Some of America’s heroes don’t dive on grenades or shoot down three or four dozen enemy planes. In fact, the hero who made Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance’s victory at Midway did so from a basement in Pearl Harbor.
According to a biography at the National Security Agency website, Commander Joe Rochefort was born in 1898. After enlisting in the Navy in 1918, he eventually earned a college degree and was sent into a variety of code-breaking and intelligence positions, as well as serving at sea. In 1941, he was transferred to Pearl Harbor as tensions with Japan rose.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rochefort and his team ended up working to break what was known as the JN 25 code. Japan used this code to give out orders to ships. After the Doolittle Raid, Rochefort soon began to pick up messages that indicated Japan was planning an operation in the Central Pacific against a location known as “AF.” Rochefort soon believed the target was Midway.
In Washington, though, others had doubts, believing the Aleutian Islands or Hawaii were the main objective. According to the book “Incredible Victory” by Walter Lord, one of Rochefort’s officers soon came up with a plan to confirm where Japan was targeting. The American garrison at Midway was ordered to send an uncoded message that their water purification systems had failed.
Soon after the radio message was sent, coded Japanese messages reported that AF would be running low on fresh water. Rochefort had not only gotten the Japanese to reveal their objective, but he had convinced skeptics in Washington that Midway was the target.
History reveals what happened.
The American fleet got into position to ambush the Japanese at Midway. Caught by surprise by the unexpected presence of the U.S. Navy, Japanese Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo went back and forth between hitting Midway a second time or going after the American fleet.
By the time the Japanese carriers were preparing to strike the American fleet, SBD Dauntless dive-bombers struck, sinking three carriers, and then fatally crippling a fourth. Later, American code-breaking would set up the “Zero Dark Thirty” moment of the Pacific War: the aerial ambush of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack who was killed when Tom Lanphier shot down the Mitsubishi “Betty” bomber he was flying in.
After Midway, the embarrassed officers in Washington exacted a measure of revenge.
Rochefort was eventually pulled from his codebreaking efforts for the rest of the war, leaving the Navy as a captain in 1953. His efforts would gain popular recognition in the 1976 movie “Midway,” where he was played by Hal Holbrook.
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan would present Rochefort’s family with a Distinguished Service Medal for the contributions Joe Rochefort made to America’s greatest naval victory. The next year, Rochefort received the Medal of Freedom posthumously. To date, no United States Navy vessel has been named for Rochefort.
Below is a brief scene of Hal Holbrook playing Rochefort opposite Charlton Heston in “Midway.”
After taking office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter moved a new desk into the White House. It had been briefly used by President Kennedy, but Johnson moved it out after taking office. Carter’s new desk was known as the Resolute Desk, and was made from the timbers of a British warship that was abandoned in the icy waters of Canada. That was not the ship’s final fate, however.
The ship was originally part of an expedition sent to track down explorer Sir John Franklin, who left England in 1845 to look for the long-fabled “Northwest Passage.” Franklin and his crew were lost, all dying of starvation and exposure, not to mention the seaborne illnesses of the era. But England didn’t know that, and Franklin’s ships weren’t discovered until 2016, so the Royal Navy sent a squadron out to discover the fate of Franklin himself. The HMS Resolute was just one of the ships in that squadron.
The expedition to find Franklin was as disastrous as Franklin’s own expedition. Eventually, the thick sea ice would force the Navy to abandon at least two of the ships, including Resolute. An American whaling crew found the Royal Navy ship adrift in the waters off Canada, crewed her, and took her to New London. Instead of turning her into an American ship, the United States had other plans.
The “special relationship” between England and the United States is a relatively recent development. In the days before the 20th Century, the two countries routinely butted heads and almost went to war on a number of occasions. At this time, the two were embroiled in border disputes, territorial arguments, fishing rights, and whatever else countries can go to war over. The U.S. decided to give the Resolute a complete American overhaul and refit, then present the ship to Queen Victoria as a peace offering. It worked.
The ship remained in England’s home waters until she left the service in 1879. But the wood from Resolute was to become legendary. Three desks were made, the first for the widow of Henry Grinnell, an American merchant from New York who helped search for Franklin’s lost expedition, the second for Queen Victoria herself. The third and largest one was presented as a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes.
The desk remained in the White House until the assassination of President Kennedy, when Lyndon Johnson allowed it to go around the country on a traveling expedition and then sending it to the Smithsonian Institution. The desk has been modified twice, the most significant was the addition of a door panel in the front which bears the Presidential Seal. Franklin D. Roosevelt had this added to hide his leg braces from the press. That seal is only one of three that features the eagle’s head turned toward the 13 arrows on its talon, instead of the olive branch.
Veterans and troops always have a go-to spot where they can enjoy themselves after hours. Oftentimes, it’s a bar where they can unwind alongside buddies and take their minds off the stresses that come with military life, if only for a brief moment. Wherever that place may be, when you’re there, you know you can just kick back, enjoy that sweet, refreshing beer, and relax.
Back during World War II, the U.S. was abuzz with patriotism and everyone who could would do their part to serve those who serve. Hollywood celebrities of the time, like Bette Davis and John Garfield, were no exception. In fact, they created a club designed specifically to cater to returning troops. Best part of all: The uniform got you in for free and troops would never spend a single cent when there.
She would spend almost the entire run of the Second World War supporting the troops at the expense of her infamous Warner Bros. contract.
Located at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, CA was the fabulous Hollywood Canteen. Troops who visited would be greeted with the words, “through these portals pass the most beautiful uniforms in the world.” Anyone was allowed in, but the troops were treated with more esteem than the celebrities who catered to them.
No one dedicated more time and effort to the Hollywood Canteen than Bette Davis herself. The beautiful actress was the president of the Canteen and would often be the first person ready to greet troops as they came through the door. Visiting troops would be escorted to their seat by a lovely celebrity and then offered a fantastic evening.
Who wouldn’t want a free meal served to you by Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich?
Everything within the Canteen was offered on a donation basis, but the tickets to get were outrageously priced (for those who weren’t in the military). Tickets ran the average civilian — about 4.15 when adjusted for inflation — and they still wouldn’t get the star treatment from the celebrities. Of course, all of that money was funneled back to the war effort.
It operated at a huge loss. It was highly publicized; they welcomed in well over one million troops and spent ,000 (,697.51 AFI) weekly on food alone. As a result, the Canteen relied heavily on donations and good will from wealthy individuals to keep the doors open. The most ardent benefactors were Bette Davis and the many celebrities that came to support the troops — a long list that included everyone who was anyone at the time.
It’s probably the best business move anyways. Anyone would go bankrupt if they openly offered every troop as much alcohol as they wanted.
The troops were offered nearly whatever they wanted. Chef Milani, one of the earliest celebrity chefs, was world-renown and took great joy in making off-the-wall recipes for the troops. The troops were also offered drinks, cigarettes, and a night of entertainment free of charge.
The only real downside is that since it was unprofessional to offer a bunch of free alcohol to troops (and, as a result, have drunk troops’ photos plastered all over the tabloids), they refrained from openly serving alcohol — but you know it happened anyway. Officers were also discouraged from entering as it was more or less seen as “the enlisted’s paradise.”
In 1944, Warner Bros., who had Bette Davis under contract, made a musical, called Hollywood Canteen, which was set in its namesake club. Nearly every actor and musician who supported the club made a cameo appearance in the film. It was the fourth highest grossing film of that year and 40 percent of the profits were funneled directly back into the club.
When V-J Day finally came, the club’s purpose had been fulfilled. They threw one hell of a party before closing its doors for good. The remaining funds in the Canteen’s account were spread among various veteran organizations.
In 1980, Bette Davis was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, the Department of Defense’s highest award for civilians, for her dedication to the troops and for giving them the Hollywood Canteen. The two-time Academy award winning actress and arguably the greatest actress of the classical film era said of the Canteen, “there are few accomplishments in my life that I am sincerely proud of. The Hollywood Canteen is one of them.”
Almost seven years ago, Spc. Dakota Williams lost more than his stepbrother. He lost his hero.
His stepbrother, Spc. Dylan Johnson, had been deployed in Iraq’s Diyala Province just north of Baghdad for less than a month when a bomb detonated next to his vehicle. The explosion killed him.
Inspired by his service to the country, Williams later joined the Army to follow in his footsteps.
On May 24, 2018, he personally honored his stepbrother when he placed an American flag at his headstone in Section 60 of the Arlington National Cemetery during the annual Flags In event.
“He’s not here, but he’s here,” said Williams, 23, of Salina, Oklahoma. “He’s still such an important part of my life.”
All Soldiers, including Williams, in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” participated in some way in 2018’s Flags In. The regiment has conducted the event before every Memorial Day since 1948. It was then when the regiment was designated as the Army’s official ceremonial unit.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)
Over a course of four hours, more than 234,000 small flags were laid in front of headstones across the 624-acre cemetery. Flags were also placed inside the Columbarium as well, where the cremated remains of service members reside. In all, enough flags were placed to account for the more than 400,000 interred or inurned within the cemetery. Regiment Soldiers also placed about 11,500 flags at the nearby Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.
“It’s a great commitment by these Soldiers to do this, to place them at the hundreds of thousands of graves here,” said Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper. “What it does is it pays respect and homage to those who served before them, going all the way back to the Civil War and signals the importance of their service and that they will never be forgotten for what they did. So that they know, these young Soldiers today, much as I knew when I was in uniform, that should I have to pay that ultimate price, I would not be forgotten either in America’s hearts and minds.”
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)
Col. Jason Garkey, the regiment commander, said Flags In is also a time of reflection for the Soldiers who participate.
“For every one of those headstones where we put a flag at, we have the solemn honor to put that flag in for a family member who can’t be here to do it themselves,” he said. “That’s a privilege.”
Each Soldier who took part in the event had the opportunity to place hundreds of flags into the ground, about 1 foot centered in front of every headstone.
When doing so, Garkey encouraged his Soldiers to read the name engraved onto the headstone.
“I tell them that the cemetery is alive,” Garkey said. “If you pay attention, it will tell you things.”
Buried throughout the cemetery are Medal of Honor recipients, young service members who were killed in war, retirees and spouses — all with a story to share.
Garkey, who took part in his sixth Flags In, recalled one time seeing two graves next to each other with the same last name. From the dates on the headstones, he believed they belonged to a father who had served much of his adult life in the military and his son who had died in combat years before him.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)
“There’s no worst thing than for a parent to bury their child,” he said. “But they ended up there for eternity.”
When his Soldiers recognize those sacrifices, he said, it helps put things into perspective while they perform their ceremonial duties.
“You realize there are many stories in the cemetery and that brings the cemetery to something more than just a place where we go to work,” the colonel said. “It makes it a living, breathing entity where we honor our fallen.”
For Sgt. Kevin Roman, who serves with Williams in the regiment’s Presidential Salute Battery that is responsible for firing blank howitzer rounds during ceremonies, Flags In gives him the chance to appreciate those who came before him.
“Memorial Day is a day to pay your respects to the [service members] who have made the ultimate sacrifice or who have served honorably,” said Roman, 23, of Bronx, New York. “For some people, it’s just a holiday and the unofficial start of summer.”
Before he participated in his fourth Flags In, he said every time he gets to place flags it is still meaningful to him.
“When you get out there and start reading tombstones, you gain that respect back that you may have lost during those hard days in the cemetery,” he said. “Everything comes flooding into you and you get that sense of proudness and that American spirit.”
Some gravesites are even more significant to other Soldiers in the regiment, whether they belong to a family member or a service member they once served with.
Garkey places a flag at the headstone of retired Lt. Col. Toby Runyon, a Vietnam War veteran and a family friend who died two years ago.
“I’ll take a photo and send it to his spouse just to say that we were thinking of Toby today,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said, the regiment’s sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will stop at the gravesites of former sentinels.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)
“Everybody has got their specific places that they go to,” Garkey said. “There’s a healing aspect that goes into it for us. It’s more than just a task, it’s an experience.”
Esper also placed flags at gravesites in the cemetery. A former Soldier himself, he said, he knows comrades in arms who have died in service to their country.
“On a day like this, I think about also my West Point classmates,” Esper said. “I know one for sure who passed away during my war, Desert Shield/Desert Storm. I had another one who was killed when the Twin Towers were felled on 9/11. And another one killed in Afghanistan. And I think about them as well, because they are peers, and like me, I can relate more to their point in life, where they got married or had children, or maybe never had the opportunity to do either. I think about them especially.”
Over Memorial Day weekend, Esper said, he hopes that Soldiers, family members, and Americans across the country will be thinking about those who fought for and died to secure freedom for the United States.
“Hopefully they will all reflect upon the great sacrifices that America’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines make in defense of our country and in defense of our liberties,” Esper said. “Particularly those fallen heroes that are here in Arlington National Cemetery.”
Friday, August 14, honors the contributions of Indigenous people who helped the war effort during WWII. Today also marks the observance of US code relating to Indigenous languages and the participation of First nations tribe members in U.S. military conflicts. This year marks the 38th year the holiday has been observed, established by President Reagan to honor all tribes associated with the war effort including (but not limited to!) the Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Hopi and Navajo tribes.
On this Navajo Code Talkers Day, take a step back in time to understand the history of this observance and understand a little more about covert U.S. operations, too.
A Complex Origin Story
Let’s get one thing clear – the name of this holiday has less to do with the Navajo tribe itself and more to do with the broader term that encompasses the “Navajo Code” used to help fool the fascist Nazis and imperialist Japanese during WWII.
The traditional role of an Indigenous “warrior” involved more than just fighting enemies. Warriors were men in communities who cared for people and helped during times of difficulties and were committed to ensuring their tribes survived. Because warriors were regarded with so much respect, boys trained from an early age to develop the appropriate mental, emotional, and physical strength required of warriors. Many tribes had several specific warrior subgroups within their communities, which had their own ceremonies and ways of life. The warrior tradition was integral to Indigenous life, and it was this call that encouraged many Indigenous people to serve in the military. In addition to wanting to defend the United States, the military offered economic security and a way off the reservation, an opportunity for education, training, and travel.
More than 12,000 Indigenous American Indians served in WWI, about 25 percent of the male population at the time. During WWII, an estimated 44,000 men and women served.
WWI Training and Recruitment
Navajo Code is thought to have been established from the many conflicts experienced by Indigenous people. The earliest reports of the relationship between Code Talkers and the military can be found during WWI when the Choctaw tribe language was used to relay messages related to surprise attacks on German forces.
WWI veteran Philip Johnston understood the value of code talkers and suggested that the USMC use a similar communication strategy for WWII efforts. Though he was not Indigenous, Johnston had grown up on a Navajo reservation and saw the success of the Choctaw efforts in WWI.
During the war, more than 400 Navajos were recruited as Code Talkers, and their training was intense. Some Code Talkers enlisted while others were drafted, but the majority of all Code Talkers served underage and had to lie about their age to join. At the height of the Code Talker involvement in WWII, there were service personnel from more than 16 tribes.
Constructing the Code
Many of the Code Talkers recruited simply used their tribal languages to convey messages. These were known as Type-Two Codes.
In 1942, the Marine Corps recruited the entire 382nd Platoon to develop, memorize and implement the Navajo-coded language. This language became one of many Type-One codes that translated English into a coded message. A Type-One code combined the languages of the Navajo, Hopi, Comanche, and Meskwaki.
To develop the Type-One code, the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers first decided a Navajo word for each letter of the English alphabet. To keep things simple, the Code Talkers decided to associate words with animals that were familiar to them. Here’s an example of the words they used:
Code Talkers were also required to develop specific military-related words for planes, ships and weapons. After looking at these items’ images, the Code Talker squad came up with words that seemed to fit the pictures.
To transmit code, a Code Talker was given a message in English, which was then translated and sent to another Code Talker. To avoid detection, none of these messages were written down until they were received.
Code Talker needed to be intelligent and brave to ensure some of the most dangerous battles and remain calm under fire. They served proudly and with honor and distinction, and their actions provided critical support in several campaigns in the Pacific and are credited with saving thousands of fellow Americans’ lives. The Navajo and Hopi served in the Pacific in the war against Japan, while the Comanches fought the Germans in Europe and the Meskwakis fought the Germans in North Africa. Code Talkers from other tribes served in various locations throughout the European and Pacific theaters. There are very few Code Talkers left alive today, but it’s clear that the outcome of WWII would have been much different without their efforts.
Let’s say you need to make a very sensitive tool to detect radiation. Maybe you need to use it for medical purposes, detecting specific isotopes as they move through a human body. Or perhaps it’s for the tools to detect radiation to prevent dirty bombs and nuclear smuggling. Wherever your radiation is, if you want super accurate measurements of it, you have to make your tools out of low-background steel, and that’s hard to get.
U.S. Navy divers extract oil from the World War II German cruiser Prinz Eugen to prevent it leaking into the environment. The steel of the hull would be worth billions for use in scientific experiments and medical instruments.
Here’s the problem with new steel: It’s made in a radioactive environment. The very air we breathe contains little molecules leftover from the approximately 2,000 nuclear tests conducted since 1945. Irradiated coral from Bikini Atoll tests, snow melted by the Tsar Bomba, and air particles in the wrong spots during the development of the Genie air-to-air rocket are all still radioactive.
That doesn’t make it useless for detecting radiation. But any radiation in the steel makes the resulting device less sensitive. It’s like if you’re trying to listen for a distant sound while a band plays. The louder and closer the band is, the harder it will be for you to hear a distant or faint sound. A radiation detection device with radioactive steel in it will never be able to detect radiation that’s beneath the threshold its own components put out.
But steel can last. And any steel manufactured before the first nuclear tests in July 1945 is filled with low-background radiation steel. Basically, since it has much fewer radioactive particles in it, it can detect radiation at much lower levels. So, if you need to run a radioactive dye through a medical patient, you can use a much lower level of radiation if the detector is made with low-background steel.
Same with scientific and law enforcement instruments.
But how to get low-background steel today? If you mine ore now, melt it down, and mix it with limestone, you’ll be most of the way through making low-background steel. But you also have to pass air through it. And the only air available has radiation in it.
So, instead, you could go find steel manufactured before 1945. Preferably steel that wasn’t exposed to the air during the testing or in the years immediately afterward.
Medical scanners often require low-background steel, a material most easily obtained through World War II and earlier salvage.
(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miles Wilson)
You read the headline. You know where this is going.
Sunken warships have literally tens of thousands of tons of steel in them, and the water has shielded them from radiation for decades.
So, with the consent of governments, some warships have their steel removed. It’s done carefully both to prevent contaminating the metal as well as to avoid disturbing the dead. And it’s not just steel. A British warship from before the Revolution had a large amount of lead that is now maintained by the University of Chicago.
It’s even been suggested that some illegal salvage efforts were conducted by black market outfits looking to make millions by stealing entire ships off the ocean floor. And at least two British ships lost in World War II have disappeared, though some researchers think it was more likely straight steel salvage. It doesn’t appear the thieves had the wherewithal to properly protect the salvage from modern radiation, so it was probably sold as normal scrap.
So the thieves disturbed the grave of thousands of sailors and contaminated tens of thousands of tons of rare low-background steel.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that World War II wasn’t actually a single, globe-spanning conflict. It was really about a dozen smaller conflicts that had all been openly fought (or at least simmering) in the months and years leading up to the German invasion of Poland — the moment most historians point to as the beginning of the war.
Members of the Russian Liberation Army stand together in 1943. The “POA” patch features the Cyrillic-language abbreviation of the unit’s name in Russian.
(Karl Muller, Bundesarchiv Bild)
One of those long-simmering conflicts was between the Soviets in Russia and the Fascists in Germany. Both countries descended into harsh autocracies between World Wars I and II, but their leaders were deeply distrustful of one another. And, their populations were split as to who the worse evil was, even during the war.
That’s probably why somewhere around 200,000 Russian soldiers were recruited from prisoner of war camps and Soviet defections to form the Russian Liberation Army, a military force of Russian citizens who fought for Hitler against Stalin.
The head of the unit, abbreviated from Russian as the ROA, was a decorated Soviet officer, Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov. Vlasov and his men fought well against the Nazi invasion of Russia.
A Leningrad building burns after a German air raid in World War II. The city was besieged by German forces, and Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov was in charge of a large segment of the forces sent to free it.
(RIA Novosti Archive)
Vlasov commanded the 4th Mechanized Corps, and he and his men retook multiple cities from Nazi forces during counterattacks, escaped encirclement at one point, and even helped save Moscow at one point. His face was printed in newspapers as a “defender of Moscow” and he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
But he was then placed in command of an army and sent to break the siege at Leningrad. He failed, though some historians point to the failure of other commanders to exploit openings that Vlasov created. Regardless, most of his army was eventually slaughtered and he was captured.
While imprisoned in prisoner of war camps, Vlasov was known for making statements against Stalin. Eventually, this led to Vlasov advocating for a new military unit made up of Russians and commanded by Russians — but fighting for Germany.
Russian defector to Germany Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov speaks with volunteers in Germany in 1944.
After months in POW camps, Vlasov was able to convince Germany to create the ROA. He wrote pamphlets and other materials to convince more Soviet POWs to join, and these were also dropped as leaflets over Soviet formations to trigger defections. The main selling point was that, after the war, Germany would allow for a free and democratic Russia.
Unfortunately for Vlasov, the Germans still barely trusted him. Most Russians recruited into the ROA served under the command of other officers, including German ones. Vlasov was promoted to general but only put in command of the ROA against Soviet forces one time. On February 11, 1945, Vlasov led the ROA against the Red Army as the Soviets pressed against a Polish river.
Russian defector Gen. Andrey Vlasov meets with senior Nazi leaders, including Joseph Goebbels at far right.
The ROA performed well, but was ultimately withdrawn and never sent into full-scale battle again. As Germany continued to lose ground, many in the ROA switched sides again, and fought their way through German units towards the western Allies, hoping that British and American forces would accept a surrender and request for asylum.
After all, they had no delusions about what the Soviets would do to captured Russian soldiers who fought against Stalin and the Red Army.
Combat medics courageously fought to save lives as the war raged around them in Vietnam. Helicopters became virtual hospitals in the air, buying the combat medic valuable time to heal the wounded. When lives were on the line, it was a combat medic’s quick thinking that determined the fate of their fellow troop.
Max Cleland, who would later go on to be a US Senator, was saved by such courageous men after losing three limbs to an explosion. This is his story:
You might be wondering — what did these brave ‘docs’ carry with them on a daily basis? They played a vital role in operations, but you just might be surprised by the scarcity of their toolkit. Here’s what they were expected to carry on patrol.
Hospital Corpsman James Kirkpatrick (my handsome dad, on the right) gearing up to head out on patrol in Vietnam, 1968.
No such luck.
For the most part, the ground-pounders wore t-shirts, flak jackets, and many donned WW2-style helmets due to a lack of budget.
The helmets weren’t bullet-proof and were only intended to protect the troop from flying shrapnel — sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.
Primary weapon system
Just like today, the docs of Vietnam served as riflemen until one of their brothers was injured. Most Corpsmen and medics carried M16A1 rifles with 10-14 magazines of 18 rounds. Their magazines could carry up to 20 rounds, but the majority of the grunts didn’t fill them to capacity in order to avoid a weapons malfunction.
The average doc carried a .45 caliber pistol with five to seven magazines of seven rounds each.
Medics SP4 Gerald Levy and Pfc. Andrew J. Brown with a wounded soldier and a paratrooper of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Bien Hoa, Vietnam.
(Photo by Horst Faas)
Docs also carried three to five hands grenades, which were worn either on the flak jacket or stuffed into cargo pockets, two to five flares to properly mark landing zones, and a “woobie” or poncho to stay as dry as possible.
And, of course, you couldn’t go on patrol without bringing enough packs of smokes to last you the duration. In the Vietnam era, patrols could last up to several days, depending on the mission.
Also, just like good docs today, they didn’t forget to stash away plenty of dry pairs of socks.
An unmarked med-bag
These green pouches were stuffed to the brim with abdominal dressings (large bandages), battle dressings (medium-sized dressings), four to five rolls of gauze, and five to ten morphine syrettes.
Today, morphine syrettes are considered serialized gear and a medic can be punished for losing one in the field.
Some corpsmen and medics carried an I.V. solution — if they could manage to hustle a bag or two away from the local medical aid station. In some cases, medevac helicopters would transport them to the on-ground medical personnel instead, as needed.
The problem with being a rising star in a dictatorship where the only rules are the whims of one individual is that you tend to attract a lot of attention. This, of course, could put a target on your back. If you outlive the dictator, the purges, and the possible wars, however, it could be you occupying the big chair when the dust settles. Nowhere is this more clear than in the life of Nikita Khrushchev.
Before rising to the top of the Soviet Union’s oligarchy, Khrushchev started his Communist career as a political commissar during the Russian Civil War, was then sent to Ukraine to carry out Stalin’s purges, and somehow survived World War II’s Eastern Front, where Communist Commissars were specifically targeted by the Third Reich. After the war, he spent much of his time very close to Stalin…and survived.
He even told the USSR that Stalin was stupid and his policies sucked. Not in those words, but that was the gist.
Khrushchev implemented many of Stalin’s policies without question, and did as he was told throughout his ascendancy. He also didn’t make any move against his boss while he was alive. Instead, Khrushchev waited until after the death of Stalin to denounce the “Man of Steel,” along with his domestic policies, his personality cult, and probably his mustache. But while Stalin was alive, Khrushchev was the best salesman for global Communism Stalin could have had.
During his time as the leader of the Soviet Union, he met with everyone who would have him, including famed anti-Communist Richard Nixon. He even managed to avoid a nuclear war with the U.S. President Kennedy. He didn’t need the bravado the Red Army wanted him to show during the Cuban Missile Crisis – Khrushchev already showed his by surviving every deadly situation thrown at Russia.
If you can survive Stalingrad, you can survive anything.
Khrushchev survived Stalin because he’d proved his mettle many times over. Khrushchev was the epitome of the Soviet worker class. He was from a poor family of peasants, he went on strike against the Tsarist government as a metal worker in World War I, and he chose the right brand of Communism when the time came. When given a choice between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, he chose the group who prioritized winning over everything else. He was so loyal to Communist ideals that he refused to allow his wife a religious funeral after she died. That’s dedication.
He immediately joined every Communist government program and school he could, using connections to get into everything, like a good oligarch. When it came time for Stalin to purge, Khrushchev was in a trusted position. To maintain that trust, Khrushchev was willing to send his closest friends and coworkers to the gulag and the executioner.
In case you were wondering, he killed a lot of people. Like, a lot.
So to survive the dictator’s whimsy, you have to prove you aren’t out to topple the dictator. The best way to do that is help kill the dictator’s enemies… before someone else accuses you of being the dictator’s enemy. The second best way is not to make waves. When Khrushchev appealed to Stalin to help fight the famine in Ukraine, Stalin thought Khrushchev was getting weak and sent him an overseer from Moscow. Khrushchev promptly became “ill” and all but disappeared for two years.
Not annoying Stalin about starving people probably saved his life and career. In Stalin’s last days, Khrushchev was called to be near Stalin and in the dictator’s inner circle. Here, the future Soviet leader survived many long nights of drinking and dancing at Stalin’s command, coining the saying: “When Stalin says dance, a wise man dances.”
Krushchev learned to take a nap in the afternoon so he wouldn’t fall asleep in front of his boss.
These guys killed several hundred thousand people, maybe more. That’s not even counting the famines.
After Stalin died, his inner circle vied for power and fought amongst one another publicly. Not Khrushchev – he was demoted and accepted his situation. He soon found the others had fought themselves out of a job while “humble” Khrushchev was elevated to the title of First Secretary of the Communist Party. By not overstepping his bounds as his rivals did, Khrushchev became the least objectionable choice. It didn’t hurt that he was generally very good at whatever his job was.
He was so good even after he was ousted from power, Khrushchev managed to avoid being murdered by enemies like most powerful people in dictatorships so often are. He retired to a dacha in the countryside and died of a heart attack.
In September 1940, World War II was a year old. The US was still a noncombatant, but it was preparing for a fight.
That month, the US introduced the Selective Training and Service Act — the first peacetime draft in US history. Mobilizing the millions of troops was a monumental task and essential to deploying “the arsenal of democracy” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Americans to provide.
Inducting millions of civilians and turning them into effective troops — and keeping them happy, healthy, supplied, and fighting — was also a daunting challenge.
In order to find the best way to do that, the War Department mounted an opinion survey, polling nearly a half-million soldiers stationed all around the world throughout the war. Their uncensored responses, given as the war was being fought, are an unprecedented window into how those troops felt about the war, the military, and their role in both.
“Entirely too much boot-licking going on,” one soldier wrote. “Some sort of a merit system should be instituted.”
“Spam, Spam, Spam. All I dream about is Spam,” wrote another.
(National Archives photo)
In an email interview, Edward Gitre, a history professor at Virginia Tech whose project, The American Soldier in World War II, has compiled tens of thousands of responses to those surveys, explained why the Army sought the unvarnished opinions of its soldiers and what those opinions revealed.
Christopher Woody: Why did the War Department conduct these surveys? What did it want to find out about US troops and how did it want to use that information?
Gitre: Henry Stimson, the aged Secretary of War, outright barred the polling of US troops when one of the nation’s leading pollsters, Elmo Roper, first pitched the idea in spring 1941. The War Department was not in the habit of soliciting the “opinions” of foot soldiers.
Yet an old friend of the Roosevelt family, Frederick Osborn—who had already helped to institute the country’s first peacetime draft in 1940—quietly but effectively made the case.
Chiefly, he convinced Stimson and other leery officers that surveys would be for their benefit. Surveys would provide them information for planning and policymaking purposes. Allowing and encouraging GIs to openly air their “gripes” was not part of Osborn’s original pitch.
When George C. Marshall became chief of staff in 1939, he compared the US Army to that of a third-rate power.
With the passage of the draft in 1940, the War Department would face the monumental challenge of rapidly inducting hundreds of thousands, then after Pearl Harbor millions of civilians. Most lacked prior military experience. But this new crop was also better educated than previous generations of draftees, and they came with higher expectations of the organization.
The surveys, then, would help address a host of “personnel” issues, such as placement, training, furloughs, ratings, so on and so forth.
The civilian experts the Army brought in to run this novel research program were embedded in what was known as the Morale Branch. This outfit, as the name suggests, was tasked with shoring up morale. These social and behavioral scientists had to figure out, first, how to define morale, and, second, how to measure it.
Some old Army hands insisted that morale was purely a matter of command, that it was the byproduct of discipline and leadership. But reporting indicated pretty clearly that morale correlated to what soldiers were provided during off-duty hours as well, in terms of recreation and entertainment.
To address the latter, the War Department created an educational, recreational, welfare, and entertainment operation that spanned the globe. The numbers of candy bars and packages of cigarettes shipped and sold were accounted for not in the millions but billions.
If you were coordinating the monthly global placement of, say, two million books from best-sellers’ lists, wouldn’t you want to know something about soldier and sailor preferences? A whole class of survey questions were directed at marketing research.
Woody: What topics did the questions cover, and what kind of feedback and complaints did the troops give in response?
Gitre: The surveys administered by the Army’s Research Branch cover myriads of topics, from the individual food items placed in various rations, to the specific material used in seasonal uniforms, to the educational courses offered through the Armed Forces Institute.
A soldier might be asked a hundred or more multiple-choice and short-answer questions in any one survey. They would be asked to record more their behaviors, insights, and experiences related to service directly. They were asked about their civilian lives as well, including their previous occupation, family background, regional identity, religion, and education. This information could be then correlated with other military and government records to provide a more holistic picture of the average American GI.
One of this research outfit’s most reliable “clients” was the Army’s Office of Surgeon General. The quality and effectiveness of medical and psychiatric care had wide implications, not least in terms of combat readiness. The Surgeon General’s office was interested in more than the care it provided. Soldiers were asked about their most intimate of experiences—their sexual habits and hygiene among them.
Administered in August 1945, Survey #233 asked men stationed in Italy if they were having sex with Italian women, and, if so, how frequently; did they pay for sex, how did they pay, did they “shack” up, use a condom and if not why not, drink beforehand, and did they know how to identify the symptoms of an STI? The battle against venereal diseases knew no lines of propriety.
The Research Branch surveyed or interviewed a half-million service members during the war. The answers they received were as varied as one can imagine, though there were of course common “gripes,” which the old Army hands could have easily ticked off without the aid of a cross-sectional scientific survey.
Yet the scope WWII military operations and the influx of so many educated civilians did create innumerable challenges that were often novel.
But from the soldier’s perspective, it should not come as a shock that so many of them might have taken to heart the premise of the US’s involvement in the war, that the US was committed to defending democracy, and alone if necessary.
Respondent after survey respondent demanded, then, that the US military live up to the principles of democracy for which they were being called to sacrifice. And so, they savaged expressions of the old Regular Army’s hierarchical “caste” culture wherever they saw it, but especially when it frustrated their own hopes and ambitions.
They wanted, in the parlance of the day, “fair play” and a “square deal.” They wanted to be respected as a human being, and not treated like a “dog.”
Woody: The US military drew from a wide swath of the population during WWII. How do you think that affected troops’ perception of the war, of military and civilian leadership, and of what the troops themselves wanted out of their service?
Gitre: The WWII US Army is known as a “citizen soldier” army (as opposed to a professional or “standing” army). It was also at the time described as a “peacetime army.” Compulsory service was passed by Congress in September 1940, roughly 15 months prior to Pearl Harbor. Military conscription was from its inception a civil process.
Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack.
(U.S. Navy photo)
That year-plus gap had a deep and lasting impact on how the War Department approached the rapid expansion of US forces. Just the same, it also shaped the expectations of Americans who were called to serve—as well as of their family members and loved ones, and the wider public.
The success of the Selective Service System would depend on the state in which the Army returned soldiers back to civil life. They would need to feel that they had gained something from the military, in the form of skill training or more education.
“In a larger sense [compulsory military training] provides an opportunity to popularize the Army with our people which is essential for an efficient fighting force,” the secretary of war said. “Maintenance of a high military morale is one of the most important contributing factors to good public morale,” he continued.
This view filtered down into the ranks. Sailors and soldiers expected to receive useful training and additional education. They also believed the military would put the skills, experiences, and practical know-how they already possessed as civilians to good use.
Woody: Was there anything in the troops’ responses that surprised you?
Gitre: What has surprised me most, I think, are the many remarks not about command and leadership but race.
We know that leaders of and activists in the black community pressed the War Department and Roosevelt administration to confront the nation’s “original sin” and strike down legal segregation. How otherwise could the US claim to be a champion of democracy while systematically denying the rights of a population that was liable, as free white citizens were, to compulsory service?
Black leaders embraced the V-shaped hand signal that was flashed so often to signify allied Victory, and they made it their own, calling for “Double V” or double victory: that is, victory abroad, and victory at home.
Participants in the Double V campaign, 1942.
(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
Surveys from black soldiers demonstrate in rather stark terms how pervasively this message took hold among the rank and file. African Americans were especially well attuned to and critical of the military’s caste culture and to its reinforcement of white supremacy.
It is especially jarring, then, to read commentaries from soldiers defending the continuation of white male supremacy. Not only did some of these respondents opine on the virtues of segregation and the inferiority of blacks. A whole host of them objected likewise to women in uniform.
But undoubtedly the most shocking responses are those that espouse naked anti-Semitism. These cut against the grain of our collective memory of the American GI as liberator of the German death and concentration camps. Statements of these sort are rare. Yet they exist.
Woody: What’s your biggest takeaway from these surveys about troops’ feelings about the war and their attitudes toward the military?
Gitre: When I first encountered these open-ended responses, I was almost immediately captivated by how similarly white and black soldiers wrote about equity in the military. These two populations sometimes used the same exact phrasing.
For so many black soldiers, military service presented itself as an opportunity to break the shackles of structural inequality. They pleaded for merit-based assignments, postings, and promotions. You can flip over to surveys written by white enlisted men and you can see them wrestling with the same involuntary constraints arising from their own submission. They vigorously protested being treated like a “dog,” or a “slave.”
The leveling effect of military service was profound — and not simply for the individual soldier, psychologically. The survey research Osborn’s team conducted on race, merit, and morale demonstrated that not only were black soldiers just as effective in combat, but that the proximity of black and white troops in combat situations improved race relations, instead of destroying morale, as had long been feared. This research fed the 1947 Executive Order 9981 desegregating the US armed forces.
That brings us back to that 1940 peacetime decision to make military service compulsory as a civic duty. You can’t overestimate its significance. This isn’t a plea for compulsory military service. Yet as I continue to read these troop surveys, I am confronted daily by the prospect that we are losing the hard-won insights and lessons of a generation that is passing into its final twilight.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Battle of Okinawa, known as Operation Iceberg by the Allies, eventually consisted of 306,000 service members assaulting fierce defenses manned by 130,000 Japanese troops and an unknown number of local civilians, including children, drafted into the defenses.
The island was critical for the planned invasion of Japan, but the losses were enormous.
Here are 33 photos that give a look inside of one of America’s most costly battles of World War II:
1. For days before the invasion, Navy ships bombarded the island with naval artillery and rockets. This photo was taken five days before the amphibious assault.
2. A Navy Corsair fires a salvo of rockets during Operation Iceberg, the Allied effort to capture Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands.
3. The USS Idaho shells the island of Okinawa on April 1, 1945.
4. Marines land on the beachhead already secured on the island. These infantrymen will continue pressing the attack against approximately 130,000 defenders.
5. U.S. landing ships sit beached and burning on May 4 near the mouth of the Bishi River after a Japanese air attack.
6. Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle speaks with U.S. Marines a short time before his death on the island.
7. A long exposure photograph shows the crisscrossing lines of Marine anti-aircraft fire over the U.S. airfield established on Okinawa.
8. A May 11, 1945, morning artillery barrage kicks off an all-out offensive.
9. Japanese rockets rain down on and near U.S. positions during heavy fighting on Okinawa.
10. The infamous battleship Yamato, sent to Okinawa to attempt to beach itself and act as a shore battery until destroyed, is sank at sea on April 7 before it can reach the island.
11. Army Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., at right, surveys fighting just a few hours before Japanese artillery killed him.
12. A Sherman tank drives past a burning home. The structure was set on fire to prevent its use by snipers.
13. Marines attempt to extinguish the flames on an overturned Sherman tank. The ammo later exploded before the Army crew could be rescued.
14. Engineers construct a causeway from the island to the sea to allow supplies to be trucked from ships to shore.
15. American service members move supplies by horse in areas where the mud was impassable for vehicles.
16. Okinawan civilians hired to carry supplies line up to receive their loads.
17. A flamethrowing tank attacks Hill 60 during the Marine assault on the mound.
18. A Japanese plane goes down in flames over the ocean.
19. The HMS Formidable of the Royal Navy burns after a May 4 Kamikaze attack. Eight crew members were lost and 55 injured, but the Formidable survived the war.
20. Marine Corps infantrymen ride a tank to the town of Ghuta on April 1 to occupy it before Japanese defenders can.
21. A Marine sprints across the “Valley of Death,” a draw covered by Japanese machine guns that caused 125 casualties in eight hours.
22. Marines explode dynamite charges to destroy a Japanese cave on the island.
23. The USS Bunker Hill burns after two Kamikaze strikes in less than a minute. At least 346 sailors were killed and 43 went missing.
24. The Bunker Hill survived and returned to the U.S. for repairs. It served as a troop transport after the war before it was sent to the fleet reserve.
25. Wounded sailors are moved from the Bunker Hill to the USS Wilkes Barre.
26. Army soldiers move forward during the 82-day battle.
27. A private cuts a sergeant’s hair in the Japanese city of Shuri on the island. A medieval castle in the city survived the battle.
28. Marines rest on the side of a hill as Japanese fire prevents their further advance.
29. A tank crewmember is relocated after suffering injuries.
30. Wounded troops await transport to a ship hospital.
31. Marine Lt. Col. R.P. Ross, Jr. places an American flag on Shuri castle on May 29, 1945. Ross was under sniper fire at the time.
32. The American flag is raised over the island June 22 in a ceremony marking the end of organized Japanese resistance.
33. A U.S. servicemember visits an American cemetery. The U.S. suffered over 12,000 killed and 50,000 wounded during the battle. Japan suffered over 150,000 soldiers and civilians killed or committed suicide.
A great navy is key to any great military. It’s what allowed Brittania to rule the seas for decades, France to establish vast colonies around the world, and Japan to assert itself over European powers in Asia in the early 1900s. But navies are, obviously, made up of dozens or hundreds of individual ships, and not all of them are created equal.
So we’ve dug through the history to find out top 10 picks for ships that, either because of revolutionary designs or because their crews made a new technology work where all others had failed, changed naval combat overnight:
The 64-gun warship Vasa was built in the tradition of the Mars, the first great artillery-focused naval warship.
(Jorge Lascar, CC-BY 2.0)
The Swedish warship Mars was the test platform for a bold new strategy in the 1560s: Elevate naval artillery from from a weapon used to hurt enemy ships to one that can actually sink enemy ship. The Swedish king was obsessed with the concept, and commissioned the Mars with five decks, two of them dedicated to naval artillery carrying massive cannons.
The Nautilus set speed and range records. It even conducted an entire cruise where it surfaced only once, rising to the open air only to transit the Panama Canal. It also completed the first transit of the ship across the North Pole, conducting the crossing underwater on August 3, 1958. Now, the entire U.S. submarine fleet is nuclear-powered.
The first-nuclear powered carrier and first nuclear-powered surface vessel in history, the USS Enterprise set range and speed records thanks to its powerful fuel source and engines.
The USS Enterprise of World War II was the most decorated ship of the war, and the Navy brought the name back to commission its first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in 1960. That USS Enterprise would, like the USS Nautilus, set speed and range records. It also led the Navy’s first and only all-nuclear task force, sailing around the world with USS Long Beach and USS Bainbridge, a cruiser and frigate.
Russian torpedo boats Sinop and Chesma were pretty forgettable warships except for one exchange in January 1878, when they launched the first successful self-propelled torpedo attack in naval history. The torpedo they used had been invented in England in 1866, but no navy had successfully used it in combat yet.
Without getting too technical, there’s a difference between steam-piston engines and steam-turbine engines. Steam turbines are much more powerful, and the HMS Viper and HMS Cobra were British torpedo destroyers commissioned at the same time in order to take advantage of the additional speed turbines gave.
Both ships were capable of flying across the surface at almost 40 mph (about 34 knots for the actual sailors out there). They were over 10 percent faster than most other warships of the day, and they helped prove the steam turbine technology. Today, steam turbines powered by nuclear reactors propel the new Ford-Class carriers.
The Union referred to the CSS Virginia as the Merrimack, the name originally given to her by the Union, throughout the war.
USS Monitor and CSS Virginia
At the Battle of Hampton Roads, the clash of two American ships changed naval warfare overnight. The CSS Virginia, a Confederate ship captured from the Union, attacked the northern fleet at Hampton Roads on March 8, 1862, and the Union ironclad USS Monitor showed up the next day to protect the rest of the fleet.
The Napoleon was a 90-gun warship that was launched in 1850 and soon changed the way steam-powered ships operated. Prior to the Napoleon, steam was used to power paddle wheals on one side of a warship. Sails provided primary power, and the wheel helped the ship maneuver quickly during fights.
The Furious had all sorts of shortcomings as a carrier, most notably the short flight deck that made landings extremely hazardous. It underwent multiple redesigns and refits between World War I and II, eventually becoming a full flat-top carrier.
Any naval buffs out there saw this one coming. While there are plenty of game-changing ships on this list, as well as dozens more from history that we could have chosen, the Dreadnought was such a game-changing ship that the entire world sought to copy its design and methods of construction, leading to the “Dreadnought Era” followed soon after by the “Super Dreadnought Era.”
The violence of the final weeks of World War II on Europe’s Eastern Front was matched only by its chaos, as exhausted and outmanned German forces withered under attacks from well-equipped and highly motivated Soviet troops.
The front line became more fluid, with Soviet forces quickly enveloping Nazi units that then made shambolic retreats and launched desperate breakout attempts.
At times, Soviet forces arrived at vacated German positions so quickly that the Russians found opportunities to taunt their reeling enemies.
The Soviet race to Berlin began on April 15 from positions east of the city, and by the morning of April 21, 1945, staff officers at the German army and armed forces joint headquarters at Zossen, south of Berlin, were girding themselves for capture after Hitler denied a request for them to relocate away from the Soviet advance.
But Soviet tanks ran out of gas south of the headquarters, and the delay allowed Hitler’s staff to reconsider, ordering the headquarters to move to Potsdam, southwest of Berlin. The officers at Zossen got the order just in time.
“Late that afternoon, Soviet soldiers entered the concealed camp at Zossen with caution and amazement,” historian Antony Beevor writes in his 2002 book, “The Fall of Berlin 1945.”
Just four German defenders were left. Three surrendered immediately. The fourth was too drunk to do anything.
“It was not the mass of papers blowing about inside the low, zigzag-painted concrete buildings which surprised [the Soviets], but the resident caretaker’s guided tour,” according to Beevor. The tour, he writes, took the Soviet troops down among the two headquarters’ maze of bunkers, filled with generators, maps, and telephones.
“Its chief wonder was the telephone exchange, which had linked the two supreme headquarters with Wehrmacht units,” Beevor writes.
“A telephone suddenly rang. One of the Russian soldiers answered it. The caller was evidently a senior German officer asking what was happening,” Beevor writes. “‘Ivan is here,’ the soldier replied in Russian, and told him to go to hell.”
Soviets troops found other ways to taunt the Germans using their own phone lines.
A few days later, as Russian armies advanced to the outskirts of Berlin, the senior officers in the Fuhrer bunker, which didn’t have proper signaling equipment, were increasingly in the dark about troop movements. In order to supply Hitler with up-to-date information, they had to turn to Berlin’s residents.
(U.S. Signal Corps photo)
“They rang civilian apartments around the periphery of the city whose numbers they found in the Berlin directory,” Beevor writes.
“If the inhabitants answered, they asked if they had seen any sign of advancing troops. And if a Russian voice replied, usually with a string of exuberant swearwords, then the conclusion was self-evident.”
In the final days of April 1945, Berliners started calling their city the “Reich’s funeral pyre,” and Soviet troops were calling them to rub their looming victory in to their nearly vanquished enemy.
“Red Army soldiers decided to use the telephone network, but for amusement rather than information,” Beevor writes.
“While searching apartments, they would often stop to ring numbers in Berlin at random. Whenever a German voice answered, they would announce their presence in unmistakable Russian tones.”
The calls “surprised the Berliners immensely,” wrote a Soviet political officer.
Amid those taunts, the battle for Berlin and the fighting that preceded it left widespread destruction and death.
Soviet forces lost about 70,000 troops in the fight for the city. Many of their deaths were caused by the haste of the Soviet operation, which was driven by commanders’ desire to impress and please Stalin and by Stalin’s own desire to seize Nazi nuclear research.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.