One was Mel Blanc. You never saw him. But you probably heard him. He was the voice of Bugs Bunny. Well, Bugs did his part for the war effort in some cartoons, including one that Warner Brothers pulled due to offensive stereotypes of the Japanese. America’s favorite “wascally wabbit” is an honorary Marine as a result of his service on the screen.
But Blanc did more than just entertain. He also helped train some of the soldiers who were putting it all out there. Specifically, he helped train the gunners on heavy bombers. The B-17 Flying Fortresses had a lot of gun positions. Some of the ten-man crew manning them had other jobs (like the bombardier, the navigator, and the radio operator). Others just had to shoot.
No matter what, though, they needed to know how to aim their guns so that some Nazi or Japanese fighter didn’t shoot their bomber down. In a 14-minute film, Blanc portrays a waist gunner on one Flying Fortress who starts out with some bad habits. Over that course of time, the trainees were given a crash course and the bare essentials needed to know how to aim their machine gun.
One of the single worst things that plagues military forces is the phenomenon known as “friendly fire.” Some instances of friendly fire have been momentous, like the time Stonewall Jackson was shot by Confederate troops who mistook him for a Union general.
There have been tragic, modern instances as well – like the case of Army Cpl. Pat Tillman.
This was also a problem in World War II — reference the disastrous friendly fire incident off Sicily in July, 1943. In trying to prevent these terrible instances, the Navy put forth a very unique training film, featuring the fictional “Ensign Dilbert.”
No, this isn’t the same Dilbert that’s made Scott Adams very rich, although, Adams admits that the suggestion of the name was, in fact, inspired by a Navy character. This Dilbert is, well… an idiot. A real big one. The type whose sole purpose in life is to be a warning to others.
The film was called, aptly, Don’t Kill Your Friends. In the film, the main character, training to be a fighter pilot in the Grumman F4F Wildcat, looks friendly and likable enough, but he repeatedly makes bone-headed mistakes that could get people killed. It even features one disastrous incident with a supposedly “safe” dummy cartridge, which can do some very serious harm when it falls from a fighter plane.
Check out the film below, complete with a supposedly likable “Dilbert” and the chain of disasters he causes.
Kelly Johnson wasn’t the first man to build an airplane, nor was he the first to push the limits of what an airplane could do, but few men have played a more vital role in shaping mankind’s ascent into the skies.
According to the latest expert estimates, human beings just like you and I have been walking on earth for over 200,000 years. That figure gets even tougher to wrap your head around when you consider that a mere 200 years ago, mankind had yet to develop matches or typewriters. A century ago, we didn’t have antibiotics or movies with sound. These, along with countless other advancements, played a roll in a technological revolution that continues to this day, like a snowball rolling down hill, enveloping everything in its path.
Of course, mankind didn’t come by these incredible advancements by accident (most often, anyway) and behind each groundbreaking technology is a man or woman, dedicated to solving the problems of their day, and to getting out in front of those coming tomorrow. Nowhere is this human-driven rapid advancement of technology more prevalent than in one of our species most recent civilization-altering breakthroughs: aviation.
In 1903, the Wright Brothers first took flight in Kitty Hawk. Less than forty years later, the first B-29 took to the skies with a pressurized cabin and a wingspan that stretched further than the length of Orville Wright’s entire first flight. A mere 19 years after that, Yuri Gagarin flew in space.
There’s no doubt that countless hands, hearts, and minds played vital roles in our rapid progression from the steam engine to the SpaceX Starship, but even amid this sea of engineers and aviation pioneers, some names stick out. Because while millions may have helped mankind reach the sky, some men’s contributions stand head and shoulders above the rest; Men, like Kelly Johnson.
Forged in the fires of World War II
Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson was born in 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers changed the world in Kitty Hawk. The son of Swedish immigrants, Johnson would win his first prize for aircraft design at the age of 13. By the time he was 22 years old, he was working as an engineer at the legendary aviation firm Lockheed.
At 28, Kelly Johnson’s role at Lockheed would bring him to London, where the island nation was preparing for the onslaught of Nazi Luftwaffe fighters and bombers that were to come just three years later in the Battle of Britain. The British were unconvinced that such a young man could produce an aircraft that could turn the tides of an air war, but the fruit of Kelly Johnson’s labor, dubbed the P-38 Lightning, would go on to become one of the most iconic airframes of the entire war.
At the start of the fighting in Europe, many Allied air units were still operating bi-planes. By the end of World War II, Kelly Johnson and his team delivered the United States its first ever operational jet-powered fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Johnson had been tasked with building an aircraft around the new Halford H.1B turbojet engine that could compete with Germany’s Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. In just an astonishing 143 days, Kelly had gone from the drawing board to delivering the first operational P-80s.
The original Skunk Works
It was during World War II that Kelly Johnson and fellow engineer Ben Rich first established what was to become the legendary Lockheed Skunk Works. Today, the Skunk Works name is synonymous with some of the most advanced aircraft ever to take to the skies, but its earliest iteration was nothing more than a walled-off portion of a factory in which Johnson and his team experimented with new technologies for the P-38, developing the first 400 mile-per-hour fighter in the world for their trouble, in the XP-38.
Later, Kelly’s secretive team again came through with the P-80, and again with the design and production of the C-130 Hercules, which remains in service for the U.S. and a number of other Air Forces around the world today. Then, in 1955, they received yet another seemingly impossible assignment: The United States needed an aircraft that could fly so high it could avoid being shot down, or potentially even detected.
Soviet Radar and intercept fighters of the era were limited to altitudes below 65,000 feet, and the highest any American aircraft could reach was just 48,000. In order to continue keeping tabs on the Soviets, the Air Force solicited requests for an airplane that could fly at an astonishing 70,000 feet with a long 1,500 mile fuel range.
Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works responded with a design that they claimed could fly as high as 73,000 feet with a range of 1,600 miles, based on the Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter, a slender and supersonic intercept fighter. The Air Force rejected his design… but it caught the attention of America’s secretive spy agency, the CIA.
President Eisenhower wanted eyes on the Soviet nuclear program, and Johnson’s unusual aircraft design with long slender wings and no retractable landing gear seemed like it could do the job, despite its shortcomings. Johnson and his team were given a contract to design and build their high-flying spy plane, and in just eight months, they delivered the U-2 Dragon Lady.
In order to test this incredible new aircraft, Kelly Johnson needed a remote air strip, far from the prying eyes of the American public. He chose a dry lake bed in Nevada for the job, and it proved particularly well suited for testing classified aircraft. Eventually, that little airstrip and accompanying hangars and office buildings would come to be known popularly as Area 51.
Taking spy planes to the next level
The U-2 may have been an immense success, but just as aviation advancements were coming quickly, so too were air defenses. In 1960, Soviet surface-to-air missiles finally managed to get a piece of a CIA operated U-2 flown by pilot Gary Powers. The aircraft was flying at 70,000 feet, higher than the Americans thought could be spotted or targeted by Soviet radar, when it was struck by an SA-2 Guideline missile. Powers had to ride the Dragon Lady down from 70,000 feet to 30,000 feet before he could safely eject, and as the secretive spy plane plummeted to the ground, Kelly Johnson and his team at Skunk Works were already developing a platform to replace it.
With spy satellites still more than a decade away, the United States needed a new aircraft it could rely on to keep tabs on the Soviets. It would need to not only fly higher than the U-2, but faster–much faster, so even if it was detected, no missile could reach it.
Johnson and his team designed a twin-engine aircraft with astonishing capabilities in the A-12, which then led to the operational SR-71 Blackbird — an aircraft that retains the title of fastest operational plane in history to this very day. Lockheed’s SR-71 could sustain speeds in excess of Mach 3.2, flying at altitudes higher than 78,000 feet. During its 43 years in service, the SR-71 had over 4,000 missiles fired at it from ground assets and other aircraft. Not a single one ever found its target.
Another aviation revolution
Kelly Johnson and the team at Skunk Works were on the cutting edge of speed and power, but as the Cold War raged on, it was Johnson and his team that recognized how the battle space was shifting. For years, the United States had focused on developing aircraft that could fly ever faster and ever higher, but with the advent of computer-aided engineering, yet another technological leap was within Lockheed’s grasp.
Johnson and his team needed to develop an aircraft that could defeat detection from not only enemy radar, but also other common forms of detection and targeting, like infrared. Using the most advanced computers available at the time, Skunk Works first developed an unusual angular design they dubbed “the hopeless diamond,” as it seemed unlikely that such a shape could ever produce aerodynamic lift.
Undaunted, development continued and by 1976, they had built a flyable prototype. The aircraft was called Have Blue, and it would lead to the first operational stealth aircraft ever in service to any nation, the legendary F-117 Nighthawk.
The F-117, or “stealth fighter” as it would come to be known, played a vital role in America’s combat operations over Iraq in Desert Storm and elsewhere, but this program produced more than battlefield engagements. The technology developed for the F-117 directly led to America’s premier stealth fighters of today: the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The latter of those two is expected to serve as the backbone of America’s air superiority strategy for decades to come.
“The damn Swede can actually see air.”
In total, Kelly Johnson had a hand in the design and development of some 40 aircraft for commercial and military purposes, with seemingly countless awards and credits to his name for his engineering prowess. The man had a genuine affection for his work, to the degree that he turned down the presidency of Lockheed on three separate occasions to retain his role within the Skunk Works he helped to found.
Kelly’s boss at Lockheed, Hall Hibbard, once exclaimed, “The damn Swede can actually see air,” as he tried to understand how one man managed to play such a pivotal role in so many aircraft, and in turn, in how the Cold War unfolded. Finally, Kelly retired in 1975, but remained a senior advisor to Skunk Works for years thereafter.
He passed away in 1990 at age 80, just one year before the United States, with all its incredible military technology, would emerge the victor of the Cold War.
For most soldiers in the Vietnam-era, the time between getting drafted or volunteering and their heading to war was short. The Army had each draftee for only two years. After they were shipped to basic, trained, shipped overseas, plus the time needed to ship home and use their two months of accrued leave, each draftee could expect a year of deployed time preceded by 4-6 months of training.
Volunteers, especially officers, had it a little better. They may train for up to a year before deploying — attending advanced training like Ranger School after basic and job training.
A recently recovered film of the Battle of Dak To shows two hours of fighting in and around Hill 724, another tough terrain feature captured. Bob Walkoviak, one of the veterans in the discussion above, fought on the hill and helped find the lost footage.
If thousands of U.S. servicemen went missing in action over 10 years of combat, it would surely be the biggest political issue of our day.
And it was after the end of the Vietnam War.
Well into the 1980s, it was a sore point for politicians and others from all walks of life. A few enterprising Americans took matters into their own hands – once even funded by Dirty Harry himself.
American troops these days might have a hard time imagining 2,494 missing U.S. troops. But for Vietnam-era veterans, the idea is all too real. Years after the war ended and Saigon fell to the Communists, the American public was still divided over the thought – and what to do about it.
As of 1983, the Pentagon was still telling reporters at the Boston Globe that it couldn’t rule out the possibility of Vietnam War POWs left behind in Southeast Asia. After a reported 480 firsthand sightings of POWs after the fall of Saigon in 1975, many POW families and members of the veteran community were convinced the American government was just “sweeping it under the rug.”
That’s when an ex-Green Beret named Bo Gritz gained fame. Gritz is said to have made multiple incursions into Laos to find the alleged missing and prisoners. Gritz was also convinced there were American prisoners in Southeast Asia. If there were, he was determined to take the issue out of the political area and turn Indochina into a new battlefield if necessary – anything to get those troops back home.
According to the Boston Globe, the 44-year-old veteran soldier interviewed ex-POWs who were repatriated at the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He was even given access to American intelligence reports on the issue. His conclusion was to form a team of ex-Green Berets to go to Laos and find these men.
Gritz’ plan was to link up with Laotian anti-Communist resistance fighters under the command of a Laotian general who sided with the Americans during the Vietnam War. He also commanded 40,000 troops as part of a secret CIA Army in Laos. According to the CIA, the effort was funded primarily through actor-director Clint Eastwood, who even informed President Reagan of Gritz’ plan (though the White House disputed the Reagan conversation).
The February 1983 rescue effort failed to return with any firsthand or photographic evidence of POWs or movement of POWs in Laos. By this time the hunt for POWs became a “growth industry” in Thailand. Nothing was found of the 568 missing troops thought to be in Laos. Even worse, Gritz’ other missions became a publicity stunt.
What was supposed to be a two-week incursion was halted after 72 hours when the group was ambushed by guerrillas from another faction. They retreated back into Thailand where they were arrested for possessing advanced radio equipment. Two Lao soldiers were killed and one American was captured.
The end result was one more American captured in Indochina and the movie “Uncommon Valor,” starring Gene Hackman. The film was based on notes taken by Gritz during his “rescue mission” to Laos.
To put it bluntly, the M113 armored personnel carrier looks like a big box on tracks. It’s equipped with a primary weapon that’s over 75 years old that isn’t particularly effective against its modern contemporaries. And yet it’s served with the United States Army for nearly sixty years and, even when it’s retired, it’ll stick around for a long time.
When it entered operational service in 1960, it was intended to haul 11 troops into battle. It had a crew of two: A driver and a vehicle commander who handled the vehicle’s primary weapon, the M2 “Ma Deuce” heavy machine gun.
M113s lead the way for troops in South Vietnam.
The M113 saw a lot of action in the Vietnam War, where it proved very versatile. Some versions were equipped with the M61 Vulcan, a 20mm Gatling gun, and were used as effective anti-aircraft vehicles. Others were outfitted with launchers for the BGM-71 TOW missile.
Some M113s were modified to carry mortars, like this one with a M120 120mm mortar.
(U.S. Army photo by SPC Joshua E. Powell)
Other variants quickly emerged, including a command vehicle, a smoke generator, an ambulance, and a cargo carrier. Two mortar carriers, the M106 (which carried a 107mm mortar) and the M125 (packing an 81mm mortar) also served, paving the way for the introduction of the M1064 (equipped with a 120mm mortar). The M113 chassis also carried the MIM-72 Chapparal surface-to-air missile and the MGM-72 Lance ballistic missile.
The M113 could carry 11 troops — two more than the M1126 Stryker.
Versions of this vehicle have served with nations across the world, including Canada, Norway, Egypt, and Italy. Over 80,000 M113s of all variants have been produced, which means it’ll be around for years with one nation or anything long after the U.S. retired it.
Learn more about this senior citizen of armored vehicles in the video below.
Despite steadily mounting infections from the coronavirus in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has so far refused to cancel a massive parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Soviet triumph Nazi Germany.
The annual Victory Day parade on May 9 typically includes tens of thousands of troops, military equipment, and hundreds of thousands of spectators.
The event came under fire last week after social media footage showed thousands of re-enactors rehearsing for the event, despite a government ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.
One video, found by Rob Lee, an open source military researcher who focuses on former Soviet militaries, shows re-enactors at a military base in Alabino, outside of Moscow.
Video purportedly of Russian troops at the Victory Day Parade rehearsals in Alabino who aren’t quite meeting the 1.5 meter social distancing requirement instituted by local officials.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “May 9th is a sacred date for millions upon millions in Russia and [ex-Soviet] countries. The Victory Day parade is scheduled (sanitary measures taken) and will march on Red Square,” according to the Guardian.
Alternative plans being considered for the parade, according to multiple Russian media outlets, include conducting the parade for TV cameras without a live audience, or postponing it until other historically significant anniversaries in September or November.
The M247 Sgt. Alvin York was pitched to officials and lawmakers alike as a precision shooter in the same vein as its legendary namesake and the silver bullet that would stop all Soviet aircraft — especially the feared Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter — that dared fly too low and close to ground troops.
Instead, it was an expensive boondoggle that couldn’t fight, couldn’t shoot accurately, and couldn’t tell the difference between a toilet and an enemy aircraft.
The M247 came from a requirement for a “Division Air Defense” weapon, a platform that could move forward with armored and infantry divisions and protect them from air-to-ground attacks. But the program was opened when the U.S. was already in the middle of five large weapons programs, and money was tight.
Every part of the weapon had a demonstrated history of performance, and so the anti-aircraft Frankenstein monster was expected to perform. But the F-16’s radar was never designed to deal with the amount of ground clutter that the York would have to deal with. And the M48’s chassis were getting worn out after years of service.
Second, the old chassis sometimes broke down under the increased weight of the larger York turret and the engines weren’t strong enough to propel the weapon quickly.
In fact, the York weighed 62 tons, 17 tons more than the original Pattons. The extra weight slowed the M247 so much that it couldn’t keep pace with the M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradleys that it was designed to primarily protect.
Third, the awesome Swedish cannons on the York provided their own problems. While capable, they were mounted in such a way that a weapon pointing high in the sky would confuse the already troubled radar.
And finally, the weapon wasn’t even accurate. In some tests, it failed to hit helicopters hovering completely still.
So, it couldn’t keep up with the vehicles it escorted, couldn’t properly find low targets because of ground clutter, couldn’t find high targets because of its own gun, and then couldn’t accurately hit anything it could find.
Army and Ford engineers worked hard to iron out the kinks, but they still had to resort to gimmicks like attaching radar-bouncing panels to targets to get the system to pass basic tests.
In one important display, VIPs from the military and Congress were invited to watch the York perform. The system failed to spot its target and instead locked onto something in the stands. It swung its own gun around to track it and several visitors suffered injuries in the scramble to escape the stands.
On Aug. 2, 1939, one month before the outbreak of World War II, Albert Einstein, the famous German-born physicist, signed a two-page letter to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt that would help bring the US into the nuclear arms race and change the course of history.
Einstein was already in the US, having fled Germany when the Nazis came to power, and learned that German scientists had discovered nuclear fission, the process of splitting an atom’s nucleus to release energy.
The letter warned Roosevelt that “extremely powerful bombs of a new type” could be created in light of this discovery — and that these bombs would be capable of destroying entire ports and their surrounding areas.
The letter — which Einstein would later call his “one great mistake” — urged Roosevelt to speed up uranium research in the US.
You can read it here, or read a full transcript at the bottom of this article:
Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Roosevelt said, “Alex, what you are after is to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up.”
Sachs responded with a single word: “Precisely.”
Roosevelt then called in his secretary and told him that “this requires action.”
Einstein, who was Jewish, had been encouraged to write to Roosevelt by Leo Szilard, the Hungarian-born physicist who was convinced that Germany could use this newly discovered technology to create weapons.
Szilard and two other Hungarian physicists, Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner, who were both refugees, told Einstein of their grave concerns. Szilard wrote the letter, but Einstein signed it, as they believed he had the most authority with the president.
Cynthia Kelly, the president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, told National Geographic in 2017 that while Einstein’s famous discovery that energy and mass were different forms of the same thing had set the stage for this kind of creation, “he certainly was not thinking about this theory as a weapon.”
And Einstein never gave any details about how that energy could be harnessed, once saying: “I do not consider myself the father of the release of atomic energy. My part in it was quite indirect.”
Albert Einstein in his office at the University of Berlin.
Einstein’s letter had an effect; Roosevelt created the Advisory Committee on Uranium in October 1939, the same month he received Einstein’s letter. By that point, World War II had broken out, though the US was not yet involved.
The committee later morphed into the Manhattan Project, the secret US committee that developed the atomic bombs that were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, killing an estimated 200,000 people.
Days after the bombings, Japan informally surrendered to the Allied forces, effectively ending World War II.
Nazi Germany never succeeded in making nuclear weapons — and it seemed it never really tried.
Einstein was not involved in the bomb’s creation. He was not allowed to work on the Manhattan Project — he was deemed too big a security risk, as he was both German and had been known as a left-leaning political activist.
But when he heard that the bomb had been used in Japan, he said, “Woe is me.”
Einstein later said, “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in developing an atomic bomb, I would have done nothing for the bomb.”
He also warned that “we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”
Photo of atomic bomb mushroom cloud in Japan, 1945.
(Photo by Charles Levy)
In letter published in 2005, he wrote to a Japanese friend: “I have always condemned the use of the atomic bomb against Japan but I could not do anything at all to prevent that fateful decision.”
And he wrote in a Japanese magazine in 1952 that he “was well aware of the dreadful danger for all mankind, if these experiments would succeed.”
“I did not see any other way out,” he wrote.
So crucial was Einstein’s letter that the investing legend Warren Buffett told students at Columbia University in 2017 that “if you think about it, we are sitting here, in part, because of two Jewish immigrants who in 1939 in August signed the most important letter perhaps in the history of the United States.”
Here’s a full transcript of what Einstein sent Roosevelt:
Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. I believe therefore that it is my duty to bring to your attention the following facts and recommendations:
In the course of the last four months it has been made probable — through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America — that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.
This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable — though much less certain — that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air.
The United States has only very poor ores of uranium in moderate quantities. There is some good ore in Canada and the former Czechoslovakia, while the most important source of uranium is Belgian Congo.
In view of this situation you may think it desirable to have some permanent contact maintained between the Administration and the group of physicists working on chain reactions in America. One possible way of achieving this might be for you to entrust with this task a person who has your confidence and who could perhaps serve in an in official capacity. His task might comprise the following:
a) to approach Government Departments, keep them informed of the further development, and put forward recommendations for Government action, giving particular attention to the problem of securing a supply of uranium ore for the United States;
b) to speed up the experimental work, which is at present being carried on within the limits of the budgets of University laboratories, by providing funds, if such funds be required, through his contacts with private persons who are willing to make contributions for this cause, and perhaps also by obtaining the co-operation of industrial laboratories which have the necessary equipment.
I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsäcker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.
Yours very truly,
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It is easy to overlook the significance of Herbert Hoover’s food relief efforts by looking merely at numbers. The precise number of people Hoover saved from starvation remains murky but most scholars agree it is in the hundreds of millions. Ironically, one of the most brutal leaders of modern times, Joseph Stalin, is credited with the following aphorism: “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”
Scholars have since discredited the attribution. The quote, whomever said it, aptly applies to post-World War I era Europe. Herbert Hoover, against the wisdom of world leaders, used the American Relief Administration to provide food to Russian people living in areas controlled by the Bolsheviks as well as areas controlled by White Russian forces. Remaining above politics knowing that hunger is apolitical, Hoover provided food to roughly eighteen million Russians. This goodwill was not lost on those who received food as continues to be evident in letters the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum staff receive from descendants.
It is important to highlight these letters because they focus on individual lives that were prevented from becoming both tragedies and statistics. It places a human face on the food relief efforts and, more importantly, provides some sense of what drove Hoover in his tireless efforts to eradicate hunger. The following account is provided by Natalia Sidorova.
“I am writing you to celebrate the legacy that Herbert Hoover has earned in history by his compassion and care for millions of people in Russia and other countries who were on the brink of death by starvation.
About 97 years ago, my grandmother Zinaida Tiablikova moved to Moscow from her small town Klin, fifty miles to the north. She lived alone while she studied chemistry at Moscow University.
At that time there was a terrible food shortage throughout all of Russia as a result of the chaos following the Bolshevik revolution and the civil war between White and Red Russians. Many poor Russians from the Volga region came to Moscow in desperate hope of finding food in the city.
In 1920 a friend of my grandmother told her that the American Food Administration provided warm meals once a day for needy people, primarily children. Although most of the food centers were in the Volga River region where starvation was an enormous problem, there also were a few food centers in Moscow.
My grandmother Zinaida went to one of these food centers on Miasnitskaya Street in Moscow. Throughout most of 1920 she and many other persons received a delicious hot meal once a day. She remembered on occasion receiving condensed milk and hot chocolate. For the many poor Russians these were special treats because they had never had condensed milk or chocolate before. Certainly these nutritious meals protected her and many other persons from death by starvation or other diseases caused by lack of food.
She told me that there was a photo of Herbert Hoover on display at the food center, even though Mr. Hoover himself did not want such public recognition. The people of the community chose to display his photo as their own spontaneous expression of their gratitude to Mr. Hoover and to the American people.
I now have a daughter named Galina who goes to college here in America. I have told her this story of my grandmother. This story demonstrates to my daughter that the American and Russian people can be great friends to one another in times of need.
I doubt that Mr. Hoover himself then was supportive to the Bolshevik ideology which in recent years has fallen into disrepute even among conservative Russians. However, Mr. Hoover put aside his own personal beliefs about politics and economics so that he could help other persons.
My grandmother always spoke with great appreciation of the generosity of the American people as expressed through the person of Herbert Hoover. She was always amazed that Mr. Hoover possessed special administrative skills so that he could distribute food to remote regions where the food was in greatest demand. She was delighted for the American people when she learned years later that Mr. Hoover was elected President. She cherished the memory of his photo in the food center and she prayed for him throughout her life.
My grandmother is not with us any more to express her own gratitude to Mr. Hoover. As her grand-daughter I accept that task with full enthusiasm. As an American citizen who was born in Moscow, I thank Mr. Hoover and I thank all the people of America for their generosity and compassion to millions of poor Russians in one of the darkest hours in our history. The legacy of Mr. Hoover’s goodness and the goodness of the American people is inscribed in the hearts of millions of Russian people.
Mr. Hoover’s legacy is also a beacon of hope for future generations. In a world that continues to be torn apart by conflict of all types, Mr. Hoover’s example reminds us that the best response to a crisis is compassion.”
The canvas on early planes was swapped out with this clear material. The engine, pilot, and frame were all still visible, but the target was nearly invisible when viewed from the ground given that the planes were flying at 900 feet or higher. Even at lower altitudes, they were difficult to see and target.
From the sky, however, pilots ran into a very real problem.
The material was highly reflective of direct sunlight. So, when an enemy was approaching from a variety of angles, the sunlight would reflect off the wings and light up the plane like a beacon for anyone paying even minor attention to their surroundings.
Without radar, planes were already essentially invisible at night. So, stealth was supposed to revolutionize the daytime environment — see the issue here? The stealth technology was all but useless if the sun caused it to backfire completely.
A Fokker 2 plane equipped with invisible skin.
For their part, the Germans knew that they had a problematic technology on their hands, and they largely shelved the invention, returning to a canvas body for most of their planes.
A bomber would likely be the most valuable plane to turn invisible, but cellon shrinks and expands based on humidity and temperature, things that often vary in flight. Because the bomber was massive, that shrinking and expanding greatly affected the way the bomber flew.
The problem was that the plane already ran hot; four large engines mounted on the fuselage filled it with heat. Add to this an intense amount of sunlight passing through the clear fuselage and the result was a plane that was nearly unpilotable.
Something worth mentioning, though it didn’t end up affecting the bomber, is that cellon is highly flammable. So, if anything had gone wrong, it would’ve been a Hindenburg-style conflagration.
A German Riesenflugzeug bomber with transparent panels. Pilots flew from the third deck at the front and had to deal with the horrendous heat and the shifting control surfaces.
The plane took two flights during the war. During the first, the shifting cellon made the plane controls impossible to work. The pilot tried to land the plane but couldn’t tell just how far the plane extended beneath him. He crashed and the plane was badly damaged.
The second flight went much worse — the plane’s wings just fell off. One crew member was killed.
Cellon stealth was not the wave of the future they wanted it to be — not that it would’ve helped Germany much. By World War II, radar was the new rage, and cellon wouldn’t have helped much, even given perfect conditions.
But that would’ve been great. Convincing the Nazis to fly planes made of highly flammable materials that changed size and shape during flight and sometimes just lost their wings would’ve been the a joy for the Allies.
“Hey, Luftwaffe, congrats on the invisible planes. Please, send as many pilots in as many planes as you can.”
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
“Well, they sure favor their Earth tone clothing over here; every color is … dark, dingy, and just… gray. It’s like this whole city is trapped inside a gray balloon,” my brother observed and commented. “What the hell is with all the dark clothing, seriously?” he puzzled. “I mean is there some kind of extra import tariff on $hit that is red, yellow, or orange — the longer wavelength colors — always with the shorter waves, Moriarity; ALWAYS WITH THE SHORTER WAVES!”
Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina in former Yugoslavia. The boys and I came here shortly after a United Nations (UN)-induced cease-fire. The tide of homicide, genocide, fratricide, and suicide along the countryside… had all just become so, so, so over the top for the world theater’s pallet.
The suffering on the ground was hellish but what the real world didn’t know and we only learned on the ground was that we were here because of a doll. Yep, that’s right journalists were placing dolls in the scenes of carnage which when seen by coffee-talkers around the world sparked global outrage — time to send in some troops!
“They’re ripping babies out of mothers’ arms and then gunning both down right there in the streets… and I think that’s just wrong, you know?” bleat the crestfallen Gladys Pumpernick of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. “Oh, but what of the children??”
And so it went; that’s how me and the boys ended up in a C-130 Herc out of Germany, junked-up with body armor and helmets. Ground fire was an indeed thing in and around the Sarajevo airport. No slow shallow glide to the flight line; that would lend undue exposure of the aircraft to ground fire. Ours was a fast approach with a sudden steep dive and flare onto the tarmac.
Air Force likes to tell you that a dive gives you a chance. The Army tells you to throw on body armor. Despite both schools of wisdom, you’re still stuck in a metal tube with absolutely nothing you can do. We looked and felt stupid in our armor, with nothing protecting us from bullets coming up through the floor of the aircraft.
“In Nam the Air Cavalry sat on their steel pots!” recalled a brother, and we all quickly removed our armored vests and helmets. We lay our vests on our red nylon seats, the K-Pot helmets on the vests, then sat on top of the combo, grinning back and forth at each other the grin you grin when you have saved your testicles for yet another day.
Once on the ground, were attached to the in-country commanding general’s group of the UN-titled Implementation Force (IFOR). All soldiers from all nations wore the IFOR badge on their uniforms. Our badges, being with the command element read “ComIFOR” the Command of IFOR, a title that lent prestige in countless areas as well as free parking spots.
We wore only functionally rugged civilian clothes and carried a concealed M-1911 pistol on our person. Parking along a curb on our first day we were immediately approached by a fireplug of a hateful U.S. Military Police person. She huffed and she puffed and sought to blow us down:
“You can’t park there!”
Our team lead, D-man, neatly closed the driver’s door of our SUV as he replied: “Yes we can.”
“No you can’t — IFOR!” huffed the MP as she jammed an indicating index finger into the IFOR badge on her chest.
D-Man tapped his badge on his chest: “Yes we can — ComIFOR.”
The MP’s eyes flashed a “been-got” flash, and she stewed momentarily. “Well, don’t take all damned day!” was all she had.
“Yeah, we’ll be sure and not take all damned day, sweetheart,” was how D-Man dismissed our host.
I can tell you that it was dark in Sarajevo at night, so dark. My first night there I counted from up high a grand total of five lights coming from some sources in the city, not even bright ones. Two of them were traffic lights… just two traffic lights on main street in the entire city. It was dark in Sarajevo at night, yeah.
Night in a shopping district of modern-day Sarajevo
The country’s infrastructure was simply destroyed from the years of bombing and shelling. There was no dependable electric grid, fuel or transportation was rare. People were forced to spend long days well into night, mostly on foot just trying to take care of their basic needs.
And at night our headlights revealed the ghost people as they moved through the streets. Clad mostly in black; light black and dark black. A splash of gray to compliment the dark something-or-other, an ensemble pulled together with a black pleather jacket.
And the women, dark on dark with pallid skin, long raven hair, black lipstick, and dark eyeshadow… looking like a hoard of listless Morticia Addams’ sulking their way to somewhere. They shuffled as singletons or couples arm in pleather arm. Goth was just the untimely trend for the young there. It just made for an even more macabre ambiance in the city at night.
The original Morticia Addams
Back at our little compound, I had a chance to meet one of the ghost people face to face: Rado, short for Radovan, had been a newspaper editor before the war in just his early 20s. He was since rounded up by Serbian troops and held for many months in a barn with the other men of his neighborhood and tortured beyond logical description, to the brink of a ghost person.
Subject to his calamity he became as simple as a little child in both thought and action. He did odd jobs around the American Embassy for food and pennies. He smoked like a meat house and wore the same unlaundered pullover sweater the entire three months I was there.
The team and I really came to question the ghost people: why were they walking in the street at night in dark clothes, in the middle of the street even?! It’s like they’re begging to be killed… they’re stoned freaking crazy — all of them! Yes, it sure seemed that way to me too. I have to reckon that after all they have been through these last years nothing really lights their fuses.
What can I tell you? These souls have been treading in Lucifer’s backyard for over four years now, the longest siege of a major city in modern history. Day after day of pacts with the devil to stay alive, scratching and screaming to stay living, promising all and everything to the Creator for just one more day above ground… do we honestly expect them to worry over their dark wardrobe while they stroll the street shoulders of their peace-time home??
An American Colonel gave Rado his used New Balance running shoes the day he signed out; he just walked up and stuffed them in Rado’s chest and walked away. Rado stood stunned, gradually sinking to the ground crying and hugging his now most prized possession, his (used) American shoes. “Even and they are my number!” he cried out in fractured English, meaning they were just his size, “Even and they are my same number!”
Driving on patrol or even on the base was always a challenge for us with the Ghost people lurking in the shadows. “I swear to God “Sarajevo” is the Bosnian word for ghost people! They need to move out of the freakin’ way!!” =HONK — HONK — HOOOOOONK= “I’m going to run one of these sons-of-bitches over and it’s not going to be my fault!” Tough talk, but we would continue to always yield to the ghost people, our rage notwithstanding.
Rado got hit by an IFOR HMMWV (hummer) and died on Alipašina Ulica (street). It was night, and the street was dark. Rado was dark and too simple, the driver American and so irate, irate with the ghost people of Sarajevo.
I didn’t see the accident, but I raced there when I heard the news, as it was very close by. Rado lay still where he died, wearing his same rancid pullover sweater, and now the Colonel’s used running shoes, his same number, Rado’s, the simple child… Rado, the ghost of Sarajevo.
Radovan Bozhić served his sentence in Hades. He was finished with his sentence, and now it was time for him to live; it was someone else’s turn to stagger the green mile to death for a fair spell.
Somewhere, somehow, some clerk made an errant entry in the wrong row, the wrong column of a divine dispatch log, and mistakenly put Rado wrongfully back on the mortal path… my, but I did hate it so.
Legendary American billionaire Howard Hughes had a knack for making money. It seemed like everything the business magnate touched turned to pure gold. So when he built a massively expensive drilling ship to explore the ocean depths for minerals, no one batted an eye.
It even sparked an interest by other companies to explore sea beds for valuable and rare minerals.
What no one knew was that the geological explorer wasn’t designed for mineral extractions at all. Instead, it was a joint venture between Howard Hughes and the Central Intelligence Agency to pull a sunken Soviet submarine from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
In 1968, the Soviet Navy lost a new submarine, designated by the United States as K-129. The reasons or timing of the loss were not known, but American intelligence did notice a large Soviet fleet deployment in the Pacific Ocean. Analysts determined that it was likely due to the loss of a sub, so the U.S. decided to search for the submarine too.
The Soviets eventually gave up. The Americans found K-129. When the Russian fleet returned to normal activity in the Pacific, the Americans launched a plan to recover the sub, along with any intelligence it could gather on its ability to launch missiles and whatever else could be salvaged.
But the boat was below more than 16,000 feet of water, more than 1500 miles from Hawaii. Any recovery ship large enough to pull K-129 from the bottom of the ocean would not be missed by Soviet intelligence. That’s where elusive billionaire Howard Hughes came in.
The Hughes Aircraft Company was already a major defense contractor with the U.S. government, developing (among other things) the first air-to-air combat missile for the U.S. Air Force. He soon announced to the world that he would build a deep-sea drilling platform named the Hughes Glomar Explorer to search for manganese on the ocean floor.
Coming from an eccentric though successful billionaire like Hughes, this announcement not only sparked interest in such exploration by other deep-sea drillers, but it provided an excellent cover for the platform’s real mission: lifting K-129 from the bottom of the Pacific. It was code-named Project Azorian.
K-129 was more than 330 feet long and displaced more than 3,500 tons. This required Howard Hughes’ company, Global Marine Development, to build a ship that had advanced stabilization measures and could lower three miles of salvage equipment deeper than any previous salvage in human history. It took three years to build the Glomar Explorer and move it into position.
The USS Halibut, a nuclear submarine, was used to locate and photograph the wreck of K-129. After locating it and targeting the section of the wreck to be lifted into the hold of the drill ship. Once salvaged, the entire operation would take place aboard the Glomar Explorer, but underwater. In 1974, the ship was in position and the salvage began. Howard Hughes was about to become a bit more famous– but things didn’t go exactly as planned.
A mechanical claw was designed and lowered to the ocean floor essentially by building the claw’s lowering pipe as it dropped to the submarine below. It was built 60 feet at a time. The claw slipped through a hole in K-129. To be lifted, the claw’s piping was dismantled and the claw raised.
As the claw was being raised, however, structural failures in the steel used to forge the claw caused it to fail and as much as two-thirds of K-129 fell back to the ocean floor. What the CIA was able to raise, however, was an intelligence gold mine. This included Russian code books and nuclear torpedos.
Six sailors were also recovered and given a proper burial at sea. A CIA camera crew documented the recovery but the only footage ever released was the funeral of these six sailors, given to the Soviet government.
Howard Hughes’ ship, the Glomar Explorer was a marvel of engineering but outside of raising Soviet submarines, it was inefficient and costly to maintain. It was leased by the Navy to private companies for mineral exploration for the next 20 years but eventually found its way to a Chinese scrapyard.