In the early months of 1943, the USS Wahoo was on its third war patrol when the sub and its crew found themselves under the new leadership of Lt. Commander Dudley Morton after relieving Marvin Kennedy from his duty.
After serving in the Asiatic Fleet, the Kentucky native and Naval Academy graduate recognized that many of the submarine skippers weren’t as aggressive as he felt they needed for certain victory.
Highly motivated to prove his worth, Morton sailed his crew to New Guinea’s Wewak Harbor to attack a Japanese Destroyer. After firing five torpedoes at the enemy vessel and missing, the Japanese ship began to charge the Wahoo at full-speed.
Morton prepared his sailors and instructed them to remain calm. Once the enemy destroyer was within an 800-meter range, Morton once again ordered his crew to fire a torpedo, which resulted in a direct hit.
The Wahoo would sink four additional ships before heading back to home base, Pearl Harbor.
After a brief period back at Pearl Harbor to reload, the Wahoo set sail for the Sea of Japan and sank four other ships in the first week of October — bringing the tally up to 19.
It’s reported that on Oct. 11th, the Wahoo was hit by Japanese depth charges and aerial bombs, which damaged Morton’s submarine and caused her to sink near the near La Pérouse Strait — killing everyone on board.
Morton was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross for his work as USS Wahoo’s skipper.
On December 7, 1941, there were less than 1,000 women in the Army Nurse Corps. Eighty two of those women were stationed at Pearl Harbor. What was supposed to be an easy assignment turned into the surprise attack that arose a sleeping giant into World War II… and the role and number of women had just begun on that fateful day in December.
One woman who unexpectedly found herself on the front lines of war was a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. A week after the bombing, Betty McIntosh wrote her account of the attack of Pearl Harbor. But, because of its graphic nature, it went unpublished for 71 years. The article was directed at Hawaiian women and McIntosh solely wanted to share what she had seen on December 7. The days following the attack changed everything about their lives and she hoped her words would help them prepare for what lay ahead. But it wasn’t to be.
In her article, she talked of the fear that gripped her and diving for cover hoping to survive, and then being assigned to cover the emergency room of the hospital. She talked of death. The fear in the faces, and the blood. She said the doctors continued to work calmly in the chaos. She then called for the women of Hawaii to step up and help.
Alongside those doctors, she mentioned there were nurses aiding in the trauma of the makeshift emergency rooms. The stories of these women are sometimes forgotten. But they should be remembered as they were the catalyst that inspired women to serve.
1st Lt Annie Fox, a 47-year-old woman and 23 year veteran of the Army was the first woman to be awarded a Purple Heart (changed to a Bronze Star in 1944 as the requirement for sustaining injuries changed). Fox was the head nurse of the Station Hospital. In addition, she administered anesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment, assisted with dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressing and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency.
Four other women were also recognized for their performance during the attack. Captain Helena Clearwater, First Lieutenant Elizabeth A. Pesut, Second Lieutenant Elma L. Asson and Second Lieutenant Rosalie L Swenson. Each received the Legion of Merit “for extraordinary fidelity and essential service.”
Captain Helena Clearwater spoke of her Pearl Harbor experience in a newspaper clipping. In her recollection, she talked about being on duty when the first bomb dropped. She heard the noise but didn’t realize what was happening until she saw the planes flying low with the golden sun. She then knew they were under attack and soon enough the dead and injured started to arrive at the hospital. They worked through the night without relief. Hawaii immediately became “a total blackout from sunset to sundown.” And it was a good thing, because at 9:30 PM the Japanese planes flew over Honolulu again.
Ann Danyo Willgrube
Ann Danyo Willgrube joined the Navy Nurse Corps in 1940 and was so excited to have landed a dream assignment at Pearl Harbor, arriving in October of 1941. She was awoken at 7:55 am when she thought a boiler had exploded. She looked out her porthole in her room and saw smoke pouring out of the USS Arizona. The next minute the chief nurse burst into the room and told her to get dressed and report to the quarter deck for duty; they were under attack from Japan.
The nurses worked round the clock to care for the wounded patients, mostly burn victims. They were too busy to worry about the war going around them. The roar of the guns, the shaking ship, they had too much to do to stop and pay attention. She said, “We were so thankful the Japanese did not realize how they crippled us, because they could have taken over the island had they known the truth.”
2nd Lieutenant Harriet Moore stayed out late Saturday night dancing and was woken by her supervisor just after 7:55 am. He told her that the base was under attack. She thought he was kidding. But after quickly getting dressed and running outside, she could see the smoke from Pearl Harbor. A Japanese pilot flew by and waved. They were so thankful he wasn’t going to bomb the hospital. The first few patients she saw were all burn victims and quickly died after they arrived. She continued to work and do what she could to save as many lives as she could.
Her friend and roommate, Marguerite Oberson was engaged to a pilot. Sometime during the day, she was informed his plane had been shot down and he was killed. Moore recalled her friend being clearly shaken by the news, but continued to work to help the patients as they continued to arrive.
These are a few of the stories of the women of Pearl Harbor. Their courage and commitment changed how women were viewed and their role in war. Before Pearl Harbor, there was great pushback for women to serve in the military. But four days after the attack, the Bureau of Budget stopped objecting to the expansion of the female military division and began plans to create a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps picked up speed. In the end, over 350,00 women served in uniform in World War II.
Going to any bartender that knows their craft and ordering a “torpedo juice,” means you’ll get a cocktail that’s two parts alcohol (any alcohol) and three parts pineapple juice. It’s not a bad drink, but it’s not exactly refined.
Neither were the World War II sailors who created the concoction. These guys had to do something to mask the harsh kick of the liquor by any means necessary. It just so happened that juice was the most readily available.
In Mike Ostlund’s 2011 book, “Find ‘Em, Chase ‘Em, Sink ‘Em: The Mysterious Loss of the WWII Submarine USS Gudgeon,” he details how sailors were able to drink the grain alcohol carried by submarines, even after the Navy tainted the supply.
Even during the best days of World War II, a good stiff drink was hard to find. For U.S. Navy submarine crews, it was next to impossible – to find one. So they would make their own, using the fuel that fed the submarine’s deadly torpedoes.
One might think Americans would be used to either having to distill their own booze or to go completely without. The United States had only emerged from Prohibition less than a decade before the start of the Second World War. But no, Americans enjoyed their drinks and sailors were already known for their love of the hard stuff.
Since there were no bars, pubs or stills aboard the submarines – and there wasn’t room for anything of the sort anyhow – they made the best of their situation. They converted to fuel used to drive their torpedoes into 180-proof alcohol.
At first, the sailors could just pop open the fuel and start drinking, but it wasn’t always that way. Torpedo fuel was made from pure grain alcohol back then and the Navy brass knew it. They also knew that once the sailors aboard ship realized it, there would soon be a significant lack of fuel for torpedoes.
Soon, Ostlund writed, Navy leadership began to add croton oil to the fuel stores. Drinking the alcohol with the oil additive gave sailors extreme stomach pains and diarrhea. Unlike the wood alcohol used by the government to poison industrial ethyl alcohol during Prohibition, the croton oil wouldn’t kill or blind sailors. They were still needed to fight the war, after all. The pain and suffering would soon pass.
The Navy thought its fuel troubles were over and its fuel stores safe from thirsty sailors. They were wrong. There’s nothing more resourceful than a sailor in need of a drink on long haul sea voyages.
Aboard the USS Gudgeon, sailors figured out how to separate the croton oil from the alcohol. The fuel was stored in five gallon cans and poured into a 50 gallon vat for use in the torpedoes. The sailors smuggled the fuel in their original five gallon containers back to anywhere they could set up a still, usually a hotel in a port city.
They then simply distilled the oil from the alcohol, using the same method used to make grain alcohol in the first place. The stuff was then mixed with any kind of juice the sailors could find.
Operating a still in a random hotel wasn’t entirely without risk. The makeshift still setups can – and did – explode, setting fire to the hotel, buildings, and whatever happened to be nearby. A small price to pay for a bit of relaxation away from one of the world’s deadliest jobs.
The first World War was a horrific time to be a soldier on the frontlines. Nations were in a rush to quickly develop and implement the newest and most effective tools of destruction. Before the war, troops had no idea of the true devastation that a tank, fighter pilot, or the various gas canisters could bring. And then there were evil darts.
Flechette darts that — thankfully — never really took off. To be frank, they sound a little silly. They’re just oversized versions of the darts that troops would toss around at their local pub — what’s the big deal? In reality, they were more like something out of a freakin’ horror movie.
First, let’s talk about the physics behind these darts from Hell. They were roughly five inches long, weighed just over a pound, and were made of sharpened steel. When they were dropped from hundreds of feet above the ground, they’d strike the ground with enough force to pierce helmets and even vehicles.
If you filed grooves into the top or added a bird’s feather to the dull end, the dart would always land pointy-side down. Now consider the fact that a single pilot could release a canister filled with around 250 of these darts at a time and you can understand the sheer terror that these things wrought.
The Italians invented the darts before the war, but soon, countries on both sides of No Man’s Land were dropping them on opposing trenches. They were also extremely cheap to make and implement, which means they were used constantly — although the Royal Flying Corps felt they were “unsportsmanlike.” The Germans, on the other hand, were very keen on using the darts on the French. In fact, they had them specially imprinted with the text, “invention Française, fabrication Allemande.” Which roughly translates to, “a French invention, German made.”
The flechette darts didn’t last past the early years of the war when bombs were deemed more effective. But the design of sharp darts being used for war later resurfaced with the flechette rounds used in shotguns and the infamous Beehive artillery round used in the Vietnam War.
To learn more about the flechette darts, check out the video below.
During World War II, a troop transport ship made from a converted luxury coastal liner was hit by a German torpedo on its starboard side in 1943, dooming the ship and many of the men aboard. Amid the chaos, four chaplains representing three Christian sects and the Jewish faith moved between the wounded and scared, comforting them, distributing survival gear, and ultimately sacrificing themselves.
The passengers were under orders to sleep clothed and in life jackets in case of an attack, but while the upper decks and outer air were cold, large sections of the ship were hot from the engines that propelled the ship. Those housed on the lower decks typically slept in their underwear or just a shirt or pants. Across the ship, life jackets were unpopular off duty because they were uncomfortable.
But on February 3, 1943, 150 miles from Greenland, a German U-boat spotted the convoy which consisted of the Dorchester and two other transport ships as well as three Coast Guard cutter escorts. U-223 was on the hunt for Allied shipping, and troop transports were choice targets. The German vessel fired a spread of three torpedoes.
Two missed, but the third shoved through the hull and exploded in the boiler room.
The ship lurched, knocking men from their beds. The electrical systems failed instantly, and the ship began filling with water. Throughout the ship’s dark passageways, disoriented men stumbled from racks and the ground, struggling to dress and get to the open deck in time.
Some men forgot to get dressed until they emerged into the frigid, open air.
Two of the men had struggled to join the military. Goode was rejected by the Navy before joining the Army, and Washington had to cheat on his eye exam because a BB gun accident had robbed him of most of his sight in one eye.
Lt. George Fox, a Methodist; Lt. Alexander Goode, a Jewish Rabbi; Lt. John Washington, a Roman Catholic Priest; and Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister, on the deck of the USAT Dorchester as it sinks.
On the deck of the Dorchester, the men ministered to the scared and wounded. They helped organize the men up top, and Goode, the rabbi, gave his own gloves to Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, a sailor who had forgotten his belowdecks. Mahoney would later say that he believes Goode already knew he would stay on the ship.
The extensive damage to the hull and the boiler room ensured that the ship would sink quickly, so the men were rushing survivors off the ship as quickly as possible. The life jackets ran low, and all four chaplains gave their vests up to save others.
Back in the open, the chaplains ministered to the men as the ship sank into the waves only 20 minutes after the torpedo hit. Two Coast Guard cutters were scooping men out of the water and into lifeboats, but it wasn’t fast enough. The last survivors to escape the ship said that their last view of the chaplains was of them on deck, standing arm-in-arm, singing hymns and reciting religious passages to comfort both survivors and those who would drown with them.
1948 stamp commemorating the four religious leaders.
(U.S. Air Force)
Approximately 672 men died, and 230 from the Dorchester survived the attack and sinking. The American public and Congress pushed for the men to receive Medals of Honor, but the medal requires that the heroic actions take place under enemy fire.
The chaplains were posthumously awarded Distinguished Service Crosses instead, and Congress later created a new, one-time medal named the Four Chaplain’s Medal that was awarded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his final days in office in January 1961, almost 18 years after the sinking of the Dorchester.
By the 1970’s, the Rhodesian Security Forces were facing a growing and determined insurgency in the civil war known as the “Rhodesian Bush War.” Faced with increased threats, manpower and equipment shortages, and a large territory to cover, they needed a new tactic to deal effectively with rebel groups. This led the Rhodesian Light Infantry to the development of the fireforce, a vertical envelopment technique involving light infantry, helicopters, and paratroopers in a rapidly deployable posture.
A fireforce was equipped with four helicopters, one C-47 Dakota transport aircraft, and a light attack aircraft. The helicopters were of two types; the K-Car and the G-Car. The K-Car was so called because it was the ‘killer’ with its 20mm cannon and functioned as the command and control aircraft. The G-Cars served as gunships with machine guns and as transports for heliborne troops, though they were only capable of carrying four combat loaded troops at a time. The unit was also supported by vehicles, called the ‘Landtail’ that supported the deployment of the airborne component. Weapons were standard for Africa at the time – FN FALs and FN MAG machine guns.
A unit set to a fireforce mission was distinctly organized from standard infantry units. Instead of fire teams, squads, and platoons, the Fire Force was composed of ‘waves’ that were broken down into stops, also known as sticks, each consisting of four men, due to the space constraints on the G-Cars. Each stop had a stick leader, machine gunner, and two riflemen, one of which was also trained as a medic. The fireforce airborne component was composed of eight stops. Stops one through three were assigned to the G-Cars while stops four through eight were assigned as paratroopers. These forces, along with the light attack aircraft, constituted the first wave. The remaining men assigned to the fireforce were in vehicles as the ‘Landtail,’ or second wave.
There were three main fireforce units located at three bases throughout the country, ready to respond to a contact or sighting of enemy forces by the Selous Scouts. That’s when the excitement began. Once contact was reported, a siren would sound alerting the fireforce. The first three stops would board helicopters while the rest would quickly don parachutes with the help of off-duty team members. The airborne component would rush to the objective where the fireforce commander would determine a drop zone and position the heliborne stops to encircle the rebels. Once on the ground, the stops would attempt to stop the enemy. They would act as blocking positions for the sweep element, usually paratroopers, creating the classic hammer and anvil movement. Combined with circling gunships and close-air support, this method proved deadly effective, resulting in a kill ratio of better than 80:1.
The fireforce became the primary tactic of the Rhodesian security forces. By 1977, all infantrymen would be trained as paratroopers. While on a ‘bush trip’ – usually lasting about six weeks – the men on a fireforce would rotate between heliborne insertion, paratrooper, landtail, and off-duty. After a bush trip, the men were given ten days rest before returning to the field. This allowed for a very high ops tempo. As the fireforce was perfected and the insurgency gained strength, this meant that Rhodesian soldiers were called on more and more to conduct missions. In his book Fireforce: One Man’s War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry Chris Cocks tells of men making three combat jumps in a single day. This led to a truly staggering number of jumps for many members of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, unmatched by any other unit in the world.
The fireforce was not enough to keep the Rhodesians from losing the war and the method was never adopted by other militaries. The French had used paratroopers extensively in Indochina while the Americans preferred to use only helicopters. With Rhodesia turning over to majority African control and becoming Zimbabwe, the Rhodesian Light Infantry and fireforces were disbanded. Though it would go down in history as one of the most effective counter-insurgency forces ever conceived.
Shortly after the end of World War II, the scientists who developed the atomic bombs dropped on Japan tried to envision the kind of nuclear event that could lead to the destruction of not just cities, but the entire world.
A declassified document shared by nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein gives the verdict that scientists at the Los Alamos laboratory and test site reached in 1945. They found that “it would require only in the neighborhood of 10 to 100 Supers of this type” to put the human race in peril.
In 1945, the Los Alamos scientists concluded it would only take between 10 and 100 “Super” bombs to end the world. pic.twitter.com/01I8ypmIP0
They reached this conclusion at a very early point in the development of nuclear weapons, before highly destructive multi-stage or thermonuclear devices had been built. But the scientists had an idea of the technology’s grim potential. “The ‘Super’ they had in mind was what we would now call a hydrogen bomb,” Wellerstein wrote in an email to Business Insider.
At the time, the scientists speculated they could make a bomb with as much deuterium — a nuclear variant of hydrogen — as they liked to give the weapon an explosive yield between 10 and 100 megatons (or millions of tons’ worth of TNT).
For perspective, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a yield of around 15 kilotons, or 0.015 megatons. These theorized bombs were several orders of magnitude more powerful than those that wrought destruction on Japan earlier that year.
The apocalypse brought on by these 10-100 super bombs wouldn’t be all fire and brimstone. The scientists posited that “the most world-wide destruction could come from radioactive poisons” unleashed on the Earth’s atmosphere by the bombs’ weaponized uranium. Radiation exposure leads to skyrocketing rates of cancer, birth defects, and genetic anomalies.
The Los Alamos scientists understood the threat that airborne radiation would pose in the event of nuclear war. “Atmospheric poisoning is basically making it so that the background level of radioactivity would be greatly increased, to the point that it would interfere with human life (e.g. cancers and birth defects) and reproduction (e.g. genetic anomalies),” says Wellerstein. “So they are imagining a scenario in which radioactive byproducts have gotten into the atmosphere and are spreading everywhere.”
Wellerstein says that this fear of widespread nuclear fallout was hardly irrational and that concerns over the atmospheric effects of nuclear detonations were “one of the reasons that we stopped testing nuclear weapons aboveground in 1963, as part of the Limited Test Ban Treaty.”
Taking both of the estimated scales to the extreme — 100 superbombs yielding 100 megatons of fission each — would result in a total yield of 10,000 megatons. As Wellerstein notes, that’s the same amount of fission that Project SUNSHINE determined was enough to “raise the background radioactivity to highly dangerous levels” in a 1953 study.
That degree of nuclear power — though not necessarily accompanied by the radioactive component critical to meeting the fears documented here — rested in the hands of both the U.S. and Russia during the Cold War.
A deactivated Soviet-era SS-4 medium range nuclear capable ballistic missile displayed at La Cabana fortress in Havana, on Oct. 13, 2012. (Photo: Desmond Boylan/Reuters)
In recent decades the total yield of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons has fallen, such that “the threat of over-irradiating the planet is probably not a real one, even with a full nuclear exchange,” Wellerstein wrote. “A bigger concern is the amount of carbon that would be thrown up in even a limited nuclear exchange (say, between India and Pakistan), which could have detrimental global effects on the climate.”
Back in 1945 the Pentagon had speculated that it would take a few hundred atomic bombs to subdue Russia.
That thought experiment had a strategic bent. But the 1945 estimate seems to have advised caution in the new, uncertain nuclear age.
The scientific push to learn more about the destructive weapons that were so hastily researched and used in the 1940s resulted in important insights as to the consequence of their use. Nuclear weapons aren’t just horrific on the intended, local scale. They can carry consequences on the planet’s ability to foster human life, whether that’s by contributing to the greenhouse effect or irradiating it beyond habitability.
Arthur Tien Chin was born in Portland, Oregon in 1913. He would die there in 1997, but not before being recognized for the incredible life he led.
The man would spend much of his life as an everyday postal worker started his adult life as a skilled fighter pilot and the first American ace of what would become known as World War II – he would even be recognized for his contributions.
Chin was born to Cantonese parents who immigrated to Oregon from Taishan, in China’s Guangdong Province. When the Japanese Empire invaded Manchuria in 1931, Chinese-Americans were shocked and outraged. From the safety of their new country, they decided something had to be done.
Chin began flight school with a class of around a dozen other Americans of Chinese descent, paid for by the Chinese expatriate community in Oregon. The only stipulation was that the students return to their homeland to fly against Japanese aggression.
He returned to Guangdong and joined the provincial air forces, as much of China was ruled by warlords at the time and many provinces had their own armies. He soon defected to the Kuomintang central government’s air force and was selected for advanced fighter training, from the Nazi German Luftwaffe.
Before the Axis Pact split the world into Axis and Allies with Germany and China on opposite sides, China was a major buyer of German weapons, especially aircraft. Upon his return to China, he was training other pilots in the use of the planes China actually had, outdated as they may be.
Chinese pilots were still fighting with fabric-covered Curtiss biplanes with open cockpits and rifle-sized machine guns in 1937. That’s the year Japan began a full-scale war with China. Chin and his fellow Americans went to work, despite the technological disadvantage of fighting against modern bombers and fighters.
His first kill came that year when he took down a Japanese Mitsubishi G3M2 twin-engine bomber, on his first day at an airfield near Nanjing. But the plane he was flying took heavy damage and he was forced to the ground. His second kill against the same bomber came the very next month, September 1937.
By February 1938, Chin and company were flying British Gloster Gladiator fighters, which were still biplanes but not cloth covered. Chinese fighter pilots were able to down significant Japanese Imperial planes at first, but when the Zero, the Mitsubishi A6M, was introduced to the skies over China, the Gladiator’s days were numbered. Despite the Gladiator’s shortcomings, Chin would score 6.5 kills in its cockpit.
Chin himself would be shot down by intercepting Zeros while flying an escort mission in Guangxi. Outnumbered and outgunned, he rammed his biplane into one of the Japanese fighters, taking it down. He flew his failing plane back to friendly territory and landed in a rice paddy. His face now badly burned from the incident, he waited until friendly troops came by to return to base.
He and his family were bombed shortly after, as Chin recovered from injuries sustained during his shootdown incident. When his Liuzhou home was bombed by the Japanese, his wife was killed as she covered his body to protect him from shrapnel and debris. He was moved to Hong Kong to recuperate.
But no rest came. It wasn’t long before Japan came for Hong Kong too. He was evacuated and moved to New York City for skin grafts. He left the Chinese military after he recovered in 1945. After a stint promoting the purchase of war bonds, he was sent back to China, this time as a civilian aviator. His mission to fly supplies over “the hump” – an air route over the Himalayas from India into China.
At the time, it was one of the most dangerous air routes in the whole war. But when the war ended in 1945, he returned to the US. Since he couldn’t find work as a pilot back in his home state of Oregon, so he became a postal officer.
In 1995, the United States recognized Chin as a veteran of World War II, awarding him the Distinguished Service Cross and the Air Medal for his service. A month after his 1997, he was inducted into the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame of the Commemorative Air Force Airpower Museum for his 8.5 kills, making him America’s first fighter ace of World War II.
In the closing months of World War II, the defeated Nazi Army scrambled to hide the hundreds of tons of gold they had despicably stripped from various nations during their occupation. As they hurriedly stashed their ill-gotten gains, they were unaware that the Allies were drawing near.
Operation Safe Haven was well under way. Allies were on the hunt to locate the enormous amount of looted wealth the Germans viciously seized and stored and put it into the hands of humanitarian groups who would, hopefully, send the wealth to its rightful owners. U.S. troops were trained to search for assets in the form of paper money, coins, and gold bullion.
On April, 6, 1945, MPs from the 3rd Army’s 90th Infantry Division were on a foot patrol in the town of Merkers, Germany when they discovered a useful clue. They spotted two women walking down the street and soon found out that the ladies were French DPs, or “displaced persons.”
These DPs were taken from their French home and transported to Germany to do forced labor. They informed the MPs about a salt mine that hid a surplus of gold — and that the Germans would frequently bring in truckloads of precious metals. The MPs quickly relayed this information to higher command.
Soon after, Generals Eisenhower and Patton traveled to the mine and discovered years’ worth of stolen Nazi gold.
U.S. troops found roughly 7,000 sacks of gold bullion neatly piled in the underground area, measuring approximately 75-feet deep and 150-feet wide.
Additionally, the mine contained 98 million French Francs. However, that enormous sum of cash wasn’t the most shocking thing found down there. Allied troops found luggage containing gold fillings extracted from those forced into the concentration camps.
It’s believed that the gold fillings were to be used in the dental care of several SS officers.
As the towers fell and the nation reeled on Sept. 11, 2001, a team of New York Air National Guardsmen at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NADS) in rural Rome, New York were tasked with searching for missing plans and scrambling fighters in response to the attacks.
Since renamed the Eastern Air Defense Sector, Air Guardsmen there were at the center of the military’s air response on that day. On duty for a NORAD training exercise, Vigilant Guardian, they now have a unique view on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, thanks to their roles in the response.
New York Air National Guard Maj. Jeremy Powell was a 31-year-old tech sergeant taking part in Exercise Vigilant Guardian when 9/11 occurred. He was the first military person to learn about the hijackings after taking the initial call from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Boston center. Master Sgt. Stacia Rountree was a 23-year-old senior airman working as an identification technician. Vigilant Guardian was her first major NORAD exercise.
Like every other American, Powell and Rountree remember that day vividly. Here are eight things they recall about the day that you might not know.
After Sept. 11, 2001, this is what the NEADS operation floor looked like. Above the Q-93 (the large green radar scope) is the NORAD contingency suite that was installed immediately after 9/11 to provide radar data of the entire country.
(Master Sgt. Stacia Rountree, Eastern Air Defense Sector)
It was not a drill
It took some time for NEADS to realize 9/11 was a real-world scenario and not part of the exercise. Once they did, there was even more confusion trying to find the missing planes, which always seemed to be a step ahead of them.
“We were treating all the information we got as real-time, not understanding that it was coming to us late,” said Rountree, who basically became a liaison between the FAA and the military for the rest of that day.
“We were trying to figure out departure destination, how many people were on board, how big the aircraft actually was, and factoring all of that stuff in. That way the [F-15 and F-16] fighters, when they got airborne, would know that they had the right plane in sight,” she said.
“I stayed on the phone for 12-14 hours, just calling all the bases and asking how quick the fighters could get armed, get airborne, and if they could go to a certain location,” Powell said.
There was little time between FAA call and the first crash
Just 10 minutes elapsed between the time Powell took the first call to NEADS about the hijackings to when the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, hit the North Tower — not enough time to get fighters into the air.
According to the 9/11 Commission’s report, the call from the FAA’s Boston center came into NEADS at 8:37 a.m.
“8:46 is when I scrambled the first fighters [from Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts], and then 8:53 they were airborne,” Powell said.
But it was too late to help American 11, which hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower at 8:47 a.m.
There were several more reports of hijackings over the day
By the time the day was over, Rountree said there were probably 19 or 20 planes that she and the other ID techs had investigating as possible hijackings. Only the initial four — American 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77 and United Airlines Flight 93 — were the real deal.
At one point, there were reports that American 11 was still airborne. Air traffic controllers likely confused it with American 77, which was somewhere over Washington, D.C. air-space.
Rountree said she tried to contact the FAA’s Washington Center to get a position on it, while Langley Air Force Base fighters were trying to get to the capital.
New York Air National Guard Maj. Jeremy Powell, a tech sergeant on 9/11, was asked to play himself in the Paul Greengrass film “United 93” about the passengers who kept the fourth hijacked plane from reaching its destination in Washington, D.C. Powell, pictured here in a screen grab from the film, said he believed the movie was as spot-on as you could get, as far as what happened at NEADS was concerned.
“It was probably only a couple of minutes, but to me, it seemed like a lifetime. Then we got the reports that the plane hit the Pentagon,” Rountree remembered. “I was actively trying to find that plane, and I felt that we may have had some time. We didn’t.”
Fighter pilots were ready to make the ultimate sacrifice
The fighters were meant only to shadow potentially hijacked planes, but Rountree said there was discussion of those pilots making the ultimate sacrifice.
“In case their weapons were out, and if we would have had to use force, they were discussing whether or not those guys would have to go kamikaze,” she said, meaning some pilots were considering risking their own lives by using their planes to stop hijacked jetliners. “It was scary, when you thought about the possibility of them having to do that.”
There was a moment of hope for Flight 93
While all of the crashes were shocking, Rountree said that, for her, United 93 was the saddest. They had been trying to find the plane on radar and had called the FAA to get an updated position.
“They said, ‘It’s down,’ and we were thinking it landed,” Rountree remembered. But when they asked for landing confirmation, the info was clarified — it crashed. “For us, you had that glimmer of hope, and then… .”
NEADS was evacuated September 12
The day after 9/11, NEADS was evacuated because there was an unknown plane up at the time, and no one was supposed to be airborne.
“There were fighters coming back from air patrol over NYC … so our commander had them go supersonic over to where we were so they could figure out what it was. They thought it was heading toward us,” Rountree said.
It turned out to be a harmless floatplane, and it was forced to land.
9/11 changed the role of the air defense sectors
“Back then, the primary focus was that we were looking out at people coming to attack us from the outside,” Powell said. “We weren’t really focused on the inside.”
“Nobody thought that somebody would go ahead and utilize planes that were in the U.S. to do something, so our radar coverage was indicative of that,” Rountree explained. “Now, our coverage has definitely increased. It’s night and day versus then.”
The sector now has new and evolving technology.
“Our computer systems are bigger and better. … You should see all of the radars that are now hooked up. Everything the FAA sees, we see. We are much more actively involved in the identification of all aircraft in the United States,” Powell said.
Before 9/11, Rountree said they couldn’t always get in touch with critical personnel at the FAA centers. Now they can.
“We really didn’t have to talk to the various Air Traffic Control Center supervisors. Now, we have instant lines with everybody,” she said.
The military has been monitoring the skies over the U.S. ever since.
“A lot of people didn’t even realize that we were probably there, or what we even do, which could be a good thing,” Powell said. “It reinforces the idea that somebody’s always watching you, especially in the sky. The FAA’s there — that is their airspace — but the military is, too.”
Seventy years ago, with Adolf Hitler’s crumbled Third Reich still fresh in their memories and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union having a choke hold on their future, Berlin’s children were starving.
With the Nazi surrender in 1945, the Allies divided the defeated Germany. The French, British, and Americans took the western half of the nation spreading the ideals of democracy, while the Communist Russians occupied the eastern half of Germany. Berlin itself was divided into sectors between the allies, but was completely surrounded by the Soviet-controlled sector of Germany.
More than three years after World War II ended, Russian forces blockaded the Allied-controlled areas of Berlin on June 24, 1948, shutting off access to food, coal, and medicine to two million German citizens.
Berlin became the first front line of The Cold War and the nine-month old U.S. Air Force was charged with keeping Berliners alive while keeping the Cold War from turning hot.
The Berlin Airlift began two days later, with U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrains and C-54 Skymasters delivering milk, flour, and medicine to West Berlin. Throughout the duration of the blockade, U.S. and British aircraft delivered more than 2.3 million tons of supplies. At the height of the Berlin Airlift, aircraft were landing every three minutes, supplying up to 13,000 tons of food, coal and medicine a day, according to the Air Force Historical Support Division.
German children who live near the Tempelhof Air Base use model American planes which were sold in toy shops throughout the western sector of Berlin to play a game called “Luftbrucke” (air bridge) while pretending they are American pilots delivering food and supplies for “Operation Vittles” during the Berlin Airlift in West Berlin.
(National Archive photo)
Then-1st Lt. Gail Halvorsen, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1974, was one of the American pilots flying around-the-clock missions from Rhein-Main Air Base in West Germany to Tempelhof Air Field in Berlin. He flew 126 missions delivering supplies and food from July 1948 to February 1949.
“We learned very clearly that the new enemy was Stalin. He was taking over where Hitler left off. We knew exactly what Stalin had in mind,” Halvorsen said.
However, some Airmen had mixed emotions about aiding the former enemy that had been shooting at American pilots just three years before. Halvorsen admitting that he had issues at first with the mission, but it quickly changed when he talked with a fellow crewmember.
“He told me that it is a hell of a lot better to feed them (rather) than kill them and that he was glad to be back. That is service before self. That is what causes your enemy to become your friend,” Halvorsen said.
On one of his first missions, the American pilot learned in a conversation with German youth through the perimeter fence at Templehof, that West Berliners may have needed food, but they were even more hungry for hope and freedom.
Between missions, Halvorsen was filming aircraft landings with his Revere movie camera when he encountered about 30 German children between the ages of 8 and 14, he said in his autobiography, “The Berlin Candy Bomber.”
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(US Air Force photo)
He greeted them with practically all the German he knew, but surprisingly, one of the group spoke English. Halvorsen was soon answering questions about how many sacks of flour and loaves of bread the airplanes carried and what other types of cargo were being airlifted.
He talked with the children for an hour before he realized not one had asked him for anything. Instead, they gave him something he didn’t expect: the best lesson on freedom he’d ever heard.
“I got five steps away from them, and then it hit me,” said Halvorsen, commonly known as the Berlin Candy Bomber. “I’d been dead-stopped for an hour, and not one kid had put out their hand. Not one.”
The contrast was so stark because during World War II, and dating all the way back to George Washington, if you were in an American uniform walking down the street, kids would chase you and ask for chocolate and gum.
“The reason they didn’t was they were so grateful to our fliers to be free. They wouldn’t be a beggar for more than freedom,” said Halvorsen. “Hitler’s past and Stalin’s future was their nightmare. American-style freedom was their dream. They knew what freedom was about. They said, ‘Someday we’ll have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, we’ll never get it back.’ These were kids, and they were teaching me about freedom. That’s what just blew me away… That was the trigger. I reached into my pocket, but all I had were two sticks of gum. Right then, the smallest decision I made changed the rest of my life.”
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin sometime during 1948-49 after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(US Air Force photo)
When he reached into his pocket for the two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum, Halvorsen debated the wisdom of giving it to them. Perhaps they’d fight over it. Yet, he broke each in half and passed four halves through the barbed wire, then braced for the rush of children to the fence.
It never came.
The children who didn’t get any of the gum only asked for a piece of the wrapper so they could smell the aroma. Their reaction, along with the surprise the pilot felt when they didn’t beg for anything, led to his decision to do more for them.
The man the German children would later call “Onkel Wackelflugel” or Uncle Wiggly Wings, came up with an idea that would not only change the lives of those children, but would also help the West win the ideological war with the Soviets for Germany’s future.
Halvorsen told the kids he would drop something to them on his next landing at Templehof if they promised to share. He would signal them on approach that it was his plane by wiggling the wings, something he’d done for his parents after he received his pilot’s license in 1941.
Back at Rhein-Main Air Base, just 280 miles away, he combined his candy rations with those of his co-pilot and engineer, made parachutes out of handkerchiefs and string and tied them to chocolate and gum for the first “Operation Little Vittles” drop from his C-54 Skymaster July 18, 1948.
“The only way I could get back to deliver it was to drop it from the airplane, 100 feet over their heads, on the approach between the barbed wire fence and bombed-out buildings,” Halvorsen said. “A red light came on that said you can’t drop it without permission. But I rationalized it by saying that starving 2 million people isn’t according to Hoyle, either, so what’s a few candy bars?”
The amount of candy steadily increased, along with the number of waiting children, for three weeks until a Berlin newspaper published a photo of the now famous “Candy Bomber.”
Soon, stacks of letters began arriving at Templehof base operations addressed to “Der Schokoladen Flieger” (the Chocolate Flyer), or “Onkel Wackelflugel.”
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gail Halvorsen, known as “The Candy Bomber”, reads letters from grateful West Berlin children to whom he dropped candy bars on tiny parachutes during the Berlin Airlift.
(US Air Force photo)
One day, after he returned from Berlin, Halvorsen was summoned by Col. James R. Haun, the C-54 squadron commander. Haun had received a call from Brig. Gen. William H. Tunner, deputy commander of operations during the airlift, who wanted to know who was dropping parachutes over Berlin.
Halvorsen knew he was in trouble when Haun showed him the newspaper with the picture of little parachutes flying out of his C-54.
“You got me in a little trouble there, Halvorsen,” Haun told him.
“I’d had a long relationship with him, but he was put out because he was sandbagged,” Halvorsen said. “So when I talk to kids, especially high school kids, I say, ‘when you get a job, don’t sandbag your boss.’ He said to keep [dropping candy], but keep him informed. It just went crazy after that.”
Fellow pilots donated their candy rations. Eventually, they ran out of parachutes, so they made more from cloth and old shirt-sleeves until noncommissioned officers’ and officers’ wives at Rhein-Main AB began making them.
Later, the American Confectioners Association donated 18 tons of candy, mostly sent through a Chicopee, Massachusetts school where students attached it to parachutes before sending to Berlin through then-Westover Air Force Base.
By the end of the Berlin Airlift in September 1949, American pilots had dropped 250,000 parachutes and 23 tons of candy.
“Willie Williams took over after I left Berlin,” Halvorsen said. “And he ended up dropping even more candy than I did.”
Since the Berlin Airlift ended, Halvorsen has met countless Germans whose lives were changed because of “Operation Little Vittles.”
During the Berlin Airlift, then Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen dropped candy attached to parachutes made from handkerchiefs to German children watching the airlift operations from outside the fence of the Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin. One of those children was then seven-year-old Mercedes Simon whose father was killed during WWII. She and Halvorsen became pen pals and friends meeting many times later in life. The beginning of their friendship is recounted in the children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot” by Margot Theis Raven held by Halvorsen.
(US Air Force photo)
One of them, a 7-year-old girl named Mercedes, wrote in a letter in 1948 that she loved “Der Schokoladen Flieger,” but was concerned for her chickens, who thought the airlift planes were chicken hawks. Mercedes asked him to drop candy near the white chickens because she didn’t care if he scared them.
Halvorsen tried, but never could find Mercedes’ white chickens, so he wrote her a letter and sent her candy through the Berlin mail.
The two would finally meet face-to-face 24 years later when Halvorsen returned to Berlin as Templehof commander in the early 1970s.
Mercedes’ husband, Peter Wild, convinced the Templehof commander to come to his home for dinner. Mercedes showed him the letter he’d written her in 1948, along with the chickens she’d written about in her own letter.
It was a friendship immortalized in Margot Theis Raven’s children’s book, “Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot.”
Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.
(US Air Force photo)
Halvorsen has returned to Berlin nearly 40 times since the airlift. In 1974, he received one of Germany’s highest medals, the Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz, and carried the German team’s national placard into Rice-Eccles Stadium during the opening march for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Halvorsen participated in a re-enactment of “Operation Little Vittles” during the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Berlin Airlift and also dropped candy from a C-130 Hercules during Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Even at the age of 97, Halvorsen keeps a busy schedule as he and his wife, Lorraine, split their time between their homes in Arizona and Utah. Several times a year he would fly the C-54 “Spirit of Freedom,” with FAA certification to fly second-in-command.
He’s also visited many schools, both stateside and overseas, and visited Iraq to review Air Mobility Command transport operations and visit troops deployed in Southwest Asia.
Seventy years since the Berlin Airlift, the colonel remains universally beloved as the “Candy Bomber,” but enjoys one thing about his perpetual notoriety the most.
“The thing I enjoy the most about being the ‘Candy Bomber’ is seeing the children’s reaction even now to the idea of a chocolate bar coming out of the sky,” he said. “The most fun I have is doing air drops because even here in the states, there’s something magical about a parachute flying out of the sky with a candy bar on it.”
Halvorsen believes the praise he receives for bringing hope to a generation of Germans through his candy bombing deflects much of the credit to that first group of children at the barbed wire fence at Templehof.
Their gratitude and thankfulness for the pilots’ efforts to keep them free during the Berlin Airlift inspired him to reach into his pocket for those two sticks of gum.
That “smallest decision,” as Halvorsen calls it, led to 23 tons of candy dropped from the sky to the children of West Berlin and changed countless lives, not to mention the life of the Candy Bomber, himself.
Halvorsen’s dedication to helping those in need didn’t end after he retired with 31 years of service in the Air Force. In 1994, his request to assist in another humanitarian airlift was approved. He would fly with the Air Force again, this time delivering food to 70,000 refugees fleeing from the conflict in Bosnia.
“We have our freedom to choose, and when the freedom is taken away, air power is the only quick way to answer a crisis like that,” he recalled.
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster like the one he flew during WWII at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona.
(US Air Force photo)
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
Third baseman Brooks Robinson played for the Baltimore Orioles between 1955 and 1977. Robinson also served in the military. (Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)
Most baseball fans recognize the name Brooks Robinson. He played for the Baltimore Orioles from 1955 to 1977 and is widely considered to be the best defensive third baseman ever.
Robinson joined the Arkansas Army National Guard in March 1958. He was activated and assigned to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and later to the Army‘s 78th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas.
He served as an ordnance parts specialist. While on the rifle range for qualification with the M1 Garand rifle in November 1958, Robinson received a commendation for his performance as a squad leader for his unit. It stated, ”He has performed his duties in an excellent and commendable manner. It is recommended he be considered for more rapid promotion than his contemporaries.”
(Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)
Officials with the Arkansas National Guard at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock, Arkansas, said he was honorably discharged from Company A, 739 Ordnance Battalion, in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Jan. 2, 1962.
In 1966, Robinson, by then a civilian, visited troops in all four Corps Tactical Zones of South Vietnam. Traveling with him on the morale-boosting tour were Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, Joe Torre and Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves, Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins, and sportscaster Mel Allen.
During the tour, Killebrew was heard telling Robinson that the league champion Orioles played the best ball in the American League that year and that the Orioles deserved to win the pennant.
Robinson helped the Orioles advance to the postseason six times, with Baltimore winning four American League pennants (1966, 1969, 1970 and 1971) and two World Series (1966 and 1970) during his career. In 39 career postseason games, Robinson hit .303 with five homers and 22 runs batted in.
The Orioles retired his No. 5 jersey in 1977. He led all American League third basemen 11 times in fielding percentage and eight times in assists. His 2,870 games at third base rank No. 1 on the all-time list.
Frank Robinson, another baseball great, once said that Brooks was the best defensive player at any position. ”I used to stand in the outfield like a fan and watch him make play after play. I used to think, ‘Wow! I can’t believe this,”’ he said.
(Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)
Frank Robinson also played for the Orioles. His time with the team overlapped with that of Brooks Robinson from 1966 to 1971.
More About Brooks Robinson:
As a boy, Robinson operated the scoreboard at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock. The baseball sequence from the 1984 film ”A Soldier’s Story” was filmed there.
In 1955, Robinson played baseball in South America; he played in Cuba in 1957.
In 2012, a large bronze statue of him was unveiled at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
Captain Lawrence Dickson was just 24 when his red-tailed P-51 Mustang fighter was downed in 1944. He was an African-American fighter pilot, trained at the Army’s famed Tuskegee Army Airfield. Of the more than 1,000 black pilots trained at Tuskegee’s segregated flying school, Dickson was one of 27 to go missing in action over Nazi-occupied Europe. Presumed dead, his remains went missing for more than 70 years.
Dickson was leading an escort for a photo reconnaissance mission that day, taking off from an Allied airfield in Italy, bound for Prague. But Dickson’s plane began to have engine trouble. No sooner did the pilot radio his squadron about the issue did his wingman report Dickson clearing the canopy of his fighter to bail out, according to the Washington Post. He made the jump at 26,000 feet.
No wreckage or parachute evidence was ever found.
Before taking off for the last time on Dec. 23, 1944, Lawrence Dickson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Since it was his 68th mission, he was just two shy of getting to go back to the U.S. for leave from the war. Considering the war in Europe would end less than six months later, he very likely would have survived.
In August, 2017, a team of researchers in the Austrian Alps came across the wreckage of a P-51 Mustang and some human remains. They contacted the U.S. Army. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency analyst Joshua Frank found a crash site similar to Dickson’s listed in captured Nazi downed aircraft records. The DoD agency tested the DNA of the body found at the site against those of his now-75-year-old daughter, Marla Andrews.
Lawrence E. Dickson (second left), pictured in 1942 with other airmen at Tuskegee Army Army Air Field.
It was a match.
Sadly, Dickson’s wife Phyllis did not live to the see his remains repatriated to the United States. All she was ever told was that his body was nonrecoverable in 1949. But his daughter Marla still decorates her home with photos of her heroic father, his training certificates, and his medal citations.
She also keeps the letter from her father’s wingman, written 50 years after the war’s end.
“The act of writing to you so many years after … brings to me a sadness. And yet I hope it will bring you a moment of peaceful remembrance of a loving father whom you lost.”