This 'Nasty Nick' obstacle course is part of SF Heritage - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage

North Carolina’s Camp Mackall is not your average US Army training facility. It is home to the Nasty Nick Special Forces Obstacle Course, one of the toughest obstacle courses ever created. In order to complete Special Forces training, men and women must pass Nasty Nick, and it’s no cakewalk.

Who was Nasty Nick?

Nasty Nick is named after its creator, a Vietnam War veteran, the late US Army Special Forces Colonel James “Nick” Rowe. Col. Rowe was a Prisoner of War during the Vietnam War. He was held captive for over five years. Col. Row is one of only 34 American POWs to make it out alive. 

After that brutal experience, Rowe took all he knew about what it’s like to be a POW to make an obstacle course. Today, it serves as a survival, evasion, resistance and escape training program – SERE school. Since its creation, all Special Forces Soldiers have had to complete Nasty Nick before they are officially able to be sworn in. 

US Army photo

Phobias and the Special Forces don’t mix 

Nasty Nick includes 25 obstacles that span across two miles. They are specifically designed to confront candidates’ fear of confined spaces and heights, not to mention test strength and stamina overall, both physically and mentally. Additionally, without upper body strength, coordination, and balance, making it through the course is nearly impossible. The idea behind this training is to prove that they’d be reliable in real-life situations that those in the Special Forces are likely to encounter. 

One of Nasty Nick’s obstacles is a 50-foot wall that Special Forces candidates have to climb over with no safety rope. A fall could be deadly, but this is exactly the kind of test needed to make sure all Special Forces officers are prepared for the things they will inevitably have to face on the job. Fear of heights is just not compatible with the Special Forces. 

US Army photo

They don’t call it ‘Nasty Nick’ for nothing

Special Forces operations often occur in urban environments, meaning that Soldiers have to be ready for anything that comes at them. For instance, their hands should be on a weapon instead of holding on to something for balance. After all, there might be bullets flying at them, and they’ll need to defend themselves. 

Nasty Nick tests many of these more subtle abilities. Not only do Soldiers have to make it through the course, but it’s also timed. That means simply getting through isn’t enough. The method of getting through is important too. Crawling out of fear when you could be walking won’t cut it. Yet it’s all necessary to prove that any and all Special Forces will be able to perform accordingly when they need to.

Related: The intriguing history of the term special operator

MIGHTY HISTORY

John C. McCloughan’s MOH was unique. Here’s why

Specialist 5 John C. McCloughan, a veteran of the Vietnam War and a retired teacher and sports coach, received the Medal of Honor in recognition of his actions during 48 hours of combat in Vietnam from May 13-15, 1969. He was the first to receive the Medal during the Trump administration, and the first to receive the award after an movement by former President Obama enabled waivers of the five-year time limit on Medal of Honor awards.


During this time, McCloughlan was wounded multiple times but continued to give aid to troops under fire and pull them to safety.

McCloughan was part of Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Brigade, in Vietnam in 1969 when Charlie Company was ordered to conduct a combat assault near Tam Ky and Nui Yon Hill.

 

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
U.S. Army Pfc. James McCloughan, 1969. (Photo courtesy of James McCloughan)

It was one of those missions that seemingly everything went wrong from the start, as two American helicopters were shot down and there was too much incoming fire for another helicopter to rescue the downed air crews. A squad was sent to conduct the rescue and recovery instead.

The squad reached the perimeter of the crash site and McCloughan ran 100 meters across open ground raked by fire to recover a wounded soldier, moving forward even as a platoon of enemy soldiers charged in his direction. McCloughan threw the wounded man onto his shoulder and rushed back to friendly lines as rounds raced both directions past him.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
Infantry Sgt. Kregg Jorgenson is rushed behind friendly lines during a firefight in the Vietnamese jungle.(Image: YouTube/CBS Evening News)


Later that same day, the young medic spotted two soldiers huddled together in the open without weapons. He handed his own weapon to another soldier and rushed forward even as American airstrikes hit known North Vietnamese Army positions all around him, Army records say.

As he examined the two men in the field, a rocket-propelled grenade struck nearby and pelted McCloughan with shrapnel. Despite his wounds, he pulled the two men back into a trench. He went back into the field to save wounded comrades four more times that day despite a direct order not to.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
Lance Cpl. Larry W. Elen and an ARVN soldier prepare to fire the M-60 machine gun in mid-December 1969. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. G. J. Vojack)

He was offered a spot in the medical evacuation because of his own wounds, but refused it, worried that the American forces would need a medic to continue fighting while outnumbered.

Early the next day, the only other medic on the field was killed in an NVA ambush, making McCloughan’s decision seem prophetic. In the intense fighting during the ambush, he was wounded a second time with shrapnel from another rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire.

The Vietnamese then attempted to overwhelm the outnumbered Americans and launched a three-sided attack. McCloughan once again made trips into the crossfire to grab wounded soldiers and pull them back to safety. When American supplies ran low, he volunteered to move into the open with a blinking light to allow for a nighttime resupply drop.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
U.S. Army Pfc. James McCloughan, posing in front of the Vietnam Regional Exchange Snack Shop, 1969. (Photo courtesy of James McCloughan)

On May 15, he distinguished himself once again by using a hand grenade to destroy an RPG position and treated wounded soldiers while engaging enemy forces.

McCloughan was credited with saving the lives of 10 members of his company throughout the 48-hour engagement.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This police detective is looking for an uncle who went MIA over occupied France

Tom McCaslin is a police detective in Omaha, Neb. and his coldest case is turning 75 in 2019. It’s the search for his uncle, Staff Sgt. Thomas J. McCaslin, one of eight crew members of a bomber that was shot down over Nazi-occupied France on June 22, 1944.

All these decades later, his nephew is hunting for his remains in order to bring the bomber crewman back home while four of his 12 siblings are still alive.


This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage

Top row, from left: Lt. Col. Don Weiss, Lt. David Meserow, Lt. Axel Slustrop. Bottom row: Staff Sgt. John H. Canty,, S/Sgt. Tom McCaslin, T/Sgt. Clement Monaco. All but Monaco were aboard the B-26 when it was shot down.

Their B-26 Marauder was shot down by Nazi flak while supporting the Allied push inland. As the British Second Army fought the German Panzergruppe West in the streets of below, the crew of the B-26 tried in vain to stay aloft. They went down anyway, and that was the last anyone ever heard of them. Well, most of them, anyway. The first was found in 1946, buried after the crash by locals. The remains of the bird’s four officers were discovered in 1986 by a farmer in his fields. They were taken to the American cemetery at Normandy. Another, the enlisted top tail gunner, was found by an amateur historian who also found the man’s dog tag.

That leaves two – and one of those is Thomas J. McCaslin, the Marauder’s bottom turret gunner. McCaslin’s nephew is looking for his uncle and the other crewman.

“If there’s a lead to follow, I’ll keep looking into it,” McCaslin told the Hartford Courant.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage

Det. Tom McCaslin of Omaha, Neb.

McCaslin’s mission has led him to talk to both the historian and the farmer who found the previous remains. He has also obtained numerous documents about the B-26 mission. It was one of 36 planes to fly over a chateau being used as a headquarters building by the Nazi SS. As the bomber began to make its run and open the doors, a flak burst cut the plane in two and sent it careening to earth. No one was able to bail out. In 40 seconds, it was all over, leaving those eight men among the 73,000 who would be unaccounted for during the war. McCaslin even has aerial recon photos of the crash site taken right after the crash.

McCaslin and his detective skills are largely responsible for the 2018 discovery of Staff Sgt. John Canty’s remains. His work persuaded French authorities to further search the field where his dog tag was found. Canty was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery. From interviewing relic hunters to requesting documents, McCaslin has worked tirelessly to track down the entire crew since the discovery of the first remains – which he only learned about through a newspaper.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage

The B-26 Marauder.

Detective McCaslin and his family have all worked the case tirelessly for years. As a family, they have hounded government agencies in an effort to step up the recovery of his uncle and another unaccounted-for airman from his crew. All hope is not lost. McCaslin is currently waiting for the DNA identification of some finger bones found in the area. He even has an eyewitness to the battle who reports that she saw parachutes as a young girl.

“The stuff they’ve uncovered is incredible,” says Jed Henry, a journalist and independent researcher who has become an advocate for families of missing service members from World War II. “To have the intelligence to sort through it, and the tenacity — and to care about it. … I’ve never seen a family that has gotten into this as much as they have.”

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage

“My uncle joined (the military) in 1942, and we never saw him again,” Tom McCaslin said. “If there’s a chance to find him, we should do it.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a Green Beret achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War

Some 53 years ago, in a faraway Special Forces camp in southeast Asia, Sergeant First Class Eugene Ashley Jr achieved immortality during one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War.

Ashley joined the Army in 1950. After finishing boot camp and Advanced Infantry Training, Ashley went to Germany. When the Korean War broke out in 1953, Ashley deployed in Korea with the 187th Regimental Combat Team. Then, for a brief period, Ashley got out of the Army and was placed in the Inactive Reserves. A few months later, he reenlisted and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. Up to that point, Ashley had trained in numerous military occupational specialties, including as an infantryman, ambulance driver, anti-aircraft ammunition handler, heavy weapons specialist, and parachute rigger; he had also held leadership positions at the squad and company level.

 In 1966 he decided to make the jump to Special Forces and graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) a year later. Upon completion of training, Ashley was assigned first to the 7th Special Forces Group and later to the 3rd Special Forces Group. In 1968, he deployed to the Republic of Vietnam with Charlie Company, 5th Special Forces Group.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
Sergeant First Class Eugene Ashley Jr. He would end up getting the Medal of Honor for his actions during on the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War (US Army Special Operations Command).

Ashley’s arrival to Vietnam coincided with the Tet Offensive, which began in January 1968 and would last till September. During Tet, the NVA and Vietcong took US and South Vietnamese forces by surprise and attacked several large cities throughout South Vietnam, including the capital Saigon where they briefly penetrated the US Embassy.

Once in country, Ashley found his way to the large Marine Corps base at Khe Sanh, which was under siege by the North Vietnamese. Although the majority of the NVA and Vietcong attacks during the Tet Offensive were quickly dealt with, the siege of Khe Sanh continued for months. Carrying morbid similarities with the Siege of Dien Bien Phu, where the French were defeated by the Vietminh in 1954 and were forced out of Indochina, the fighting at Khe Sanh drew international attention.   

Close to Khe Sanh was the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp, which was just a mile-and-a-half from the border with Laos. Green Berets stationed in Lang Vei were no foreigners to NVA attacks. Artillery and sniper fire was a pretty common occurrence even before the Tet Offensive. But what was coming next was not common at all.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
A wounded Special Forces operator after having been evacuated. The battle of Lang Vei was one of the fiercest of the entire Vietnam War (Wikimedia.org).

On the night of February 6, the NVA launched a tank assault on the Special Forces base. Radioing Khe Sanh for assistance, the Marines there couldn’t believe that NVA armor was within the Lang Vei perimeter—this was the first time the NVA had used tanks in force. During the initial hours of the battle, Ashley coordinated airstrikes and mortar and artillery fire in support of his fellow Green Berets in the camp. Then, seeing that reinforcements from Khe Sanh weren’t going to reach the overran camp in time, Ashley and other Green Berets took matters into their own hands.

Ashley hastily organized a relief force comprised of Special Forces operators and partner forces and led them to the nearby camp. In the ensuing hours, Ashley would lead five assaults against NVA tanks and heavy infantry. Time after time, Ashley led by example and destroyed numerous enemy positions. The fifth assault, however, would be his last.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
North Vietnamese tanks entering Saigon in 1975. The NVA first used tanks en masse during the battle of Lang Vei (History.net).

Ashley’s Medal of Honor citation offers a glimpse of his actions on that fateful night.

“During his fifth and final assault, he adjusted airstrikes nearly on top of his assault element, forcing the enemy to withdraw and resulting in friendly control of the summit of the hill. While exposing himself to intense enemy fire, he was seriously wounded by machinegun fire but continued his mission without regard for his personal safety. After the fifth assault he lost consciousness and was carried from the summit by his comrades only to suffer a fatal wound when an enemy artillery round landed in his area. Sergeant Ashley displayed extraordinary heroism in risking his life in an attempt to save the lives of his entrapped comrades and commanding officer. His total disregard for his own personal safety while exposed to enemy observation and automatic weapons fire was an inspiration to all men committed to the assault. The resolute valor with which he led five gallant charges placed critical diversionary pressure on the attacking enemy and his valiant efforts carved a channel in the overpowering enemy forces and weapons positions through which the survivors of Camp Lang Vei eventually escaped to freedom. Sergeant Ashley’s conspicuous gallantry at the cost of his own life was in the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.”

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An awful car killed more Nazi generals than World War II

The Czechoslovakian-built Tatra 87 was Hitler’s car of the future. With a top speed of more than 100 mph, it was a car destined for the Autobahn. Its sleek, futuristic design and high performance made it the vehicle of choice for Nazi officers. It was the Allies’ vehicle of choice for their enemy, too. They wanted all Nazis to drive one – because it would eventually kill them.


If 100 miles per hour doesn’t seem impressive by today’s standards, in 1935, it was a big deal. The car’s aerodynamic design helped it achieve these speeds. It didn’t hurt that the speed and design also made it seem like the future was coming, and the Nazis were leading the way. And it was coming, it was just a very short future. For most of the Nazi officers that pushed the limit in the car, their future usually consisted of wrapping themselves around a tree.

While the Tatra 87 has an incredible top speed, it seems it handles like a shopping cart. The death toll it took on Nazi officers was so bad, the Allies referred to the cars as their “secret weapon.” It even killed more of them than actual World War II combat – and these were the officers fighting the Soviet Union.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage

There’s good, old-fashioned nightmare fuel in Stalingrad.

“These high-ranking Nazi officers drove this car fast, but unfortunately the handling was rubbish, so at a sharp turn they would lose control, spin out and wrap themselves around a tree killing the driver more often than not,” said author Steve Cole.

In the first week of its availability, seven officers took the 95 horsepower, 3.4-liter V8 engine for a spin and never came home after spinning it out of control. But there was a safer, more economical version. In 1939, the Volkswagen Beetle was introduced, which borrowed a lot of design elements from the Tatra, so much so that its designer, Porsche, had to pay Tatra for infringement.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A black Medal of Honor recipient is rediscovered after 130 years

Dec. 26, 1872, the day after Christmas — the weather in Norfolk was bitter cold, with sleet and a gale-force wind. Aboard USS Powhatan, a sidewheel steamer commissioned in 1852, it was particularly unpleasant, with a wet, slippery deck and a dangerous pitch.


Then came a cry of, “man overboard!” Boatswain Jack Walton had fallen from the fo’c’sle into the choppy, freezing water below. He had minutes — maybe seconds — before he either drowned or succumbed to hypothermia.

Seaman Joseph Noil didn’t hesitate, didn’t stop to think of the danger or the risk to his own life. He came running from below deck, “took the end of a rope, went overboard, under the bow, and caught Mr. Walton — and held him until he was hauled into the boat sent to his rescue,” his commanding officer, Capt. Peirce Crosby, wrote. “Mr. Walton, when brought on board, was almost insensible, and would have perished but for the noble conduct of Noil.”

Noil received the Medal of Honor the following month.

Then, he slowly faded from history.

Coming to America

Noil was black and was probably from Liverpool, Nova Scotia, although various records also mention Halifax, the West Indies, New York, and Pennsylvania, said Bart Armstrong, a Canadian researcher dedicated to finding some 113 Medal of Honor recipients connected to that country.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
The distinguished Medal of Honor — Navy version. (Image from U.S. Navy)

“During the early days, it was not uncommon for a Soldier or Sailor to fake their residence or place of birth, date of birth or marital status.”

No one knows just what brought Noil to the U.S. or what inspired him to enlist in the Union Navy, Oct. 7, 1864. According to Armstrong, many Canadian black men who traveled south to fight in the Civil War did so to help free the slaves.

Canada was the terminus for the Underground Railroad, and many citizens, particularly in the black community, would have seen or heard of the pitiful, dehumanizing conditions escaped slaves endured.

Noil was from a coastal area, and the Navy may have been a natural fit. Enlistment papers indicate his occupation was carpenter. Dr. Regina Akers, a historian who specializes in diversity at the Navy’s History and Heritage Command, noted that he also served as a caulker and would have helped keep his ship watertight – “a very important job.”

Black sailors

Many free black Sailors had some type of ship or shipyard experience, whether it was as a crewmember on a merchant or whaling ship, as a fisherman or as a dockyard worker, Joseph P. Reidy, a history professor at Howard University in D.C. and the director of the African-American Sailors Project, wrote in “Prologue,” a publication of the National Archives.

According to Akers and Reidy, African-American Sailors had always been, if not precisely welcome in the Navy, at least not institutionally discriminated against. They had served honorably in the Revolution and in the War of 1812, and some 18,000 black Civil War Navy veterans have been identified by name.

Also read: This was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor

Unlike the Army, the Navy in the 19th century did not segregate black servicemen. They pulled the same watches, slept in the same bunks — hammocks in those days — and ate in the same galleys as their white counterparts.

Although their ranks were limited to enlisted, there were few, if any, rating restrictions for skilled, experienced men of any color, said Akers. They served in almost every billet, from fireman to gunner, although Reidy wrote that service ratings, such as cook or steward, were the most common.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
United States Navy poster featuring Medal of Honor recipient, Joseph Noil. (Naval Historical Center Online Library)

“If they could qualify or were able to learn that skill set and fill that rating, just like today, many commanding officers would allow them to do so,” Akers said, noting that the background of the ship’s commander and crew could affect the treatment African-American Sailors received.

Noil eventually became captain of the hold, a petty officer in charge of the men assigned to a storage area. He would probably have been responsible for ensuring barrels and containers were properly stowed and locating the appropriate barrels when needed, according to the Navy History and Heritage Command. However, he wouldn’t have had any authority over white Sailors.

Related: This was the only living African-American from WW2 to earn MoH

Conditions were worse for escaped slaves, Reidy pointed out. By classifying escaped or captured slaves as contraband, the Union could legally consider them spoils of war and put them to work. Contrabands served in the Navy. They fought in the Army. They built fortifications. They cooked. They did laundry. Both men and women served in various capacities. In fact, nearly three men born into slavery served for every black man born free.

Contrabands’ naval ratings and pay tended to be the lowest and least skilled, with most classified as boy or landsman, Reidy explained. They scrubbed, painted, and polished ships. They also served in large numbers on supply and ordnance ships, where they provided manual labor. By the late 1800s, the ratings available to all African-American Sailors became extremely restricted.

Noil’s service

Noil, who had given his age as 25 when he enlisted in 1864 and his height at 5 feet, 6 inches, transferred to USS Nyack, a wooden-hulled screw gunboat, in January 1865. Nyack was then part of the blockade off of Wilmington, North Carolina, and Noil was likely present for her involvement in the capture of nearby Fort Anderson the following month.

His next posting is listed as the steam sloop USS Dacotah in March 1866, although Navy records indicate the ship put out to sea that January on a tour that took her to Funchal, Maderia, Portugal; Rio de Janerio, Brazil; Montevideo, Uruguay, the Strait of Magellan, and Valparaiso, Chili.

Noil was discharged, March 18, 1867. Perhaps he found it difficult to make a living or perhaps he simply missed the sea, for he re-enlisted, Dec. 18, 1871, giving his age as 30. Presumably, he went straight to Norfolk and USS Powhatan, then part of the North Atlantic Squadron and one of the Navy’s last, and largest, paddle frigates.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
USS Powhatan

The ship’s conduct book noted Noil was “always 1st class and on time.” Upon receiving the Medal of Honor, Noil followed in the footsteps of eight African-American Sailors who received the medal during the Civil War. Akers noted that no African-American Sailor has received the Medal of Honor since the Spanish-American War.

Shipmates

For Noil and the others, their actions showed that valor transcended color, that black, brown, white, it didn’t matter — shipmates came first.

Shipmate comes without definition. It’s not because you’re white, because you’re black, because we come from the same state, because you’re in the same rating — It doesn’t stop when the orders stop. Your shipmates are your shipmates. I mean, that’s your family.” – Dr. Regina Akers

Related: These were America’s first African-American paratroopers

Noil’s story, Akers continued, also “reminds us of – the importance of Sailors’ readiness, their physical and mental fitness, the training. Drill, drill, drill. Drill them down to the point where they can think almost unconsciously about what to do. So, man overboard. – There’s just certain procedures that pop into place. Now, the environment makes it that much worse. But it doesn’t change the routine or the requirements or the plan for what to do if someone falls overboard.”

Over the next few years, Noil was discharged and re-enlisted twice. His next ship was USS Wyoming, a wooden-hulled, 198-foot screw sloop of war. The Wyoming arrived in Villefranche, France, near Nice, Christmas Eve 1878, and spent the next two years in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Hospitalized

She returned to Hampton Roads, Virginia, May 21, 1881. It was her final cruise. It was Noil’s as well. It must have been a difficult one, for that month, he was admitted to the naval hospital in Norfolk and quickly transferred to the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C.

“For many months,” his admission paperwork reads, “it has been noticed that the patient’s mind was failing, that he was losing his locomotive powers. … Early in April last, he had an epileptic attack, and another on the 13th of May. For two days after latter attack he was speechless, though able to walk and eat. As he has been in the U.S. Naval service for the last seventeen years, it is natural to infer the disease originated in the line of duty.”

No one knows exactly what condition Noil suffered from, whether it was what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, some form of depression, or something else, said Jogues Prandoni, Ph.D., a volunteer historian and former director of forensic services at the hospital, now called St. Elizabeth’s.

“There could be so many reasons. Back in that era, so little was known about mental illness that sometimes certain disorders that were clearly neurological and brain-based were attributed to other causes.” – Jogues Prandoni, Ph.D.

More reading: First African-American Marines finally get their own monument

There also wasn’t much 19th-century medicine could do for Noil, Prandoni continued, noting that although the hospital was the premier treatment facility for servicemen and veterans – as well as local civilians – only six medical doctors were on staff to treat roughly a thousand patients.

“What you had, basically, was moral therapy,” he explained. “The concept was that if you could remove people from the stresses of day-to-day living, put them in a homelike atmosphere with beautiful surroundings and caring individuals that would assist them in recovering.”

Noil’s wife, Sarah Jane, was terribly worried about her husband. With two daughters to support, she couldn’t afford to visit him, but she wrote to his doctor regularly: “I was sorry to hear that my husband was so sick and out of his mind. – Doctor do you think that I had better come on and see him? I am very poor with two children to look after,” she wrote in July 1881, later telling the doctor that her “poor little children are always talking about their papa and it makes me feel bad to hear them.”

“Doctor I am glad to think he has had good care. … Doctor if my husband should die I tell you I have not got the means to bury him,” she added that November.

Lost then found again

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
Chief of Navy Reserve Vice Adm. Robin Braun observes the wreath presentation by Sailors assigned to the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard at the headstone ceremony April 29, 2016 for Medal of Honor recipient Joseph B. Noil at St. Elizabeths Hospital Cemetery. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood)

Her husband did pass away, March 21, 1882. “He was a relatively young man,” said Prandoni. “He died within nine months. That really raises questions about what kind of disease process was going on. It certainly sounds like more than just a psychiatric disorder.”

“The loss of my poor husband has been quite a shock to me. – My friends assure me that time will reconcile me to my great bereavement,” Sarah Jane wrote after learning of his death. “Yet time and the great consolation that I have in meeting in a better world where parting will be no more, will I trust enable me to bear my sorrow.”

Unfortunately, Noil’s name was misspelled on his death certificate and subsequently his headstone. For more than a century, he lay lost in Saint Elizabeth’s graveyard under the name Joseph Benjamin Noel until a group of historians and researchers connected with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Medal of Honor Historical Society, including Armstrong, finally tracked him down.

Noil finally received a new headstone spring 2017, one with not only the correct spelling of his name but also recognizing him as a Medal of Honor recipient.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
American and Canadian flags are placed at the newly erected headstone of Medal of Honor recipient Joseph B. Noil. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood)

Your shipmate is not simply someone who happens to serve with you. He or she is someone who you know that you can trust and count on to stand by you in good times and bad and who will forever have your back. – We are [Noil’s] shipmates and 134 years after he passed, we have his back.” – Vice Adm. Robin Braun, Chief of Navy Reserve
MIGHTY HISTORY

An in-depth look at the F-35 Lightning II and its history

The F-35A Lightning II is a fifth-generation fighter combining advanced aerodynamics, survivability in high-threat environments, and an enhanced ability to provide pilots and allied assets across operational domains with robust situational awareness.

The F-35 is the result of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program to develop a single-engine, stealthy, multi-role fighter to replace an aging fleet of mission-dedicated airframes: the F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II for the Air Force and the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier II for the Navy and Marine Corps.


Although separate airframe variants were designed to meet specific needs of the various military services, all F-35 variants are primarily designed to infiltrate contested airspace, accurately deliver guided and conventional munitions, and collect, process and disseminate real-time reconnaissance while maintaining robust air-to-air combat capability at speeds above Mach 1.

F-35A Test Operations

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Military and budgetary benefits of international cooperation are well represented in the F-35 program. Partner nations including the U.S., U.K., Canada, Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, Norway and Australia, are highly involved in the aircraft’s ongoing development. The F-35 has also been sold to Israel, Japan, and South Korea.

Use of a common weapons system among allies promotes an operational familiarity during coalition partner training and combat, while reducing the cost, time, training, manning and research and development of integrating dissimilar airframes of those allied nations.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is preparing to receive its first squadron of 14 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs in-country in late 2018.

The Royal Australian Air Force, has committed to obtaining 72 F-35A aircraft to form three operational squadrons at RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal, and a training squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown. The RAAF is expected to take delivery of its first operational F-35As in December 2018.

Development and design

After winning the JSF design competition, 0 million contracts to build prototypes were awarded in 1997 to both Lockheed Martin for it’s X-35, and Boeing, for its X-32.

Boeing’s entry incorporated the requirements of all the services into one short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) airframe with thrust being vectored through nozzles, as with the existing Harrier.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage

The Boeing X-32, left, and the Lockheed X-35 competed for the DoD contract to produce the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) in 1997. Both companies received 0 million grants to build prototypes. The new single-engine, Mach-1 capable aircraft needed to be stealthy and provide robust situational awareness to the pilot during attacks on ground targets and when fighting in air-to-air engagements. It also needed to meet the specifications of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps as well as nation partners. Lockheed won the competition which would eventually produce the F-35 Lightning II.

Lockheed Martin proposed to produce three airframe variants, one for each service: the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35A for the Air Force’s long runways; the STOVL version, the F-35B, for U.S. Marine Corps and British navy and air force; and the F-35C for U.S. Navy carrier-born operations.

In the end, the Department of Defense determined the X-35B version, with a separate vertical-lift fan behind the cockpit, outperformed the Boeing entry and awarded the overall JSF contract to Lockheed Martin.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage

Maj. Nathan Sabin, taxis an F-35A of the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron, a tenant unit at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., before a test flight at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, Feb 17, 2016. Six operational test and evaluation F-35s and more than 85 airmen of the 31st TES travelled to Mountain Home AFB to conduct the first simulated deployment test of the F-35A, specifically to execute three key initial operational capability mission sets: suppression of enemy air defenses, close air support and air interdiction.

(U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

The first F-35A test aircraft purchased by the Air Force rolled off the production line in 2006. The Air Force took delivery of its first production F-35As at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in 2011 to begin pilot and maintainer training and in 2014 the 58th Fighter Squadron was the first to become a complete F-35A squadron.

After years of testing weapons separation, operational integration and aerial refueling, the Lightning II met its targets for initial operational capability when it was declared “combat ready” in August of 2016 by Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command.

Features and deployment​

Air Force units that operate the F-35A now include:

  • The 461st Flight Test Squadron and 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron at Edwards AFB, California.
  • The Integrated Training Center for pilots and maintainers at Eglin AFB, Florida.
  • The 388th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah.
  • The 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, Arizona.
  • The 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada.
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An F-35A Lightning II from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to MacDill AFB, Fla., about 100 miles off the Gulf Coast March 2, 2016. Airmen from the 33rd Fighter Wing were able to complete modifications to the aircraft ahead of schedule to enable the use of inert munitions instead of simulated weapons, advancing the fifth-generation fighter’s syllabus and ensuring pilots receive the most comprehensive training before they support a combat-coded F-35A unit.

The F-35 serves as an unparalleled force multiplier because its advanced sensors and datalinks share information and situational awareness not just between fifth- and fourth-generation U.S. and allied aircraft, but also between coalition land, sea and space assets.

This “operational quarterback” is also proving to pack a nasty ground attack and individual air-to-air combat capability.

During the large-scale combat training exercise, Red Flag 17-1, held at Nellis AFB in the spring of 2017, F-35As participated in multi-aircraft sorties in a highly-contested airspace. Air Force leadership and pilots reported F-35As destroyed multiple ground targets without being detected in the airspace and earned a stellar 20:1 kill ratio in air-to-air combat scenarios.

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F-35A Lightning IIs piloted by the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings prepare to depart Hill AFB, Utah, Jan. 20 for Nellis AFB, Nev., to participate in a Red Flag exercise. Red Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise. This is the first deployment to Red Flag since the Air Force declared the jet combat ready in August 2016.

(U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)

Despite the impressive individual performance, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein stresses the F-35 is best thought of as an integral component of the Air Force’s overall warfighting capability.

During a symposium at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in February of 2017, Goldfein was asked to compare the F-35’s capability versus advanced Chinese aircraft like the J-20 and the J-31.

“I hope, over time, we can evolve our discussion from platform v. platform, which I would argue is a 20th Century discussion, to a network versus network,” Goldfein said. “Its not about what the F-35 or the J-20 or the F-22 or the J-31 can actually do in a one versus one… it’s an interesting conversation, but its not very compelling because we are never going to have the F-35 in there by itself, ever.

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An F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off from Nellis AFB, Nev., Feb. 2, during Red Flag 17-01. This is the first F-35A deployment to Red Flag since the Air Force declared the jet combat ready in August 2016.

(Photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

“What really counts is we are going to bring a network, a family of systems to bear on the enemy. That’s going to be an F-35 that’s there with an F-22, that’s there with an F-18, that’s there with a space capability being fed into the cockpit, that’s there with cyber capabilities, that’s there with a multitude of ISR, that’s there with a submarine force. We’re going to bring multi-domain, multi-component capabilities and we’re going to bring coalition capabilities.

“As we do today, in the future, we are going to be able to achieve decision speed and maneuver forces from all domains and create so many dilemmas for the enemy that, that in itself, will become a deterrent value,” Goldfein said.

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An Air Force weapons load crew assigned to the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, Hill Air Froce Base, Utah, loads a GBU-12 into an F-35A Lightning II aircraft at Nellis AFB, Nevada, Feb. 1, 2017.

Partner nations who have purchased the airframe, the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, Norway, and Australia, are highly involved in the aircraft’s ongoing development. As such, the F-35 program represents a model of the military and budgetary benefits of international cooperation. The F-35 has also been sold to Israel, Japan and the Republic of South Korea.

Use of a common weapons system among allies promotes an operational familiarity during coalition partner training and combat, while reducing the cost, time, training, manning and research and development of trying to integrate dissimilar airframes of those allied nations.

Did you know?

  • The F-35A CTOL variant is flown by the air forces of the Netherlands, Australia, Japan and Italy.
  • The three F-35 variants are manufactured in Fort Worth, Texas, Cameri, Italy, and Nagoya, Japan, with 300,000 parts from 1,500 suppliers worldwide.
  • The F-35 software has more lines of code than the Space Shuttle.
  • An F-35’s pilot wears a helmet that has inputs necessary for situational awareness projected onto the interior of the visor: airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information and warnings. It also projects imagery from around the aircraft, via infrared cameras, onto the visor, allowing the pilot to “look through” the bottom of the aircraft.
  • The F-35 Lightning II is named after the famous WWII fighter, the twin-engine P-38 Lightning. The U.S.’ leading air combat pilot of WWII, Maj. Richard I. Bong, scored all of his 40 victories flying the P-38.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A fighter pilot shot his own fuel tanks mid-flight over Korea

In 1952, Lt. Col. A.J. D’Amario took off from an airstrip at Suwon, Korea in a F-80 Shooting Star jet fighter. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. He wasn’t going into combat and his plane was – he thought – in perfect working condition. He was wrong. 

D’Amario’s seemingly inconsequential flight was soon turned into a mid-air fight for his life that would see him turn his sidearm on his own plane before he could land safely. 

Writing on TailSpinTales, an aviation enthusiast blog, the then-retired Lt. Col. D’Amario recalled his 1952 flight at the height of the Korean War. He wasn’t going to see the enemy and his mission, as he put it, was “have fun boring holes in the sky for about an hour and a half.”

But almost immediately after takeoff, he could feel there was something wrong with his F-80 Shooting Star. The F-80 was the United States first operational jet fighter aircraft. It saw some action over Italy during World War II, but didn’t see extensive combat until years later in the Korean War. 

D’Amario writes that his F-80 felt heavy in the left wing and he quickly surmised that the left fuel tank was not feeding into the engine. Since he could neither land with the fuel (as prohibited by the tower) nor use the fuel, he was told to fly over to a bomber training field and drop the tank there before landing. 

U.S. Air Force P-80 Shooting Stars with drop tanks.
U.S. Air Force P-80 Shooting Stars with drop tanks.
(Lockheed)

So the pilot flew to the assigned bomber training field. But when the time came to drop the tank in a simulated bomb run, nothing happened. So D’Amario made another simulated bombing run. This time nothing still happened when he pressed the release button. So the pilot decided to give the bomb run one last shot.

This time, he was going to use the manual release for the drop tank. Nothing. On his fourth and final attempt to rid himself of the jammed fuel tank, he pressed what he called “the panic button.” This button was supposed to release everything attached to the wings of the airframe. It almost worked as advertised.

To D’Amario’s dismay, he did drop everything hanging off the Shooting Star’s fuselage. Except that left wing external fuel tank was still holding on strong. When he told the control tower that his tank wasn’t coming off, they advised him to give his coordinated, eject and wait for a rescue party. 

Fighter pilot D'Amario
D’Amario retired from the Air Force as a Lt. Col.
(U.S. Air Force)

“Well, pilots really hate to punch out of a perfectly flyable airplane and I figured I still had one option worth trying,” he wrote. 

Dropping to the lowest possible speed he could for an F-80, he opened his canopy at 220 miles per hour and drew his .45 sidearm. Knowing the fuel would not burn in its liquid form, he aimed his issued Colt 1911 pistol at an area of the tank where he knew the fuel would be liquified.

He fired the pistol at least four times in a desperate attempt to shoot himself down. He had a few solid hits, large enough to watch the liquid pouring out of the errant fuel tank. The airman at the stick of the Shooting Star decided to flay in a manner that would drain the excess fuel from his fuel tank.

With three solid holes and some fancy flying, the American drained the fuel as fast as they could. He flew in a series of so-called “fancy” maneuvers that would help drain the fuel out as fast as possible for another 30 minutes. 

That’s exactly what happened. He was finally cleared to land.

MIGHTY HISTORY

10 things you may not know about the Coast Guard Reserve

The United States Coast Guard Reserve is a flexible, responsive operational force that exists to support the Coast Guard roles of maritime homeland security, national defense, and domestic disaster operations. The Coast Guard depends on the Reserve force to be always ready (Semper Paratus!) to mobilize with critical competencies in boat operations, contingency planning and response, expeditionary warfare, marine safety, port security, law enforcement and mission support.


On Feb. 19, 2018, we will celebrate 77 years of extraordinary Coast Guard Reserve service!

Also read: These Coasties were tougher than your first sergeant

While I’m fortunate to know many of our reservists, I have to admit, I didn’t know a lot about the history or inner-workings of our Reserve force. To learn more, I reached out to our incredible reserve community and the wonderful people who work with them. I was amazed by what I learned and I think that you will be, too!

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Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp speaks to members of Coast Guard Reserve Port Security Unit 305, deployed to Joint Task Force Guantanamo, during an all-hands meeting. (U.S. Navy photo)

1. The Coast Guard Reserve played a significant role in Coast Guard operations during World War II.

More than 92 percent of the 214,000 personnel who served in the Coast Guard during WWII were reservists, with an additional 125,000 personnel serving in the Temporary Reserve. From manning Coast Guard and Navy ships, to acting as coxswains on invasion landing craft – their service and heroics were present from Iwo Jima and Guam, to Normandy and North Africa.

2. The Coast Guard Reserve is Semper Paratus (always ready).

Since 1972, reservists have been subject to involuntary activation for domestic contingencies and have up to 48 hours to report for active duty upon notification. In 2017, nearly 1,300 reservists were activated in support of hurricane response operations.

3. A reservist will be serving at the White House.

A Reserve Physician’s Assistant (PA) will be serving on active duty with the White House Medical Unit beginning this summer. She will be the first reservist to serve in this capacity.

4. RESERVIST Magazine has been continuously published since 1953.

The original purpose was “the dissemination of up-to-date information of interest to all Coast Guard Reservists, on active and inactive duty” and that purpose continues today.

5. On November 23, 1942, the Women’s Reserve was established as a branch of the Coast Guard.

Members became known as SPARs, an acronym derived from the Coast Guard’s motto, “Semper Paratus, Always Ready.” SPARs became the foundation for women in the Coast Guard today.

6. Reservists have deployed all over the world and served in multiple conflicts.

Whether at home or overseas, whether man-made or natural, whatever the reason, wherever the need, the Coast Guard Reserve will be there when needed most.

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Coast Guard Reserve Seaman Christopher Knight, removes an M-240 machine gun from a Viper patrol boat for cleaning, Dec. 11, 2008. (Photo by Army Spc. Erica Isaacson)

7. In addition to the Coast Guard’s core values, there are three Coast Guard Reserve tenets.

Professionalism, preparedness, and patriotism: These are prominently displayed on the Emblem of the Coast Guard Reserve.

8. A number of celebrities have served in the Coast Guard Reserve and/or Temporary Reserve.

The Coast Guard Reserve has some celebrity connections, including Humphrey Bogart, Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges, Senator Sam Nunn, Rep. Bill Delahunt, and Rep. Howard Coble.

9. Many Coast Guard reservists have other jobs.

Coast Guard reservists often perform very different functions in their civilian lives – they’re teachers, police officers, firefighters, pharmaceutical salesmen, and real estate agents. For two weeks out of the year (or more), they put their lives on hold to commit to fulfilling their obligations to the service. And, once a month, they often work seven days straight.

10. Our reservists don’t serve for the pay or the glory.

To quote Chief Eric McCusker, one of the reservists that I have the honor of knowing, “We do this for a few hundred dollars which is sometimes not enough to cover the cost of airfare when we have to travel out of state to our drilling units on our own dime. We don’t perform our jobs in the Reserve for the pay or the glory. We do it because we love it. We love feeling that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We love the opportunity to get to help assist our active duty brothers and sisters (even though sometimes we catch a lot of grief for being “Weekend Warriors”). We leave our drilling units each weekend with a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that we have done our best.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Exercise Tiger’: The training exercise that might have torpedoed D-Day

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Nothing has even been more with doing than invading occupied France in 1944. If the Allies were going to successfully land on the Normandy coast, however, they needed a perfect landing. Practice makes perfect, so that’s what the Allies did. 

The training for D-Day was called “Exercise Tiger” and like most military exercises, it did not go entirely as planned. For starters, this training operation was wrecked by the actual enemy.

A few months before the scheduled D-Day landings window, American Force U, the units that were assigned to land at Utah Beach that Spring, started preparing for their task. More than 220 ships and landing craft were huddled together in Lyme Bay, on England’s southern coast. Their destination was Slapton Sands to the southwest along the English Channel. 

To land there, the Americans were going to train like they were going to fight, with infantry carrying everything they were supposed to for the actual invasion of Europe. The Navy was going to fire actual live shells onto the beach. Everything was supposed to go the way it would happen on D-Day. It did not go that way.

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American troops landing on beach in England during rehearsal for invasion of Nazi occupied France (“Exercise Tiger“).

The most important problem for the practice landing was hiding the landing force. The German knew an invasion would coming soon and were on the lookout for it through spies, aerial and naval reconnaissance, and radio traffic. The Germans saw the Allied landing force and knew where they were.

Next, the landing force only had one Allied cruiser escort to cover it in case of a German attack. It was supposed to have two, but one of them had to back out at the last moment due to an accidental collision in the bay. The HMS Azalea would be its only cover. 

As the convoy traversed Lyme Bay in the early morning hours of April 28th, British radar picked up German S-boats, torpedo boats, making their way toward the convoy. The coastal defenses also saw the S-boats, but couldn’t fire on them because they were under orders not to engage. 

Battle of Lyme Bay during Exercise Tiger
The location of the Battle of Lyme Bay during the ill-fated Exercise Tiger

By the time the Azalea saw green tracer rounds fired at the landing craft the two S-boats had already launched their torpedoes at LST-507. Radiomen aboard the other landing craft tried to discern what was happening but the convoy was spread out and radio silence had been ordered, adding to the general confusion.

Within one half-hour LST-507 gave the order to abandon ship. With the soldiers aboard carrying their full kit and hastily-applied life vests, many of them drowned. Less than an hour later, LST-531 was hit by torpedoes and sank much faster, carrying all but 29 aboard to the bottom of the English Channel with it. 

One more landing craft, LST-289, was hit by a torpedo, but managed to limp back to base. A total of 749 American died in the exercise – only 197 were killed in the actual D-Day landing on Utah Beach. 

Ten of the officers missing had knowledge of the D-Day invasion, and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered  delay to the planned attack until their bodies could be found and he was assured the Germans didn’t get their intelligence. 

The Germans didn’t get further intelligence from the attack on the convoy, but the convoy did affirm to German intelligence that a cross-channel invasion was coming. Eisenhower ordered the English Channel to be cleared of S-boats before launching Operation Overlord.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The revolutionary fuse that won World War II

Jet engines, air-to-air rockets, drones. World War II was filled with flashy technological breakthroughs that would change warfare, both during that conflict and in wars to follow. But it was one humble piece of equipment that got an early upgrade that may have actually tipped the war in America’s favor: the fuse.

Specifically, impact and timed fuses were switched out for a weapon that had been hypothetical until then: the proximity fuse.


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Anti-aircraft guns fire during World War II. Air defenders using timed fuses had to fire a lot of rounds to bring anything down.

(U.S. Army)

Anti-aircraft and other artillery rounds typically consist of an outer shell packed with a large amount of high explosives. These explosives are relatively stable, and require the activation of a fuse to detonate. Before World War II, there were two broad categories of fuses: impact and timed.

Impact fuses, sometimes known as crush fuses, go off when they impact something. A split-second later, this sets off the main explosives in the shell and causes it to explode in a cloud of shrapnel. This is great for hitting armored targets where you need the explosion pressed as closely as possible against the hull.

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A U.S. bomber flies through clouds of flak with an engine smoking. While flak and other timed-burst weapons could bring down planes, it typically took entire batteries firing at high rates to actually down anything.

(U.S. Air Force)

But for anti-personnel, anti-aircraft, or just wide-area coverage fire, artillerymen want the round to go off a couple feet or a couple yards above the ground. This allows for a much wider spread of lethal shrapnel. The best way of accomplishing this until 1940 was with a timed fuse. The force of the shell being propelled out of the tube starts a timer in the fuse, and the shell detonates after a set duration.

The fuses could be set to different times, and artillerymen in the fire direction center would do the math to see what time setting was needed for maximum shrapnel burst.

But timed fuses were less than perfect, and small math errors could lead to a round going off too early, allowing the shrapnel to disperse and slow before reaching personnel and planes, or too late, allowing the round to get stuck deep into the dirt before going off — the dirt then absorbs the round’s energy and stops much of the shrapnel.

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The Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University succeeded in creating a revolutionary fuse that would tip battles in America’s favor.

So, in 1940, the National Defense Research Committee asked the Carnegie Institution and Johns Hopkins University to complete research on a tricky project, proximity fuses that worked by sending out radio waves and then measuring the time it takes for those waves to bounce back, allowing it to detonate a set distance from an object. This required shrinking down a radio transmitter and receiver until it was small enough to fit in the space allotted for a fuse.

This, in turn, required all sorts of breakthroughs, like shrinking down vacuum tubes and finding ways to cradle all the sensitive electronics when a round is fired out of the tube.

The scientists accepted the challenge and began work in total secrecy. Top-tier talent, like Dr. James Van Allen, the one the “Van Allen radiation belt” is named after, managed to create a working fuse that detonated near its target approximately half the time.

That may not sound like a great rate, but it was actually a bit of a miracle. Air defenders had to fire thousands of rounds on average to bring down any of the fast, single-engine bombers that were becoming more and more popular — and deadly.

So, to suddenly have rounds that would explode near their target half the time, potentially bringing down an enemy plane in just a few dozen or few hundred shots, was a revelation.

This solved a few problems. Ships were now less likely to run out of anti-aircraft ammunition while on long cruises and could suddenly defend themselves much better from concerted bomber attacks.

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Sailors man anti-aircraft guns during World War II on the USS Hornet.

(U.S. Navy)

In fact, for the first while after the rounds were deployed, gains were only made at sea because the technology was deemed too sensitive to employ on land where duds could be captured and then reverse-engineered.

The fuses’ combat debut came at Guadalcanal where the USS Helena, one of the first three ships to receive it, fired on a dive bomber heading for its task force. The Helena fired two rounds and the fuses’ first victim burst into flame before plunging to a watery grave.

Two rounds, at a time when thousands used to fail to bring down an enemy plane.

From then on, naval commanders steered ships loaded with the advanced shells into the hearts of oncoming enemy waves, and the fuse was credited with 50 percent of the enemy kills the fleet attained even though only 25 percent of the ammo issued to the fleet had proximity fuses.

That means the fuse was outperforming traditional rounds three to one in routine combat conditions.

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A fireball from a kamikaze attack engulfs the USS Columbia during a battle near the Philippines in 1945. The Columbia survived, but 13 crew members were killed.

(U.S. Navy)

It even potentially saved the life of one of its creators, Dr. Van Allen. During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, where U.S. planes and gunners brought down over 500 Japanese planes, Dr. Van Allen was exposed on the USS Washington when it came under kamikaze attack. He later described what happened next:

“I saw at least two or three 5-inch shell bursts in the vicinity of the plane, and then the plane dove into the water several hundred yards short of the ship,” he said. “It was so close I could make out the pilot of the plane.”

The rounds were finally authorized for ground warfare in 1944, and their greatest moment came during the Battle of the Bulge when Gen. George S. Patton ordered them used against a concentration of tank crews and infantry.

The rounds were set to go off approximately 50 feet above the ground. Shrapnel tore through men and light equipment and took entire armored and infantry units out of play due to the sheer number of wounded and killed service members.

“The new shell with the funny fuse is devastating,” General Patton later wrote to the War Department. “I’m glad you all thought of it first.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Japanese diplomat saved 5 times as many Jews as Oskar Schindler

In 2019, a Japanese man traveled from Antwerp, Belgium, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to meet with a Jewish Rabbi at Shofuso, a Japanese house and garden in Philly. Though the two men had never met, their lives were decisively intertwined in 1940 by a war, a genocide and one man’s determination to do the right thing.


On January 1, 1900, Chiune Sugihara was born into a middle-class family in Japan. Receiving high marks in school, his father wanted him to be a physician. However, Sugihara had no desire to study medicine; he was far more interested in the English language. Sugihara failed his medical school entrance exam, writing only his name on the test, and entered Waseda University in Tokyo to study English. There, he became a member of Yuai Gakusha, a Christian fraternity founded by a Baptist pastor, to fortify his English.

In 1919, Sugihara passed the Foreign Ministry Scholarship exam. After two years of military service, he resigned his officer’s commission in 1922 and took the Foreign Ministry’s language qualifying exams in 1923. He passed the Russian exam with high marks and was recruited into the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

On assignment from the Foreign Ministry, Sugihara attended the Harbin Gakuin National University in China where he studied German, Russian and Russian Affairs. During his time in Harbin, Sugihara converted to Christianity and married Klaudia Semionovna Appollonova. In 1932, serving in the Manchurian Foreign Office, he negotiated with the Soviet Union to purchase the Northern Manchurian Railroad. In 1935, Sugihara resigned his post as Deputy Foreign Minister in Manchuria in protest of the harsh treatment of the local Chinese people by the Japanese. He and his wife divorced and Sugihara returned to Japan.

After returning to Japan, Sugihara married a woman named Yukiko with whom he had four sons. He continued his government service as a translator for the Japanese delegation to Finland. In 1939, Sugihara was made a vice-consul of the Japanese Consulate in Lithuania. In addition to his diplomatic duties, Sugihara was instructed to report on Soviet and German troop movements.

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Photographic portrait of Chiune Sugihara. (Public domain/Author unknown)

Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, many Jewish Poles had fled to neighboring Lithuania. The Soviets also had begun to take over Lithuania, establishing military bases in 1939. By 1940, Polish refugees, along with many Jewish Lithuanians and Jewish refugees from other countries, sought exit visas to flee the country. At the time, the Japanese government only issued visas to individuals who had gone through official immigration channels and already had a visa to another destination to exit Japan. Sugihara contacted the Foreign Ministry three times to make exceptions for the Jewish refugees; he was denied three times.

Aware of the dangers facing these people, Sugihara did what he knew to be right. Beginning July18, in deliberate disobedience of his orders, he issued 10-day visas to Jews for them to transit through Japan. He also made arrangements with Soviet officials who allowed the refugees to travel through the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Railway (at five times the regular price). Working 18 to 20 hours a day, Sugihara hand-wrote visas, producing a month’s worth of them every day. He continued his life-saving work until September 4, when he was forced to leave his post just before the consulate was closed.

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The holder of this Czech passport escaped to Poland in 1939 and received a Sugihara visa for travel via Siberia and Japan to Suriname. (Public Domain/Scanned by username Huddyhuddy)

Witnesses report that Sugihara continued to write visas on his way to the railroad station from his hotel and even after boarding the train. He threw the visas out into the crowds of refugees even as the train departed the station. Out of visas, Sugihara even threw out blank sheets of paper bearing only the consulate seal and his signature for people to turn into visas. According to Sugihara’s biography written by Yukiko Sugihara, one of his sons, as he departed, he bowed to the crowd and said, “Please forgive me. I cannot write anymore. I wish you the best.”

Someone exclaimed from the crowd, “Sugihara. We’ll never forget you. I’ll surely see you again!”

The exact numbers of visas issued and Jewish people saved is in dispute. Hillel Levine, an author and professor at Boston University, estimates that Sugihara helped, “as many as 10,000 people,” though fewer than that number survived. Some Jews carrying Sugihara’s visas did not leave the country before the German invasion of the Soviet Union and were murdered in the Holocaust. The Simon Wiesenthal Center estimates that Sugihara issued transit visas for about 6,000 Jews and that around 40,000 descendants of the refugees are alive today as a result of Sugihara and his visas.

In 1984, Sugihara was recognized by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, as Righteous among the Nations. This honorific title is given by Israel to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust for altruistic reasons.

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The Righteous Among the Nations Medal. (Credit Yad Vashem)

Despite his fame in Israel and other nations for his actions, he lived in relative obscurity in Japan until his death in 1986. His funeral was attended by a large Jewish delegation from around the world, including the Israeli ambassador to Japan. After this, Sugihara’s heroic story spread throughout the country.

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Chiune Sugihara and his youngest son, Nobuki, in Israel 1969. (Photo by Nobuki Sugihara)

The Japanese man from Antwerp, Belgium, was Nobuki Sugihara, youngest and only surviving son of Chiune Sugihara. He met in Philadelphia with Rabbi Yossy Goldman, son Rabbi Shimon Goldman. The elder Goldman was a teenage student that fled Poland, and then Lithuania, with his class and teachers on one of Sugihara’s visas. Shimon Goldman passed away in 2016 at the age of 91, leaving behind more than 100 descendants, including 80 great-grandchildren. “Every time he clutched a great-grandchild to his heart, it was not only love but also an indication for him that Hitler did not win,” Yossy remembered of his father. Yossy was joined by his own son, Rabbi Yochonon Goldman, and the three men sat down to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. “I would not be here, my son would not be here, none of us would be here if it was not for your father,” Yossy said to Nobuki, “God bless his soul. I’m sure there’s a special place in heaven for him. Thank you.”

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(Left to right) Nobuki Sugihara, Rabbi Yossy Goldman, and Rabbi Yochonon Goldman at Shofuso. (Photo by Sharla Feldsher/Retrieved from WHYY.org)

Today, Sugihara has streets in Lithuania, Israel and Japan, and even an asteroid named after him. Further tributes to the Japanese diplomat include gardens, stamps and statues. However, his greatest legacy is the thousands of Jews that he saved and their tens of thousands of descendants. In Sugihara’s own words, “I may have disobeyed my government, but if I didn’t, I would be disobeying God. In life, do what’s right because it’s right, and leave it alone.”

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Finance innovator Leo Melamed and his wife Betty visit the Chiune Sugihara memorial at Waseda University. Melamed fled Europe on one of Sugihara’s visas. (Photo by Waseda University)

MIGHTY HISTORY

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

The First World War brought a level of destruction that the world had never seen before. At the start of the war, only the French, Russians, English, and Italians stood against the Germans, Austro-Hungarians, and the Ottomans with their respective territories/colonies/provinces each filing in under their protectorate states. Every corner of the world was forced to take sides, officially or otherwise.

Neutral nations would be asked politically at first, but were quickly strong-armed into supporting one side or the other. This same fate could have befallen Afghans — who were distrusting of British India to the East and the Allied Russians to the north — if the negotiations hadn’t gone spectacularly wrong.


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Too easy, right? This is only the “Graveyard of Empires” we’re talking about here.

In September, 1915, the Germans saw in opportunity in exploiting the Afghan tribes’ strategic advantage against the Allied troops that had left British India to fight in Europe. Persia had been officially neutral, but swung sides depending on who was more in control (Note: This was before the Turkish Invasion of Persia, which would eventually solidify their anti-Ottoman stance). If Afghanistan would join the Ottomans, the Persians would certainly follow. After all, the Afghan people hated the British and most of the ruling parties. All that stood in the way of a Central Powers-controlled Middle East and a wide-open causeway through India was a hesitant Amir Habibullah Khan, then the leader of Afghanistan.

The Ottomans leveraged much religious control over their fellow Muslim nations. Grassroots protests ran rampant in British-controlled India. Things were at a tipping point and all it would take was some sweet talking by a Bavarian officer, Oscar Niedermayer, on official orders from the Kaiser to go win them over. On paper, the plan was flawless.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
Mahendra Pratap, centre, with (left to right) Maulavi Barkatullah, Werner Otto von Hentig, Kazim Bey, and Walter Röhr. Kabul, 1916

Don’t worry. Niedermayer maybe won’t screw things up just yet.

Niedermayer and his team traveled to Constantinople to meet up with their Turkish counterparts. Despite being in friendly territory, the mission was to be highly covert — one that, if compromised, could end in death for everyone involved. Yet, when the Turks showed up to the Pera Palace Hotel, they found the Germans sh*tfaced drunk, openly telling everyone that they’re going on an Afghanistan Expedition. Understandably, the Turks said, “f*ck it” and left, unwilling to be part of a botched mission that would have them executed if gone poorly due to the actions of some drunken idiots.

After the disaster in Constantinople, Berlin sent in Prussian diplomat, Werner-Otto von Hentig, to join in. Von Hentig was a consummate professional and had brought with him Raja Mahendra Pratap, an Indian royal who wanted to take control back from the British, to aid in negotiations. Niedermayer took great offense to this and constantly butted heads with von Hentig.

The combined teams finally reached Kabul to start negotiations anew.

This ‘Nasty Nick’ obstacle course is part of SF Heritage
(U.S. Navy)

And celebrate they did. In only the truest of German manners.

Von Hentig and Pratap made friends with the Afghan ruler. Meanwhile, Afghan print media started stirring up anti-British sentiment. Months went by and negotiations continued. The war had started to cripple the Allies and Russia was on the verge of collapse after the “Great Retreat.”

In December, Amir Habibullah Khan ordered the drafting of treaty of friendship to establish an agreement between Afghanistan and Germany. By April 1916, things were looking good for the Central Powers. The enemy was getting weaker and they were inches away from gaining a strategic ally. They would, of course, celebrate.

The details of the event are still hazy, but it’s widely assumed that they got sh*tfaced once again — this time, in a Muslim country that strictly forbade alcohol. This turned into strong condemnation from Afghan leadership — even those who once supported their cause.

The Niedermayer–von Hentig Expedition was sent packing. Soon after, Persia was invaded by the Turks, which gave rise to a hard-line hatred of the Central Powers. As history shows, the Central Powers lost WWI. Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated after the war’s conclusion by an anti-British coup that lead into the Third Anglo-Afghan War — which was lost in spectacular fashion.

All of history as we know it may have been rewritten were it not for one fateful night.

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