On March 30, 1972, 14 North Vietnamese Army divisions crossed over the DMZ. The attacks would later be known as the Easter Offensive. Three days later, on Sunday, April 2, a US Air Force EB-66 radar-jamming aircraft was shot down just south of the DMZ in enemy-controlled territory. The crash killed five crewmen. The one lone survivor, Lt. Col. Iceal B. Hambleton, parachuted out of the aircraft into an area thick with NVA troops.
Bat 21, as Lt. Col. Hambleton was known by his call sign, was immediately part of an Army helicopter rescue attempt near the Cam Lo bridge over the Mieu Giang River. But that helicopter was also shot down, and all four personnel aboard died. So the Army tried again, but once more, the chopper was shot. This time, it was so badly damaged that it had to crash land after escaping heavy NVA fire.
The next morning, April 3, Air Force pilots circled about Bat 21’s presumed location to drop mines and keep the enemy from swarming him. Conditions were dire, and there were growing concerns that a rescue attempt might not be successful. Two more Air Force search and rescue helicopters were so badly damaged by enemy fire that both had to withdraw.
Not prepared to give up, the Air Force sent out an OV-10 Bronco spotter plane to assist with the rescue, but that too was shot down. Capt. William Henderson and 1st Lt. Mark Clark both parachuted to the ground near the river.
Three more rescue attempts failed, and by nightfall on April 3, Capt. Henderson was captured. He would spend a total of 369 days as a prisoner of war. During the course of the next seven days, Lt. Col. Hambleton and 1st Lt. Clark would become the focus of the most intense and costly rescue efforts of the entire war.
The following day, eight fighter planes sustained battle damage, and one was completely destroyed. Two days later, on April 6, 52 sorties (attacks made by troops coming out from a position of defense) and four B-52 bombers obliterated the area. Helicopters flew around in an attempt to locate Hambleton and Clark for rescue.
The helicopter was struck by enemy fire, and all six aboard were killed. One day later, another AF OV-10 circled the area but again, was shot down, and both airmen were lost. By the 9th of April, it was clear that Hambleton and Clark couldn’t be rescued by air.
Enter Navy SEAL LtJG Thomas R. Norris. Norris was assigned to lead a team of five SVA navy commandos in a ground rescue. Norris was a veteran of Vietnam and had been in-country for over a year.
Nightfall, April 10: Norris takes his team out in search of Clark. He’d planned to swim upriver, but the current was too strong. So Norris advised Clark to float down to them. Clark did so, and Norris was able to retrieve him and take him to safety.
Three days later, Norris and a member of his team went upriver to a bombed-out village and found a sampan. In complete darkness, they went in search of Hambleton. The sailors found the airman and hid him in the bottom of the boat, hoping they might look like fishermen. But then they came under heavy NVA fire and pulled to the shore to call for air support. Smoke cover and friendly fire allowed the men to return to the river and reach a safe position, all the while carrying Hambleton, who could no longer walk.
In October, Norris was nearly killed when he was shot in the head during an intelligence-gathering mission. The actions of fellow SEAL Michael E. Thornton saved his life. For those gallant efforts, Thornton was awarded the Medal of Honor. After three years of hospitalization, Norris was also awarded the Medal of Honor. However, in broad reviews of the conflict, his name is not widely discussed or known.
Stanislav Petrov was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Air Defense Forces, and his job was to monitor his country’s satellite system, which was looking for any possible nuclear weapons launches by the United States.
“The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word ‘launch’ on it,” Petrov told the BBC in 2013.
It was already a moment of extreme tension in the Cold War. On Sept. 1 of that year, the Soviet Union shot down a Korean Air Lines plane that had drifted into Soviet airspace, killing all 269 people on board, including a US congressman. The episode led the US and the Soviets to exchange warnings and threats.
Petrov had to act quickly. US missiles could reach the Soviet Union in just over 20 minutes.
“There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike,” Petrov told the BBC. “But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time, that the Soviet Union’s military and political leadership needed to be informed without delay. All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders – but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan.”
Petrov sensed something wasn’t adding up.
He had been trained to expect an all-out nuclear assault from the US, so it seemed strange that the satellite system was detecting only a few missiles being launched. And the system itself was fairly new. He didn’t completely trust it.
Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis recalled the episode in an interview last December on NPR:
“[Petrov] just had this feeling in his gut that it wasn’t right. It was five missiles. It didn’t seem like enough. So even though by all of the protocols he had been trained to follow, he should absolutely have reported that up the chain of command and, you know, we should be talking about the great nuclear war of 1983 if any of us survived.”
After several nerve-jangling minutes, Petrov didn’t send the computer warning to his superiors. He checked to see if there had been a computer malfunction.
He had guessed correctly.
“Twenty-three minutes later I realized that nothing had happened,” he said in 2013. “If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief.”
That episode and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis are considered to be the closest the US and the Soviets came to a nuclear exchange. And while the Cuban Missile Crisis has been widely examined, Petrov’s actions have received much less attention.
Petrov died on May 19, at age 77, in a suburb outside Moscow, according to news reports Sept. 18. He had long since retired and was living alone. News of his death apparently went unrecognized at the time.
Karl Schumacher, a German political activist who had highlighted Petrov’s actions in recent years, tried to contact Petrov earlier this month to wish him a happy birthday. Instead, he reached Petrov’s son, Dmitri, who said his father had died in May.
Petrov said he received an official reprimand for making mistakes in his logbook on Sept. 26, 1983.
His story was not publicized at the time, but it did emerge after the Soviet Union collapsed. He received a number of international awards during the final years of his life. In 2015, a docudrama about him featuring Kevin Costner was called The Man Who Saved The World.
But he never considered himself a hero.
“That was my job,” he said. “But they were lucky it was me on shift that night.”
Narrator: Every year, the United States Postal Service takes and delivers 142 billion mailed items. If it needs to go from point A to point B anywhere in the US, the post office can do it. It survived the Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the upheaval brought by the internet and email.
But it’s currently more than 0 billion in debt, and it’s telling Congress it will run out of cash by September and needs a billion infusion. How did this happen?
The US Postal Service has been delivering mail since before the Declaration of Independence was even signed. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin was appointed postmaster general, and it was Franklin who handled the distribution of letters from Congress to its armies during the Revolutionary War. President George Washington signed the Postal Service Act, which authorized Congress to create the US Postal Service. This established routes and made it illegal to open anyone’s mail.
Clip: What matter if it took two weeks to go from New York to Atlanta, over a month to St. Louis? If the letter from Uncle Ben arrived a day or so later, nobody fussed.
Narrator: In 1823, it started using waterways to deliver mail, then began using railroads. 1847 saw the first issued stamps. And then the famed Pony Express debuted in 1860. In 1896, it began delivering to some rural addresses, meaning residents no longer had to go to the town post office to get their mail. By 1923, all houses were required to have a mail slot. And in 1963, zip codes made their debut.
Clip: What a system! As you can plainly see, just five little numbers, quick as can be.
Narrator: But what really transformed the post office into what we know today? That happened a few years later.
Clip: The post office stands to be swamped, overwhelmed, drowned in a sea of mail. Where do we go from here?
Narrator: In 1967, the postmaster general testified before Congress that the post office was in “a race with catastrophe.” There were all sorts of backlogs, and sorting-room floors were bursting with unsorted mail. Combined with a postal worker strike in March of 1970, led to the Postal Reorganization Act and established the United States Postal Service as we know it today.
Clip: The Post Office Department is leading the search for better ways to process and dispatch mail in the shortest time possible.
Narrator: The act eliminated the post office from the president’s cabinet and made the post office its own federal agency. It was set up more like a corporation than a government agency and had an official monopoly on the delivery of letter mail in the US. It also set up the elimination of the post office’s direct government subsidies, which were completely phased out in 1982. The post office has been operating without any taxpayer money since.
Competition from UPS and FedEx made the post office innovate on its offerings, like introducing express mail. But since its most lucrative service was first-class mail, the USPS didn’t have to worry too much about competing with other companies. In fact, the post office has partnered with both companies in the past, like when it signed a deal in 2000 that contracted its air delivery of first-class, priority, and express mail to FedEx.
So, basically, the USPS was fine. First-class mail volume peaked in 2001 at 103.6 billion pieces of mail. It operated at a loss in the first couple years of the 21st century, but by 2003, it was back to operating at a profit. In fact, from 2003 through 2006, USPS recorded a total .3 billion profit. That all changed at the end of 2006.
Clip: HR 6407, a bill to reform the postal laws of the United States.
Narrator: Enter the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which was passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. Up until this point, the post office added to and removed from its retiree pension and healthcare accounts on an ongoing basis, putting money in as needed, based on its current retirees. This model is similar to the way many other companies and corporations fund their own healthcare pensions. This act changed all that.
It required the post office to calculate all of its retiree pension and healthcare costs for the next 75 years, including for people it hadn’t even hired yet, and put away enough over the next 10 years to cover them. To put this in perspective, that’d be like you only working from age 18 to 28 and then expecting to live on that income until you were 103 years old.
The timing for this was not ideal, either. Email, texting, and online payments had begun to chip away at the post office’s main business, first-class mail, which had slowly been declining since its 2001 peak. But even that decline wouldn’t put the post office in the negative.
If not for the 75-year pension and healthcare obligation, the USPS would have reported operating profits for the last six years. Once the bill was enacted, USPS had to contribute about .6 billion a year for people who had not yet retired, in addition to the normal amount for current retirees. In 2006, prior to the new bill, this was id=”listicle-2646188290″.6 billion for those who were already retired. In 2007, USPS had to put away 625% more, about billion, to cover both current and future retirees. This gave the post office an annual loss of more than billion for the year.
Additionally, the new bill restricted the post office’s ability to set prices. First-class mail, marketing mail, and other products the post office does not have a large competition for were all tied to the consumer price index, meaning it couldn’t increase rates for those products above the rate of inflation. This has caused various problems, like in 2009, when prices couldn’t be raised at all on those products, because there was no inflation.
The rule has created an environment where packages are the post office’s only profitable area. By 2010, the post office’s overall debt, which was just over billion in 2006, had climbed to billion. It sounded the alarm to Congress multiple times and was also the subject of a 2018 Trump administration report saying the pension obligation should be restructured. But nothing changed. In its most recent annual report, the post office said it had incurred almost billion in losses from 2007 to 2019. It couldn’t afford to make any payments into the fund from 2012 to 2016 and now owes about billion related to its future pension and health benefit obligations.
Which brings us to today. As with many other industries, the coronavirus has taken its toll on the post office. First-class and marketing mail have plummeted, and the post office expects a billion decline in revenue. The postmaster general has told Congress she expects the USPS to be completely out of cash by September. This would make it unable to pay its employees and could quickly cause disaster in mail delivery across the country, especially in rural areas not serviced by UPS and FedEx. So, can it be saved?
The post office is now asking Congress for a billion cash infusion along with a billion loan. The initial bailout bill Congress passed in March provided billion for the post office, far less than the billion the organization was seeking in the bill. However, President Trump threatened to veto any bill that bailed out the post office, so the bill was changed before signing to a billion loan, 13% of the billion it had originally asked for and another billion to add to its debt.
And then, in early May, Trump appointed Louis DeJoy the new postmaster general, and he will take the reins of the organization on June 15. Unlike the last three postmaster generals, DeJoy is not a career employee; he is a large GOP donor and the former CEO of a logistics company. Democrats and ethics watchdogs see the appointment as purely political, not just because of Trump’s desire to reshape the post office, but also because millions of Americans may be forced to vote by mail this year, which means the future of the post office is likely to become a political issue this spring and summer, especially if its cash flow starts running dry.
And those at risk? The 497,000 Americans who rely on the USPS for their jobs, and the 329 million Americans who rely on it for paying bills, medication, and everything else the USPS delivers through rain, sleet, snow, and even pandemics.
The trio shuffled into the small room with canes and walkers to record their testimonies of the first confrontations of the Cold War and how the allies prevailed without firing a shot, saving a former enemy from oppression.
The Royal Air Force Museum American Foundation celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of Berlin Airlift at their annual “Spirit of the Battle of Britain” banquet October 2019 to honor these veterans for their contributions to the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom.
The trio retold their stories of using soft air power to deter Soviet aggression in post-World War II Berlin, and current U.S. Air Force and RAF airmen were honored for continuing to further the partnership between the two nations.
Prior to the dinner, the trio transported family, listeners and caregivers back to 1940s Germany.
“I remember the war,” said Mercedes Wild, who was seven years old at the start of the Berlin Airlift. “They (Allied bombers) destroyed Berlin. It was a hard time for the kids in West Berlin. Berlin is a destroyed city. We will never forget the sound of the bombers.”
After WWII, the German capital was divided with Soviet Russia controlling East Berlin and British, French and American Allies responsible for the west. The city was located more than 100 miles inside the Russian controlled portion of Germany. On June 24, 1948, the Russians implemented a blockade of West Berlin to prevent food and supplies, such as coal, from entering the town. The effort attempted to break the spirit of the West Berlin people to reject democracy and embrace communism.
A C-54 Skymaster piloted by retired Col. Gail Halvorsen drops candy with attached parachutes to children during the Berlin Airlift. Halvorsen earned the nickname “Candy Bomber” for his operation Little Vittles candy drops. Note the parachutes below the tail of the C-54.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Enter, veterans and the Berlin Airlift.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, widely known as the “Candy Bomber,” described volunteering for the mission that changed his life and the lives of millions in West Berlin. Halvorsen, a 28-year-old lieutenant at the time, grew up on a farm in Utah, where helping a neighbor in need was a way of life.
“My dad was an example to me,” he said. “He had plenty to do himself, but when a neighbor, a farmer, needed help and couldn’t get enough help, my dad would drop some of the things that weren’t so important on our farm to help the next-door neighbor.”
Halvorsen saw his first aircraft flying overhead on the farm while he was working the fields. He was hooked and signed up for a non-college pilot training program. Soon he received his flight training and was flying cargo aircraft in Mobile, Alabama. When the word came of the attempts by Russia to stomp out freedom in West Berlin by starving its residents, there was no doubt of his next step.
“I volunteered to fly supplies in early,” Halvorsen recalled.
At first, the citizens of West Berlin didn’t know what to think of hearing heavy aircraft over their heads again.
“The noise of the airplanes during the airlift in the beginning I feared, because it was the same noise while bombing Berlin,” Wild said.
They would soon learn the aircraft were not carrying bombs but food and supplies to keep them alive. The logistics of flying 2.3 million tons of goods and equipment was not without risks. In total, 101 airmen from around the world perished in the Berlin Airlift.
“Two hundred meters from our house, there was the first airlift airplane crash in the night,” Wild remembered. “The next morning I went with my mother. It was destroyed. The two pilots were dead. The people were very sorry about this … They feared that the west allies would now stop the airlift.”
A hard winter already made food in short supply, Wild explained. The only meal she might get would come from school and she would sneak part of this food to her mother, who was sick. She also took care of the family chickens, whose eggs she would trade on the black market for meat or shoes. Still, none of these hardships compared to the fear of the Russians returning to West Berlin as they had done in the final days of the war.
“The normal West Berliner did not want to become Soviet,” she said. “The Soviet regime was near the same as Nazi time and they feared the Russians. They remembered the Russian soldiers.”
As Halvorsen flew food and coal into the city of Berlin, a 19-year-old RAF pilot flew gasoline into Berlin.
Then-Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“The Halifax aircraft was a converted bomber,” said Dereck Hermiston. “The bomb racks had been taken and we flew, I think it was 40 or 41, 45-gallon tanks of gasoline. They had wooden beams, and they (used them) to roll these drums up. Quite unstable, and it stank to high hell.”
The son of a WWI pilot, Hermiston was among the youngest airmen to participate in flying the airlift. Yet, even as a teenager, the reversal of roles did not escape him.
“I realized, as a British officer, that we had bombed, and bombed, and bombed Berlin with the Americans, and it was a reversal,” he said. “We were now trying to save the Berliners from what was quite an oppressive regime from the Russians. I met a few Russian officers, and they were very sure they wanted to stop Germany from growing ever again.”
There was always worry of an international incident turning the Cold War operation hot, as Hermiston told.
“We were buzzed by a Russian MiG-9 one morning,” Hermiston, very much still a kid at heart, said with a chuckle. “I think it was about 4 o’clock in the morning. It was just getting daylight. There was this great shudder, and this fighter aircraft flew underneath us … and looped around us. As he came down, I had no room to maneuver. I suppose he missed us by about 200 to 300 feet. It was enough to make the aircraft shudder. Little things like that I remember because I was frightened.”
Despite the harsh weather conditions and aero acrobatic antics of the Soviets, the Allies continued to do what was needed to feed and fuel a city. In some cases this involved evacuating Berliners in need of medical attention.
“I flew out something like 220 people in my aircraft from Berlin that were sick or were children needing operations,” Hermiston said. “My aircraft was a tanker aircraft, so they had to sit on these wooden beams that were going up the fuselage in stinking conditions. It stank of petrol oil from all the gasoline. Yet, they were all so very grateful — very, very grateful. I found the people extremely grateful.”
The British pilot was not the only person struck by the grateful nature of the people of Berlin. In a previous interview, Halvorsen recalled how he became known as the “Candy Bomber” after a trip to Berlin, seeing children line up along the fence line outside the flightline of the Templehof airport.
“I had been to other countries where the kids had chocolate,” he said, recalling that moment nearly 70 years later. “When George Washington visited his troops, he had little hard candies in his pocket for the kids. That was nothing new. But these kids had not had chocolate for a couple of years. Not one out of the 30 broke ranks and said, ‘do you got candy?’ When I realized that, it just hit me like a ton of bricks — black and white. I just could not believe that quality of character called gratitude. They were so grateful. They were thankful for their freedom. When I realized that, I thought I got to do something. I reached in my pocket, and all I had was two sticks of gum.”
Convinced that everyone deserved a treat or no one did, Halvorsen took about three more steps and the little voice came clear as a bell directing him back to the fence.
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“Boy, when I stopped and started back, those kids came to attention,” he said. “I pulled out two sticks of gum and broke them in half and passed it to the kids doing the translating. I couldn’t believe what I saw. The other kids didn’t push or shove or try to grab it. The kids that got half a piece of stick of gum tore off the wrapper and passed it. The kids that got a strip of paper, put it up to their noses, smelled it and their eyes got big. They were dumbfounded. They clutched it in their hands to go home and show their parents, if they had any.”
An idea came to Halvorsen — return the next day.
“I will be flying overhead, and I will drop enough chocolate for all of you,” he announced to the children. “When that translated to everybody, there was a celebration going on.”
Halvorsen made one demand of the children. They must share the candy. They agreed, but another question arose. With planes arriving every few seconds, how would the children know which one was Halvorsen’s?
“When I would fly over the farm (back home), I would wiggle the wings back and forth. So I said, ‘kids, you watch the airplane. When I come over the center of Tempelhof, if it is clear, I will wiggle the wings.’ That is how it began.”
The “Candy Bomber,” with his parachutes of chocolate, was born, and the act would soon be named operation Little Vittles.
One little girl never caught one of the treats — the 7-year-old Wild.
“I was never quick enough,” she said.
Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
To make matters worse, the chickens whose eggs brought a fortune on the black market had stopped laying because of the noise from the aircraft landing every few seconds over head.
“Therefore, I decided to write a letter because I was so sad about the situation, and I cried,” she said. “My grandmother told me don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t weep, do something. I decided to write a letter.”
The letter was addressed to her “Chocolate Uncle,” and she asked him to aim his parachute for the garden with the white chickens.
No parachute ever came, despite nearly 20 tons of candy being dropped from the C-54 Skymasters flown by the Americans.
A letter from her “Chocolate Uncle” did come, with two special treats — a lollipop and peppermint-flavored stick of gum. Between the war and the blockade, the smell of peppermint was unknown to the child.
“I exchanged it on the black market, this peppermint gum, for a glass marble; I have this glass marble,” Wild said, pulling the smooth glass toy from her pocket and placing it on the table with as much pride as any seven-year-old. “This is the same glass marble.”
The lollipop was saved for a Christmas treat, but the greatest gift that day was not the candy.
“The most important was the letter; the letter changed my whole life,” she said.
Offered a chance to join an aunt in Switzerland where food and supplies were not held hostage by the Soviets, Wild turned it down with the hopes of one day meeting her “Chocolate Uncle.”
Around-the-clock supplies continued flying into Berlin as British and American pilots made three round trips a day. After nearly a year, the Soviets lifted the blockade, reopening the transportation routes on the ground.
“The Soviets gave up,” Halvorsen said. “They said we can’t compete with that. They got red-faced and backed off. The airlift was the reason they had to do that; it broke the blockade. I was proud to be a part of that.”
With the blockade lifted in May 1949, British and American aircraft continued to fly supplies into Berlin to rebuild the stocks. On Sept. 23, 1949, the last RAF aircraft landed in Berlin with supplies.
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster.
(Photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
Time passed, and in 1970, Halvorsen returned to Germany, now as a colonel and the commander of Tempelhof. A now grown and married Wild decided now was the time to meet her “Chocolate Uncle.”
“First, we went to airport Templehof, and I took the letter with me,” Wild said. “Then I invited him to our home for dinner with the family.”
The two families have remained close all these years.
Seventy years later, these veterans of the Berlin Airlift travel the world telling the story of how the gratitude of the Berlin Airlift shaped their lives and the world.
“We must give the good spirit to the kids to have good society and future…” Wild said. “This was a very good thing that Colonel Halvorsen decided to have those candy droppings because I think he is the best ambassador for mankind–for humanity. It is not only Col. Halvorsen, but the other pilots and the people of Great Britain, South Africa, Canada and USA. The people were standing behind the airlift.”
It’s sometimes hard to remember that World War II wasn’t actually a single, globe-spanning conflict. It was really about a dozen smaller conflicts that had all been openly fought (or at least simmering) in the months and years leading up to the German invasion of Poland — the moment most historians point to as the beginning of the war.
Members of the Russian Liberation Army stand together in 1943. The “POA” patch features the Cyrillic-language abbreviation of the unit’s name in Russian.
(Karl Muller, Bundesarchiv Bild)
One of those long-simmering conflicts was between the Soviets in Russia and the Fascists in Germany. Both countries descended into harsh autocracies between World Wars I and II, but their leaders were deeply distrustful of one another. And, their populations were split as to who the worse evil was, even during the war.
That’s probably why somewhere around 200,000 Russian soldiers were recruited from prisoner of war camps and Soviet defections to form the Russian Liberation Army, a military force of Russian citizens who fought for Hitler against Stalin.
The head of the unit, abbreviated from Russian as the ROA, was a decorated Soviet officer, Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov. Vlasov and his men fought well against the Nazi invasion of Russia.
A Leningrad building burns after a German air raid in World War II. The city was besieged by German forces, and Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov was in charge of a large segment of the forces sent to free it.
(RIA Novosti Archive)
Vlasov commanded the 4th Mechanized Corps, and he and his men retook multiple cities from Nazi forces during counterattacks, escaped encirclement at one point, and even helped save Moscow at one point. His face was printed in newspapers as a “defender of Moscow” and he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
But he was then placed in command of an army and sent to break the siege at Leningrad. He failed, though some historians point to the failure of other commanders to exploit openings that Vlasov created. Regardless, most of his army was eventually slaughtered and he was captured.
While imprisoned in prisoner of war camps, Vlasov was known for making statements against Stalin. Eventually, this led to Vlasov advocating for a new military unit made up of Russians and commanded by Russians — but fighting for Germany.
Russian defector to Germany Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov speaks with volunteers in Germany in 1944.
After months in POW camps, Vlasov was able to convince Germany to create the ROA. He wrote pamphlets and other materials to convince more Soviet POWs to join, and these were also dropped as leaflets over Soviet formations to trigger defections. The main selling point was that, after the war, Germany would allow for a free and democratic Russia.
Unfortunately for Vlasov, the Germans still barely trusted him. Most Russians recruited into the ROA served under the command of other officers, including German ones. Vlasov was promoted to general but only put in command of the ROA against Soviet forces one time. On February 11, 1945, Vlasov led the ROA against the Red Army as the Soviets pressed against a Polish river.
Russian defector Gen. Andrey Vlasov meets with senior Nazi leaders, including Joseph Goebbels at far right.
The ROA performed well, but was ultimately withdrawn and never sent into full-scale battle again. As Germany continued to lose ground, many in the ROA switched sides again, and fought their way through German units towards the western Allies, hoping that British and American forces would accept a surrender and request for asylum.
After all, they had no delusions about what the Soviets would do to captured Russian soldiers who fought against Stalin and the Red Army.
In March 1944, a hardy group of mountaineers, skiers, rock climbers, and outdoorsmen all volunteered for a newly formed winter warfare unit known today as the famed 10th Mountain Division. On the Colorado slopes at Camp Hale was the proving ground where these elite ski troops participated in a grueling, monthlong final exercise known as the “D-Series.” The mock battle against an opposing force was designed to put everything they were taught in training to the test. The soldiers carried 90-pound packs, wore winter warfare clothing to protect their bodies from below-zero temperatures, and marched through 6 feet of snow in skis and snowshoes.
“I thought they were going to kill us all off,” Lt. Col. Earl Clark told Outside TV in an interview. “Sleeping out in temperatures down to 30 below zero without a tent.”
They learned to sleep on top of their skis and other little tricks to survive some of the harshest winter environments on the planet. The survival exercise was a critical step before they would travel to see action against the Germans in the Apennine Mountains of Italy.
The 10th Mountain Division had an unusual beginning. Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole, the founder of the National Ski Patrol, had the task of collecting intelligence on other winter warfare units around the world. The blueprint for success mirrored the formation of Finnish ski troops who courageously fought against the Soviet Union during the Winter War in 1939. Dole didn’t have support at first from the higher echelon and his equipment was outdated, yet there was a need for such a unit.
“Ten thousand frozen to death — 25,000 dead,” Dole wrote, in reference to a report from the American embassy in Rome describing the debacle of the Italian winter campaign in Albania. He continued, “If a global war is contemplated or envisioned, men must be trained in mountain and winter warfare and time is of the essence as these troops cannot be trained overnight.” The 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division was activated less than one month later — shortly before the attack at Pearl Harbor.
The National Ski Patrol was the first civilian organization to recruit, screen, and approve applicants for military service. “When the Army decided to create a mountain division in WWII to fight in the mountains of Europe, they brought together a cast of Americans that was really quite remarkable — skiers, mountain climbers, trappers, outdoorsmen,” then Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend said in 2015, when he was commander of the 10th Mountain Division. “The 10th Mountain Division of WWII had the highest ratio of college graduates of any unit in the Army. That’s just an example of the type of people that the 10th Mountain Division attracted.”
The men of the 10th following World War II went on to transform the skiing industry into the winter sports mecca that exists today. In February 2020, some 76 years after the first D-Series military exercise, Army troops from the 10th Mountain Division followed in the footsteps of their predecessors in a challenge that tested their physical and mental toughness, competitive spirit, and marksmanship.
The U.S. Marine Corps didn’t allow black men into its ranks until 1942, months after America joined World War II and decades after the Army and Navy began accepting black troops. But that delayed start means that cameras were common when the first black Marines earned their Eagle, Globe, and Anchors. Here are 15 photos from those first pioneers.
(Writer’s note: These images come from the National Archives which have a whole section dedicated to black troops in World War II with over 250 images. The captions below were updated for language and clarity, but the information contained comes from that archive. You can find more images and historical context by visiting them here.)
Located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the US Army War College began in response to the many military failures that occurred throughout the Spanish-American War. It was established on November 27, 1901, by the Secretary of War, Elihu Root, to provide more effective training for officers. Root also established the Army General Staff. Their job was to train all who enlisted to eventually become members of the Army General Staff themselves.
The Army General Staff’s other roles were perhaps even more important. They included advising the President of the United States, providing intellectual direction to the Army, devising plans and acquiring information.
Advanced military training is serious business
The War College’s first class graduated six captains and three majors of the Army and Marine Corps on November 1, 1904. It was the first advanced educational training provided outside of West Point. These officers studied current military issues. They also took a deep dive into more complex topics like military science, national defense and command philosophy. Unlike other study tracks, this was hands-on, since most of what they learned was of direct interest to the General Staff.
Shifting goals for a shifting world
After its first several years, some big changes occurred at the Army War College. First, the General Staff officially parted ways with the Army War College when the National Defense Act passed in 1916. Then, with World War I going on, the college closed its door for two years. When it reopened in the fall of 1919, its goals had shifted quite a bit.
Instead of specific training to become members of the General Staff, the Army War College was now a place to engage in the academic study of war. Its curriculum shifted to things like responsible command, the impact of political, economic and social factors on national defense, and history. It was a truly great educational system — one which produced distinguished graduates such as Generals Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton and Omar Bradley.
To stay ahead of the pack, you have to evolve
The Army War College had to close its doors again in the 1940s during World War II. It reopened in 1950, once again with a lot of changes. This time, it was imperative to address the Army’s need for more officers with advanced education. Also, the college relocated for a year to Fort Leavenworth. However, in 1951, it went back to Carlisle, though this time at Carlisle Barracks. Its new curriculum began focusing on what went wrong during World War II as well as understanding the more complex environment of the Cold War.
It wasn’t until the 1990s and the rise of the information revolution that the Army War College once again evolved. This new age meant different kinds of war strategies, thus transforming the military school from preparing officers to become Army staff to a full-on graduate school providing Master’s degrees in Strategic Studies.
This is the state of the Army War College today. It provides a highly advanced two-year Master’s program that prepares students to become senior-level leaders in the military and U.S. government. And as the world keeps changing, there’s no doubt the Army War College will keep changing with it.
The officers of the USS Liberty were sunbathing on the decks of their ship on June 8, 1967, just outside of Egypt’s territorial waters. Not too far away, Egypt was in the middle of the Six Day War with the Israelis, who would occupy the Sinai Peninsula by the war’s end.
The peaceful day aboard the intelligence-gathering ship was destroyed when Israeli Mirage and Mystere jets tore through the air – and dropped ordnance that ripped through the Liberty’s hull.
Commander William McGonagle was severely wounded as the Israelis fired rockets, dropped napalm on the bridge, and then strafed his ship. He still managed to call his crew to quarters and take command of the Libertyfrom the bridge. The ship was on fire, men were dead and wounded, and McGonagle himself was burned by napalm and losing blood.
The Liberty was not a warship but a lightly-armed, converted freighter — a holdover from World War II. Her mission was to collect signals intelligence and radio intercepts on the war between the Arabs and Israelis but not to get involved in the fighting or violate Egyptian sovereignty.
With his ship still in range of the U.S. 6th Fleet, Cmdr. McGonagle radioed the USS Saratoga, which sent 12 fighters to assist. Those fighters were recalled on orders from Washington. The Israeli fighters eventually let up and disappeared on their own. But that wasn’t the end of the attack. When they were gone, three Israeli torpedo boats opened up on the American ship and blew a 40-foot hole in the Liberty’s hull.
The armaments on the USS Liberty were totally outmatched. The ship was carrying only four .50-caliber machine guns, a far cry from the Egyptian ship Israelis claim shelled the coastline that morning. The Liberty was a sitting duck.
With his ship burning and flooded, McGonagle directed the maneuvering of his ship for 17 hours while critically wounded. He refused medical treatment until he was convinced more critically wounded members of his crew were treated. He didn’t give up command until the Liberty encountered a U.S. destroyer.
For his gallantry and determination, McGonagle was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Israel maintained that its attack on the Liberty was a mistake, that the planes were looking for an Egyptian ship, the El Quseir. Some find this troublesome, considering the El Quseir was a very different size than the Liberty and had a very different profile. Still, The IDF’s own inquiry says the Israeli Chief of Naval Operation did not know the Liberty was in the area. The captains of the torpedo boats maintained that closer identification was impossible because the Liberty was “enveloped in smoke.”
McGonagle’s official account of the incident corroborates the Israeli account, but the crew of the Liberty aren’t so certain. A 2002 BBC Documentary includes interviews with the Liberty’s crew, Israeli officials, and even Robert McNamara, the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time.
“I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation,” then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk said of the Liberty Incident “Their sustained attack to disable and sink Libertyprecluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. … I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”
There are numerous conspiracy theory-related sites, some even run by Liberty crewmembers, that call into question some of the actions of the Israeli forces and of the orders from Washington. Some of these theories include:
• The Liberty was attacked to keep the U.S. from knowing about Israel’s upcoming attack on Syria.
• Trying to draw the U.S. into a greater anti-Arab war.
• Hiding Israeli war crimes (alleged massacres of Egyptian POWs).
• Israelis using unmarked aircraft.
• Torpedo boats machine gunning life rafts.
• Jamming radio signals meant that Israel knew the frequency the ships would be on– and thus knew they were American.
Official accounts (including from McGonagle) maintain that the Israeli torpedo ships halted mid-attack and offered assistance once the identity of Liberty was ascertained. The Americans politely declined.
When armchair historians discuss naval aviation during the Vietnam War, the focus usually turns to the F-4 Phantom. That’s the multi-service plane flown by the Navy’s only aces of the war — Randall “Duke” Cunningham and Willie Driscoll.
One plane, though, probably deserves more attention than it’s earned.
That plane is the A-3 Skywarrior – often called the “Whale” due to its size. It certainly was big – more than 76 feet long, and with a 72-foot wingspan and a maximum takeoff weight of 82,000 pounds.
The A-3 had a range of 2,100 miles and could carry 12,800 pounds of payload.
While the Skywarrior did some bombing missions early on, it shined in the electronic warfare and tanker missions. The Navy turned 85 planes into KA-3B tankers, and 34 were also given jamming pods to become the EKA-3B.
These planes not only could pass a lot of gas to the planes in a carrier’s air wing, they helped to jam enemy radars, blinding them to an incoming attack until it was too late.
Other Skywarrior variants included the RA-3B reconnaissance plane, the ERA-3B electronic aggressor platform, and the EA-3B electronic intelligence version.
As a tanker, the KA-3B and EKA-3B didn’t just enable planes to strike deeper into North Vietnam. These tankers also gave planes gas to get back home – in some cases after suffering serious damage. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that as many as 700 Navy and Marine Corps planes may have been saved by the Whale’s tanker capabilities.
That statistic might be the most important. When an EB-66E bomber was shot down during the Easter Offensive of 1972, it resulted in a massive rescue effort to retrieve the lone survivor, Lieutenant Colonel Iceal “Gene” Hambleton, that resulted in the loss of five aircraft, with 11 Americans killed in action and two more captured.
The last A-3 variants, EA-3Bs, managed to see action during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 with VQ-2 before they were retired. E-3 airframes, though, flew in private service as RD for avionics until 2011.
There is undoubtedly no worse place for troops to live and fight in than the trenches of old. Soldiers would dig fighting positions into the ground and, with no way to continually clear out the rodents, water, sewage, and bodies, the fortifications would become ripe with disease.
The sand around you was your home. The sandbags above the parapet were your only protection from snipers. The walls that surrounded you could collapse under enemy artillery fire and quickly become your coffin.
Despite all of these glaring faults, their purpose is clear when you look at the bigger picture.
Trenches have been used as early as the Roman Empire, but the scale at which they were used swelled drastically on the western front of the First World War. During WWI, trenches were built in three distinct rows: The main firing trench (used for direct combat), the support trench (used as a second line of defense and as a place for officers, medics, cooks, and other supporting troops), and the reserve trench (used for housing).
Soldiers knew in advance where they’d hold off the enemy and they’d begin building fighting positions there for cover. The enemy would show up, see the trenches, and quickly dig their own at a safe distance. Inevitably, both sides would find it impossible to dislodge the opposition and so they’d dig in deeper.
Many of the problems we associate with trenches today ran most rampant within British units, as they believed that the trenches would be temporary and the war would keep moving — it didn’t.
That entire red line was almost entirely a trench system between both the Allied Powers and the Central Powers
(The History Department of the United States Military Academy)
Meanwhile, many French and German trench systems were built with the long-haul in mind. They better fortified their walls and created much more hospitable bunkers. They understood that the systems weren’t to be used to advance, but rather to stall the enemy. Each row within the trench systems was designed to make it as difficult as possible for the enemy to take it over.
If the enemy managed to make it across No Man’s Land (the expanse of ground between opposing forces’ fortifications), they’d come across fields of barbed wire that would slow their movement and alert sentries that heard the rustling. Then, they’d come into the first trench, which was typically dug into asymmetrical zigzags that not only minimized the effect of shrapnel, but also provided as small of a field of fire as possible for invaders.
The rows were designed to be able to be taken from the rear. While enemy forces swarmed the first trench, defenders could hop over top the next trench back and open fire. This defense mechanism sounds like it’s begging to be exploited, but that would require the enemy to flank around the trench line first. Both sides would prevent this from happening by creating hundreds of miles of trench systems. Often, there was no way around.
The trenches did exactly what they were built to do. They ensured the enemy couldn’t get past. With no viable option for advancement, militaries were able to send men elsewhere — who would then dig even more and offer little room for the enemy.
It wouldn’t do much good for a wounded World War I veteran trying to reintegrate into society to have a passersby gasp in shock and horror every time they saw him. The town of Sidcup in England attempted to ameliorate this shocked, audible response by attempting to warn the locals about the tenants of a nearby soldiers hospital.
Seeing a man on a blue bench when all the other benches in town were a different color warned the locals the image of a man sitting on it might come as a shock – and the veterans were grateful.
WARNING: Some of these images might be disturbing to even modern eyes.
A World War I veteran who was treated at Sidcup
World War I was an entirely different kind of warfare than the world had ever known previously. With that new, modern, and mechanized destruction, came new wounds and scars that would mark its veterans forever. Few in any military had ever seen anything like the gruesome scars of war left on World War I vets, so it’s safe to say that few civilians had either.
The Great War was packed with horrifyingly disfiguring weapons similar to wars past. Bullets are nothing new, neither was shrapnel. But the new weapons of war were able to unload hundreds of bullets in a minute and fire high explosives and poison gas from places the soldiers on the ground couldn’t even see. Soldiers on both sides suffered disfigurement at an astonishing rate. For the lucky ones who survived, that meant coming home to a population that wasn’t entirely prepared to see the horrors of the war.
The effects of the earliest plastic surgery on World War I veterans, this work done in London.
Sidcup, England had a hospital devoted to such soldiers. The hospital held hundreds of troops whose facial features were an object of terror to the unprepared. The benches of Sidcup were a warning to passersby that a veteran sitting on the bench might be disfigured, and it’s best not to stare. While this may seem offensive to us these days, for veterans who suffered from these afflictions, it was a blessing. Sidcup became the one place in the world where wounded, disfigured vets could walk around without the gasps and cries found everywhere else.
More than that, such hospitals featured pioneering medical techniques to attempt to mitigate the physical damage and return some kind of normalcy to the subject. World War I veterans were essentially the world’s first plastic surgery recipients. For those who couldn’t get that kind of work done, masks were an option – a painted replica of an unwounded face, covering the wounds of war that marked their daily lives.
Masks for WWI-era wounded soldiers were usually specially designed for the individual, created for the subject’s unique injury or war wound, and then painted one by one to ensure the look and fit of the mask matched the person wearing it. There are many occasions where (albeit in black and white photos) it’s hard to distinguish the masked face from what might be the soldier’s undamaged face.
They were remarkably accurate and allowed the soldiers a degree of freedom, walking around without the horrors of war written upon their faces.
America was built on alcohol. Many of the founding fathers distilled or brewed their own booze because the ingredients needed to make it flourished perfectly in the soil of the newly formed United States. Remember, Samuel Adams isn’t just some fictional mascot made up to publicize a brewing company and Budweiser’s “George Washington recipe” is actually historically accurate.
Also, the terrible road conditions of the time made transporting grains the traditional way, you know, in bread and stuff, a true hardship. It was much easier to just turn whatever you grew into alcohol — which would net an even better profit.
All of this is key to understanding that the founding fathers would more than likely drink any modern military barracks under the table. No single moment best exemplifies this than the time George Washington and his Army buddies celebrated the signing of the Constitution by drinking enough booze to rack up a tab worth roughly $17,253 in today’s currency.
The tavern still exists and there’s still a bar. What could be more American than getting wasted where Washington and his boys drank?
(Photo by Lisa Andres)
It was the night of September 15, 1787, and George Washington had many reasons to celebrate. A few months earlier, in May, he was elected president at the Constitutional Convention. The United States Constitution had just been finalized and debates were finally settling as the momentous document cruised towards its eventual signing, just two days later. This night was also the farewell dinner for Washington before he set off to do bigger and better things.
Washington’s friends in the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, along with several other framers of the Constitution, decided to throw a celebration at the City Tavern in Philadelphia.
All in all, a good night (This painting is actually from a different night at the Fraunces Tavern in New York. Celebrating with his troops was kind of his thing).
The party had roughly 55 guests, which included troops, politicians, friends, and family — along with 16 more people who were working that night, including musicians, servers, and hosts. The details of the night are hazy but the receipt for the night was saved in the First Troop Cavalry archives.
By the end of the night, Washington’s party drank: 54 bottle of Madeira wine, 60 bottle of Bordeaux wine, 8 bottles of old stock whiskey, 22 bottles of porter ale, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 jugs of beer, and 7 large bowls of punch. The staff and musicians also drank 16 bottles of Bordeaux wine, 5 bottles of Madeira wine, and seven bowls of punch.
The bill also includes a tab for many broken glasses, which, adjusted for inflation, equals about 0 worth of reimbursements. The final bill came out to £89 and 4 schillings — or roughly ,253 in 2018 dollars.
The impressive part of this story isn’t that they drank it all — or the fact that drinks back then tended to be more potent than their modern counterparts — but the fact that Washington was functional enough just two days later to see the Constitution signed.
So, drink up! Enjoy the Constitution by celebrating its eventual 21st amendment!
H/T to We Are The Mighty reader Eric Carson for his comment that inspired for this article. Thank you very much! You’re awesome.