of bloodshed, the final straw was the imposition of the Tea Act, which was passed in May 1773. The Sons of Liberty had illegally smuggled tea from Holland because anything associated with the British infuriated them. Parliament countered with the enforcement of the British East India Company, the only tea that could be purchased. The once-adored tea from India and China, all 18 million pounds of it, had been outcasted by the colonists. So a group of American women began to make their own.
Women also played important if lesser-known roles in the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party. Similar to the Sons of Liberty, a group comprised of approximately 300 women was referred to as the Daughters of Liberty, and they had significant influence. Sarah Bradlee Fulton was an important figure who became known as the “Mother of the Boston Tea Party”; she later became one of the first women to come under the orders of George Washington as a spy during the American Revolution.
Fulton’s role in the Boston Tea Party wasn’t the infamous actions of dumping tea into Boston Harbor — it was more subtle, though equally important. Fulton is credited with suggesting that the patriots wear disguises during their great tea-dumping campaign to ensure that they couldn’t be recognized from a distance and would remain incognito when they ditched their outfits after the event.
Colonists also spread propaganda about British tea in the newspapers, instead valuing “Liberty Tea” made by American women in homemade batches. “Let us abjure the poisonous baneful plant and its odious infusion,” wrote one colonist. “Poisonous and odious, I mean, not on account of the physical qualities but on account of the political diseases and death that are connected with every particle of it.”
The Green Dragon Tavern, the meeting place where the Sons of Liberty planned the Boston Tea Party.
The Liberty Tea used the red root bush herb found growing on riverbanks. Red sumac berries and homegrown leaves were used to make Indian Lemonade Tea. Other recipes meticulously crafted delicious Raspberry Leaf Tea. It was declared “as good as any other tea, and much more wholesome in the end.”
While the Daughters of Liberty generally voiced their dissatisfaction with the British in quieter ways, they occasionally had to get a little rowdy. One such incident involved a merchant who was hoarding coffee, which was later dubbed the “Coffee Party.” Abigail Adams wrote about it to her husband, John, on July 31, 1777.
“There has been much rout and noise in the town for several weeks. Some stores had been opened by a number of people and the coffee and sugar carried into the market and dealt out by pounds. It was rumoured that an eminent, wealthy, stingy merchant (who is a bachelor) had a hogshead of coffee in his store which he refused to sell to the committee under 6 shillings per pound. A number of females some say a hundred, some say more assembled with a cart and trucks, marched down to the warehouse and demanded the keys, which he refused to deliver, upon which one of them seized him by his neck and tossed him into the cart. Upon his finding no quarter he delivered the keys, when they tipped up the cart and discharged him, then opened the warehouse, hoisted out the coffee themselves, put it into the trucks and drove off. It was reported that he had a spanking among them, but this I believe was not true. A large concourse of men stood amazed silent spectators of the whole transaction.”
But what happened in Boston Harbor four years prior was a pivotal moment in the fight for American independence.
On Dec. 16, 1773, an assembly was called at the Old South Meeting House, the largest building in colonial Boston. This is where John Hancock made a passionate demand: “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes!” The historic meeting amassed an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 colonists unified together against tyranny. The Boston Tea Party was put into motion to resist British oppression and to rally against taxation without proper representation.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Destruction of the tea” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1881.
That evening, disguised as American Indians, “Adams’ Mohawks” marched toward Griffin’s Wharf carrying axes and tomahawks, wearing feathers on their caps and warpaint on their faces. The only opposition between the liberators and 342 chests of tea was a British officer who had drawn his sword. He was no match for them and simply stepped aside as he was heavily outnumbered. The men split into three groups and boarded the three ships: the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver. They ordered the crew below deck, then used ropes and pulleys to hoist 90- to 400-pound chests of tea up from the cargo area, onto the deck, and into the harbor.
A large crowd gathered on the shoreline and cheered on their patriots as they emptied the tea into the shallow harbor. With low tide, the harbor’s height was only two feet, therefore the “Indians” had to stomp the piles of overflowing tea leaves to get them to sink. Some of the raiding force tried to sneak tea into their pockets — one was even brave enough to use a rowboat to collect his stash, but these canoes were overturned. After they emptied all of the crates, enough to fill 18.5 million teacups, the “Indians” ducked into safe houses, through the help of the Daughters of Liberty, and were home by 10 that night.
John Andrews, an observer, later wrote, “They say the actors were Indians… Whether they were or not to a transient observer they appear’d as such, being cloth’d in blankets with the heads muffled and copper color’d countenances, each being arm’d with a hatchet or ax, and pair pistols, nor was their dialect different from what I conceive these [sic] geniusses to speak, as their jargon was unintelligible to all but themselves.”
To this day, due to a pledge of secrecy, it remains unclear of who was directly involved in the historic action of dumping tea into Boston Harbor. But the event — known now as the Boston Tea Party — has become one of the most iconic events of the American Revolution, igniting a revolt against British rule and the beginning of a new unified nation.
Buy a Bag, Give a Bag: Our first donated bags arrive to deployed troops in Iraq
The name rings bells. It’s got the glitz, having been the subject of two different Hollywood films complete with big-name Hollywood actors such as Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Michael B. Jordan, and Terrence Howard. That is wonderful and, I’m sure, absolutely appreciated by the surviving members and their family. There are some things that may not immediately pop out but are, nonetheless, extremely interesting.
The Tuskegee Airmen were one of the most accomplished groups of service members of any generation, but most can’t tell you why their name is so revered. Below are some of the most praiseworthy feats ever accomplished.
One of the first defenders of the Tuskegee Airmen
(Image courtesy of OnThisDay.com)
Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall? Yes, that Thurgood Marshall. Before you go off saying he wasn’t a Tuskegee Airmen, you have to consider his tie to them. While he was a young lawyer, he represented 100 black officers who were charged with mutiny after entering a club that was then considered off-limits to them.
He would eventually get them all released.
The photo that opened many doors.
(Image courtesy of RedTail.org)
The Tuskegee Airmen came to during an age of segregated America. While the Tuskegee Airmen, or the Tuskegee experiment as it was then known, was great it still lacked the prerequisite respect and support.
It wasn’t until a visit from FLOTUS Eleanor Roosevelt that support would begin to flow in. Photo and film from a flight around the field would be the push needed to get the support to really come in.
Lieutenant General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.
(Image courtesy of AF.mil)
Three different members, or graduates, of the Tuskegee experiment, went on to become Generals. The first was Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. He was the first commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first Black General of the U.S. Air Force.
Daniel “Chapple” James was appointed brigadier general by Richard Nixon and also went on to become a General. The last, Lucius Theus, would retire at the rank of Major General after a 36-year career.
Batting a thousand..
The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 700 bomber escort missions during World War II. They wound up being the only fighter group to achieve and maintain a perfect record protecting bombers.
If you listen to Francis Currey describe his life, he’ll tell you he’s an average man. Never mind that he’s been featured on a U.S. postage stamp and was a model for one of the most famous dolls in history — G.I. Joe.
Despite his protests, Currey is a genuine hero.
Awarded three Purple Hearts, he is also New York State’s only living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, but he views those medals and the ensuing accolades with modesty.
“I got it, that’s all,” Currey once said of his Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor that he received in 1945.
Maybe not, but the five men Currey saved on Dec. 21, 1944, thought differently.
Currey was a 19-year-old Army sergeant when his platoon of 30 men was assigned to defend Malmedy, a small town in Belgium. His team had very few weapons, and most were small arms that had little effect on the German tanks. After prolonged fighting, his group was forced to withdraw to a nearby factory.
There, Currey found a bazooka and crossed the street to secure rockets, meanwhile enduring intense fire from enemy tanks and hostile infantrymen who had taken up a position at a house a short distance away. In the face of small arms, machine gun, and artillery fire, he knocked out a tank with one shot. Moving to another position, he observed three Germans in the doorway of an enemy-held house. He killed or wounded all of them with his automatic rifle.
Currey emerged from cover and advanced alone to within 50 yards of the house, intent on wrecking it with rockets from his bazooka. Covered by friendly fire, he stood erect and fired a shot which knocked down half of one wall. While in this forward position, he observed five Americans who had been pinned down for hours by fire from the house and three tanks.
Realizing that they could not escape until the enemy tank and infantry guns had been silenced, Currey crossed the street to a vehicle, where he procured an armful of antitank grenades. These he launched while under heavy enemy fire, driving the tankmen from the vehicles into the house. He then climbed onto a half-track truck in full view of the Germans and fired a machine gun at the house.
Once again changing his position, he manned another machine gun whose crew had been killed; under his covering fire, the five soldiers were able to retire to safety.
Deprived of tanks and with heavy infantry casualties, the Germans were forced to withdraw.
Through his extensive knowledge of weapons and by his heroic and repeated braving of murderous enemy fire, Currey was greatly responsible for inflicting heavy losses in men and material on the enemy, for rescuing his comrades — two of whom were wounded — and for stemming an attack which threatened his unit’s position.
Currey’s actions are credited with shortening the war by at least six weeks and saving countless American lives, because if the Germans had broken through that day, they would have gained a huge advantage.
For his bravery, Currey was awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony, Aug. 17, 1945, in Reims, France, with just over two weeks left before the end of the war. At the time, Currey was recovering from a wound that earned him his third Purple Heart — a gunshot he sustained while disarming a German soldier in Bavaria.
When the war in Europe ended, Currey became a counselor for veterans. He retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1980 and currently lives in Albany County with his wife of more than 65 years, Wilma.
It’s difficult to imagine being a bomber pilot in World War II, especially these days, with the technological innovations that are an inherent part of being a U.S. military pilot. In the earliest days of bomber aviation, things like radar and other means of tracking friendly aircraft didn’t exist, and pilots had only their sight and rudimentary instruments to guide them. When flying in huge massed formations of bombers, pulling a single bomber out of the pack was next to impossible.
So Army Air Forces leadership made it easier for them to recognize the formation where they needed to be. They did it by using some very interesting designs for bomber pilots to fall in behind.
These majestically painted aircraft were called Lead Assembly Ships.
Painted in bright colors, sometimes with equally magnificent designs like zig-zag lines and polka dots, they made an easy find in the sky for fellow bomber pilots.
Lead Assembly Ships would be the first to take off and form up into previously assigned positions. Being easy to spot in the daylight hours, subsequent bomber pilots would be able to find them and fall into formation.
When a bombing formation of 10-20 planes goes up into the sky it might be easy to find the right position for your flight over enemy territory. This is not the case for some of the larger bombing raids undertaken by the Army Air Force in World War II.
The bombing runs over Cologne, Germany were sent there to destroy critical Nazi war production infrastucture there, including arms factories and chemical production plants. To accomplish this, defeat the German air raid defenses and ensure the planes hit their targets, the Allies sent up 1,000 bombers to fly over the targets.
Now imagine being one bomber pilot in a formation of a thousand others who look just like everyone else, and trying to fall in behind a lead plane that also looks just like you. This is why the bright colors and polka dots were so effective.
The Lead Assembly Ships would fly out only to a certain point to ensure the bombers were in the right place as they took off for enemy territory, then they would fly back to friendly airspace. Being a World War II bomber pilot was dangerous enough without flying over the target in a bright red candy cane striped aircraft. Begging for all the flak you could handle.
There were other specially painted aircraft used for various purposes. The British used pink-colored fighter aircraft to conduct reconnaissance patrols during daybreak and sundown, so the color of the aircraft would blend into the bright colors of the sky at dusk.
Other uses for oddly-painted aircraft were for use in combat, when the aircraft colors could help keep fighters and other planes from becoming targets for enemy fighters. All-white colored airframes could blend more easily in a cloudy sky and make it difficult for enemy pilots to see the outline of a plane, for example.
As for the bomber formations, they weren’t all colored with strange designs. Some were still using the subdued green, yellow, and white colors used by other aircraft and would go over the target, but they were still subtly different, making it easier to spot your bomb wing leader to gather for a major bombing run.
French tank designers had an ambitious idea before World War I: What if they could create a vehicle with the protection of an armored car but the firepower of an artillery gun?
The design that eventually emerged packed a massive 75mm artillery gun into the nose of a tank named the Saint Chamond, but the offensive focus of the designers left glaring oversights in mobility and armor, allowing even pistol rounds through in some circumstances.
While French officers had considered designing an armored weapon platform before the war, the outbreak of hostilities put the effort on old. As Britain started building their first tanks, France got in on the action with two heavy tank designs of their own, the Schneider and the Saint Chamond.
But the design compromises needed to make space for the massive cannon were significant. The vehicle drove on relatively thin and short treads, and the weight of the vehicle pushed it hard against the soil, making it questionable whether the tank would be able to navigate the muddy craters of No Man’s Land.
Worse, the cannon needed to be mounted at the front, and it couldn’t fit properly between the treads while leaving room for the cannon’s crew. So, instead, the entire length of the cannon had to sit forward of the treads, causing the tank’s center of balance to be far forwards of the center of the vehicle. As the French would later learn, this made it nearly impossible to cross trenches in the St. Chamond. Instead, crews would tip into the trench and get their gun stuck in the dirt.
Thanks to the limited traction from the treads, the tank couldn’t even back away from the trench and get back into the fight. Once tipped forward, they usually needed towed out.
But, worst of all, in an attempt to keep the already-heavy vehicle from getting too much heavier, they opted for light armor on the sides of the tank. While the front was only a little thicker, it was, at least, sloped. Col. Jean Baptiste Eugene Estienne, a French artillery officer who is now known as the Father of French Tanks, saw the Saint Chamond and tested its armor by firing his pistol at it.
The pistol round passed through the quarter-inch armor.
In the designers’ defense, the St. Chamond’s armor was soon upgraded to 11mm at a minimum, a little under a half-inch. The front armor was up to 19mm, almost .75 inches.
But still, when the British and French tanks made their combat debuts, the shortcomings of early tank design were quickly made apparent. Crews from both countries complained of bullets punching through the sides or, nearly as bad, impacting the armor so hard that bits of metal exploded off from the hull and tore through the crew.
French tanks had even worse trouble crossing muddy sections than their British counterparts, getting bogged down quickly. And that was if the engines held up. Often, they would breakdown instead.
As the war continued, though, France did find a successful design: the Renault FT, a light tank with a rotating turret, 37mm gun, and decent speed. It did have even lighter armor than the St, Chamond, but its configuration allowed the road wheels to help protect the crew from the sides, and the speed let them overwhelm German defenses before too many rounds could hit them.
Best, the Renault FT could be produced in much higher numbers, meaning that German defenders couldn’t often concentrate fire on any single target.
The design was so successful that it was one of the designs America licensed for its tank corps as it joined the war and stood up its armored forces. America ordered over 4,000 of the tank, known in American inventories as M1917s, but none of them reached the actual forces in France until after the armistice.
Still, the design was liked by U.S. Army Capts. Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton, officers who would create America’s armored strength and later rise to even greater fame in World War II.
Today, the closest modern equivalent to the St. Chamond isn’t even a tank. After all, the vehicle was created to carry a large cannon into battle, and, by the end of the war, it was used more as mobile artillery than to directly attack enemy trenches. As such, it’s more like the M109 Paladin than the M1 Abrams.
And, as artillery, the St. Chamond wasn’t bad. Its weak armor wasn’t a big deal when far from the front lines, and it wasn’t important that an armored artillery platform couldn’t quickly cross a trench.
By the time of his death, Col. Charles Young boasted an incredible military career. He was one of just three African-American officers to graduate from West Point. He led troops on the western frontier, became one of the first-ever U.S. military attachés overseas, and commanded troops in the Philippines and Mexico. Teddy Roosevelt even wanted him to lead a volunteer regiment in World War I.
There was just one problem: Colonel Young was black.
For the talented Young to lead troops in World War I meant that he would have to be promoted to Brigadier General. Young was a West Pointer who was so good at leading his troops in combat, he became the first black man to make the rank of colonel and even commanded Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Young literally wrote the book on why racial integration in a democratic society is good for its armed forces.
By the time the United States was ready to enter World War I, Young was the highest-ranking African-American officer in service. When the U.S. entered, he would likely earn a promotion to a general’s rank, which did not sit well with his inferior, white officers. These officers wrote the civilian members of the war department, complaining about the situation and then demanding a solution.
That solution was to get Col. Charles Young fired from the Army. The reason, the Army said, was that Col. Young suffered from high blood pressure. This wasn’t true, of course, it was just the best way to go about unfairly firing a skilled officer for racial reasons. Young couldn’t just complain about the fix to newspapers – he loved the Army, and he wanted that promotion. So, he did the next best thing.
In June, 1918, Young took to his horse and rode the 450-plus miles from Wilberforce, Ohio, to the nation’s capital at Washington, D.C. to prove that not only was he fit to perform his duties, but he was also fit to take on any hardship World War I might have to offer.
He rode directly to the War Department and met with then-Secretary of War Newton Baker, who asked if he wanted to see combatant duty. When Young said that he did, Newton ordered a new physical assessment. It was done, albeit not as quickly as Young would have liked. He was sent to Illinois, awaiting the results. When the good news came, the war was conveniently nearly over.
Young was ultimately sent to West Africa – a strange posting for someone allegedly too chronically ill to go to Europe for war. He posted as a military attaché in Liberia. He helped create stability and security for the country, fighting tribesmen in the wild areas away from the coast.
Unfortunately, this post is where he also met his demise. He contracted a form of kidney disease in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1922. He fell ill and died there. He was buried with full military honors in Nigeria, but his body was soon exhumed and repatriated to the U.S. Now Charles Young rests in Arlington National Cemetery.
His remains were welcomed in New York like the return of a conquering hero.
At the outbreak of the Korean War, Hector Cafferata, Jr. was a semi-professional football player serving in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He received just two weeks of additional training before being shipped overseas.
Assigned to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines just days before landing at Inchon, he, along with the rest of the 1st Marine Division, battled his way into North Korea. By November 1950, Cafferata and the Marines were preparing for an offensive in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir.
As the Battle of Chosin Reservoir began, the Marines of Fox Company were defending the Toktong pass. On the night of Nov. 28, the Chinese attacked to dislodge them.
What happened next is a legendary story in the Marine Corps — and Cafferata had a large role to play in that.
Due to an intelligence failure, the Marines were unaware that the entire Chinese 9th Army was advancing on their position. That night they crawled into their sleeping bags with minimal security on watch.
At around 0130, the Marines of Fox Company were awoken to a terrible surprise as all hell broke loose around their position. An entire Chinese division, the 59th, were attacking into the Toktong pass to cut off the 1st Marine Division.
The only things standing in their way were Cafferata and the rest of Fox Company.
He was joined by another Marine, Kenneth Benson, who was temporarily blinded after a grenade explosion had ripped his glasses right off his face. Together they made their way to a small depression and set up to make their stand against the Chinese onslaught.
As the Chinese pressed forward, Cafferata, a crack shot with his M-1 Garand, would empty his clip into the advancing infantry — eight shots, eight communists down.
He would then hand the weapon to Benson to reload while he threw grenades. When the Chinese attacked with their own grenades, he threw them back.
At one point he picked up his entrenching tool and batted the enemy’s grenades right back at them. According to a 2001 interview, Cafferata said he “must have whacked a dozen grenades that night.”
As the Chinese continued to advance, threatening to breakthrough his thinly held portion of the line, he gave them everything he had. He fired his weapon so much he had to pack snow on it to cool it off.
Eventually, Cafferata’s luck began to run out. As he hurled back yet another Chinese grenade, it went off just after leaving his hand. The explosion severed part of his finger and severely damaged his right hand and arm.
Though he was injured, Cafferata’s quick reaction saved several of his comrades.
Despite his wounds, he fought on. The Chinese couldn’t get past him.
Finally, just after daybreak, Cafferata was wounded by a sniper’s bullet and evacuated from the line. When the medics brought him to the aid station, they realized he was suffering from frostbite after fighting in subzero temperatures in his socks all night.
Despite Cafferata being out of action, the rest of Fox Company and the Marines at Chosin Reservoir still had quite a fight on their hands.
According to the Medal of Honor citation for Capt. William Barber, Fox Company’s commander, his 220 Marines held out “5 days and 6 nights against repeated onslaughts by fanatical aggressors.”
And of those 220 Marines, only 82 “were able to walk away from the position so valiantly defended against insuperable odds.” They carried their wounded out with them, including Cafferata and Barber who were both wounded on the first day of fighting.
Cafferata’s wounds earned him 18 months of recovery in various hospitals. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor.
The day after Cafferata’s amazing stand, the Marines “counted approximately one hundred Chinese dead around the ditch where he fought that night,” but according to one source, they “decided not to put that figure in their report because they thought no one would believe it.”
Cafferata was officially credited with fifteen enemy kills.
Cafferata, always humble, would later state, “I did my duty. I protected my fellow Marines. They protected me. And I’m prouder of that than the fact that the government decided to give me the Medal of Honor.”
Hector Cafferata, Jr. passed away on April 12, 2016 at the age of 86.