This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

With the help of Pearl Harbor survivors, Janet Glen Tomlinson created Home of the Brave Tours Museum, a one-of-a-kind WWII Military Base Tour along with the largest private collection of 1940’s memorabilia in the Pacific. As curators of this extensive collection, the Tomlinsons have received numerous awards and accolades for their work in educating the public about the rich heritage, sacrifices and traditions of the United States military.


The Home of the Brave Museum is a one-of-a-kind treasure trove of artifacts, stories, and memories of our American Military that fought to save our country and liberate the world during our darkest hours. The extensive collection exists to preserve wartime legacies, as well as to honor the sacrifice and victory of our nation’s great servicemen and women.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

Their goal is to maintain the extensive collection and expand the property into an interactive learning center to further promote awareness, gratitude, and documentation of America’s military heritage for public interest and educational purposes.

Also read: A previously ‘unknown’ sailor killed at Pearl Harbor is returned home 75 years later

Last year, the revenue needed to operate the museum was cut off due to the termination of their exclusive military base tour. This was due to security concerns from Homeland Security increased competition from larger tour operators who offer larger commission structures to the sales agents selling and promoting Pearl Harbor Tours. The five star “mom pop” tour operation just couldn’t compete with the “big boys.”

The Foundation offers exciting and engaging ways to delve into America’s military legacy as well as educational (hand-on history) and entertainment opportunities for school groups, senior centers, local, military, and island visitors.

The Home of the Brave Museum is asking for help. Visit this site to give your support.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” – President Harry S. Truman

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how you quickly ascended to pope during the cutthroat renaissance

Imagine Games of Thrones comes to life in the Vatican but with good writers. Of the 19 popes who took office during the Renaissance, not a single one of them was canonized, or even regarded as Venerable or Blessed. The Renaissance Papacy, which spread from the end of the Western Schism in 1417 and the Protestant Reformation in the second half of the 16th century, was an ear of wealth, corruption, nepotism, debauchery and unprecedented political power for the papacy. Plots, alliances, briberies, betrayals and murder were common occurrences in the corridors of the Roman palaces. Theology had little to do with the results of the elections. Everybody’s gangsta until the Pope has you assassinated.

Mo’ money, mo’ prayers

Indeed, one of the most famous Renaissance popes is the notorious Alexander VI, previously known as Rodrigo Borgia. His talent for intrigue and appetite for women of a shaky moral compass are far more renowned than his piety. Although a golden age for papal supremacy, papal moral prestige experienced a sharp decline during the Renaissance. Adrian VI, who was Pope for one year only, said mass every day of his papacy, but there is little to no evidence that Julius II and Leo X, the previous popes, ever celebrated mass. That abandon of religiosity was an important factor in the rise of Martin Luther’s Protestant doctrine, eventually leading to a new religious schism.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors
Coat of arms of Alexander VI – Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome (Public Domain)

According to the prominent historian Eamon Duffy, “the Renaissance papacy invokes images of a Hollywood spectacular, all decadence and drag. Contemporaries viewed Renaissance Rome as we now view Nixon’s Washington, a city of expense-account whores and political graft, where everything and everyone had a price, where nothing and nobody could be trusted. The popes themselves seemed to set the tone.”

The “OG” mafia families

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors
Cardinals in red vestments during the funeral of Pope John Paul II. (GPO1961, Flickr)

During that time, the papacy was a popularity contest worthy of a reality TV show. The College of Cardinals, the entity in charge of electing the pope, was composed in the majority of members of the most powerful families in Italy and representatives of the Catholic monarchies of Europe. To play the game one must use nepotism, trade of favors and influence. During the Renaissance Papacy, the Houses of Borgia, Della Rovere, and Medici each saw two of their members elected as pope. These houses were the mafia of the Italian Renaissance, using their influence to place their own family members in a position of power and to brutally eliminate their rivals. The bloody ascension of Ceasar Borgia is a perfect representation of the atmosphere of the time.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game

In order to curry the favor of the people and expand their finances, the popes of this period extended the sale of indulgences, ecclesiastic favors that could absolve the buyer of his sins. They also encouraged the humanist trend and slackened the reins of morality, allowing for greater freedom of thinking and even greater debauchery. The popes also became patrons of the arts. It’s under their influence that artists such as Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raphaël flourished. Sixtus IV (reigned 1471 to 1484) even commissioned the Sistine Chapel, one of the most beautiful building of the catholic world to this day.

Pope Sixtus IV appoints Platina as Prefect of the Library, by Melozzo da Forlì, accompanied by his relatives (Public Domain)

The path to papacy often involved no small amounts of political alliances, bribery, favors and the occasional murder. Wealth, influence and a devious intellect will get you elected instead of devotion. However, the popes elected in such a treacherous atmosphere did not stay in office for very long. Out of the nineteen popes, only five staying in power for more than ten years, and six help the office for five years or less.

Money, dazzle and backstabbing made the ascension to papacy quick, but it did not help to keep the job. As swiftly as you became pope, plotters would see you leave just as quickly.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Two daring commandos made a bold New Year’s Eve recon mission

On New Year’s Eve 1943, a full five months before D-Day, British Major Logan Scott-Bowden and Sgt. Bruce Ogden-Smith swam ashore near the village of Luc-sur-Mer in France’s German-held Normandy region.


In the distance, they could hear Germans singing as they celebrated the new year. A fierce wind that began blowing as they crossed the English Channel carried them a mile from their target landing site, a beach code-named “Sword.” Armed with daggers and Colt .45 pistols, the two men began walking in the darkness, careful to stay below the tide line — where their footsteps would be erased by morning.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors
Brigadier Logan Scott-Bowden after the war.

“We had to creep past the searchlights to make our way to the correct beach, dropping down on our stomachs every few minutes when the search light came back round,” Scott-Bowden later said.

Scott-Bowden and Ogden-Smith were members of the Combined Operations Pilotage and Beach Reconnaissance Party (COPP), a secret British unit that had been formed by Lord Mountbatten, British Chief of Combined Operations, after the disastrous Dieppe landing in August 1942.

They were there to answer a question.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors
Sergeant Bruce Ogden-Smith.

By late 1943, planning for the Allied invasion of Europe narrowed the invasion site to the east coast of the Calvados Peninsula in Normandy, which had all the factors the Allies believed they needed for success: A good port at Caen, shelter from the worst of Atlantic Ocean storms, thirty miles of beach, decent exits from the beaches, and a good road network. But old Roman maps of the area, found among the information supplied by the Resistance, indicated the Romans gathered peat from the area, which worried planners.

If there were peat bogs under a thin layer of sand at the proposed invasion sites, the beaches might not be able to support the heavy equipment — tanks, trucks, bulldozers, and the like — that would be part of the landing.

When Scott-Bowden and Ogden-Smith were selected for the mission, and before they left from Gosport, near Portsmouth, they were offered cyanide tablets to be used if they were captured and faced torture.

Related: 6 of the wildest top secret spy missions of World War II

As the men moved closer to shore in the area around Luc-sur-Mer, a gale was blowing. A few miles from the target beach, they changed into rubber wet suits, strapped on their equipment, and transferred to a hydrographical survey craft that took them to within two miles of the shore, where the two men jumped over the side and started swimming.

Besides their other equipment, the men carried a dozen twelve-inch tubes for sand samples and a special instrument, said to look like a pogo stick, for taking the samples.

Eventually the men reached Sword Beach, began taking samples, marking the location from which each was taken on underwater writing tablets strapped to their arms. But they stopped suddenly when they spotted German guard patrolling the dark beach. The two men flattened themselves in the sand as the guard crossed the beach to within twenty feet of them.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors
Injured and exhausted assault troops are helped ashore at Sword Beach on D-Day,

“We both had our pistols in our hands,” Scott-Bowden said, “and I really thought I was going to have to shoot him.”

After a few minutes, however, the guard moved on without spotting the two men who quickly resumed work and finished their sample collecting.

Weighted down with the samples and their other equipment, they returned to the surf and tried to swim out from the shore to their pickup point – only to be thrown back by the crashing waves kicked up by the wind. A second attempt ended the same way.

The two men rested in shallow water for a few minutes, studying the incoming waves and timing their occurrence before being able to escape the surf and swim into calmer water.

At this point, Scott-Bowden could hear his partner yelling. Fearing Ogden-Smith was in danger — and would alert the Germans to their presence — Scott-Bowden headed in his direction only to realize Ogden-Smith was simply yelling, “Happy New Year.”

“I swore at him, ” Scott-Bowden said, “then wished him a Happy New Year, too.”

They made it.

It was later reported that they left one of the “pogo stick” devices on the beach, but a French civilian found it and hid it for the duration of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

10 epic ships that changed naval warfare forever

A great navy is key to any great military. It’s what allowed Brittania to rule the seas for decades, France to establish vast colonies around the world, and Japan to assert itself over European powers in Asia in the early 1900s. But navies are, obviously, made up of dozens or hundreds of individual ships, and not all of them are created equal.

So we’ve dug through the history to find out top 10 picks for ships that, either because of revolutionary designs or because their crews made a new technology work where all others had failed, changed naval combat overnight:


This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

The 64-gun warship Vasa was built in the tradition of the Mars, the first great artillery-focused naval warship.

(Jorge Lascar, CC-BY 2.0)

Mars

The Swedish warship Mars was the test platform for a bold new strategy in the 1560s: Elevate naval artillery from from a weapon used to hurt enemy ships to one that can actually sink enemy ship. The Swedish king was obsessed with the concept, and commissioned the Mars with five decks, two of them dedicated to naval artillery carrying massive cannons.

And the Mars was successful, reportedly sinking the enemy ship Longbark with concentrated artillery fire on its first day in combat. Unfortunately, the ship was so large and powerful that the opposing Lubeck fleet concentrated on it the next day, setting it on fire and causing a massive explosion and sinking the ship in 250 feet of water.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

The USS Nautilus was the first nuclear-powered vessel in history.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Nautilus

As America wrestled with the implications of nuclear power after World War II, naval planners had a question about the new-fangled reactors: Can they give our ships unlimited range? The USS Nautilus was proof that, for submarines at least, the nuclear reactor could achieve nearly infinite range.

The Nautilus set speed and range records. It even conducted an entire cruise where it surfaced only once, rising to the open air only to transit the Panama Canal. It also completed the first transit of the ship across the North Pole, conducting the crossing underwater on August 3, 1958. Now, the entire U.S. submarine fleet is nuclear-powered.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

The first-nuclear powered carrier and first nuclear-powered surface vessel in history, the USS Enterprise set range and speed records thanks to its powerful fuel source and engines.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Enterprise

The USS Enterprise of World War II was the most decorated ship of the war, and the Navy brought the name back to commission its first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in 1960. That USS Enterprise would, like the USS Nautilus, set speed and range records. It also led the Navy’s first and only all-nuclear task force, sailing around the world with USS Long Beach and USS Bainbridge, a cruiser and frigate.

The ship launched planes during that cruise and also took part in the blockade of Cuba during the missile crisis, launched fighters into combat in Vietnam, and sent up jets in support of troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sinop and Chesma

Russian torpedo boats Sinop and Chesma were pretty forgettable warships except for one exchange in January 1878, when they launched the first successful self-propelled torpedo attack in naval history. The torpedo they used had been invented in England in 1866, but no navy had successfully used it in combat yet.

But 12 years later, the Russians ships were trying to take out larger and better-armed Turkish ships, and their torpedo attacks had failed repeatedly. The Sinop and Chesma went after the armed steamer Inibah, using their speed to avoid the Inibah’s fire before launching two torpedoes from less than 100 yards away. Both slammed home and sunk the enemy ship in less than a minute, proving the torpedo boat concept and leading to the torpedo’s prominence in World War I.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

HMS Cobra and Viper

Without getting too technical, there’s a difference between steam-piston engines and steam-turbine engines. Steam turbines are much more powerful, and the HMS Viper and HMS Cobra were British torpedo destroyers commissioned at the same time in order to take advantage of the additional speed turbines gave.

Both ships were capable of flying across the surface at almost 40 mph (about 34 knots for the actual sailors out there). They were over 10 percent faster than most other warships of the day, and they helped prove the steam turbine technology. Today, steam turbines powered by nuclear reactors propel the new Ford-Class carriers.

H.L. Hunley

The H.L. Hunley was named for its inventor, and it was an ill-fated but game-changing submarine of the Confederate Navy and famously was the very first submarine to sink an enemy ship. There were drawbacks to its designs, though.

It sank three times during testing, killing the crews each time and its inventor in one incident. Still, the Confederate Navy raised it one more time and sent it on its successful mission where it rammed the Union Housatonic with a mine attached to the spar in 1864. But the blast also killed the crew and sank the sub a fourth time. Obviously, submarine became a potent weapon of war, partially thanks to the Hunley, but the design was overhauled so crews would stop dying.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

The Union referred to the CSS Virginia as the Merrimack, the name originally given to her by the Union, throughout the war.

USS Monitor and CSS Virginia

At the Battle of Hampton Roads, the clash of two American ships changed naval warfare overnight. The CSS Virginia, a Confederate ship captured from the Union, attacked the northern fleet at Hampton Roads on March 8, 1862, and the Union ironclad USS Monitor showed up the next day to protect the rest of the fleet.

The Virginia mounted ten guns and the Monitor had two, more advanced cannons, but neither ship could deliver a decisive blow against the other despite fighting at close range for hours, ending in a stalemate. Immediately, it was clear to naval experts that wooden ships would become obsolete as the iron behemoths were created in larger quantities and new configurations.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

Napoleon

The Napoleon was a 90-gun warship that was launched in 1850 and soon changed the way steam-powered ships operated. Prior to the Napoleon, steam was used to power paddle wheals on one side of a warship. Sails provided primary power, and the wheel helped the ship maneuver quickly during fights.

But the paddles were enormously vulnerable and blocked parts of the hull from being able to mount cannons, huge shortcoming in combat. But the Napoleon introduced screw propulsion, moving the action under the water, making it less vulnerable and more lethal. The ship fought in the Crimean War in 1852, and countries lined up to get their own screw-powered ships.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

HMS Furious

The HMS Furious was originally laid down as a battlecruiser in 1915 and slated to receive epic, 18-inch guns. Instead, it became the first aircraft carrier to conduct a successful raid, launching Sopwith Camels against German zeppelins in July 1918. The small planes successfully set a hangar ablaze and burnt two zeppelins to the ground, but most of the pilots were forced to ditch their planes at sea or in neutral Denmark.

The Furious had all sorts of shortcomings as a carrier, most notably the short flight deck that made landings extremely hazardous. It underwent multiple redesigns and refits between World War I and II, eventually becoming a full flat-top carrier.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

HMS Dreadnought

Any naval buffs out there saw this one coming. While there are plenty of game-changing ships on this list, as well as dozens more from history that we could have chosen, the Dreadnought was such a game-changing ship that the entire world sought to copy its design and methods of construction, leading to the “Dreadnought Era” followed soon after by the “Super Dreadnought Era.”

The behemoth could throw 3 tons of steel and explosives in a single broadside and featured armor that could survive nearly anything available when it was launched. And, it was built quickly, launching in 1906 after just a year of construction. Germany raced to keep up with Britain’s new navy, building Dreadnought copies as fast as it could.

When the German and British fleets clashed at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, 50 battleships built in the Dreadnought’s image traded blows in a 250-ship fight that is, by some metrics, still the largest naval battle ever fought.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Tommy Gun lived up to its original name: The Annihilator

Despite what many think, the Thompson submachine gun was not the first submachine gun.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

But many will argue it was the best submachine gun ever put in the hands of fighting men – whether they were “good guys” or “bad guys.”

Well-made, robust, capable of firing more than 800 rounds a minute in some models and chambered for the man-stopping .45-caliber ACP round, the gun lived up to one of its original names: The Annihilator.

“I knew several soldiers who used Thompsons for special operations in Vietnam,” said Alan Archambault, a retired U.S. Army officer and former supervisory curator for the U.S. Army Center of Military History. “Even in the 1960s, the Thompson was still an iconic weapon for U.S. soldiers. Often when one soldier would rotate to the U.S., he would pass the Thompson on to another soldier in theater.”

The brainchild of Gen. John T. Thompson, a former chief of small arms for the Ordnance Department and firearms designer, the stalemate on the Western Front during The Great War (a.k.a. World War I) convinced him the ordinary infantryman needed a new weapon. Thompson wanted something he called “a trench broom.”

“Our boys in the infantry, now in the trenches, need a small machine gun, a gun that will fire 50 to 100 rounds, so light that he can drag it with him as he crawls on his belly from trench to trench, and wipe out a whole company single-handed,” Thompson wrote in a 1918 memo to firearms designers. “I want a little machine gun you can hold in your hands, fire from the hip and reload in the dark. You must use ammunition now available and I want it right away.”

Designers produced a prototype by 1919, but the first practical models were too late for the war. Still, Thompson convinced Colt to produce 15,000 M1921 submachine guns.

Early observers of the M1921 test-fired on the range were impressed by how much firepower the “little machine gun” delivered.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

The problem was Thompson had no steady stream of customers, even when Thompson’s company Auto-Ordnance Corp. released the M1928 – considered by many the definitive Tommy gun model.

True, the U.S. Marine Corps purchased Thompsons and used them effectively in China and during the Latin American “banana wars” of the 1920s. The Postal Service armed its security personnel with Thompsons as well.

But the weapon was expensive – very expensive. Adjusted for inflation, its $200 price tag is roughly equivalent to $2,300 today.

To put things in perspective, consider the contemporary cost of prime, high-end arms like the Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal SCAR 17S 7.62×51 millimeter NATO – it costs about the same as a Tommy Gun did during the Roaring ’20s.

Besides, for better or worse the Thompson gained a “bad boy” reputation. A handful of criminals such as John Dillinger and George “Machine Gun” Kelly gave the weapon a bad name.

At first, potential customers such as the British government considered the Thompson “gangster weapons” and refused to purchase the submachine gun.

But by 1939, all that changed. Great Britain entered World War II starved for armaments.

The War Office eagerly purchased every M1928 it could, and the weapon was a hit with the Tommies – particularly the Commandos.

The weapon’s reliability and ability to bring devastating automatic fire to close quarters combat made the Thompson a favorite of the Commandos.

They even honored the weapon in the design of their unit recognition flash: A stylized Thompson superimposed on an anchor headed by an eagle.

There were also many American G.I.s who even relished the gangster panache of the Tommy Gun. Images of actors like James Cagney in “The Public Enemy” – easily one of the most violent movies of its time – ducking around a corner as a gangster fired on him with a Thompson were unforgettable.

“It was often seen in gangster films that were watched by impressionable young men who came of age during World War II,” Archambault said.  “So, even before its use in World War II, it was an iconic weapon.”

Sure, the M-1 Garand was the basic weapon for the American infantryman. But the Thompson found its way into the hands of officers, squad leaders, paratroopers, U.S. Marines and any soldier lucky enough to grab one.

Also, G.I.s and Marines were fighting all across the globe in battlefield environments that included deserts, jungles and snow. The sheer reliability of the Thompson, particularly in its less-expensive but equally deadly M1A1 model, made it the perfect weapon to endure the lousiest battlefield conditions.

Eventually, the cost of the Thompson prompted development of the M-3 “Grease Gun,” which could be produced in greater quantities for far less money than even the M1A1.

But by the Korean War, the Army relegated the Thompson to a secondary role. By Vietnam, the first M-16s were in the hands of GIs and the military considered the Thompson obsolete.

Today, Thompson submachine guns are in high demand among collectors legally authorized to own full-auto weapons. On average, the price for a clean Tommy Gun is about $25,000.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What did cruisers even DO in World War II?

World War II saw the decline of the battleship, the rise of the aircraft carrier, and the maturation of the destroyer and submarine. However, there was another type other major combat vessel in that conflict that often goes ignored: the cruiser. This ship was arguably very important for several reasons.

First, for the initial part of the war, cruisers served as heavy escorts for a carriers against surface threats. Battleships were often too slow to keep up with the carriers and destroyers packed a potent anti-ship punch in the form of torpedoes, but they couldn’t take much punishment. Cruisers were the perfect match.


This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

USS Galveston (CL 93), one of 27 completed Cleveland-class light cruisers. She packed 12 six-inch guns and 12 five-inch guns.

(US Navy)

Second, cruisers also were able excellent for maintaining a presence at sea. It took fewer personnel to fully crew a cruiser and they were comparatively cheaper to build than other major vessels. Despite their lower cost, they were still deadly vessels, equipped with either six-inch guns (on light cruisers) or eight-inch guns (on heavy cruisers).

Third, cruisers also fought it out when other options weren’t available. For example, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, a force of two heavy cruisers, a light cruiser, two anti-aircraft cruisers, and eight destroyers were led by Admiral Daniel Callaghan and took on two Japanese fast battleships, a light cruiser, and a number of destroyers. Callaghan’s outnumbered ships managed to turn away the Japanese force, leaving the fatally wounded Hiei behind.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

While it’s best known for being sunk by a Japanese submarine in 1945, USS Indianapolis (CA 35) also served as the flagship of Admiral Raymond Spruance.

(US Navy)

Fourth, cruisers could serve as flagships. The Portland-class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA 35) was the flagship for Admiral Raymond A. Spruance during the Central Pacific offensive in 1943 and 1944. It was also common for Japanese admirals to choose heavy cruisers as their flagships in surface engagements instead of battleships when they had the option.

While all of the major powers had cruiser designs, the most successful was the American Cleveland-class light cruiser. There were plans to build a total of 52 of these vessels. Of those, 27 were completed. The others were either cancelled or converted into light cruisers. Other notable cruiser classes include Japan’s Mogami-class heavy cruisers and the British County-class heavy cruisers.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

Other powers in World War II operated cruisers, too. HIJMS Atago served as a flagship in several engagements, including her last one at Leyte Gulf.

(Imperial Japanese Navy)

With the end of World War II, cruisers began to fade away, especially as guided missiles emerged and submarines became more of a threat. Today, the United States Navy has the most of these vessels, with 22 Ticonderoga-class vessels in service.

Though the cruiser’s heyday has come and gone, there’s a chance they’ll make a comeback. The United States Navy intends to replace the Ticonderoga-class ships with a new, modern class of cruiser.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A WWII ship that killed 5 brothers when it sank was just found

About two weeks after he found the sunken aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV 2), Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has located another legendary wreck. This time, according to a release, it’s the Atlanta-class anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52), best known as the vessel that the five Sullivan brothers served on.


USS Juneau had been one of two anti-aircraft cruisers (the other was USS Atlanta (CL 51), the lead ship of the class) sent to join the light cruiser USS Helena (CL 50), the heavy cruisers USS San Francisco (CA 38) and USS Portland (CA 33), and eight destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan. Callaghan’s orders were to stop a Japanese force that included the fast battleships Hiei and Kirishima. In a furious naval battle, Callaghan’s force succeeded — but at great cost.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors
USS Juneau in June, 1942, off New York. She packed 16 five-inch guns. (US Navy photo)

The Juneau survived the initial battle but was badly damaged when hit by a Japanese Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedo. As she was steaming home, some of her crew had transferred to assist casualties on USS San Francisco — that’s when the Japanese submarine I-26 fired a spread of three torpedoes. One hit, right where Juneau had taken the previous torpedo.

The anti-aircraft cruiser exploded, broke in two, and sank in 20 seconds. Captain Gilbert C. Hoover radioed a plane with the location, but ordered the ships not to stop. In doing so, he left behind over 100 survivors. Only three of those would live. Among the lost sailors were the five Sullivan brothers. Hoover was promptly relieved by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey for leaving the survivors behind.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors
The five Sullivan brothers, killed in action after the sinking of USS Juneau. (US Navy photo)

The USS Juneau rests a little over two and a half miles below the sea’s surface. A new USS Juneau (CL-119), a modified Atlanta, served after World War II. A third USS Juneau (LPD 10) was an Austin-class amphibious transport dock that served until 2008 and is still being held in reserve.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US pulled off its daring mission to kill Yamamoto

The Japanese attack on the US Navy at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, propelled the US into a war that had been raging for years.

The US campaign had a mixed start. In April 1942, the success of the Doolittle Raid on Japan was leavened by the horrors of the Bataan Death March, during which thousands of US and Philippine soldiers died.

But mid-1942 saw the Battle of the Coral Sea, when the Allies beat the Japanese in the first naval battle in which the combatants were never within sight of each other, and the Battle of Midway, when outnumbered US forces fooled and cripple the Japanese navy.


By February 1943, the US had secured Guadalcanal after the first major Allied offensive in the theater. From there, US forces were able to plot retribution for the attack that started it all.

On April 13, 1943, US naval intelligence intercepted a coded signal sent to Japanese commanders in the area around Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands northwest of Guadalcanal.

The US had long since broke Japan’s codes. The April 13 message was sent in a new variant, but US intelligence deciphered it in short order.

“On April 18 CINC Combined Fleet will visit RXZ, R-, and RXP in accordance with the following schedule…” the message began. Adm. Isokoru Yamamoto, commander in chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet and planner of the Pearl Harbor attack, was visiting Japanese units in the Solomons.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

Then-Capt. Isoroku Yamamoto, Japanese naval attache to the US, with US Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur in the late 1920s.

The message revealed not only the trip but also the schedule, the planes — two Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” medium bombers escorted by six Zero fighters — that would be involved, the orders for commanders at Bougainville, and the recommended uniforms.

Yamamoto was one of the most charismatic and forward-thinking naval officers of his generation. He graduated from Japanese Naval Academy in 1904 and fought in the Russo-Japanese war, where he lost two fingers at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.

He went to the US in the 1920s, learning English and studying at Harvard and at the US Naval War College, where he learned about a new style of naval warfare fought with carrier and island-based planes.

He reformed Japan’s navy and was highly regarded by sailors and the Japanese royal family. While he was no pacifist, he was part of a moderate faction within the navy.

He criticized bellicosity from right-wing ultranationalists, scorned the army and its leaders who undercut civilian officials, and resisted an alliance with Nazi Germany. This earned him death threats.As Japan’s naval attache in Washington in the late 1920s, he traveled the US and witnessed its might.

“Anyone who has seen the auto factories in Detroit and the oil fields in Texas,” he said later, “knows that Japan lacks the national power for a naval race with America.”

He cautioned against a war with the US but took part in its planning and believed only a knockout blow could spare Japan a ruinous end. “We should do our best to decide the fate of the war on the very first day,” he said.

His plan for a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was resisted, but he pushed it through, noting the irony of spearheading a mission he opposed. “Alas, is that fate?” he wrote to a friend.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

A colorized photo of Japanese navy Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto at his base in Rabaul before his death in 1943.

Despite Yamamoto’s reservations about the war, he became the face of the enemy after Pearl Harbor, appearing on the cover of Time magazine on Dec. 22, 1941, under the headline “Japan’s Aggressor.”

If the name “Operation Vengeance” didn’t illustrate US sentiment toward him, Pacific Fleet chief Adm. William “Bull” Halsey got the point across with the order, “TALLY HO X LET’S GET THE BASTARD.”

President Franklin Roosevelt is reputed to have told the Navy, “Get Yamamoto.” (It’s not clear he actually said that.) Adm. Chester Nimitz, the US commander in the Pacific, gave the go-ahead to shoot down Yamamoto’s plane — a task assigned to the 339th Fighter Squadron.

But all the motivation didn’t make the operation easier.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

A Japanese navy Mitsubishi G4M1 medium bomber.

Navy and Marine fighters didn’t have the range to intercept Yamamoto and his escorts over Bougainville. The Army Air Force’s twin-engine P-38G Lighting had the range to get there and the firepower to deal with the bombers and the fighters.

Eighteen P-38s — 16 for the attack and two extras — were selected and outfitted with extra tanks of fuel. Maj. John Mitchell, commander of the 339th, said he wasn’t sure the P-38s could take off with the added weight.

Four fighters, called the Killer Division, were to attack the bombers, one of which would be carrying Yamamoto. The rest would attack the fighter escorts.

To avoid detection, planners wanted the P-38s to fly “at least 50 miles offshore of these islands, which meant dead-reckoning over 400 miles over water at fifty feet or less, a prodigious feat of navigation,” according to a history of the 13th Fighter Command, of which the 339th Fighter Squadron was part.

The approach was complicated by the lack of radar to guide the P-38s. They would have to navigate with charts, though estimates of Yamamoto’s plane’s speed and the weather conditions, as well as his reputation for punctuality, allowed US planners to calculate where he’d be.

They planned for a 1,000-mile round trip, with a 600-mile approach flight from the south. Mitchell, the squadron commander, gave the plan 1,000-to-1 odds of success.

They left Henderson Field early on April 18, 1943 — the first anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. The monotony of the long flight combined with the low altitude increased the risks. One pilot counted sharks to stay awake; he saw 48.

Despite lacking navigational aids, they got to Bougainville just as Yamamoto’s convoy — the two bombers and six fighters 1,500 feet above them — flew into the area.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

The wreck of the Mitsubishi G4M1 Model 11 bomber shot down over Bougainville in April 1943, killing Imperial Japanese navy Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto.

Twelve of the P-38s climbed to the Zeroes; the other four headed to the bombers, not sure which carried Yamamoto.

The US fighters split up and chased the bombers, shooting both down. One crashed into the jungle on Bougainville, killing all aboard — including Yamamoto. The other plunged into the ocean.

Japanese troops on Bougainville eventually found the wreckage of Yamamoto’s plane. The bodies on board were cremated and put in boxes that returned to Japan.

“His cremation pit was filled, and two papaya trees, his favorite fruit, were planted on the mound,” according to the 13th Fighter Command history. “A shrine was erected, and Japanese naval personnel cared for the graves until the end of the war.”

Yamamoto’s death was kept secret for some time, but he was eventually given a state funeral.

The US planes, minus one downed during the operation, returned to Henderson Field around noon, with some running out of fuel as they touched down.

While Yamamoto met his end on April 18, 1943, how it arrived was less clear.

Capt. Thomas Lanphier, who led the four fighters targeting the Japanese bombers, and his wingman, 1st. Lt. Rex Barber, were both credited with a kill on the mission.

The Air Force reviewed records in the 1970s and reduced it to a half-kill each, but it remained unclear who had shot down the bomber carrying Yamamoto.

In 1998, a panel of the surviving US pilots and one Japanese Zero pilot considered eyewitness comments, reports from Barber and Lanphier, and an examination of the bomber that crashed on Bougainville.

Fifty-five years after Yamamoto was sent crashing into the jungle, they concluded Barber had put him there.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

Do you want to stake your claim on something, make it truly yours, and let all of human history know that you’re a badass? Want to set out as an explorer despite the fact that the world has been pretty much figured out by this point? Ever feel like just sticking a flag in the ground and claiming it for yourself? Well, get ready to go island exploring!

Using plenty of technical loopholes in statutes created over one hundred and fifty years ago, you can actually lay claim to your very own island and do whatever you feel like on it.

There are many technicalities involved and several things to consider, but it’s still very much possible.


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Most of those purple areas in the Pacific, except, obviously, Hawaii, Guam, and the American Samoas, are Guano Islands that gave America much more control in the Pacific.

(NOAA)

The very first thing to have ready is the Guano Islands Act of 1856. This states that America will do everything in its power to defend an American’s claim on an island if there’s guano on it. Guano, as you probably know, is bird or bat poop. Back in the 1850s, guano was an excellent source of phosphates and could be used for fertilizer or sold at a high price. The act doesn’t stipulate how much guano was needed to be considered “claimable,” so that’s open for your interpretation.

If it’s enough to reinvigorate the global guano market, awesome. If it’s literally just the product of the parrot you brought on your adventures because you thought it’d make you more like a pirate, that’s fine, too. The act was never repealed and, since it was enacted, America has prospered greatly from the islands it’s allowed to be claimed.

In the past, America has laid claim to 58 islands. Fifty of these bird-poop-filled islands have been used as bargaining chips with smaller nations nearby. America gave the seemingly worthless and uninhabited Kanton Island to the nation of Kiribati in exchange for the ability to build military bases there. The eight remaining islands that America has claimed in the middle of seemingly nowhere were made part of the unincorporated territories of the United States, which has greatly increased America’s exclusive economic zone in the oceans.

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Which leaves you searching all of that light blue. Good luck.

Exclusive economic zones are also a key factor. Whatever tiny claim you stake adds 200 nautical miles of America, meaning no other country can drill for oil or fish in those waters. In today’s marketplace, America will definitely back up your claims.

But this also means that whichever island you lay claim to cannot fall within another nation’s economic zone. So, if you find a tiny rock off the coast of Japan, you’re out of luck. That island still belongs to Japan, regardless of how much bird poop is on it.

What you need to instead is to look in International Waters, the areas of water far enough away from other nations’ claims. This limits your search area, excluding basically anywhere in the Mediterranean and most of the Caribbean, but you’re not entirely out of luck: Much of the South Pacific and South Atlantic remains open season.

You must also consider current and past claims. Islands that have been claimed before are highly contested and would be, likely, a waste of time. This means most of the current Terra Nullius, or “nobody’s land,” is likely so far off-course that nobody has a reason to visit.

You do, however, still have complete right to explore the Antarctic. Since you’re backing is the United States and the United States put a stipulation in the Antarctic Treaty to allow it to lay any claim in the future, you can search uninterrupted by other nations. This also gives you the ability to use penguins as your source of guano.

You could also search in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Since there is much volcanic activity going on there, new islands are sure to form — just waiting for you to arrive with an American flag. Here’s what that would sort of look like.

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Enjoy your new island, you modern-day explorer, you!

(Photo by Pedro Flores)

Once you’ve found your very own terra nullius island and you’ve ensured birds have pooped on it, it’s yours. You personally own a private island not beholden to any nation. That means you have you don’t have to go through the headache of paying millions to name your island. It’s your island, you can do with it and name it whatever you want. The only stipulation is that the name can’t already be taken.

You’re screwed if your surname is of English heritage because they kind of had a monopoly on island claiming for a few hundred years, but if you’ve got your own unique Eastern-European last name, like me, name it after yourself. There’s also no rule against naming it something awesome, like “Buttf*ck-Nowhere Island.” So, you do you.

Once you’ve got it. Head on over to the U.S. Department of the Interior and let them know that you’ve got a new piece to add to America and your stake of land is forever made an American territory that can never be taken away. Because it’d suck through all that trouble just to end up losing your claim after you pass away.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The near-suicidal way American pilots played possum in WW1

In World War I, pilots on either side of the line enjoyed sudden lurches ahead in technology advances followed by steady declines into obsolescence. This created a seesaw effect in the air where Allied pilots would be able to blast their way through German lines for a few months, but then had to run scared if the enemy got the jump on them.


So the Allied pilots found a way to fake their deaths in the air with a risky but effective maneuver.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

Some Nieuport planes had a tendency to break apart when pilots pulled them out of a steep dive.

(Nieuport, public domain)

By the time that America was getting pilots to the front in 1917, all of the early combatants from the war had years of hard-won experience in aerial fighting. U.S. pilots would have to catch up. Worse, U.S. pilots were joining the fight while German planes were more capable than Allied ones, especially America’s Nieuport 28s purchased from France.

France had declined to put the Nieuport 28 into service because of a number of shortcomings. Its engine burned castor oil, and the exhaust would spray across the pilots, coating their goggles in a blinding film and making many of them sick. It could also turn tight but had some limitations. Worst of all, pilots couldn’t dive and then suddenly pull up, a common method of evading fire in combat, without risking the weak wings suddenly snapping off.

Yes, in standard combat flying, the plane could be torn apart by its own flight. So new American pilots adopted a strategy of playing dead in the air.

The technique wasn’t too complicated. In normal flying, a pilot who stalled his plane and then entered a spin was typically doomed to slam into the ground. And so, enemy pilots would often break off an attack on a spinning plane, allowing it to finish crashing on its own.

But a British test pilot, Frederick A. Lindemann, figured out how to reliably recover from a spin and stall. He did so twice in either 1916 or 1917. So, pilots who learned how to recover from a stall and spin would, when overwhelmed in combat, slow down and pull up, forcing a stall in the air.

Then as they started to drop, they would push the stick hard to one side, causing one wing to have full lift and the other to have minimal lift, so it would fall in a severe spin. German pilots, thinking they had won, would break off the attack. Then the Allied pilot would attempt to recover.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

U.S. combat pilot Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker was America’s top-scoring fighter ace of World War I.

(U.S. Air Force)

But spins were considered dangerous for a reason. Recovery required leveling that lift on the wings and then using the rudder to stop spin before pulling up on the stick to stop the fall. So, for the first few moments of recovery, the pilot had to ignore that they were pointed at the ground. If they tried to pull up while they were still spinning, they really would crash. In fact, on some aircraft, it was essential to steepen the dive in order to recover.

And this whole process took time, so a pilot who fell too far before beginning recovery would hit the ground while still trying to recover from their intentional spin.

Most future American aces learned these maneuvers from British pilots in fairly controlled conditions, but some of them were limited in their flight time by their duties on the ground. Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, in charge of maintaining and improving America’s major aerodrome at Issoudon, France, taught himself the maneuver on his own during stolen plane time, surviving his first attempt and then repeating it on subsequent days until he could do it perfectly.

Rickenbacker would go on the be America’s top scoring ace in World War I despite being partially blind in one eye and officially too old for training when he went to flight school.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happens when a submarine runs into an undersea mountain

Just after noon on Jan. 8, 2005, the USS San Francisco, U.S. Navy nuclear-powered Los Angeles-class submarine collided with an undersea mountain while moving at maximum speed. The crew, most of them injured, one of them killed, fought for their lives to get the ship afloat. Someone messed up big time.


The ship was moving at its top submerged speed, anywhere from 20-25 miles per hour. While this may not seem like much, it was more than 6,000 tons of nuclear-powered ship ramming into a mountain, enough to cause significant structural damage, ground the boat, and heavily damage its ballast tanks and sonar dome.

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The USS San Francisco in drydock after the collision.

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Mark Allen Leonesio)

To say that the collision injured 98 people and killed one is somewhat misleading. That is what happened. With a complement of 118 and 12 officers, the ship had 98 injured, 80 of whom were seriously injured and/or bleeding significantly. One sailor, 24-year-old Machinist’s Mate Second Class Joseph Allen Ashley was killed by his injuries. The sailor who was able to pull the “chicken switches” (handles that force the submarine to immediately surface – an “emergency blow”) did it with two broken arms.

Once the switches are pulled, the submarine’s ballast tanks are supposed to fill with high-pressure air, making the sub positively buoyant (up to two million pounds lighter) and pop above the surface of the water.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

You’ve definitely seen this before.

But the San Fransisco didn’t immediately pop up. For a full 60 seconds, she waited before moving to the surface. That may not seem like a lot of time, but it probably felt like forever while waiting to see if your boat was also going to be your underwater tomb. But she did surface. Later, the boat’s engineers were able to rig the auxiliary diesel engine to use the exhaust to keep the damaged ballast tanks full, and after making temporary repairs in Guam, she was able to move to Pearl Harbor.

A Navy investigation found the ships crew were not using the most up-to-date charts to plot their course. The charts it did use, however, noted the presence of “discolored water,” which was indicative of a seamount. The latest charts did indicate the mountain, though, and the commander should have had the latest charts. Further, when operating in stealth, Navy submarines don’t use active sonar, and the sub was going too fast for the passive sonar to be effective.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

The Los Angeles-class submarine USS San Francisco shown in dry dock is having repairs made on its damaged bow. A new large steel dome about 20 feet high and 20 feet in diameter was put in the place of the damaged bow.

(U.S. Navy)

The ship was still salvageable. After being moved to Puget Sound, her bow was replaced with that of the USS Honolulu, which was being retired later that same year. The San Francisco is now a training ship for the Navy nuclear engineering school in Charleston, South Carolina. The captain, Cmdr. Kevin Mooney was relieved of his command following the collision, and six other sailors were reprimanded with him, receiving reductions in rank.

For the rest of the crew, their quick response to accidentally ramming a mountain at sea and saving the ship along with their own lives while heavily injured, earned them medals from on high.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 historical figures still plagued by crazy conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories usually reside in some pretty dark corners of the internet, but every now and then one will become part of the mainstream.

And conspiracy theories have been around for thousands of years — look no further than Jesus Christ himself for speculation about his relationship with Mary Magdalene. Also, ask anyone with a passing interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy about the grassy knoll, and you’ll need to prepare for a torrent of information and conjecture.

Keep scrolling to learn more about these historical figures that have been followed, some for centuries, by wild conspiracy theories.


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1. The most prevalent conspiracy theory about Abraham Lincoln is about his assassination — namely, that John Wilkes Booth didn’t act alone.

The official record states that Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, in Washington, DC, by John Wilkes Booth. Not everyone’s convinced, though.

According to the Ford’s Theatre website, there have been plenty of alleged co-conspirators in the plot to assassinate Lincoln, including Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, the Pope, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

2. Amelia Earhart disappeared and was presumed dead after her plane went missing, but some aren’t so sure that’s how it went down.

Earhart, a prolific pilot, vanished in 1937 during an attempted flight around the world. Earhart and her navigator departed from New Guinea on July 2 and were never heard from again. Two years later, they were officially declared dead.

From then on there have been multiple theories surrounding what happened to her. For example, one theory posits that she was captured by the Japanese, because a photo surfaced in the National Archives of a woman’s back that resembles Earhart. Japan denies this.

Another theory suggests that Earhart crashed, was captured by the Japanese, rescued by the US, and then moved to New Jersey to take up another identity, as per the book “Amelia Earhart Lives.”

Unfortunately, the most likely theory is that navigator Fred Noonan and Earhart’s plane crashed and the two were tragically killed.

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3. John F. Kennedy’s assassination is another event that’s rife with conspiracy theories.

In American history, there may have been nothing more contentious than the death of JFK in Dallas, Texas, in 1963. You might have even heard buzzwords like grassy knoll, umbrella man, and the Zapruder film. Here’s what they actually mean.

First, the Zapruder film: A bystander at the fateful motorcade happened to be recording footage of the president driving by. Conspiracy theorists believe that the film shows that multiple shots were fired, and that at least one was shot from a different angle than the other three, leading us to the grassy knoll.

The grassy knoll refers to a nearby grassy hill that another shooter, besides Lee Harvey Oswald, is theorized to have been lurking at, and that’s where another mysterious shot supposedly came from.

Another theory, the umbrella man, refers to a man holding a suspiciously large black umbrella on a notably sunny day. As The Washington Post reports, some believed that this man was working with the perpetrator[s], and had somehow converted his umbrella into a dart gun meant to paralyze the president.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

4. Many people believe that William Shakespeare didn’t actually write his own plays and sonnets, and was instead just a figurehead.

Could it be true that Shakespeare, the most influential playwright in history, didn’t actually write anything? Potentially … at least 70 other potential candidates have been put forth over the centuries, but a few have become front-runners.

Sir Francis Bacon was the first alternate Shakespeare to be named by author Delia Bacon (no relation). Bacon, unlike Shakespeare, was well-educated, well-traveled, and an accomplished philosopher. According to Delia, the scholar would’ve sullied his reputation if he had openly written plays like Shakespeare’s.

Two other popular theories are that Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the actual Bard, or that Shakespeare was really Christopher Marlowe. Proponents of this theory, called Marlovians, believe that Marlowe faked his own death in a bar fight, and then began writing in earnest.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

5. At least one book has been written that claims “Alice in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll might have moonlit as serial killer Jack the Ripper.

This conspiracy theory began with a book called “Jack the Ripper: Light-Hearted Friend,” written by Richard Wallace, a “clinical social worker and part-time Carroll scholar,” according to Mental Floss.

Jack the Ripper was a London-based serial killer who is said to have murdered at least five women in 1888. The culprit was never identified, leaving the case wide open for conspiracy theorists.

Wallace’s theory rests on the idea that Carroll had a mental breakdown while he was away at boarding school, and that he was never able to recover from the trauma. Most of the “evidence” comes from re-arranging the nonsensical passages of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” into more sinister sentences.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

6. A persistent theory about Jesus is that he was actually married to Mary Magdalene. This was popularized by Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code.”

One theory about the crucial Christian figure that has had a resurgence as of late is that Jesus was married to — and had children with — Mary Magdalene.

Magdalene was a companion of Jesus’, according to biblical writings, but there’s nothing to suggest that their bond was romantic in any way — or at least, there wasn’t until the Gnostic Gospels were found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in the 1940s.

These gospels appeared to confirm that Jesus and Magdalene were more than friends, and mention him kissing her frequently. However, many people disregard the Gnostic Gospels and don’t consider them a reliable source, and the theory died out for a few decades.

It came back to life when “The Da Vinci Code” was published in 2003. The entire plot hinges on the idea that Jesus and Magdalene were married and secretly had children, and that their lineage continued on to this day.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

7. According to some, Nikola Tesla invented what’s been called a “death ray,” and the US government has the plans.

When Tesla died in January 1943, the US government took a bunch of papers from his hotel room, and some claim that these included plans for a “particle-beam weapon,” aka a death ray.

For decades after, nobody knew what the government did with all these documents, making it easy for people to believe that the authorities were allegedly hiding schematics for a death ray.

The FBI eventually released some of these documents, but many are still missing — and it’s anybody’s guess what’s inside.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The story of the legendary Black Samurai

The Black Samurai, despite sounding like a name that’d be more at home in a movie or a comic book than the real world, is a genuine nickname given to a mysterious man from feudal Japan, otherwise known only as Yasuke.

The rank of samurai was, of course, considered one of great prestige and it came with a number of perks including a salary, land, a stipend of rice, servants and the ability to kill commoners who offended them without consequence. In regards to that last one, kiri-sute gomen (literally: authorization to cut and leave) was a right granted to samurai that allowed them to kill anyone of a lower rank (even other samurai of lower rank) for any perceived slight against their honor. While this has little to do with the story of Yasuke, we couldn’t not mention the fact that samurai had the ability to basically murder people without consequence, so long as a given set of restrictions was honored, such as doctors and midwives were exempt to a certain extent, that the blow had to come directly after the affront and not later, a witness to the slight was required for proof a slight was in fact made, etc. etc. But in the general case, samurai were of such high standing that dishonoring one in front of a witness was a great way to end one’s life.


Given the highly regarded position samurai enjoyed, it was seldom an honor doled out to foreigners and, as such, there are less than a dozen confirmed examples of a person outside of feudal Japan being allowed to call themselves samurai. Amongst this select group of foreigners, Yasuke not only stands out for being speculated to have been the first, but also because he was the only one who was black.

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Little is known about Yasuke’s past, so little in fact that we know neither where he was born nor his original name. It’s mostly agreed that Yasuke hailed from somewhere in Africa, though which area exactly has never been conclusively established, with Mozambique mentioned most in accounts of his life. This is thanks to the Histoire Ecclesiastique Des Isles Et Royaumes Du Japon written in 1627 by one Francois Solier where he claims Yasuke was from that region. However, it’s not clear what his own source for that information was and he wrote it almost a half century after the last known direct documented evidence of Yasuke.

Whatever the case, originally believed to have been a slave captured sometime in the 1570s by the Portuguese, Yasuke was bought by and became the servant of an Italian Jesuit and missionary called Alessandro Valignano. Valignano was famed for his insistence that missionaries to Japan become fluent with the language, requiring a full two years of study in Japanese, which helped his group stand out and be more successful than others. As for Yasuke, he travelled with and served Valignano for several years until the pair made port in Japan around 1579.

Upon arriving in Japan, as you might expect Yasuke immediately became a subject of intrigue and curiosity, both because of his apparently extremely dark skin and his intimidating stature. Variously described as being between 6 feet 2 inches and 6 feet 5 inches tall, Yasuke towered over the Japanese populace of the period, with males only averaging about 5 feet tall at the time. Beyond his height, he is said to have possessed a powerful, chiselled physique. According to legend, Yasuke’s very presence inspired both terror and curiosity in locals to such an extent that several people were supposedly crushed to death in an attempt to make their way through a large crowd that had gathered to see him. Other stories tell of people breaking down the doors of the places Yasuke was staying just to catch a glimpse.

Yasuke: Story of the African Samurai in Japan

www.youtube.com

Whether any of that is true or not, sometime in 1581 while visiting Japan’s capital, Yasuke came to the attention of a man who is considered one of the people ultimately responsible for the unification of Japan, famed Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga apparently insisted on meeting the mysterious dark-skinned stranger who was causing such a commotion in his city. Upon meeting Yasuke, according to an account by Jesuit Luis Frois, Nobunaga apparently ordered Yaskue to be roughly scrubbed with brushes to prove that his dark skin was real and not artificially done with ash, charcoal, or the like.

It’s from this first meeting that one of the only known accounts of Yasuke’s appearance comes from, with this fateful meeting documented in the Lord Nobunaga Chronicle:

On the 23rd of the 2nd month March 23, 1581, a black page (“kuro-bōzu”) came from the Christian countries. He looked about 26, 24 or 25 by Western count or 27 years old; his entire body was black like that of an ox. The man was healthy and good-looking. Moreover, his strength was greater than that of 10 men…. Nobunaga’s nephew gave him a sum of money at this first meeting.

Presumably thanks to Valignano requiring missionaries to Japan to learn Japanese, it appears at this point he also required it of Yasuke, as Nobunaga was said to have greatly enjoyed conversing with Yasuke and was intrigued to learn about his homeland. He ended up liking Yasuke so much that he eventually took him as his own, or rather officially Valignano gifted him to the warlord.

Nobunaga, who was known to have a fondness for other cultures, which is in part why he was allowing Christian missionaries to operate in the area, gave his newly found confidant the name Yasuke. Although technically still a slave in the sense that he had to serve Nobunaga, Yasuke quickly rose in stature in the eyes of Nobunaga, with Yasuke ultimately given a house, salary, and servants of his own. During his rise, he apparently served as Nobunaga’s weapon bearer and bodyguard and was otherwise seemingly treated as an equal by his peers. Yasuke was also eventually given a katana from Nobunaga, apparently conferring the title of samurai upon him as only samurai were permitted to carry such a weapon at the time. It’s also noteworthy that he wore the traditional armor of the samurai when in battle. Yasuke also had the frequent extreme honor of dining with Nobunaga, something few others were allowed to do.

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

Oda Nobunaga.

Yasuke’s time with Nobunaga was cut short, however, when the warlord was betrayed by one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, a year later in 1582. In a nutshell, Nobunaga was at the Honnō-ji temple in Kyoto, taking with him only a contingent of 30 pages and guards. For reasons unknown, though perhaps just a simple power grab, Mitsuhide chose to betray Nobunaga at this point, surrounding the temple and attacking. Yasuke is known to have been there and fought alongside Nobunaga, but ultimately when defeat was imminent as the temple burned around them, Nobunaga chose to commit ritual suicide rather than be captured.

Legend has it, whether true or not isn’t known, that one of Nobunaga’s last acts was to order Yasuke to carry Nobunaga’s head and sword to his son and heir, Oda Nobutada.

Whether he actually did this or not, it is known Yasuke managed to escape and joined Nobutada who himself was under attack at the time by a separate contingent of Mitsuhide’s soldiers at nearby Nijō Castle.

Nobunaga’s son was eventually defeated, committed ritual suicide, and Yasuke was captured by Mitsuhide’s men. Apparently unsure what to do with the foreign samurai, or even whether they should consider him a true samurai or not despite that he wielded the sword and wore the traditional armor, they chose not to kill him and instead left it to Mitsuhide to tell them what to do.

In the end, while there is some contention, it would seem Mitsuhide decided to dishonor Yasuke by not allowing him to commit ritual suicide and instead had him returned to the Jesuits. Whether Mitsuhide did this out of pity or contempt for Yasuke is a matter of contention, though it’s noteworthy that there was little in the way of racism towards black people in Japan at the time because so few black people ever visited the country anyway.

From here, as unlikely as it’s going to sound, Yasuke, the giant, Japanese speaking black, now ronin, samurai who supposedly caused crushing crowds wherever he went, disappeared from history, even in the Jesuit’s own accounts. This has led some to speculate that he did not stay with the Jesuits and even some speculation that, if becoming a samurai wasn’t enough, that he became a pirate after this, meaning his moniker could have potentially been not just The Black Samurai, but the ultimate in badass nicknames- The Black Pirate Samurai, though there is unfortunately no hard documented evidence that he actually became a pirate.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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