Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel pulled himself out of poverty by joining a gang headed by immigrant Meyer Lansky. During the Prohibition Era, Lansky and Siegel ran a large bootlegging operation and were influential in Jewish and Italian immigrant crime syndicate communities. In the 1930s, after organized crime made the mobster fabulously wealthy, Siegel moved to sunny Southern California, where he would continue his illegal activities.
It was there he met Dorothy di Frasso, an Italian Countess, at one of the her extravagant Beverly Hills parties. They began to travel the world together. Eventually, they invested in a new explosive called “radium-atomite” and sail for Italy in 1941, hoping to sell it to Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini.
Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in-law and foreign minister, was skeptical of the invention after the demonstration of the weapons went poorly. Ciano took a pass. Unfortunately for the Italians that very next year, the scientist developing the explosive would refine his product into a form of jellied nitroglycerin, an explosive more powerful and cheaper to produce than TNT and easier to transport than liquid nitroglycerin. When that scientist patented the explosive, Di Frasso’s name was on the patent as the owner.
While Siegel and Di Frasso were in Rome, the Nazi Luftwaffe commander, Gestapo founder, and Reichstag President Hermann Göring was there as well — fresh from annexing Czechoslovakia and ready to discuss the invasion of Poland. Meanwhile, the Beverly Hills couple were meeting all sorts of notable figures, including the new Pope Pius XII, Italian King Victor Immanuel II and his son Umberto II, and Mussolini himself.
Siegel and di Frasso eventually ran into Reichsmarschall Göring. The mobster’s daughter, who was eight-years-old at this time, remembered that her father was so angered by one of the men he met in Italy that he “wished he had shot him.” The story goes that the villa the couple were supposed to stay in as guests of the Italian government was taken by Göring, so the couple would have to be moved to less lavish quarters. Siegel, a Jewish American, unhappy with the treatment of Jews in Nazi-occupied areas and with the government anti-Semitic ideology, told friends and associates he wanted to kill the German Reichsmarschall, after meeting Göring just one time.
Göring does have one of history’s most punchable faces . . .
It was rumored Siegel also wanted to take out infamous Nazis Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler, but those rumors are unsubstantiated. The mobster would outlive Göring. The Reichsmarschall would famously kill himself with cyanide before he could be hanged at Nuremburg after the war.
For his part, Siegel would be gunned down in his Beverly Hills home by a different mistress in 1947.
At a little after two o’clock in the morning on Monday, January 19, 1942, an earthquake-like rumble tossed fifteen-year-old Gibb Gray from his bed. Furniture shook, glass and knickknacks rattled, and books fell from shelves as a thundering roar vibrated through the walls of the houses in Gibb’s Outer Banks village of Avon. Surprised and concerned, Gibb’s father rushed to the windows on the house’s east side and looked toward the ocean.
“There’s a fire out there!” he shouted to his family.
Clearly visible on the horizon, a great orange fireball had erupted. A towering column of black smoke blotted out the stars and further darkened the night sky.
Only seven miles away, a German U-boat had just torpedoed the 337-foot-long U.S. freighter, City of Atlanta, sinking the ship and killing all but three of the 47 men aboard. The same U-boat attacked two more ships just hours later.
Less than six weeks after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the hostilities of the Second World War had arrived on America’s East Coast and North Carolina’s beaches. This was not the first time that German U-boats had come to United States waters. During World War I, three U-boats sank ten ships off the Tar Heel coast in what primarily was considered a demonstration of German naval power. But by 1942, U-boats had become bigger, faster, and more deadly. Their presence in American waters was not intended for “show” but to help win World War II for Germany.
The abbreviated name “U-boat” comes from the German wordunterseeboot, meaning submarine or undersea boat. However, U-boats were not true submarines. They were warships that spent most of their time on the surface. They could submerge only for limited periods — mostly to attack or evade detection by enemy ships, and to avoid bad weather.
U-boats could only travel about sixty miles underwater before having to surface for fresh air. They often attacked ships while on the surface using deck-mounted guns. Typically, about 50 men operated a U-boat. The boats carried fifteen torpedoes, or self-propelled “bombs,” which ranged up to twenty-two feet long and could travel thirty miles per hour. Experts have described German U-boats as among the most effective and seaworthy warships ever designed.
Within hours of the U-boat attack near Avon, debris and oil began washing up on the beaches. This scene seemed to be repeated constantly. For the next six months, along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, at least sixty-five different German U-boats attacked American and British merchant ships carrying vital supplies to the Allies in Europe — cargos of oil, gasoline, raw vegetables and citrus products, lumber and steel, aluminum for aircraft construction, rubber for tires, and cotton for clothing. By July of 1942, 397 ships had been sunk or damaged. More than 5,000 people had been killed.
The greatest concentration of U-boat attacks happened off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where dozens of ships passed daily. So many ships were attacked that, in time, the waters near Cape Hatteras earned a nickname: “Torpedo Junction.” U.S. military and government authorities didn’t want people to worry, so news reports of enemy U-boats near the coast were classified, or held back from the public for national security reasons. For many years, most people had no idea how bad things really were. But families living on the Outer Banks knew—they were practically in the war.
“We’d hear these explosions most any time of the day or night and it would shake the houses and sometimes crack the walls,” remembered Blanche Jolliff, of Ocracoke village. Even though ships were being torpedoed by enemy U-boats almost every day, just a few miles away, coastal residents had no choice but to live as normally as possible.
“We sort of got used to hearing it,” Gibb Gray said. “The explosions were mostly in the distance, so we weren’t too scared. I remember we were walking to school one day, and the whole ground shook. We looked toward the ocean, just beyond the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, and there was another huge cloud of smoke. That was the oil tanker, Dixie Arrow.”
Some Outer Bankers came closer to the war than they would have preferred. Teenager Charles Stowe, of Hatteras, and his father were headed out to sea aboard their fishing boat one day when they nearly rammed a U-boat, which was rising to the surface directly in front of them. The elder Stowe’s eyesight was not very good. He told his son, who was steering their boat, to keep on going—he thought the vessel ahead was just another fishing boat.
“I said, ‘Dad, that is a German submarine!’ And it sure was,” Stowe recalled. “He finally listened to me, and we turned around and got out of there just in time.”
The war cut back on one favorite summer pastime for Outer Banks young people. “That summer we had to almost give up swimming in the ocean — it was just full of oil, you’d get it all over you,” Mrs. Ormond Fuller recalled of the oil spilled by torpedoed tankers.
Gibb Gray remembered the oil, too: “We’d step in it before we knew it, and we’d be five or six inches deep. We’d have to scrub our feet and legs with rags soaked in kerosene. It’s hard to get off, that oil.” It is estimated that 150 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea and on the beaches along the Outer Banks during 1942.
Some local residents thought Germans might try to sneak ashore. Others suspected strangers of being spies for the enemy.
“We were frightened to death. We locked our doors at night for the first time ever,” said Ocracoke’s Blanche Styron. Calvin O’Neal remembered strangers with unusual accents who stayed at an Ocracoke hotel during the war: “The rumor was they were spies, and the hotel owner’s daughter and I decided to be counterspies, and we tried our best to follow them around, but we never caught them doing anything suspicious.”
At Buxton, Maude White was the village postmistress and a secret coast watcher for the U.S. Navy. She was responsible for observing unusual activities and reporting them to the local Coast Guard. In 1942 one couple with German accents attracted attention by drawing maps and taking notes about the island. White became suspicious, and so did her daughter, who would follow the pair from a distance — riding her beach pony.
After being reported by White, the strangers were apprehended when they crossed Oregon Inlet on the ferry. Records fail to indicate whether or not the strangers really were spies, but White’s daughter became the inspiration for the heroine in author Nell Wise Wechter’s book Taffy of Torpedo Junction.
Slowly but surely, increased patrols by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, and planes of the Army Air Corps, began to prevent the U-boat attacks. Blimps from a station at Elizabeth City searched for U-boats from high above, while private yachts and sailboats with two-way radios were sent out into the ocean to patrol and harass German warships. The military set up top-secret submarine listening and tracking facilities at places like Ocracoke to detect passing U-boats.
Many people who lived along the coast during World War II remember having to turn off their house lights at night and having to put black tape over their car headlights, so that lights on shore would not help the Germans find their way in the darkness. Even so, the government did not order a general blackout until August 1942. By then, most of the attacks had ended.
On April 14, 1942, the first German U-boat fought by the American navy in U.S. waters was sunk sixteen miles southeast of Nags Head. Within the next couple of months, three more U-boats were sunk along the North Carolina coast: one by a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber, one by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol ship, and one by a U.S. Navy destroyer. North Carolina’s total of four sunken U-boats represents the most of any state.
By that July, the commander of Germany’s U-boats became discouraged. He redirected his remaining warships to the northern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, Germany considered its attacks against the United States a success, even if they failed to win the war. Gerhard Weinberg, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has since called the war zone off the U.S. coast in 1942 “the greatest single defeat ever suffered by American naval power.”
As the years have passed, most of the physical evidence of World War II U-boat encounters off North Carolina’s coast has vanished. Submerged off the state’s beaches are the remains of at least 60 ships and countless unexploded torpedoes, depth charges, and contact mines. Even today, small patches of blackened sand offer reminders of the massive oil spills of 1942. On Ocracoke Island and at Cape Hatteras, cemeteries contain the graves of six British sailors who perished in North Carolina’s waters.
In spite of those stats, most Americans don’t know about the time when war came so close.
Kevin P. Duffus is an author and documentary filmmaker specializing in North Carolina maritime history. He has lectured for the North Carolina Humanities Council on topics that included World War II along the state’s coast.
On Sept. 1, 1939, the Nazi war machine rolled into Poland, touching off World War II in Europe. Nazi propaganda would have the world believe Polish cavalry were intentionally charging Nazi tanks, thinking they were no more than the toothless dummies the Treaty of Versailles allowed them. In the aftermath of these battles, the dead horses and cavalrymen appeared to back this claim and the world would believe the myth of the Polish cavalry for much of the war. But in reality, there was a Polish cavalry charge that was a tactical success.
(Laughs in Polish)
The Poles had very little chance of retaining their country during World War II. The Nazis invaded Poland at one of the heights of their military power. The Soviets invaded Poland from the other side. Poland stood little chance of fighting them both off – but that doesn’t mean the Poles didn’t try. The Polish had already fought off the Red Army in the 1919-1921 Polish-Russian War, but this time, things would be different.
Poland has a pretty spectacular military history, even if it wasn’t a country for much of that time. Napoleon recruited Polish troops, as did the Russian Tsar and the Hapsburg monarchy. It was probably Polish forces who kept Eastern Europe from falling to Muslim invaders in the 1600s, as Polish troops were critical to winning the Battle of Vienna. The final death blow to the Ottoman invaders was the now-famous cavalry charge led by the elite Polish Winged Hussars. The Hussars cleared the Ottomans from the battlefield and delivered a rout so hard, Muslim armies would never threaten Vienna or Western Europe again.
So yeah, the Poles are no joke – but time passed, and Poland fell behind in its military development while Nazi Germany famously re-armed in a way that would make any dictator’s mouth water. The Soviet Union had a large army, even if it wasn’t as well-trained or well-equipped. The Poles still fought both valiantly and nowhere was that more apparent than at Krojanty.
On the first day of the Nazi invasion, the Germans broke through the Polish Border Guard very early in the day, which forced the rest of the Polish defenders in the area to fall back to a secondary defensive position. In order to make an orderly retreat and not lose all of the defenders to German infantry, someone had to cover the retreat and force the Germans to slow their advance. That fell to the 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment, a cavalry regiment that saw action fighting the Red Army in the 1919 war with the USSR. They would make one of history’s last great cavalry charges.
No, they weren’t wearing wings but that would have been awesome.
The 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment found the Nazi German 76th Infantry Regiment, comprised of 800 armored reconnaissance vehicles along with 30 heavy guns, waiting to advance on the free city of Danzig. The 76th was actually part of the left wing of the XIX Panzer Corps under Gen. Heinz Guderian, which had been slowed across the line by Polish resistance. In order for the Poles in the area to get to the secondary defense of the River Brda, the 76th would have to take heavy losses, which would cause a delay for the entire motorized division on the Nazi left flank.
What would a cavalry unit do in a situation where the enemy is sitting around, waiting for orders? Charge, of course. The Poles took the enemy by surprise with a heavy cavalry charge of two squadrons, consisting of 250 angry Poles on horseback. They completely disbursed the German 76th. It was a complete tactical success, allowing for the rest of the defenders to make it to the relative safety of the River Brda. The Polish cavalry was quickly disbursed itself, however, by a German counterattack of heavy machine guns from nearby armored vehicles. They lost a third of their cavalry, but the rest of the defenders lived on to fight again.
After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 looking for nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, American troops found a lot of bizarre things – toilets and guns made of gold, a Koran written in blood and Saddam’s romance novel. While they didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction, they did manage to find some weapons. Specifically, they found aircraft buried in the sand next to a perfectly good airfield.
One day in 2003, American forces near al-Taqqadum Air Base in Iraq began pulling scores of Mig-25 Foxbat fighters and SU-25 Frog Foot fighter-bombers out of the sand. The aircraft were missing wings but, for the most part, remained fairly well-kept despite being in the sand for who-knows-how-long. If Saddam wasn’t giving inoperable planes a good burial, one wonders why he would intentionally put his planes in the ground.
The answer starts with the fact that the Iraqi Air Force sucked at defending Iraqi airspace.
In the Iran-Iraq War that lasted until the late 1980s, the Iraqi Air Force could reasonably hold its own against the superior U.S.- bought aircraft flown by the Islamic Republic of Iran at the time. But Iranian fighter pilots were very, very good and Iraqi pilots usually had to flee the skies before the onslaught of Iranian F-14 Tomcats. Against other Middle Eastern powers, however, Saddam Hussein’s air power could actually make a difference in the fighting – but that’s just against Middle Eastern countries. The United States was another matter.
Iraqi pilots were ready to go defend their homeland from the U.S.-led invasion, but the Iraqi dictator would have none of it. He knew what American technology could do to his aircraft, especially now that the U.S. was flying the F-22. They would get torn to shreds. He also remembered what his pilots did in the first Gulf War when sent to defend the homeland. They flew their fighters to the relative safety of Iran rather than face annihilation, and Iran never gave them back.
Saddam wanted his air force. So he decided to keep them all safe.
At al-Taqqadum and al-Asad air bases, the dictator ordered that his most advanced fighters be stripped and buried in the sand near the airfields. In retrospect, this was probably a good decision for the aircraft. Whatever was left unburied was quickly and forcibly dismantled by the U.S. Air Force on the ground during the invasion. In trying to fight off the Coalition of the Willing, Iraq’s air forces all but disappeared.
Saddam hoped that by saving the aircraft in the sand, he could prevent their destruction and when he was ready (because he assumed he would still be in power after all was said and done), he could unbury them and use their advanced status to terrify his enemies and neighbors.
The call rang out in the firehouse of Rescue Company 1 reporting a jumper at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Ed Loder, a 41-year-old firefighter with 20 years on the job, threw on his gear and pulled himself into the driver’s seat of their fire engine. The sirens wailed as they sped down the narrow city streets of Back Bay, an affluent neighborhood in Boston. Loder steered the rig in front of the hotel, jumped out, and was handed a set of binoculars from the hazmat truck.
Against the dark sky he located a distressed woman on the 16th floor, sitting with her feet dangling over the ledge of a windowsill. A negotiation team of the Boston Police Department pleaded with the woman from inside the hotel room, but she wasn’t complying. Loder soon joined the other firefighters on the roof.
“We could look over the edge of the roof and see her, but she couldn’t see us because she wasn’t looking up,” Loder told Coffee or Die Magazine in a recent interview. “She was looking in the room and talking to the cops.”
The woman had a razor in her hand. This rescue wasn’t going to be easy.
Boston firefighter Ed Loder talking to other firefighters on the ground while a building is ablaze. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
While other firefighters searched for a viable anchor point, Loder tugged ropes through the carabiner on his bumblebee suit. The nearby ductwork was unusable, but a window through an electrical structure on the roof was perfect. Loder tied in his line.
Their plan was to have the police distract the woman long enough for Loder to complete the rescue.
“They got her attention and the minute she looked inside of the room, I went off the roof,” Loder told Coffee or Die. “When I went off the parapet I naturally swung and kicked her in the side and she went into the room.”
The police officers immediately jumped on top of her and placed handcuffs around her wrists to prevent her from harming herself or anyone else. Loder, however, was left swinging outside and hollered for one of the officers to pull him in too.
A newspaper clipping about the incident at the Ritz-Carlton, showing Boston firefighter Ed Loder after he made a daring rescue of a suicidal woman. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
The Boston Globe would describe the heroic nighttime rescue that occurred on May 30, 1990, as “Mission Impossible.” Bill Brett, a Globe photographer, was a witness alongside 300 other spectators on the ground. “I never expected someone to come down and knock her in the window,” Brett said. “He drops down, and boom, she’s inside! Down where I was, everybody cheered; the crowd clapped and yelled; it was unbelievable, like a movie.”
For this action, the Board of Merit awarded Loder the Walter Scott Medal for Valor, the second highest in the fire service. But as he puts it, it was just another day on the job at Rescue Company 1.
The War Years
Ed Loder grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He had long admired the World War II veterans who took jobs with the fire department down the street from his home. In fact, he wanted to be them.
The Boston Fire Department is rich with tradition and history that date all the way back to 1631. America’s first publicly funded fire department saw numerous innovations over the next handful of centuries. The first leather fire hoses were imported from England in 1799; all fire engines were equipped with aerial ladders by 1876; and radios were installed in all fireboats, cars, and rescue companies by 1925.
A train collision that occurred in the Back Bay of Boston in 1990. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
In 1970, when 21-year-old Fire Fighter Edward Loder was appointed to Ladder Company 2 in East Boston, the Boston Fire Department was in the midst of the “War Years.” Between 1963 and 1983, there was at least one major fire every 13.6 hours. On average, a fire company reacted to as many as five to 10 fires in one tour of duty. Loder joined the fire service to be in on the action, and like the majority of other sparkies rising through the ranks, that’s exactly what he got.
Over the next decade, Loder responded to a variety of emergency situations as a part of Ladder Company 2, and later Ladder Company 15 in the Back Bay. He was there for a big oil farm fire in Orient Heights and a ship fire from Bethlehem Steel, but the most memorable for him was the 1800 Club, partly owned by former Red Sox player Ken Harrelson. The entertainment complex along the waterfront burned to the ground, with an estimated loss of id=”listicle-2648495230″ million.
Even some calls he didn’t participate in had an impact. After ending his shift on the morning of June 17, 1972, Loder and his wife went out in the afternoon, only to be stopped by a familiar face.
“We ran into this cop that I knew and he said to me, ‘What are you doing here?'” Loder remembered. “He had this look on his face that I’d never seen before.”
The seven-story Hotel Vendome had caught fire and collapsed on top of Ladder Company 15’s truck. Nine firefighters were inside the hotel, and tragically, all nine lost their lives.
Boston firefighter Ed Loder, kneeling second to left from Pickles, the “Dandy Drillers” Dalmatian. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
The following year he responded to the worst plane crash in Boston’s history. Delta Airlines Flight 723 hit a seawall while trying to land at Logan International Airport. All 89 passengers and crew were killed.
“I remember saying to myself, ‘Geez, is this what the fire service is all about?’ It didn’t bother me in a way, but it was like a shock and awe after a little bit, and you adapted to it,” Loder said. “I said, ‘I don’t think there is anything else on this job that I could come across that’s probably going to bother me.'”
The days and nights spent on the job weren’t all tragic or intense. Every October throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Boston Fire Department raised awareness through Fire Prevention Week with a squad dubbed the “Dandy Drillers” performing high-wire aerial exercises around the city.
“We took two 100-foot aerial ladders, we put them together at the tips, we tied them together up at the top, and hung a 150-foot piece of rope down the middle of it,” Loder told Coffee or Die. “I used to do the upside-down no-hands exercise. We had platforms attached to these aerial ladders probably 20 feet in the air, and we’d jump off of that into the life nets. We would also have 10 guys on each ladder that would hook into the ladder and lean out with no hands. I understand it was the only type of thing in the country.”
Boston City Hospital Rescue
After 12 or 13 years with various companies, Loder transferred to Rescue Company 1, where his reputation grew to legendary status. At one rescue, a deranged man was on the roof of Boston City Hospital. The man had hurled several brick-sized boulders at pedestrians standing on the sidewalk and at cars driving by on Massachusetts Avenue.
“If you come out, I’m gonna jump,” the man told the cops as they tried to talk him off the ledge.
Ladder Company 15, Loder’s old team, had arrived just as Rescue Company 1 pulled up to the scene. “Throw your aerial up on the side of the building,” Loder told them. “That way there if they chase him over here, he will see the aerial and he’ll go back.”
Boston firefighter Ed Loder, right, was awarded the Walter Scott Medal for Valor and four Roll of Merit awards, including one for a water rescue in the Charles River. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
Loder took charge and ordered Ladder Company 17 to be posted on the other side to sandwich the man in between.
In the meantime, Loder went up the aerial ladder to get a better view of the rooftop and the distraught man.
“I’m gonna jump,” the man said once more.
“I looked at him and said, ‘What are you gonna do that for, you’re going to make a mess down there if you jump,'” Loder said.
The man ran to the edge only a few feet from where Loder was positioned. “We’ve been here for an hour playing with you — it’s lunch time, I’m hungry and want to go get a sandwich. How about you go inside the hospital and get something to eat?”
A screenshot from the Boston Globe newspaper showing Boston firefighter Ed Loder holding a man by his shirt with his fingertips while suspended 100 feet in the air.
“Fuck you,” the man hollered, as he climbed over the side and proceeded down a conduit pipe attached to the hospital building.
Arm by arm, the man took off his coat, threw it to the ground, and said for the final time, “I’m jumping!”
From the side of the aerial ladder, Loder reached out with both his arms and grabbed the man by his shirt. Dangling 100 feet in the air, Loder screamed at the aerial operator to lower the ladder.
“Instead of lowering the aerial, he hits the rotation on the turntable and slams me and the guy in the side of the building,” Loder said, explaining that the operator likely panicked during the split-second action. “He dropped the aerial down to maybe 10 to 15 feet off another roof that was there, and I let him go. I couldn’t hang on to him anymore.”
Paul Christian, left, Boston fire commissioner between 2001 and 2006, and Ed Loder wearing Liar’s Club golf shirts. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.
A row of cars with the doors ripped off and the metal frames crumpled are remnants of a previous fire academy training class. There in the parking lot sits a small and unassuming office trailer known as The Liar’s Club. Since 1968, retired Boston firefighters have been meeting here every Wednesday morning to share stories, reminisce, and — sometimes — tell a few lies.
Driving up to the Liar’s Club in Loder’s pickup, we didn’t get very far before the first young fire captain approached the driver’s-side window, wanting to shake Loder’s hand. With some 43 years on the job, Loder is the most decorated firefighter in Boston Fire’s nearly 400-year history. Not that he boasts about the glory.
Inside, beyond the coffee and donuts, an old retiree says, “You know he’s one of the most decorated in the fire service?” while Loder rolls his eyes in the background.
In the back room, nicknamed “Division 2” in homage to the two districts between which the city is split, I listen as Paul Christian, the former Boston fire commissioner, shares a story about the old days.
An infamous photograph snapped by a Boston newspaper photographer of Ed Loder wearing Sperrys on the job. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
“Today they have to put bunker gear on, put the boots on, put the hood on, put this on, put that on, get up on the truck, put their seatbelts on,” Christian said, in reference to the new OSHA regulations. “When I came on the fire department, you had to run to the piece [fire truck] while you jumped on with your coat while you’re going down the street. You’re putting on your belt, and the best you could do was kick your shoes off and put your boots on.”
Sometimes they forgot — and a Boston news photographer was there to snap the picture to prove it. “I get a call from headquarters and they wanted to know who the guy was with the Sperrys on,” Loder said and laughed. “Of course everybody said that nobody knew nothing, but it was me.”
Loder just celebrated his 72nd birthday and continues to give back to the fire service, teaching classes to the next generation. All the medals and the accolades later, Loder maintains that he was just doing his job.
News of Gunnery Sgt. Steve Stibbens’ passing on Saturday spread fast through the ranks of current and former military journalists and war correspondents for whom Stibbens was a legend, friend, and role model.
“The retired ranks of the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association have lost a fighter, and I have lost a friend,” wrote former Marine combat correspondent and retired Capt. Robert “Bob” Bowen in a remembrance posted on Facebook. “Gunnery Sgt. Steve Stibbens hung up his award-winning camera this afternoon, September , in Dallas, Texas. His heart gave out on him after 84 years.”
Stibbens, who enlisted in the Marines in 1953, forged a legacy as a trailblazing storyteller and award-winning photojournalist when he was sent to Vietnam in 1962 and 1963 as the first Stars and Stripes reporter to cover the conflict, years before the US committed large numbers of conventional forces to the war.
Stibbens as an AP correspondent in Vietnam in 1967; and at top right in 1962 — along with his friend Paul Brinkley-Rogers — spending time with Philippine freedom fighter Emilio Aguinaldo and his wife, Maria Agoncillo Aguinaldo, at the Aguinaldos’ home in Cavite. In 1899, after the fall of Spanish colonial power in the Philippines, Aguinaldo was elected that nation’s first president. Photos courtesy of Steve Stibbens’ Facebook page.
“Steve roamed the Mekong Delta and the Central Highlands with Army Special Forces ‘A teams’ and advisers until the Marines arrived in 1965,” Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday.
Bowen said Stibbens was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for his time covering the war for Stripes. From Stripes, Stibbens went on to cover the war for Leatherneck Magazine.
“When the Marines landed in Da Nang in March 1965, Steve was quick to follow,” Bowen wrote in his remembrance.
No Marine would earn the prestigious title for another 28 years, until retired Gunnery Sgt. Earnie Grafton won in 1993 while assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific.
“Steve Stibbens is a legend in our community,” Grafton told Coffee or Die Magazine. “He was a trailblazer for all Marine photojournalists, and he set the standard for all of us to follow.”
A Steve Stibbens photo from Vietnam, June 12, 1965: “The strain of battle for Dong Xoai is shown on the face of U. S. Army Sgt. Philip Fink, an advisor to the 52nd Vietnamese Ranger battalion, which bore the brunt of recapturing the jungle outpost from the Viet Cong.” Photo from Joseph Galloway’s Facebook page.
President Lyndon Johnson selected Stibbens’ photo of a weary, unshaven Special Forces soldier as “The President’s Choice.”
Stibbens left active duty in 1966 and returned to Vietnam as a reporter for The Associated Press. He later reenlisted in the Marine Reserves and retired from the Corps as a gunnery sergeant after 20 years of service.
“Steve was one of a handful of Vietnam-era Marine combat correspondents that my later generation of military journalists looked to emulate,” said retired Capt. Chas Henry, a former Marine combat correspondent who served from 1976 to 1996. “He was the complete, dashing package: a writer who could grasp and succinctly describe human aspects of warfighting, a superb photographer, and a genuinely nice guy.”
Vietnam War correspondent Joseph Galloway, who co-authored We Were Soldiers Once … and Young — the bestselling account of the 1965 Battle of the Ia Drang Valley — posted his own remembrance on Facebook Saturday, calling Stibbens “a good friend and a fine photographer.”
Galloway honored his friend’s memory Monday, posting several old photos on Facebook, including one of Stibbens in 1962 with Filipino freedom fighter Emilio Aguinaldo, the country’s first president, and another showing “the strain of battle” on an Army sergeant in 1965.
This Stibbens photo from 1963 shows the agony of an Army of the Republic of Vietnam Ranger after he lost his hand to a grenade booby trap in the Mekong Delta. Photo courtesy of Steve Stibbens’ Facebook page.
“Steve was fine company in a foxhole or a watering hole, and we will miss him greatly,” Galloway wrote on Facebook.
Stibbens’ daughter, Suzanne Stibbens, told Stars and Stripes that her father was not as well known as Galloway and some of his other contemporaries, but that didn’t bother him.
“In Saigon, he and Peter Arnett would go get coffee every morning,” she said, describing Stibbens’ friendship with the Pulitzer Prize-winning AP reporter. “My dad would ask for ‘café au lait with milk.’ They laughed and told him ‘au lait’ means with milk.”
Suzanne also told Stripes that Stibbens’ real name was Cecil and that he picked up the nickname “Steve” at boot camp after visiting a buddy’s Russian mother who couldn’t pronounce his name.
Stars and Stripes‘ Seth Robson called Stibbens’ early Vietnam reporting “hardcore combat journalism from the tip of the spear.” In a 1964 dispatch for the newspaper headlined, “Special Forces sergeant has nerve-wracking job,” Stibbens profiled Staff Sgt. Howard Stevens, a Special Forces soldier whose mission was to make soldiers of primitive Koho and Montagnard tribesmen in the mountains of Vietnam.
Steve Stibbens. Photo courtesy of Steve Stibbens’ Facebook page.
“To say the least,” Stevens told Stibbens after a firefight between the tribesmen and Viet Cong fighters, “it’s a rewarding experience to take a man out of his loin cloth and train him to use modern weapons when the nearest thing to a machine he’d ever seen was an ax.”
Henry, who enlisted in the Marines as a private in 1976 and rose through the ranks, remembered Stibbens on Tuesday as more than just a gifted journalist.
“As a young Marine, I’d heard stories about Steve from my bosses, who had known him in Vietnam. I finally met him at a combat correspondent conference in Dallas, his hometown,” Henry said. “Steve was a larger-than-life kind of presence, but he was a character with character. Some guys who’d made names for themselves liked to talk about themselves. Steve made a point to get to know those of us newer to the field. And when we talked, he mentioned having been impressed with something I’d produced. And he described whatever it was with enough detail that I could tell he had actually seen or heard or read it. Those words, coming from someone whose work set such a standard, meant the world to me.”
Stibbens had a long career in journalism that included assignments as the AP’s photo editor in Dallas, a bureau chief at Gannett’s Florida Today in Vero Beach, Florida, and as a reporter at the San Diego Union, the Dallas Times Herald, Newsweek magazine, and Texas Business magazine, according to Stars and Stripes.
Remember those super sweet toys from the 1990s, the planes with “backward” wings. The one that comes to mind for me is the old X-Men X-Jet. The new movies feature a plane that looks a lot more like an actual SR-71 Blackbird, but the old cartoons and the movie trilogy from the early 2000s had those distinctive, futuristic, forward-swept wings.
Well, those wings existed on actual planes, first in World War II and then in experimental designs through 1991. But you likely won’t see the iconic wings on any real fighters or bombers overhead, even though they allow planes to fly faster while still directing air over the craft’s control surfaces.
The inspiration for forward-swept wings dates back to World War II. As the warring powers developed faster and faster aircraft in the war, they eventually all found that, above a certain speed, pilots suddenly lost control of their aircraft. America tried to overcome this problem with brute force, and it backfired gruesomely in November 1941.
Eventually, plane designers figured out a more graceful solution to the problem. If they swept the wings, then the airflow would shift, and the shockwaves wouldn’t form. But, when the wings are swept back, the new airflow creates a new problem. The air starts flowing quickly along the wings away from the body of the aircraft, creating stall conditions at the tips of the wings.
And those tips of the wings hold the ailerons. A stall in that region robs the pilot of the ability to roll the aircraft, a vital capability in combat.
So, in 1984, DARPA, NASA, and other agencies launched the X-29 for the first time. It was an experimental aircraft with its wings pointed forward from the body of the aircraft, same as the old X-Men jet. And the Germans actually had a design in World War II with similar characteristics, the Junker 287.
The Russian Su-47 had a similar wing design to the American X-29, but neither plane was adopted for combat use.
(Jno, CC BY 2.5)
The X-29 had some amazing characteristics compared to its more conventional brethren in the air. It had less induced drag, meaning that it had a better balance of lift-to-drag at high speed. And that allowed it to be up to 20 percent more efficient than it would be with wings swept to the rear. Best of all, the plane would be super-maneuverable even at high speeds. A Russian plane, the Su-47, saw similar advantages.
But designers found in their models, their wind tunnel tests, and actual flight tests, that the X-29’s wings created a lot of problems.
First, the wings had to be made extra strong to deal with the additional stress of the wind hitting those leading edges of the wing far from the body. And, the plane had trouble maintaining its pitch, even with those canards mounted near the cockpit.
But worst of all, the air flowing over all these control surfaces was simply too chaotic for a pilot to control. So, in the X-29, pilots had three computers working together to adjust the flight surfaces 40 times per second. These computers worked to keep the aircraft stable so the pilot could give their inputs according to what they wanted the plane to do rather than constantly having to prevent crashes.
But, if the computers ever all failed in flight at the same time, it was likely that the pilot would encounter an irrecoverable spin or other emergency. So, when the computers all failed on the ground during testing, it sent a shudder through the program. A DARPA history page about the plane even calls it “the most aerodynamically unstable aircraft ever built.”
Still, with all the advances in AI and computers, there might be a place for a design like the X-29 if not for one additional problem: forward-swept wings seem to be inherently less stealthy than wings swept to the rear or a delta-wing design like that of the B-2.
So, with the X-29 less stable and also inherently less stealthy than other designs, the U.S. decided to continue using rear-swept designs in combat aircraft, and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever look up to see something like the X-Jet supporting you from overhead.
The US Army’s premier special missions unit, commonly known as “The Unit,” has participated in several major military operations since its establishment in 1977. Thomas Patrick Payne was the latest member to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in Iraq after helping rescue more than 70 hostages in 2015. At Coffee or Die Magazine, we have shared the stories of some who served within this elite unit.
Most recently, we sat down with Jamey Caldwell and discussed how he went from an operator chasing Usama Bin Laden through the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, to a burgeoning fly-fishing career. We also talked to retired Sgt. Maj. Kyle Lamb about his career and experiences during the Battle of Mogadishu. And then for the 27th anniversary of that battle, we spoke to former Army Ranger Brad Thomas to gain a perspective through his eyes of the events that occurred before and after the famous battle. Thomas went on to serve a career in the Unit and now is a guitarist for the rock band Silence and Light.
Here are four other operators that you should know more about.
Col. Charles Beckwith
Special operations forces within the US military have been present since as early as the American Civil War, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the Army established a highly trained force to respond to evolving crises happening all over the world. Col. Charles Beckwith was the man to lead the charge. The Army Special Forces soldier served with 7th Special Forces Group and spent two years operating with covert “White Star” teams during Operation Hotfoot. Their mission was to harass North Vietnamese Army troops along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
In 1962, Beckwith conducted counterinsurgency operations in Malaya while attached to the British 22nd Special Air Service. This led to an epiphany, and Beckwith conceptualized an equivalent unit in the United States. After the exchange program, Beckwith returned to Vietnam with Project Delta, Detachment B-52, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), which became the most decorated unit in the Vietnam War. Beckwith led a 250-man element in 1965 to rescue a Green Beret base in Plei Me.
The next year he was struck through the abdomen with a .50-caliber bullet and seriously wounded. In 1977 Beckwith went on to be the founder of the nation’s first counterterrorism and hostage rescue unit. Beckwith later participated in Operation Eagle Claw, the infamous rescue mission during the Iranian hostage crisis, and retired afterward.
Sgt. Maj. Mike Vining
Mike Vining served 31 years in the US Army before retiring as a sergeant major. For a one-year tour of duty to Vietnam between 1970 and 1971, Vining served with the 99th Ordnance Detachment as an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician. His team was responsible for destroying Rock Island East, the largest enemy ammunition cache in the war.
Vining later attended and graduated from the first Operator Training Course (OTC-1) in 1978 and went on to participate in Operation Eagle Claw, Operation Urgent Fury for the assault on Richmond Hill Prison, Operation Just Cause, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. He also served as the explosive investigator of the Downing Assessment Task Force for which he investigated the truck bombing at Al Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996.
Maj. Thomas Greer
Thomas Greer, better known by his pen name, Dalton Fury, was among the very first operators to write a book about the initial invasion of Afghanistan. His 2008 book, Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man, discussed the unsuccessful mission of tracking Bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora. Prior to joining the Unit, Greer served as an enlisted soldier in the 75th Ranger Regiment for eight years. Throughout his 15-year career in special operations units, he hunted war criminals in the Balkans, served as an assault force commander on direct action raids against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and tracked Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq.
Greer retired in 2005 after more than 20 years of military service. In civilian life, Greer consulted on strengthening the security of all the nation’s nuclear power plants and was a military consultant for the popular video games Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. He died in 2016 after a battle with cancer; he was 52.
Sgt. Maj. Dennis Wolfe
Dennis Wolfe contributed 48 years of combined military and civilian service to his country. When Wolfe first joined the Army he planned to go the Airborne route, but after suffering a knee injury in basic training, he chose to enter the EOD career field.
“In the EOD field I was on presidential support, VIP support, supporting the secret service,” he said at the US Special Operations Command ceremony where he was the recipient of the 2018 Bull Simons Award for lifetime achievements as a special operator.
“One of my assignments in the EOD field was as an instructor at Redstone Arsenal and that is where I got a call to come to Fort Bragg for an assessment and selection process for a unit that was starting up,” Wolfe recalled. This assignment was for the US Army’s new special missions unit. Wolfe, as well as Mike Vining on this list, were pioneers in the EOD world. Like Vining, Wolf also attended and graduated the very first OTC-1 in 1978. He participated in Operation Eagle Claw and Operation Urgent Fury and after his retirement was a trailblazer bringing together civilian scientists with military strategists to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
“I never turned anything down. I never planned anything specifically. The unit said they needed me because of my skills. I couldn’t refuse. I’ll go. I never thought I had all those skills people were looking for. Sometimes they had more faith in me than I had in myself. I felt as a soldier I couldn’t turn anything down,” Wolfe said, reflecting on his career. “During my time SOF has gone from reactive to proactive. I think we are still there today. At least I hope we are.”
Whenever he awarded the Medal of Honor as President of the United States, Harry Truman always remarked that he would rather have had the medal than be President. But when the time came for him to receive one he not only made it known he wouldn’t accept it, he actively blocked every effort.
In 1971, the former President was pushing 87 years old. Congress moved to award him the Medal he always wanted, but upon first hearing about it, “Give ’em Hell Harry” squashed any notion of the award.
“I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise,” Truman wrote upon hearing about the idea.
The former President was appreciative and considered the thought behind the move as an honor in and of itself. He sent a letter to his former political ally and Representative in Congress, William J. Randall, to be read to the chamber while it was in session.
The gist of the letter was that the Medal of Honor was an award for bravery in combat. Giving it to Truman just because he’s a former President would water down the award’s importance.
“Therefore, I close by saying thanks, but I will not accept a Congressional Medal of Honor,” he wrote in 1971. The former President and WWI artillery officer would die in December 1972 — the very next year — at age 88.
“Harry S. Truman will be remembered as one of the most courageous Presidents in our history, who led the Nation and the world through a critical period with exceptional vision and determination,” President Nixon wrote of Truman when he died. “Embroiled in controversy during his Presidency, his stature in the eyes of history has risen steadily ever since. He did what had to be done, when it had to be done.”
June 6, 1944, will forever be remembered as D-Day. On this day, the Allies orchestrated a massive, complex assault on German fortifications, establishing a foothold on the Nazi-held European mainland. The invasion of Normandy required coordination between units in the air, on the land, and from the sea. Paratroopers dropped into place, troops stormed the beaches, and even George S. Patton was used as a decoy.
But one unassuming piece of technology was a crucial component to Allied victory: a small boat.
Officially, the Navy called it the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel, but everyone knew it as the Higgins boat, named after its designer, Andrew Jackson Higgins. This small craft (it displaced just nine tons total) had a top speed of 12 knots in calm waters. That doesn’t sound like much when compared to today’s Landing Craft Air Cushion that carry 36 Marines at a blazing 40 knots, but it was was the Allies needed to fight and win this decisive battle.
A Marine officer observed Japan using Daihatsu-class barges in China and wrote a report.
The Higgins boat wasn’t an American original. Believe it or not, the inspiration came from Japan’s Daihatsu-class barges, 21-ton vessels with bow ramps, which were used in the 1937 Sino-Japanese War. Marine lieutenant Victor Krulak had observed the vehicles in action, photographed them from afar, and sent his observation to his superiors.
After his report was dismissed and filed away by Navy bureaucrats, Krulak made a model of the boat and went to directly to Higgins, asking him if he could create a version for American use. Higgins proceeded to design what would become the LCVP using his own money — he even constructed three prototypes.
German troops who saw hundreds of LCVPs closing in on the Normandy beaches or ferrying troops across the Rhine – as this LCVP is doing – had no idea the idea came from observing Japanese barges in China.
With the start of World War II, the Allies needed a landing craft. Higgins was ready to produce. The LCVP allowed the use of just about any open beach as a landing point. It was first used in Operation Torch, months after the failed raid on Dieppe.
If Nazi Germany ever wondered who was to blame for the Allies getting their hands on such a boat, perfect for amphibious assaults, they’d never think to look toward their own ally, Japan.
When the war in Vietnam kicked off, the Navy’s special warfare operations weren’t exactly the same as we know them today. During World War II and the Korean War, the Navy’s special operators were mostly “Frogmen,” members of the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT).
Within months of the start of the Vietnam War, the Frogmen were carrying rifles and became experts in special operations tactics. The Navy SEALs were about to be reborn and tested in the jungles of Vietnam.
The Navy SEALs, as we know them today, were established in 1962 in a commitment from the Kennedy White House to develop America’s unconventional warfare capabilities. The SEALs were descended from the World War II-era joint “Scouts and Raiders” and the Navy’s UDTs used extensively throughout that war.
Although they kept a low profile throughout the Korean War, the UDTs’ Frogmen perfected many of their operations along the North Korean coastline (even moving inland in many cases) and honed their commando abilities against a real-world enemy.
But Vietnam was the first war in which the Navy SEALs were fully funded and fully developed, graduating three classes of SEALs from the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Course (BUD/S) every year.
By 1967, the number of BUD/S classes increased to five per year. Before the mid-1960s, SEALs in Vietnam were being used to reconnoiter beaches and landing sites, survey waterways and train South Vietnamese commandos. The CIA began to use SEALs in its Phoenix Program, an effort to undermine the Viet Cong in South Vietnam through counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations.
In the late 1960s, the Viet Cong, the guerrilla forces of the North Vietnamese communist government, had created an entire shadow government of its own in North Vietnam. The bread and butter mission of the U.S. Navy SEALs was to deploy into the jungle and take down VC leaders.
Most of these leaders were mid-level, and the SEALs would deploy in nine-man teams, with two of those being South Vietnamese commandos and one being a Navy SEAL officer. The team would head out into the jungle for a couple of days, complete the destruction of a VC official, and then head back to base.
These direct action, search-and-destroy missions were a far cry from the SEALs earliest days of carrying demolition explosives to a specific structure and destroying it before leaving the area. On top of killing the enemy, SEALs also had to gather intelligence in Vietnam. This meant they had to actually capture enemy troops and interrogate them.
Sometimes, this meant learning to speak Vietnamese. The SEALs had truly come into their own as a complete, well-rounded special operations force. For the duration of the war in Vietnam, there were at least eight full platoons of Navy SEALs in the country.
The elite status of the special operators also included the look they’re still known for to this day: relaxed uniform and grooming standards. One of the favorite items among Vietnam-era Navy SEALs, were Levi’s blue jeans – because the government-issued camouflage just didn’t hold up against the dense jungle foliage.
For all the trouble SEALs had at the start of the war, including high casualty rates, public anger over the Phoenix Program, and internal Navy division over the relaxed grooming and uniform standards, the SEALs proved they were worth the trouble. They were willing to do what other units weren’t willing to do, in the face of overwhelming odds.
And the Navy SEALs still do it, almost 60 years later.
Army Air Forces Lt. Col. Louis E. Curdes got a piece of every original signatory to the Axis Pact: Germany, Italy, and Japan. If that wasn’t outstanding enough, it’s how he got an American flag kill mark on his fuselage that earned him a place in military history — and maybe even the Distinguished Service Cross.
It’s not a mistake. The young, 20-something pilot earned every single one of his kill marks. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 at the age of 22 to fly planes against the Nazis. By 1943, he was a hotshot lieutenant scoring three kills against Nazi Messerschmidt Bf-109s, the workhorse of the German Luftwaffe, in his P-38 Lighting. That was ten days into his first assignment. Within the next month, he notched up two more kills, earning fighter “ace” status.
In August of that year, he ran into an Italian Macchi C.202 and shot that one down. Unfortunately, that was his last combat kill over Europe. He was shot down by Nazi pilots over Italy and captured by the Italians, resigning himself to spending the rest of the war in a POW camp.
But that didn’t happen. Italy capitulated a few days into Curdes’ internment.
Curdes was then sent to the Philippines and put behind the stick of the new P-51 Mustang fighter, going up against talented Japanese pilots. He was quickly able to shoot down a Japanese recon plane near the island of Formosa. His hat trick was complete, but that’s not where the story ends.
He and his plane, “Bad Angel,” were fighting over Japanese-held Bataan when his wingman was shot down over the Pacific. Soon after, he saw a C-47 transport plane, wheels-down, headed to land on the Japanese island. When he was unable to make radio contact, he tried to physically wave the transport off, but came up empty. So, rather than allow the American plane and its crew to be held prisoner by the Japanese, he used the option left: He shot them down over the ocean.
Curdes skillfully took out one engine and then the other without blowing the entire cargo plane to bits. He was able to bring the C-47 down just yards from his downed wingman. Curdes returned to the site the next morning as an escort to an American “flying boat.” The pilot, crew, and its human cargo were completely intact.
Among the passengers he shot down was a nurse Curdes dated just the night before, a girl named Valorie — whom he later married. The story was rewritten by Air Force Col. Ken Tollefson in his book US Army Air Force Pilot Shoots Down Wife.
Few military units have ever had the effect on world history as did the Praetorian Guard. From the foundation of the Roman Empire until the reign of Constantine in 306, the Praetorians protected – and sometimes controlled – the leader of the most powerful empire on Earth.
Like other elite guard units to come, the Praetorian were loyal to the Emperor personally, not necessarily to Rome. At least, that’s how it started under Caesar Augustus.
Over the centuries, the unit began to slowly corrupt. It soon became comprised of members of noble families who conspired against the Emperor, even assassinating a number of them.
They weren’t limited to the role of a mere guards.The Praetorian Guard fought in wars, in the Colosseum and other games, were a secret police force, and acted as volunteer firefighters for Rome. They would assist the regular firefighters in fighting larger fires.
After a number of assassinations, the Praetorian took their meddling in government a little too far. They were bound to butt heads with some Roman Emperor – without being able to kill him first. That emperor was Constantine I.
The Praetorian Guard backed a pretender to the Roman throne. You can tell the pretender to a throne as opposed to the real Emperor because the pretender is usually filled with knives, spears, or poison.
Constantine defeated armies belonging to the General Licinius and Senator Maxentius and – unfortunately for the Praetorian – they backed Maxentius. Constantine liquidated and disbanded the Praetorian Guard, burned their barracks, and sent survivors to the far reaches of the Empire.