On Oct. 19, 1842 a squadron of ships under the command of Commodore Thomas Ap Catesby Jones sailed into the harbor at Monterey, California, then a Mexican city. Under the guns of the fort that overlooked the harbor, the sailors made the ship cannons ready for a fierce fight.
Meanwhile, Marines and sailors formed a landing party under Commander James Armstrong. The small force made its way to shore, searched out the local governor, and demanded the city. The governor indicated he would surrender the entire province in the morning.
Sailors spent a tense night manning the guns in case it was a trick, but the governor and his commissioners arrived the next morning at the heavy frigate USS United States — Jones’s flagship — and signed the articles of capitulation.
Commodore Jones had ordered the fleet to Monterey and the subsequent invasion because he was worried that the British would use the war between Mexico and America as a chance to capture coveted Pacific ports in California. Jones had raced to Monterey to arrive ahead of the British.
In Jones’s defense, he had been in a tough spot. Relations between the two countries had been souring and he had received news of British ships moving up the coast of South America in force. Jones was under orders to capture Californian ports rather than let them fall into British or French hands in case of a war with Mexico.
The problem in 1842 was that Jones wouldn’t get a satellite or radio call telling him when war broke out. He had to figure out himself.
Then he jumped the gun a little bit and invaded prematurely. It happens. The commodore realized his mistake when an American businessman in Monterey brought him a number of recent newspapers from the U.S. that made no mention of hostilities. Can you imagine having that bad of a day at work? “Uh hey, boss. I captured a Mexican city by accident”. Cringe.
After realizing his error, Jones gave the city back to Mexico and told his men to stand down. The Mexican flag was raised over the fort once again.
To try and patch relations, the Mexican and American officials at Monterey began hosting parties for one another while their respective national governments launched investigations.
Unfortunately, word was already making its way up the coast that American ships had captured Monterey as part of a war with Mexico. Another U.S. Navy officer, Captain W. D. Phelps, then captured Fort Guijarros at San Diego, California and spiked its guns.
If there ever was a candidate for history’s real “Most Interesting Man In the World,” the frontrunner for the title would have to be famed writer, boxer, veteran, and adventurer Ernest Hemingway. He drove an ambulance in World War I, covered the Spanish Civil War, hunted Nazi submarines in the Pacific, gave relationship advice to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and even drank with Castro after the 1959 Cuban Revolution.
That brief paragraph barely scratches the surface of the man’s epic life. But truthfully, Hemingway should have died many, many times during his epic journey. In the end, he was the only one who could have ever ended such a life. The Grim Reaper was probably afraid to come around.
As the man himself once said, “Death is like an old whore in a bar. I’ll buy her a drink but I won’t go upstairs with her.”
Hemingway on crutches in World War I.
He was hit by a mortar in World War I
While driving an ambulance on the Italian Front of the Great War, Hemingway was hit by an Austrian shell while handing out chocolate. The blast knocked him out cold and buried him in the ground nearby. He was peppered from head to toe by shrapnel while two Italian soldiers next to him were killed almost instantly.
Just not all at once.
He carried more diseases than an old sponge.
Throughout his life, Hemingway was struck down hard by things like anthrax, malaria, pneumonia, dysentery, skin cancer, hepatitis, anemia, diabetes, high blood pressure, and mental illness. Even so, he hunted big game in Africa while suffering from malaria, and even boxed the locals.
Hemingway sparring with locals in Africa.
He got into a lot of fights.
The original Big Papa was a fan of fisticuffs. He took any and every opportunity to accept challenges to his boxing prowess, fighting the aforementioned African locals, Caribbean friends, and even contemporary authors who besmirched his good name. If anyone challenged his manhood, they could count on a physical challenge of their own.
“Never sit at a table when you can stand at the bar.”
“I drink to make other people more interesting.”
Hemingway enjoyed a good cocktail or three. An entire book has been published with just the cocktails Hemingway enjoyed the most. His favorite was a double frozen blended daiquiri from his favorite bar in Havana, the Floridita. On one occasion, he and a friend drank 17 of the double-strength concoctions. Eventually, he had to stop drinking to mitigate liver damage. No kidding.
Hemingway giving pointers on growing a vet beard. Probably.
The Nazis couldn’t kill him.
Hemingway was writing in Madrid when Spain was devastated by Fascist bombers and was in London when the Luftwaffe bombed that city. He was covering the D-Day landings of World War II, coming onto the beaches with the seventh wave and then moving inland through hedgerow country, moving with the Army through the Battle of the Bulge – all while suffering from pneumonia. All this after hunting Nazi submarines off of Cuba.
He even formed French Resistance members into a militia and helped capture Paris.
God couldn’t kill him.
While on vacation in Africa, Hemingway and company were nearly killed in a plane crash. On their way to Uganda to receive medical care, their plane exploded upon takeoff. The resulting concussion caused him to leak cerebral fluid, and he suffered from two cracked discs, a kidney and liver rupture, a dislocated shoulder, and a broken skull. He still went on a planned fishing trip… where a brushfire burned his legs, front torso, lips, left hand, and right forearm.
He responded by getting up and winning a Nobel Prize.
For three centuries, the Vikinger (or Vikings) of the countries of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden aggressively expanded their reach into Europe. The Viking Age started in 793 A.D. with the pillaging of the wealthy yet unprotected monastery in Lindisfarne, England. Christendom was officially under attack by heathen hordes of pagan murderers. These heretics fought with a deliberate recklessness that struck fear into the hearts of men.
Like many warrior cultures, the Norse believed the best seats in the afterlife were reserved for those who fell in battle. But they did not go to heaven — instead, they went to Valhalla, where they dined with the creator, fought to the death daily, and partied harder than a Marine infantry battalion the weekend before a deployment. That is, until it was time to fulfill their true purpose.
Lance Corporal: What is my future, oh wise one?
Mimir: Your leave will be denied and you’ll have duty.
To understand Valhalla, one must first understand its ruler: Odin. Odin is the central figure in Norse mythology. He goes by over 200 different names, but is most famously known as The Allfather.
The world of the Norse was created from two elemental realms: Muspelheim, a realm of fire, and Niflheim, made of icy mist. The intertwining of these primordial ingredients created two beings: Ymir, the giant, and Auðumbla, an equally massive cow. The cow nourished itself with salt from rime-stones in nearby ice. The cow licked until a man named Búri was freed from the ice. Not much is known about Búri other than the fact that he had a son, Bor. Bor married Bestla and, together, they had three sons. The eldest of these sons was Odin.
Odin had two ravens who traveled the world, providing him information as the world took shape. He sought wisdom wherever he could find it and his quest lead him to the World Tree, called Yggdrasil. He hung himself from its branches, stabbed himself with his spear, and fasted for nine days to learn the secrets of powerful runes — but this was not enough to satiate a God’s curiosity.
Odin’s thirst for knowledge turned literal when he heard a giant was protecting the actual well of knowledge. Mimir the giant drank deeply from the well, growing wiser with each passing day. Odin wanted a drink — and, thankfully, he had something Mimir was after. The Allfather was omniscient — he could see all. So, a trade deal was stuck: Mimir would happily trade a drink for an all-seeing eye. Without hesitation, Odin plucked out his eye, gave it the giant, and then drank from the well — because that’s just the kind of guy Odin was.
Legend has it NJP’d Marines are also welcomed in Valhalla.
(William T. Maud)
Valkyries carry the chosen to the afterlife
Valkyries are warrior maidens who assist Odin in transporting his chosen slain to Valhalla. These noble maidens were said to be unbelievably beautiful and have love affairs with brave men. The Valkyrie also had the task of aiding Odin in selecting half of the dead to admit into Valhalla. The others went with the goddess Freyja to enjoy a simple, relaxed afterlife.
It was because of this selection process that the Norse welcomed (and often sought) the chance to die a death worthy of Odin’s recognition.
Some say you can literally feel Chesty Puller’s knife hand cut the sound barrier from here.
Odin’s hall is in Asgard
Valhalla is in Asgard, the land of the Gods, which rests high above the realm of man. It is made from the weapons dawned by warriors: The roof is made of golden shields, the rafters are of spears, and coats of mail hang over the benches where the warriors feast.
Valhalla has a golden tree (called Glasir) planted in front of the hall overlooking a rainbow bridge. The stag Eikþyrnir and the goat Heiðrún live on top of the roof, chewing on the leaves of the World Tree. The chosen warriors drink their fill of liquor, harvested from the utters of the goat. Meat for the feasts comes from a boar that regenerates its meat daily so it may be slain again and again. Odin sustains himself on wine alone.
Every day, the chosen warriors fight each other, training for the end of days. After their ferocious training, they become whole again and dine in the great hall like old friends.
Odin’s horse doesn’t seem to share his enthusiasm.
The true purpose of feasting and fighting in Valhalla
The warriors of Valhalla train tirelessly, day after day, until the time comes to fight by Odin’s side against a massive wolf, named Fenrir, during Ragnarök (the Norse apocalypse). Daniel McCoy, author of The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion, writes
Odin will fight Fenrir, and by his side will be the einherjar, the host of his chosen human warriors whom he has kept in Valhalla for just this moment. Odin and the champions of men will fight more valiantly than anyone has ever fought before. But it will not be enough. Fenrir will swallow Odin and his men. Then, one of Odin’s sons, Vidar, burning with rage, will charge the beast to avenge his father. On one of his feet will be the shoe that has been crafted for this very purpose; it has been made from all the scraps of leather that human shoemakers have ever discarded, and with it Vidar will hold open the monster’s mouth. Then he will stab his sword through the wolf’s throat, killing him.
The greatest warriors train in Valhalla to fight alongside their creator in the apocalypse and are destined to die a permanent death.
Galileo Galilei, one of the world’s most famous scientists, mathematicians and inventors, kept his favor with the Venetian court by inventing and peddling items for the Venetian military, especially his famous telescope.
See, there are two bits of information about Galileo’s invention of the telescope in 1609 that some history books leave out. To start, he wasn’t the first inventor of the telescope. A Dutch spectacle maker invented it before him, and Galileo may have even seen that telescope before he invented his.
Second, one of the first things that Galileo did with his telescope was to send it to the Doge of Venice, one of the republic’s senior leaders, with the recommendation that it be used by the country’s army and navy as an instrument of war.
While Galileo might or might not have invented the first telescope, he almost certainly invented the most powerful one of his day. It was capable of an approximately 8-9x magnification at a time when everyone else reached only 4x.
That meant that Venetian admirals using a Galileo spyglass could have reconnoitered enemy fleets and positions from 8 miles away, where they would be pinpricks to someone using a 4x telescope and invisible to anyone who didn’t have a spyglass.
Galileo outlined this potential advantage in his letter to the doge, but the doge didn’t immediately buy it for Venetian forces. Still, Galileo was rewarded for his work. His salary as a professor of mathematics at the University of Padua was doubled and he was granted the position of “professor for life.”
The inventor, of course, went on to find other uses for a good telescope. Galileo invented a 20x telescope that allowed him to identify the larger moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, and other phenomena in the night sky.
The telescope wasn’t the only thing that Galileo ever created for the military. He also created an improved “gunner’s compass” that allowed artillerymen at the time to quickly calculate elevation, making them more lethal in siege warfare.
For the past 75 years, the French Senate has claimed Paris’ lush Luxembourg Palace, former home of Marie de Medici, mother to King Louis XIII, as its home. During that entire time, rumors swirled about a large bust of Adolf Hitler, the man who once tried to burn Paris to the ground, hiding beneath the Senate chambers.
It turns out the rumors are not only true, but other Nazi paraphernalia are down there with the Führer’s giant head.
The Luxembourg Palace Gardens in World War II.
When Nazi troops were forced to abandon Paris in 1944, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler ordered the last commander of the Nazi occupation, Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, to level the city. Hitler said the city must not be given to the Free French except laying in rubble. When the Germans finally abandoned the city, Choltitz surrendered 17,000 men to the Free French and left Paris the way it was. Hitler was furious.
During the German occupation, the Luxembourg Palace was the headquarters building for the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. After the Germans left, the palace was turned into the home of the French Senate, where the legislative body has been ever since – and ever since, the rumors of the Nazi leader’s bust have persisted but never been proven.
Until Sept. 5, 2019.
The Luxembourg Palace today.
The French newspaper Le Monde and reporter Olivier Faye conducted a serious investigation into the persistent rumor, finding not only the bust of Hitler, but a 10×6.5-foot long Nazi flag along with various other documents left over from 75 years ago. The only thing is, besides the palace’s history of headquartering the Nazi Air Force general staff, no one really knows how the Nazi memorabilia came to be in the basement of the French Senate.
In the waning days of the Nazi occupation, Luftwaffe personnel made a fast break for the exit, leaving the Luxembourg Palace in a state of disrepair and outright chaos. The Free French forces looted everything they could from the Nazi occupiers, and Nazi memorabilia became very valuable on the black market (it still is today). It’s believed these particular pieces of Nazi culture were hidden away by someone intent on selling them, hiding the pieces in the basement until a buyer could be found. That clearly never happened.
None of the Senators interviewed by Le Monde knew of the Nazi bust or flag in the basement – and no one knows what to do with them now.
Remains believed to be of a Revolutionary War hero buried at West Point don’t belong to a woman known as “Captain Molly” after all, but to an unknown man.
The U.S. Military Academy said Dec. 5 the discovery stems from a study of skeletal remains conducted after Margaret Corbin’s grave was accidentally disturbed last year by excavators building a retaining wall by her monument in the West Point Cemetery. Tests by a forensic anthropologist revealed the remains were likely those of a middle-aged man who lived between the Colonial period and 19th century.
Corbin was known for bravely stepping in to fire a cannon in 1776 during a battle in New York City after her husband was killed. She was severely wounded during the Battle of Fort Washington, but lived another 24 years. She became the nation’s first woman to receive a pension for military service.
The location of Corbin’s remains is a mystery. Ground-penetrating radar around the gravesite failed to turn up any signs.
The Daughters of the American Revolution received approval in 1926 to move Corbin’s remains from nearby Highland Falls to the hallowed ground of West Point’s cemetery. The leafy lot near the Hudson River is the resting place for thousands, including Gulf War commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, U.S. commander in Vietnam Gen. William Westmoreland, and Lt. Col. George Custer.
The DAR used records and local accounts from the community to locate the remains believed to be Corbin, according to the Army.
“The remains were verified back in 1926. And you have to consider the gap between 1926 and today. Technology has changed tremendously,” said Col.Madalyn Gainey, spokeswoman for Army National Military Cemeteries.
The remains of the unknown man were reinterred at West Point’s cemetery. A re-dedication ceremony for the Corbin monument at the cemetery is scheduled for May.
“Nearly 250 years after the Battle of Fort Washington, her bravery and legacy to American history as one of the first women to serve in combat in the defense of our nation continues to transcend and inspire women in military service today,” said ANMC Executive Director Karen Durham-Aguilera.
This article was sponsored by Midway, in theaters November 8!
In 1942, a Japanese fleet of almost 100 ships, led by the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, attempted an even more overwhelming attack that would have kicked the U.S. out of the Central Pacific and allowed the empire to threaten Washington and California. Instead, that fleet stumbled into one of the most unlikely ambushes and naval upsets in the history of warfare.
Thanks to quick and decisive action by key sailors in the fleet, the U.S. ripped victory from the jaws of almost-certain defeat.
The first big decision that saved Midway Atoll came as Pearl Harbor was still burning. Intelligence sailors like Cmdr. Edwin Layton had to figure out what Japan would do next.
Patrick Wilson as Cmdr. Edwin Layton in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Naval intelligence knew that Japan was readying another major attack. Layton was convinced it was aimed at Midway, but Washington believed it would hit New Guinea or Australia. Layton and his peers, disgraced by the failure to predict Pearl Harbor, nevertheless pushed hard to prove that the Japanese objective “AF” was Midway.
A clever ruse where they secretly told Midway to report a water purification breakdown, then listened for whether Japan reported the breakdown as having occurred at “AF” proved that Midway was the target and allowed the Navy to concentrate valuable resources.
Next, Layton’s new boss, Adm. Chester Nimitz, agreed with his intelligence officers and prepared a task force to take on Japan. But Japanese attacks and other priorities would make that a struggle. The daring Doolittle Raid in April against Tokyo proved that American airpower was capable of striking at the heart of Japan, but it tied up two aircraft carriers.
Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Then, America lost a carrier at the Battle of the Coral Sea and suffered near-catastrophic damage to another, the USS Yorktown. With only two carriers ready to fight but the attack at Midway imminent, Nimitz made the gutsy decision to prepare an ambush anyway. He gave repair officers at Pearl Harbor just three days to repair the USS Yorktown even though they asked for 90.
Still, Nimitz would have only three carriers to Japan’s six at Midway, and his overall fleet would be outnumbered more than three to one.
If this under-strength U.S. fleet was spotted and destroyed, Japan would finish the victory begun at Pearl Harbor. Cities in Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast would be wide open to attack.
After a few small strikes on June 3, the Battle of Midway got properly underway in the early hours of June 4. The opening clash quickly proved how easily the base at Midway would have been steamrolled without the protection of the carriers. The 28 Marine and Navy fighters on the atoll were largely outdated and took heavy losses in the opening minutes. It quickly fell to the carrier-based fighters to beat back the Japanese attack.
But something crucial happened in this opening exchange: A PBY Catalina patrol plane spotted two of the Japanese carriers. The U.S. could go after the enemy ships while Japan still didn’t know where the U.S. fleet was. The decision to search this patch of ocean and report the sighting would change history.
American bombers and torpedo planes launched from 7 am to 9:08 and headed to the Japanese carriers in waves.
When Ensign George Gay Jr. took off that morning, it was his first time flying into combat and his first time taking off with a torpedo. But he followed his commander straight at the Japanese ships, even though no fighters were available to cover the torpedo attack.
The torpedo bombers arrived just before the dive bombers, yet the Japanese Zeros assigned to defense were able to get to Gay’s squadron. An estimated 32 Zero planes attacked the Douglas TBD Devastators, and all 15 planes of Gay’s squadron were shot down.
Gay survived his crash into the sea and was left bobbing in the middle of the Japanese fleet for hours. But the decision of the torpedo pilots to attack aggressively despite having no fighter cover and little experience drew away the squadron of Mitsubishi Zeroes guarding the Japanese carriers. This risky gambit would allow the dive bombers to be lethal.
One of the dive bomber pilots was Navy Lt. Dick Best. A faulty oxygen canister injured him before he ever saw an adversary, and then a co-pilot suffered a mechanical failure, but he kept his section of planes flying against the Japanese carriers.
Ed Skrein as Dick Best (left) and Mandy Moore as Anne Best in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Best was forced to decrease altitude and ended up at the lead of the dive bombers right as they reached the Japanese fleet. He took his section through a series of violent maneuvers before they released their bombs over the carrier Akagi at full speed. Two bombs destroyed planes taking off, and another did serious damage to the deck. One of the hits jammed the carrier’s rudder, forcing it into a constant turn that made it useless until it sank. Another two carriers were destroyed in that attack as Gay bobbed in the ocean.
The Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu circles to avoid bombs while under attack by Army Air Force B-17 bombers from Midway Atoll on the morning of June 4, 1942. Soryu suffered from some near misses, but no direct hits during the attack.
(U.S. Air Force)
Best was injured, and mourning lost friends, but he took part in a later attack that afternoon and bombed the carrier Hiryu despite curtains of fire coming from the carrier and a nearby battleship. Hiryu was the fourth Japanese carrier lost in the battle, and it created a sea change in the war.
Japan was forced out of the Central Pacific, and America was on the warpath, all thanks to the decisions of U.S. sailors like Best, Gay, Nimitz, and Layton.
This article was sponsored by Midway, in theaters November 8!
The Israel Defense Forces were caught completely off guard in 1973 when Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated attack to take back the land lost in the 1967 Six-Day War. All would have gone according to plan for the Arab states – if only one young lieutenant hadn’t gone home on leave.
Zvika Greengold was an Israeli farmer raised on a kibbutz founded by Holocaust survivors and partisans who fought against Nazi occupation in Europe. Like most Israelis, he joined the IDF when it came time to serve his country.
He was 21 and home on leave in 1973 when Syrian tanks rolled across the border in a coordinated attack with Egypt, sparking the Yom Kippur War. The young lieutenant saw plumes of smoke in the distance and fighter planes in the sky. He knew a war had begun but was not yet attached to a unit, so he had nowhere to report for combat duty.
Being without a unit wasn’t going to stop this officer from getting into the war. He hitchhiked 78 miles to Nafah Base, the command center for the Golan Heights. Greengold helped with the wounded coming in, but the only offensive weapons available were two damaged Centurion tanks.
And those turned out to be his ticket to defending Israel.
Greengold contacted his command, telling them he had a force ready to fight (which was technically true). He helped repair the two tanks, assembled a skeleton crew, and they drove off into the night toward the Syrian front. His newly-assembled “Zvika Force” soon spotted Syrian tanks advancing unopposed toward the Nafah Base. Heavily outnumbered, he engaged the enemy’s Russian-built T-55s, destroying six of them.
His tank heavily damaged in the fight, Greengold hopped into the other Centurion. Along the same road, he saw the advancing Syrian 452d Tank Battalion. Using darkness for cover, he sped along the column’s flank, dodging enemy shells while fooling the Syrians into believing there was more than one tank out opposing them. He hit the first Syrian tank from only 20 meters away.
He notched off ten more enemy tanks before the Syrians withdrew. Even Greengold’s own command had no idea how many men and tanks made up the Zvika Force. Greengold couldn’t report his true strength over the radio for fear of being found out, so he only reported that “the situation isn’t good.” His brigade commander thought he was at least company strength.
For the next 20 hours Lt. Greengold fought, sometimes alone, in skirmishes all across the front lines. When he joined Lt. Col. Uzi Mor’s ten tanks, his luck took a turn for the worse.
Mor lost most of his tanks and was wounded. Greengold lost his tank and his uniform caught fire. He had to switch tanks a half dozen times. That’s when the Syrians sent a sizable force of T-62 tanks to force the Israelis back. Greengold joined 13 other tanks to engage the Syrian armored column of 100 tanks and 40 armored personnel carriers. He managed to hold them until he heard that Nafah Base was under attack.
When the command post came under attack, he joined the defense, moving his tank to critical spots at decisive moments, even in the face of overwhelming odds. During the defense of the base, one Israeli tank commander radioed his HQ that “there’s no one in the camp except a single tank fighting like mad along the fences.”
The Jerusalem Post reported “During a lull [in the battle] Zvika Greengold painfully lowered himself from his tank, covered with burns, wounds and soot. ‘I can’t go on anymore,’ he said to the staff office who had sent him into battle 30 hours before. The officer embraced him and found a vehicle to carry Greengold to the hospital.”
He passed out from exhaustion, physically unable to continue fighting. Nafah Base was never captured and the actions Zvika Greengold and the other IDF troops in the Golan Heights gave the IDF enough time to react to the two front invasion and send substantial reinforcements. They pushed the Syrians back to where the border is today.
Greengold estimates taking out at least 20 tanks, while others credit him with 40 or more. He was awarded the Medal of Valor, Israel’s highest award for heroism.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Doris “Dorie” Miller was serving aboard the USS West Virginia as a Navy mess attendant 2nd class when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
As his battleship was sinking, the powerfully built 22-year-old sharecropper’s son from Waco, Texas, helped move his dying captain to better cover before manning a .50-caliber machine gun and shooting at the attacking Japanese planes until he had no more ammunition. Miller was one of the last men to leave his sinking ship, and after unloading on the enemy, he turned his attention to pulling injured sailors out of the harbor’s burning, oily water.
Miller’s legendary actions, for which the sailor received the Navy Cross, were immortalized in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! and in Michael Bay’s 2001 film Pearl Harbor. But those depictions only provide surface details of Miller’s extraordinary service and its legacy in changing the course of US history.
Here are seven facts every American should know about this American icon.
Family members of World War II hero Doris “Dorie” Miller react after the unveiling of the future Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Doris Miller (CVN 81) at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexander C. Kubitza/US Navy, courtesy of DVIDS.
He’s the first enlisted sailor or Black American to ever have an aircraft carrier named after him.
The Navy made history Jan. 20, 2019, when it announced at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam that it would name a new Ford-class aircraft carrier, CVN-81, after Miller.
Supercarriers are typically named for US presidents, and the USS Doris Miller, which is still under construction, is the first to be named for an enlisted sailor or Black American. Navy officials said it will be the most powerful and lethal warship ever built.
“Dorie Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation,” said former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly during the ceremony last year. “His story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue to stand the watch today. He’s not just the story of one sailor. It is the story of our Navy, of our nation and our ongoing struggle to form — in the words of our Constitution — a more perfect union.”
Emrys Bledsoe, bottom, great-great-grandnephew of World War II hero Doris “Dorie” Miller, attempts to cut a cake next to acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, third from left, Mrs. Robyn Modly, left, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, right, and other Miller relatives at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexander C. Kubitza/US Navy, courtesy of DVIDS.
The carrier will be the second Navy vessel to honor Miller.
According to KPBS San Diego, the Navy now has 10 Black admirals serving in its ranks.
As a Black sailor in 1941, Miller wasn’t even supposed to fire a gun.
As NPR reported Tuesday, “When he reached for that weapon, he was taking on two enemies: the Japanese flyers and the pervasive discrimination in his own country.”
“One of the ways in which the Navy discriminated against African Americans was that they limited them to certain types of jobs, or what we call ‘ratings’ in the Navy,” historian Regina Akers from the Naval History and Heritage Command told NPR. “So, for African Americans, many were messmen or stewards. Dorie Miller was a messman, which meant that he basically took care of an officer, laid out his clothes, shined his shoes and served meals.”
Miller speaks during a war bond tour stop at the Naval Training Station in Great Lakes, Illinois, on Jan. 7, 1943. Photo courtesy of the US Navy/National Archives.
Miller’s legend would have been lost if not for the Black press.
Members of the Black press knew that getting Miller proper recognition could undermine the stereotype that Black Americans weren’t any good in combat. But when journalists from The Pittsburgh Courier — one of the leading Black newspapers of the time — looked into Miller’s story, the Navy initially wouldn’t identify him, saying there were too many messmen in its ranks to find him.
Before his death in 2003, former Courier reporter Frank Bolden said in an interview with the Freedom Forum, “The publisher of the paper said, ‘Keep after it.’ We spent ,000 working to find out who Dorie Miller was. And we made Dorie Miller a hero.”
Miller’s actions initially earned him nothing more than a letter of commendation, but coverage by the Black press captured public attention, and eventually, US Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Chester Nimitz upgraded Miller’s commendation to the Navy Cross, then the third-highest honor for heroism.
Akers, the historian, told NPR, “In just like the flip of a switch, [Miller] becomes a celebrity. He becomes one of the first heroes, period, of the war, but certainly one of the first African American heroes of the war. He was on recruitment posters. His image was everywhere.”
Miller receives the Navy Cross from Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, during a ceremony aboard the USS Enterprise on May 27, 1942. Photo courtesy of the US Navy/National Archives.
Miller’s story changed the Navy and military forever, paving the way for desegregation in the service.
Even before Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, his story quickly effected reforms. The Navy opened up jobs such as gunner’s mate, radioman, and radar operator to Black sailors and eventually started commissioning Black officers.
“Things came together at Pearl Harbor for Doris Miller and for the civil rights movement, probably to maximum effect,” Baylor University history professor Michael Parrish told NPR.
Miller’s story inspired Black artists to produce works that spread his legend far and wide and inspired generations of activists who were determined to build a more just society. In 1943, Langston Hughes, the Black American poet best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote this poem about the trailblazing sailor:
When Dorie Miller took gun in hand — Jim Crow started his last stand. Our battle yet is far from won But when it is, Jim Crow’ll be done. We gonna bury that son-of-a-gun!
Parrish, who co-authored Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor, and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement, said President Harry S. Truman’s executive order to desegregate the military in 1948 can also be traced to Miller’s heroics at Pearl Harbor.
“World War II was really the turning point in that long struggle,” Parrish told NPR.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson speaks during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The congresswoman has been working to honor Miller with the Medal of Honor since she first came to Congress in 1993. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexander C. Kubitza/US Navy, courtesy of DVIDS.
Some Congressional leaders believe Miller’s Navy Cross should be upgraded to a Medal of Honor.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who represents Texas’ 30th Congressional District, said in a 2010 press release that she has been working to honor Miller with the Medal of Honor since she first came to Congress in 1993.
“For more than 50 years, members of Congress have been working to give Petty Officer Doris Miller a Congressional Medal of Honor,” Johnson said. “Eighteen years after I first came to the House, we are still working on it. In my judgment, Dorie Miller saved our country from invasion, and as long as I live, I will do what I can to honor this great American hero.”
Miller was later killed in action in World War II and never lived to see the lasting effects of his heroics.
After Pearl Harbor, Miller went on serving his nation in World War II, and in 1943, he was one of hundreds of sailors killed when their ship was torpedoed and sank in the Pacific. While Miller’s body was never found, his legacy lives on, and his name has graced a postage stamp, schools, roads, and community centers all over the country.
And the service that once wouldn’t even release Miller’s name to the public now honors him alongside US presidents.
Making fun of the enemy is nothing new, especially for American troops. When U.S. troops like something, they’ll probably still come up with their own term for it. Even if they respect an enemy, they will still come up with a short, probably derogatory name for them. For American troops in the Civil War, many of which took the war very seriously (and rightly so), they would take any opportunity to denigrate the “Southern Way of Life.”
That started with the pop song “Dixie,” which became a de facto national anthem for the Confederates.
But even Abe Lincoln loved the song. Why? It was written in New York for use in traveling shows.
“Dixie” was actually written by an Ohioan, destined for use among blackface performers in traveling minstrel shows throughout the United States. These shows were wildly popular before, during, and after the Civil War everywhere in the United States, and were usually based on the premise of showing African-Americans as slow, dumb, and sometimes prolifically horny. It’s supposed to be sung by black people who are depicted as preferring life in the South, rather than as free men in the North.
“Dixie” is one of the most enduring relics of these shows, still retaining popularity today, although without the connection to the minstrel shows of the time. It’s safe to say almost every Confederate troop knew the words to “Dixie,” as the song depicts an idyllic view of what life in the American South was like in the 1850s, around the time the song was written, with lyrics like:
Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton Old times there are not forgotten Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land!
Union troops who were dead-set on killing Confederates, eventually came up with some new lyrics for the song. Like a group of murderous Weird Al fans, the Northerners wanted to poke fun at their deadly enemy in the best way they knew how – a diss track. The Union lyrics are harsh and the tune to the song just as catchy.
“Away down South in the land of traitors Rattlesnakes and alligators… … Where cotton’s king and men are chattels, Union boys will win the battles… Each Dixie boy must understand that he must mind his Uncle Sam…”
The Union version of “Dixie” rates somewhere between “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on the list of All-Time Greatest Civil War Songs That Make You Want to March on Richmond.
These days, when a plane sets off to drop bombs on a target, all the pilot needs to do is punch the coordinates into their Global Positioning System and follow the steering cues on the heads-up display — pretty straightforward. In fact, GPS has become so enmeshed in the military that the Air Force ran some training on how to fight without it.
But back in World War II, such technology didn’t exist. They used only the classic navigational tools: a map, a compass, and some intuition.
Today’s navigators have GPS and a host of other technologies that make getting from Point A to Point B easy.
(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)
So, how did they figure out their position using just a map and a compass in the cramped quarters of an airplane? The answer is old-fashioned hard work and diligent training.
Back then, navigators undertook about 500 hours of ground instruction. Assuming they had ten hours of classes per day, five days a week, that amounts to ten weeks spent on the ground. Then, they did another another 100 hours of training in the air. At the end, they needed to be able to plot a route with a course error no greater than 11 degrees, being no more than one minute off per hour of flight time. They also had to get within fifteen miles of an objective during a night flight.
This 1946 photo shows the level of technology available to World War II air crews. Much of it was done with maps, a compass, radar (if the plane was really advanced), and a fair bit of guesswork.
During World War II, some new navigation technology, like radio beacons, helped navigators bring their planes home. Over 50,000 personnel were trained to navigate aircraft to the precision requirements mentioned above.
Check out the video blow to see some of what would-be navigators were taught about maps and compasses.
Ukraine has become a defining feature of the 2020 presidential election season. Here are some facts to help you better understand Ukraine’s role on the global stage:
Traditional Ukrainian embroidered blouses.
Medieval Ukraine, known as “Kievan Rus,” was the birthplace of Slavic culture. Ukraine was formerly part of the Soviet Union and became an independent country in 1991. The country has long been known as the “breadbasket of Europe” due to its fertile soil. Although its economy has improved steadily since 2000, Ukraine continues to suffer from poverty and corruption. Ukraine is a close ally of the United States, and polls have shown a generally positive attitude toward the U.S. by Ukrainians.
Ukrainian soldiers take cover during a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine.
(Source: Sergei L. Loiko)
Ukraine has been at war since 2014
Ukraine was rocked with instability in 2014 due to a political protest movement called “Euromaidan.” Russia seized this opportunity to invade Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and claim it as Russian territory while also stirring up pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Crimea was conquered without bloodshed, and a large proportion of Crimea’s residents actually support the annexation. The insurrection in eastern Ukraine, however, quickly became violent.
Today the Ukrainian military continues to fight heavily armed, Russian-backed separatists and Russian military forces (although Russia publicly denies the latter) in eastern Ukraine. The conflict, which has claimed at least 13,000 lives and displaced over 1.4 million people, has since become a stalemate.
Euromaidan protestors battle police in central Kyiv in 2014.
Euromaidan was a really big deal
In 2014, growing discontent against president Viktor Yanukovych erupted in a massive protest movement. The activists, who hoped for a Ukraine more oriented toward Western Europe, accused Yanukovych of being a puppet of Vladimir Putin trying to pull Ukraine closer into Russia’s orbit. The Euromaidan movement led to street battles between police and protesters and over 100 deaths.
Euromaidan eventually succeeded, however. Yanukovych abandoned the presidency and fled to Russia, where he remains to this day. (In 2019 a Ukrainian court convicted him, in absentia, of treason.) Euromaidan was historic because it reflected the will of many Ukrainians to choose a trajectory free of Russian domination, but it also aggravated simmering tensions within Ukraine’s population and triggered Russia’s armed interventions in Crimea and the eastern regions.
Mural in Kyiv depicting a Ukrainian Cossack strangling Vladimir Putin, represented as a snake.
The Ukrainian population is deeply divided
Many Ukrainians, especially in western Ukraine, are staunch Ukrainian patriots. They take great pride in Ukrainian culture, history, and language and generally hold negative attitudes toward Russia.
More eastern regions of the country, however, have larger percentages of Ukrainians who speak Russian as a first language and consider themselves more Russian than Ukrainian. This is the root of the current war in eastern Ukraine, and the reason many Ukrainians in Crimea welcomed Russian annexation in 2014.
Choose your words carefully when referring to Ukraine
There are some semantics involved when speaking of Ukraine which cannot be divorced from the country’s complicated history and politics. Even the name “Ukraine” means “borderland” in Russian. The Ukrainian capital city has historically been transliterated as “Kiev,” the traditional Russian spelling, although the Ukrainian-language “Kyiv” is increasingly preferred.
Likewise, many English speakers incorrectly refer to the country as “the Ukraine,” a dated reference to the Soviet era when Ukraine was a Soviet republic (similar to saying “the Midwest” in relation to the United States). Both the Ukrainian government and many Ukrainians strongly discourage the term “the Ukraine.”
Even language itself is contentious: the majority of Ukrainians can speak both Ukrainian and Russian, but the use of either language can be seen as a political and social statement by the speaker.
President Volodymyr Zelensky
(Source: Getty Images)
Ukraine’s current president is literally a comedian
Current president Volodymyr Zelensky, whose phone call with President Donald Trump in July 2019 has triggered controversy within the United States, was a comedian before being elected in a landslide in 2019. He is most famous for playing the lead role in “Servant of the People,” a hugely popular sitcom about a schoolteacher who is unexpectedly elected president of Ukraine.
The 41-year-old Zelensky ran for office as a reformer whose priorities include fighting corruption and negotiating an honorable end to the war. Zelensky also wants to maintain U.S. support, particularly American shipments of “lethal” aid such as anti-tank missiles, which Ukrainian troops need to counter the Russian-equipped rebels.
Although a longtime Ukrainian patriot, Zelensky’s first language is Russian, and he has been criticized for not being entirely fluent in Ukrainian.
Imagine looking out your window to see an eerie green glow resonating from your neighbor’s shed. Or seeing government trucks being loaded with barrels marked radioactive by men dressed in hazmat suits outside your home.
The residents of Golf Manor, Michigan, don’t have to imagine it, because in 1995, a young teenage boy built a nuclear breeder reactor in his mother’s potting shed, an idea he came up with while working on his Atomic Energy merit badge in attempt to earn Eagle Scout status.
At an age when most adolescents are consumed with sports, friends, or dating, Hahn spent his free time conducting chemical experiments. Much to the chagrin of his parents, he had several chemical spills and even created an explosion that rocked their tiny house and left David “lying semi-conscious on the floor, his eyebrows smoking.”
Even his scout troop was not immune to his scientific curiosity. David once appeared at a scout meeting, “with a bright orange face caused by an overdose of canthaxanthin, which he was taking to test methods of artificial tanning.” Then there was the night at camp where his fellow scouts accidentally ignited a pile of powdered magnesium he had brought to make fireworks.
There’s no question that David was increasingly bold in his attempts to learn more about the chemical compounds of our world, but even with the goal in mind to build a nuclear breeder reactor, you have to wonder how he obtained the radioactive elements.
David worked a series of jobs at fast-food joints and grocery stores after school to finance his experiments. He admitted to Harper’s that he used several aliases and a string of mail communications with individuals working for agencies that control nuclear elements. None were as helpful as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where David was able to engage the agency’s director, Donald Erb.
Erb provided David with a list of contacts who provide commercial sale of some elements and how to harvest others. David broke apart smoke detectors to obtain americium-241, commercial gas lanterns provided him thorium-232, and with the help of a Geiger counter, he found an antique luminous clock that contained a vial of radium paint used to keep the clock face glowing. He even purchased $1000 worth of batteries to extract the lithium.
After several attempts to create energy, David was finally successful but he soon learned that his small reactor was producing so much radiation that it was spreading through his neighborhood. Unfortunately, his safety precautions only consisted of wearing a makeshift lead poncho and throwing away his clothes and shoes following a session in the potting shed. So he took apart the reactor.
Stashing some of the more radioactive elements in his house and the rest in his car, he was later found by the police after a call was made about a young man trying to steal tires. The police opened his trunk to find an array of scientific materials and a tool box locked with a padlock and sealed with duct tape. The police were rightly concerned about the box, and after David advised that it was radioactive, they were worried he had a nuclear bomb.
While being questioned by the police, David’s parents became afraid that they would lose their house, so they ransacked his room and his “laboratory” and tossed everything they could find. This left the authorities with nothing but what was in the car.
“The funny thing is, they only got the garbage, and the garbage got all the good stuff,” Hahn told Harper’s.
David never went back to his experiments and later served four years in the U.S. Navy – including service aboard the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. He also briefly served in the Marine Corps before returning home to Michigan. In 2016, David died from alcohol poisoning – not from exposure to radiation.
Though David Hahn is gone, the small town of Golf Manor will never forget their “Radioactive Boy.”