It was June of 1938 when the world first got their hands on Action Comics #1. This new, featured character, Superman, embodied all that was good about the United States. He fought for truth, justice, and the American way. For a whole ten cents, kids could get their own issue, read fantastic stories, and escape from the harsh realities of the Great Depression. But comics found a secondary audience — young adults who were also looking for an fantastical escape from the bleak world around them.
Comic sales suffered alongside the economy at large. Kids simply couldn’t fork over ten cents every week and the entire industry was almost kneecapped before it could became the multi-billion dollar business it is today.
Everything changed on December 20, 1940 (cover-dated for March, 1941) — an entire year before the attack on Pearl Harbor — when another superhero, named Captain America, hit the shelves. He donned star-spangled colors, and the very first public-facing image of Cap featured him delivering a swift punch directly to Hitler’s jaw.
Sales rose into the millions — but not because of kiddies with spare dimes. The audience that bought en masse was, unsurprisingly, the very demographic that wanted to knock Hitler out themselves: the 24-year-old men being shipped off to war.
The creators knew their audience, and they found ways to show their support for the troops in nearly every issue.
Despite comic books’ reputation of being pulpy kids’ fiction, troops, at the time, became the primary consumers. Comics were the perfect rucksack stuffer. They were small, easy to fold or roll, and could be fit into anything. You could read it once, share it around, and then enjoy it again when it circled back around. If they got damaged or destroyed, it was fine because it only cost ten cents.
The heroic stories within took troops’ minds temporarily off of the war in front of them. Comic books had mastered escapist fantasy during the Great Depression — and that came in handy among troops fighting in WWII.
Lucky troops could find the newest issues of their favorite series around Europe — most often when in England, before heading back into the fray. But troops would also often request comics in care packages from back home.
These comics were often printed on higher quality paper so they could withstand the trials of daily military life.
(David McKay Co.)
It wasn’t just the stories of Superman and Batman fighting the good fight back home that connected with the troops. In fact, Captain America was a super-soldier fighting in the same war as the audience for the same reasons against the same enemy.
But the superheroes we love today didn’t steal the show. Non-fiction series stood above them during that era.
In these comics, the characters had no superhuman powers. They weren’t fighting some devious, otherworldly villain. These comics featured real stories told by the troops who were fighting. It wasn’t uncommon for GIs in Europe to enjoy the comics about actions in the Pacific Theater, like Guadalcanal Diary, or for island-hopping Marines to read about the U.S. soldiers in France, in comics like USA Is Ready.
One man in particular, Bob Kanigher, used his first-hand experience on the front lines to give the veteran comic book readers arguably one of the finest stories in the medium: Sgt. Rock of Easy Company.
The troops’ love of comic books continued well after many made the transition back into civilian life. From then on, the lion’s share of the comic book marketplace featured more mature themes, like crime, supernatural horror, and war — things that returning veterans would enjoy.
This came into direct conflict with a narrative that insisted comic books were for kids. The Comics Code Authority went into effect in 1954, censoring all the “foul” stuff veterans came to love. Comic sales plummeted. This should have been the final nail in the coffin for the medium — but it wasn’t, not by a long shot.
World War II veterans who had read and loved all the stories during wartime elbowed their way into the industry, giving rise to the Silver Age of comic books. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Syd Shore, Alice Marble, Curt Swan, and Bob Kanigher all served their country in the second World War. Together, they brought comic books back into the spotlight, steering them to the bright future they enjoy today.
It was not an ending befitting a man of Lincoln’s personal stature. He died in a bed at the House of a local tailor, William Petersen. He didn’t die right away, instead dying the next morning after a night of labored breathing. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth, bolted out the door and made for Maryland, crossing the Navy Yard bridge after the evening curfew. From there, he and his conspirators made their way to Virginia, where they were captured and eventually executed.
The killing was dramatic, public, and caused a popular outcry that has persisted for generations – and continues to this day.
The manhunt for Booth and the co-conspirators, those who also attacked Secretary of State William Seward and failed to murder Vice-President Andrew Johnson, was the largest in American history. It was personally led by Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. A reward for a sum equal to more than 0,000 when adjusted for inflation was offered for Booth and searches were conducted by the U.S. goddamn Army.
You know you maxed-out your wanted level when the U.S. military is after you.
Booth and accomplice David Herold made it to a Virginia farm one night and were asleep in the barn when the 16th New York Cavalry came calling. Herold surrendered when the cavalry ordered the men to come out, but Booth would not be taken alive. As soldiers set fire to the barn, the assassin gathered his weapons and made for the back door. Unfortunately for Booth, Sgt. Thomas “Boston” Corbett was already there, having snuck around to the back earlier. He shot Booth in the back of the head just below where Booth hit President Lincoln. The assassin was paralyzed immediately and died outside the farmhouse, surrounded by Union cavalry two hours later.
Of the eight people arrested for the conspiracy, four were hanged (including Herold), three were given life sentences, and one served six years. Booth’s body was rolled into a horse blanket and eventually buried next to the four who were hanged for their crimes. They were moved briefly before being turned over to his family in 1869. They moved his body to their family plot near Baltimore. There, in that plot, you’ll find a small, unmarked stone – one likely covered in pennies.
Visitors believe this to be John Wilkes Booth’s final resting place, and leave pennies on top of the marker as a means to mock the assassin, more than a century after his death. The penny (in case you don’t use cash) usually features the image of President Lincoln. It’s far more economical to get your kicks in with a penny than with a bill.
The early days of November bring more than just chilly weather and the beginning of a winter-long food and football hibernation cycle. That’s what Thanksgiving is for.
Come the 10th and 11th – the Marine Corps birthday and Veterans Day respectively – military towns and American Legion Halls all over the country begin shaking with the booming voice of Marines past and present, singing the Marines’ Hymn, a song about the Halls of Montezuma and the Shores of Tripoli.
If you’re a Marine, you definitely know what these are. If you’ve served in the military at some point, you’ve probably been able to pick up what they mean. But for a lot of civilians, military culture and tradition can be a black hole of knowledge – unless one of their history teachers was a Marine, there’s no reason for them to know this.
Can you imagine Marine Corps grade school?
The Halls of Montezuma
No, the Marines did not fight Aztec warriors. They were around 300 or so years too late for that.
The reference is to Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire…which also happens to be modern-day Mexico City. In 1847, the U.S. and Mexico were engaged in a bit of a war and it wasn’t going well for the Mexicans. The Americans were in the middle of capturing the Mexican capital. But Mexico under dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna wasn’t going down easily – neither were its people.
To break the fighting spirits of the Mexican troops while capturing the city itself, Gen. Winfield Scott determined that he would have to capture Chapultepec Castle, a military academy on the heights overlooking the city. The hill leading up to the castle was a 200-foot slope ending in a 12-foot wall, designed to keep enemy troops from doing exactly what the Marines were about to do.
After the Americans made it through volley after volley of artillery and gunfire, the Mexican Army was waiting for them. They engaged in a good old-fashioned fistfight.
They then scaled the castle walls and entered the inside of the castle – known as the Halls of Montezuma. They raised the American flag and by the time Gen. Scott entered the castle, the streets were guarded by U.S. Marines.
The Marines captured the fortress in an hour, with a loss of 90 percent of the Marines’ officer and NCO corps. Legend has it the NCOs and officers added scarlet stripes to their pants to commemorate their lost brothers here. Today these are referred to as “blood stripes” to remember the Marine blood shed in Mexico City.
The Shores of Tripoli
Why do the Marines sing about the Shores of Tripoli when those particular shores have been pretty unfriendly to Americans for much of the time most active Marines have been alive? Because, like Chapultepec, this battle happened early on in Marine Corps history.
The wars with the Barbary pirates were an epic and underreported time in American history. The Marines got one of their first heroes when Lt. Presley O’Bannon and his contingent of Marines accompanied a force of Arab allies under U.S. agent William Eaton marched 500 miles overland to attack the city of Derne.
It was after the march that O’Bannon and the Marines, along with Eaton and his Greek and Arab mercenaries, captured the city against a much larger force. The Tripolitans sent reinforcements, but by the time they arrived, the city had already fallen. When that force tried to retake the city, U.S. Navy vessels and captured Tripolitan guns manned by Marines repelled the attack.
The capture of Derne forced the leaders in Tripoli to make peace with the Americans, stop raiding American shipping, and free American slaves. The Marines say Lt. O’Bannon was presented with an elaborate Mamluk-style sword by the Ottoman representative, which is now the model for those carried by Marine Corps officers.
No two innocent-sounding words can crush a troop’s morale quite like “Dear John.” In the military lexicon, a “Dear John” letter is a cute letter sent by a troop’s lady back home that lets him know she’s gone. These letters typical start with incoherent ramblings about how they miss their “John” before ultimately saying they’re moving on.
To the deployed John, time stands still, but the Earth still rotates. Even if a troop finds a good one that’s willing to wait, everyone knows someone who got a “Dear John.”
Despite the fact that these heartbreaking letters were undoubtedly sent with the near-12 million letters delivered per week during WWI, the phrase wasn’t popularized until WWII, when American GIs sent and received over one billion pieces of mail throughout the war.
When, exactly, troops started using it to refer to an actual letter is lost to time, but it’s been used as a popular saying as far back as 1944 in the St. Petersburg Times. However, the phrase originated many years prior, and was used extensively in Anthony Trollope’s 1864 novel, Can You Forgive Her? The immensely popular Victorian English novel that, honestly, does not hold up to the modern standards of bearable.
A CliffsNotes of the CliffsNotes is that the story centers around a woman named Alice who has two suitors. One is wild and exciting, but evil: George. The other is honest and a war hero, but boring: John. As it turns out, George is a psychopathic politician who tries to murder everyone and Alice’s cousin. Just throwing that out there. But, in the end, John finds out Alice is leaving him through a letter that starts with a phase repeated throughout the novel, “Dear John.”
Although we don’t know the exact origins of the phrase, as John was the most popular boys name of the time (see: John Doe), this our best guess. Either way, the phrase has had an undeniable impact — it’s since been referenced by Hank Williams Sr., Taylor Swift, a Nicholas Sparks novel that became a film, and television.
As of this writing, it appears there is little hope for an actual rescue of the crew of the Argentinean submarine ARA San Juan. Some reports indicate an explosion was picked up by both American and United Nations underwater acoustic sensors.
When submarines are lost, they are said to be “on eternal patrol.” This comes from the fact that many times, the term submariners use for deployment is “patrol,” a term that predates World War II (a 1938 movie focusing on a subchaser was called Submarine Patrol). A combat deployment is often called a “war patrol,” and American ballistic missile submarines are on “deterrent patrols.”
These patrols begin when a sub leaves port, and end on their return. When a sub sinks, and doesn’t make it home, the patrol is “eternal.”
The loss of a peacetime submarine is not unheard of. Since the end of World War II, the United States lost four submarines. Two, the nuclear-powered attack submarines USS Thresher (SSN 593) and USS Scorpion (SSN 589), were lost with all hands. In the late 1940s, two Balao-class diesel-electric submarines, USS Cochino (SS 345) and USS Stickleback (SS 415) also sank as the result of accidents.
The United States has not been alone in losing submarines. Most famously, in 2000, the Russian nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine Kursk, an Oscar-class vessel, suffered an on-board explosion and sank with all hands. The Soviet Union had five nuclear-powered submarines sink, albeit one, a Charlie-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine, was raised, and they lost other subs as well, including one in a spectacular explosion pierside.
It sometimes can take a long time to find those subs. A Whiskey “Twin Cylinder”-class guided-missile submarine that sank in 1961 took over seven years to find. The Soviets never did locate the Golf-class ballistic missile submarine K-129 until investigative reporter Jack Anderson revealed the existence of Project Azorian.
While the cause of the explosion that has apparently sent the San Juan and her crew of 44 to the bottom of the South Atlantic may never be known, what is beyond dispute is that submariners face a great deal of danger – even when carrying out routine peacetime operations.
Last year, President Trump drew headlines all over the world with the announcement that he intended to establish a new branch of the American armed forces dedicated solely to orbital and deep-space defense. This new Space Force would be responsible for defending America’s sizeable satellite infrastructure from potential attack and hardening the means by which America has come to rely on orbital technology in day to day life as well as defense.
The concept wasn’t without its critics, with some discounting the very idea of space defense as a flight of fancy and national level competitors accusing America of militarizing an otherwise peaceful theater… but the truth of the matter is, space has been a battlespace since mankind first started lobbing rockets at it.
The Space Race, which was in every appreciable way an extension of the Cold War that benefited from good PR, may have ended with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon in 1969, but the race to leverage space for military purposes continued going strong for decades to come. In fact, one could argue that reaching the moon marked only the end of the public-facing space race, but not the end of the competition between American and Soviet space programs.
Despite reaching the Moon first, America still had pressing concerns in space.
So heated was the race to militarize space during the Cold War that the Defense Department actually already had a Space Force of sorts starting way back in the 1970s. This secretive program was vast, with a .3 billion California-based spaceport meant for secretive space shuttle launches into polar orbit, a secret group of 32 military-trained astronauts, and plans to fly more shuttle flights per yearthan NASA itself at one point.
The military astronauts weren’t actually called astronauts — they were called Spaceflight Engineers, and in total, the Air Force’s Manned Spaceflight Engineer Program had 134 military officers and civilian experts assigned to it. These men and women worked out of the aforementioned California launch complex as well as the Pentagon’s own version of mission control in Colorado, and a third facility in Los Angeles that housed the Spaceflight Engineers themselves.
In the early days of the program, some of the Pentagon’s astronauts even hitched rides on NASA shuttle missions hoping to increase cooperation and cross-train on flight methodologies.
Air Force Spaceflight Engineer Maj. Gary Payton (back left) along with NASA crew members Loren Shriver (front left) and Ken Mattingly (front right), with Jim Buchli and Ellison Onizuka (behind).
“Between these two agencies, it really was a shotgun marriage,”said retired Air Force Col. Gary Payton, who served as Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs until his retirement in July 2010.
“NASA thought of us as a bunch of snotty-nosed kids, outsiders, almost guests…nothing more than engineers or scientists who tended one particular satellite or experiment, and typically flew just once. We, on the other hand, thought our job was to help bridge the gulf between the military and civilian space agencies.”
The plan was for the Defense Department’s shuttles to launch from California and enter into a polar orbit, which was more beneficial for the Defense Department’s secretive missions than the equatorial orbit commonly reached from Florida launch complexes. The Pentagon’s plans called for an absolutely mind-boggling 12-14 launches per year. That was far more than NASA was prepared to manage, but the result would have been an extremely resilient and redundant space defense infrastructure long before any nation was prepared to present a viable threat to American interests in orbit.
The Space Shuttle offered a wide variety of mission sets, but with a great deal of risk.
But then in 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven crew members on board. It was a crushing blow to NASA, but hit the Manned Spaceflight Engineer Program even harder. It forced the Pentagon to acknowledge two difficult truths about manned shuttle missions: when they fail, people die — and the whole world notices.
“By 1987, it was all gone,” said William J. Baugh, director of public affairs for the Air Force Second Space Wing at Falcon Air Force Base in Colorado told the New York Times. “By that time, Challenger had its problem, and we decided to get out of the shuttle business.”
The Pentagon opted to transition toward a system of mostly unmanned rocket launches for the deployment of new satellites, leaning on NASA and the Space Shuttle for some classified missions when the payloads were too big or complex for other rockets like the Titan IV.
“It’s disappointing,” Maj. Frank M. DeArmand, a Spaceflight Engineer who never got to fly, said in 1989. “We all had the excitement and expectation of flying on the shuttle. But I’m not bitter. It was the right decision.”
Let’s be clear — all battles suck for a foot soldier, even the smaller ones. But there were some in recent times that sucked more than others for the lowly grunt, with body counts piling up, bad commanders and leadership with a total lack of respect for the lives of their men.
Here is a partial list of five of the worst modern battles to be a bottom-of-the-barrel foot soldier.
5. The Battle of Kiev, 1941
The Battle of Kiev lasted from August 23 – Sept. 26, 1941. The German army, led by Fedor von Bock, Gerd von Rundstedt, and the famed Heinz Guderian, continued their spearhead towards Moscow but Hitler reconsidered.
Instead, he ordered Bock, von Rundstedt, and Guderian to focus their attack on the city of Kiev. The total amount of German forces heading towards Kiev numbered a little over 500,000. The reason for this was that Kiev was third largest city with a large concentration of Soviet forces with likely more than 627,000 Red Army troops facing the German onslaught.
How bad was it? In order to crush the Soviets in Kiev, the Germans were forced to systematically reduce the pockets of resistance. In other words, the Germans had to work at making each line (pockets of resistance) buckle and break.
Because of this, the fighting was unsurprisingly up close and personal. The total number of dead were 127,000 Germans and 700,544 Soviets — that’s over 800,000 killed in the battle for Kiev.
4. The Battle of Verdun, 1916
The Battle of Verdun lasted from Feb. 21 – Dec. 18, 1916, between the armies of France and the German Empire. Located in northeastern France, when the battle of Verdun kicked off, 30,000 French soldiers faced 130,000 German soldiers. Seeing that 30,000 troops were not enough, the French bolstered their forces to a staggering 1.1 million men. The Germans countered this by delivering 1.25 million troops.
The horrors of such a battle need little explanation. All one has to do is look at the photos of the battle site. World War I was a war in which the technology outpaced the tactics and strategies. Because of this, war came to a near standstill as men were mowed down by machine guns and blown to pieces by artillery fire on a daily basis.
If that wasn’t enough, living in the trenches was another misery all its own. Here’s a testimony.
A German soldier writes to his parents:
An awful word, Verdun. Numerous people, still young and filled with hope, had to lay down their lives here – their mortal remains decomposing somewhere, in between trenches, in mass graves, at cemeteries…
In total, the French would lose upwards of 500,000 troops while the Germans lost in some estimates more than 400,000 — nearly 1 million killed on both sides.
3. The Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1944
The siege of Leningrad lasted from Sept. 8 1941 – Jan. 27, 1944. The German army surrounded the city with 725,000 troops and began an on-and-off bombardment and assault of the city which was defended by 930,000 Soviet soldiers.
While the Germans made little advancement into the city, mainly controlling the outskirts, they were effective in starving the city to near death.
While war is indeed hell, the Germans suffered from the typical day-to-day engagements as did the Soviet soldiers. However, the people of the city suffered the worst. Due to the limited amount of supplies, many people ate whatever they could get their hands on, even people.
Once the siege lifted, the Germans suffered 579,985 casualties while the Soviets lost 642,000 during the siege and another 400,000 at evacuations.
2. The Battle of Stalingrad, 1942-1943
The battle of Stalingrad lasted from August 23, 1942 – Feb. 2, 1943. Initially, the Germans besiege the city with 270,000 troops. But by the time the siege was lifted, the Germans army had swelled to 1,040,000 men.
The Soviets at first only had 187,000 personnel to defend the city, but by the time of the counteroffensive, more than 1.1 million troops were on the move.
The horrors of Stalingrad were an outgrowth of the hellish street-to-street and building-to-building fighting. Not to mention the many horrors both sides witnessed and committed.
Red Army Maj. Anatloy Zoldatov, recalled:
The filth and human excrement and who knows what else was piled up waist-high. It stank beyond belief. There were two toilets and signs above them both that read: No Russians allowed.
In total, the Germans would lose 734,000 killed, wounded and missing, while the Russians lost 478,741 killed and missing and another 650,878 wounded or sick.
1. The Battle of Berlin, 1945
The battle of Berlin ran from April 16 – May 2, 1945. The Germans had only 766,750 soldiers on hand to defend the city against 2.5 million Soviet soldiers. The result was a decisive Soviet victory that would lead to Germany’s surrender on May 7, 1945.
As for the horrors of the battle, many German citizens — including children — were forced to defend the city. Of course, this was the norm when the situation grows dire.
Like Stalingrad, the fighting in Berlin would be from street-to-street and building-to-building. However, the German army, like its people, were depleted from years of war and had 2.5 million angry Soviets kicking their door in.
Once Berlin was theirs, the pillaging began. In total, the Germany army lost 92,000–100,000 troops while the Soviets lost 81,116.
Military history is chock-full of concepts that, at one point, needed to be made, seemed good on paper, were eventually implemented, but, somehow, never really became a thing. In retrospect, it’s easy to point fingers at the short-lived Balloon Corps fielded by the Union Army during the American Civil War and say it was silly.
At the time, however, it served a valuable niche. There was a definite need for air superiority, and using hot air balloons to get a height advantage gave Northern scouts an edge. The Balloon Corps actually played a valuable role in yielding Union success at Antietam, Yorktown, and the various battles along the Potomac River.
The balloons themselves weren’t bizarre. The Chief Aeronaut and Commander of the Union Army Balloon Corps, Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, on the other hand… was basically a cartoon mad scientist who somehow wound up in the service of the Union Army.
He didn’t invent balloon travel. He just gave it a lot of style.
A few things to note about Professor Lowe first: He wasn’t ever actually an officer in the U.S. Army. He held the position and received the pay of a Colonel (payment that he received in the form of ‘s worth of gold per day — about half of what a colonel made then), but he was one of the very few civilians to lead troops.
Lowe, technically, wasn’t an actual professor, either. In fact, he never even got past the fourth grade. He used the title during his charlatan days. He simply liked how it sounded on a traveling magician he knew growing up, so he adopted it, too.
What he lacked in the actual pedigree, however, he made up for with knowledge. He was, by all accounts, a self-taught man. He picked up medicine to please his grandmother’s wishes, laid the groundwork in most meteorological studies we still use today, and held 40 various patents. His was notable work was in pioneering balloon travel.
I mean, I’m no aeronaut but I’m pretty sure you’d learn you’re flying into the south when you start hearing the banjos down below.
Lowe first tinkered with hot air balloons in hopes of eventually making a transatlantic voyage. The Smithsonian Institute became aware of his plans and even vouched for his research (referring to him as “Professor Lowe,” giving a degree of authenticity to his self-appointed title).
His first test flight from Pennsylvania to New Jersey aboard the Great Western ended when high winds ripped apart the aircraft. His second test in the smaller Enterprise went more successfully, but still went horribly wrong. The original plan was to fly from Cincinnati to Washington D.C., but high winds again flung him down south. His balloon landed in Unionville, South Carolina.
This second test happened just days after the Battle of Fort Sumter; the Civil War was now in full swing. Lowe was detained and arrested by Confederate troops who believed he was a spy for the North. They saw his balloon as a reconnaissance tool and saw him as a strategic threat. He reasoned with the Southerners, explaining that he was only a man of science in a failed experiment. Though true at the time, this sparked an idea in Lowe to actually use his balloons just as the Confederates had feared.
They were even known to have been given fire bombs to lob down below if they drifted too far from their allies. Because why not?
Professor Lowe equipped his balloons with telegraph sets and wire that ran down to the ground. He tested it above the White House for President Lincoln and sent the first ever aerial message to him. This impressed the President enough to give Lowe his first shot at military ballooning at the First Battle of Bull Run. It went, in a word, terribly.
His balloon landed behind enemy lines and he was quickly captured. As if this story weren’t yet goofy enough, his wife and mother of his ten children, Leontine Lowe, got word of his capture. So, she did what any loving wife would do, she dressed up as an old hag and hid him and his gear in a pile of sheets, like a cartoon prison break.
Professor Lowe managed to gather some valuable information before his capture and gave it back to Washington. For his work, he was given command over the Balloon Corps. Despite his early failures, his and his men’s work provided the Union with valuable information from their eyes-in-the-sky. From high above the mountains, they could telegraph down troop movements and exact locations near instantaneously.
The moral of the story? Stay weird, my friends. Stay weird.
(Library of Congress)
Lowe’s military career was ended abruptly when he contracted malaria near the end of the war. His replacement, Captain Comstock, just didn’t understand the true insanity that was required to fly a giant hot air balloon into battle and, without a fearless leader, the Balloon Corps came to a close.
It took years for Lowe to recover, but he eventually moved out to California. There, he messed around with using hydrogen gas to cool things inside of an enclosed space. This was, essentially, the prototype of the more efficient refrigerator and compact ice machines we use today. He’d outfit several steamboats with these devices and transport fresh beef into cities without using preservative salts.
He was also the first to summit what is now known as Mt. Lowe, a relatively easy to hike mountain overlooking Pasadena, California, and earned naming rights to the mountain because, apparently, no one had ever bothered to try before.
It first entered Navy service in February, 1895, with some doubters mocking its excessive armament while Americans hoped that its speed, steel, and guns would allow it to survive while outnumbered if under heavy attack. Instead, the small but mighty USS Olympia slaughtered an enemy fleet, bombarded shores, and escorted convoys during its 27-year career.
The USS Olympia, a fast cruiser with heavy armament.
In the late 1800s, the U.S. Navy wrestled with what the service should do and what ships it needed for the 1900s. The battle of the Merrimack and Monitor decisively proved that wooden ships were on their way out, but the rise of steel ships showed that the iron vessels made in earnest during and after the Civil War wouldn’t survive either.
Meanwhile, sails were the efficient and cheap method of propelling a ship, but it was clear that steam gave commanders more flexibility and more options in combat.
And the Navy needed ships to secure American shores even as a constrained budgets made ship-building tough. Some presidents were already looking at using the Navy for power projection as well.
So, the Navy had to decide whether it should have lots of cheap ships, lots of coastal defenses, steam or sail power, all while keeping power projection a feasible option.
The Navy figured out a plan address all the changes and requirements: A new fleet of steel vessels that relied on steam power but still had masts for sails for long voyages when the winds were favorable. Because the U.S. couldn’t spend as much on ship hulls as potential European attackers, each ship would be heavily armed and as fast as possible.
This resulted in cruisers that could hopefully run ahead of enemy fleets, pelting the lead of the enemy ship with shot after shot while staying out of range of the rest of the enemy fleet. (Video game players do this today against powerful enemies and call it, “kiting.”)
The USS Olympia in front of a column of cruisers circa 1900.
(Francis Christian Muller)
The Olympia fit all the qualifications of the new naval plan. It could steam at over 21 knots while most of its potential enemies topped out at 18. It had four 8-inch guns, two in a single turret forward and two in a turret aft. These big guns were the primary armament, but the ship also had ten 5-inch guns. A few years after launch, it also got Gatling guns and sidearms for potential boarding parties.
Some naval observers around the world critiqued the design, saying that it was either an overarmed cruiser or a too-tiny battleship. But these heavily armed cruisers were designed for their own mission, and they could outrun attackers while picking them off with their larger guns.
The defensive war Olympia was ostensibly designed for never came, though. Instead, it was sent to the Pacific where it became the flagship of Commodore George Dewey before the USS Maine, a larger and even better armed ship, blew up in Havana Harbor. While the explosion was later found to have likely been caused by an ammo handling accident or an overheated bulkhead that touched gunpowder stores, the U.S. blamed it on a Spanish attack at the time.
In response to the Maine’s destruction, Dewey and his squadron were sent to Manila Bay to attack the Spanish fleet there. The hope was that the ships, protected by steel and heavily armed, could rush past the guns of the Spanish coastal defenses and engage the Spanish fleet with the large guns.
The USS Olympia leads the attack against the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila.
But the rest of the fleet held its fire until Dewey saw the fleet, crept in range, and got the angles right. Spanish rounds were raining against the steel hulls of the American ships, and gunners crouched behind the paltry armor and prayed for safety until Dewey, on the Olympia, calmly told the ship’s captain, “You may fire when ready, Mr. Gridley.”
The American fleet opened up and slaughtered the decrepit Spanish fleet, sinking all vessels and capturing the port in mere hours. America now owned the capital of the Philippines and would get the islands in the peace treaty that came later. Nine Americans had been wounded while the fleet had killed 161 Spanish fighters and wounded 210.
The Olympia and Dewey became famous, and the ship went on to serve in World War I as a convoy escort. And, in 1918, Olympia bombarded the shore during an amphibious assault at Murmansk in the Russian Civil War.
But the era of the Dreadnought had come, and in the years following World War I, it became clear that the Olympia was no longer enough ship to compete with enemy combatants. And America, flush with prestige after World War I and possessing overseas colonies from the Spanish-American War, had the money to build a larger, more powerful fleet.
In 1922, Olympia was decommissioned, and the hull was slated for the scrap heap, but activists pushed for the ship to be turned into a museum. It took decades of wrangling before Philadelphia donors got the money to return Olympia to the 1898 configuration and moored the ship in the city’s waterfront in 1958.
Since then, the ship has hosted visitors who wanted to walk the weathered boards of its deck or see the steam engines that made its speed possible. The Flagship Olympia Foundation is trying to raise the money necessary to dry dock and overhaul the ship. It’s already been on the water since 1892, and could have decades more in it after repairs.
For as long as the United States has existed, Americans have played close attention to what the president says.
So it’s no surprise that presidents have had a huge impact on the English language itself.
Presidents are responsible for introducing millions of Americans to words that we now consider ordinary. Thomas Jefferson, for example, is responsible for bringing the word “pedicure” over from France, while Abraham Lincoln gifted us with “sugarcoat.”
Meanwhile, the ubiquitous word “OK” has a lengthy history closely intertwined with our eighth president, Martin Van Buren.
Read on to discover the presidential origins of 11 common words we use today.
1. Iffy — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt began using the word “iffy” early in his presidency, and by virtually all accounts, he was the first known person to have used it.
That’s according to Paul Dickson, the author of “Words from the White House,” which tracked the influence US presidents have had on the English language.
Defined as “having many uncertain or unknown qualities or conditions,” iffy was apparently a go-to word for Roosevelt when dismissing hypothetical questions from the press, like when he’d say, “that’s an iffy question.”
2. Mulligan — Dwight Eisenhower
Before Dwight Eisenhower came around, the word “mulligan” was rarely heard outside the golf course.
But according to Dickson, Eisenhower — an avid golfer —introduced the word to the masses in 1947 when he requested a mulligan in a round of golf that was being covered by reporters.
A mulligan is an extra stroke awarded after a bad shot, and it wouldn’t be the last time Eisenhower was awarded one. In 1963, the former president was granted a mulligan as he was dedicating a golf course at the Air Force Academy, after his ceremonial first drive went straight up into the air.
3. Founding fathers — Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding is usually ranked among the worst American presidents, but he succeeded in popularizing a phrase that has become a staple of our political discourse.
The most famous instance came in 1918 when Harding, then an Ohio senator, said in a speech that “It is good to meet and drink at the fountains of wisdom inherited from the founding fathers of the Republic.”
Before Harding, America’s pioneers were typically known as the “framers.” But Harding’s punchy alliteration soon became the standard for decades to come.
4. Pedicure — Thomas Jefferson
Perhaps no president has contributed more words to the English language than Thomas Jefferson.
One of his most widely-used contributions is the word “pedicure,” which he picked upduring his years living in Paris. The earliest use of the word in English dates back to 1784, according to Merriam-Webster.
5. Sugarcoat — Abraham Lincoln
Not only did Abraham Lincoln pioneer the use of “sugarcoat” in the sense of making something bad seem more attractive or pleasant, but he stirred up a minor controversy with the word, too.
In 1861, four months after he was inaugurated, Lincoln wrote a letter to Congress as Southern states were threatening to secede from the Union.
“With rebellion thus sugar-coated they have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than 30 years, until at length they have brought many good men to a willingness to take up arms against the government,” Lincoln wrote, according to Dickson.
John Defrees, in charge of government printing, was so incensed by Lincoln’s folksy verbiage that he admonished the president, telling him, “you have used an undignified expression in the message.”
But Lincoln insisted on using the word “sugarcoat,” and he got the last laugh: “That word expresses precisely my idea, and I am not going to change it,” he responded. “The time will never come in this country when the people won’t know exactly what ‘sugar-coated’ means.”
6. Administration — George Washington
George Washington set the standard for all US presidents to come, and one major impact he had was establishing the language of the presidency.
Although the word “administration” has been around since the 14th century, it was Washington who first used the word to refer to a leader’s time in office. According to History.com, Washington’s first use of the word came in his 1796 farewell address when he said, “In reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error.”
7. Normalcy — Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding makes another appearance on this list for popularizing the word “normalcy,” the state of being normal.
Harding dropped the word in his famous “Return to Normalcy” speech, delivered as a candidate in the 1920 election in the wake of World War I.
Critics immediately pounced on the senator for using the word instead of the more popular “normality.” The Daily Chronicle of London even wrote that “Mr. Harding is accustomed to take desperate ventures in the coinage of new word,” according to Merriam-Webster’s Kory Stamper.
What the critics didn’t know is that “normalcy” was a perfectly valid English word dating back to 1857, less than a decade after the debut of “normality,” according to linguist Ben Zimmer. But ever since 1920, the word has been indelibly linked to Harding.
8. Belittle — Thomas Jefferson
We can thank America’s third president for introducing us to the word “belittle,” meaning to make someone or something seem unimportant.
The earliest use of the word researchers have found was a 1781 writing of Jefferson’s in which he said of his home state Virginia, “The Count de Buffon believes that nature belittles her productions on this side of the Atlantic.”
Americans picked up on Jefferson’s coinage in the coming years, and Noah Webstereventually included it in his first dictionary in 1806.
9. OK — Martin Van Buren
The word “OK” has a rich history, and eighth president Martin Van Buren played a major role in its lasting popularity.
There are a few explanations as to how “OK” came about, but the most popular one pegs it to an 1839 edition of the Boston Morning Post. That OK stood for “oll korrect,” as in, “all correct” — apparently, it was a popular fad among educated elites to deliberately misspell things. Other jokey abbreviations of the era included NC for “nuff ced” and KG for “know go.”
By the end of the year, OK was slowly making its way into the American vernacular, when Van Buren incorporated it into his 1840 election campaign. A native of Kinderhook, New York, Van Buren’s nickname was Old Kinderhook, and as History.com explained, “OK” became a rallying cry among his supporters.
That election gave OK all the exposure it needed, and the word was cemented into our speech ever since.
10. Bloviate — Warren G. Harding
Somehow, one of America’s least-heralded presidents managed to popularize yet another word that is commonly used today: “bloviate.”
To bloviate is to speak pompously and long-windedly, something Harding readily acknowledged he did frequently. The president once described bloviation as “the art of speaking for as long as the occasion warrants, and saying nothing.”
While bloviate sounds like it could come from Latin, it’s actually just a clever coinage playing on the “blow” in words like “blowhard.” And although Harding didn’t coin it himself, he likely picked it up as a boy growing up in Ohio, where the word was most frequently used in the late 1800s.
Just like in the case of “normalcy,” Harding came under plenty of fire from language purists when he made use of “bloviate,” but most people wouldn’t bat an eye at it today.
Fake news has been around as long as the news itself. But ever since Donald Trump took office, the term has experienced a shift in meaning.
While fake news traditionally refers to disinformation or falsehoods presented as real news, Trump’s repeated use of the term has given way to a new definition: “actual news that is claimed to be untrue.”
Trump’s reimagining of fake news became so widespread in his first year as president that the American Dialect Society declared it the Word of the Year in 2017.
“When President Trump latched on to ‘fake news’ early in 2017, he often used it as a rhetorical bludgeon to disparage any news report that he happened to disagree with,” Ben Zimmer, chair of the group’s New Words Committee, said at the time.
“That obscured the earlier use of ‘fake news’ for misinformation or disinformation spread online, as was seen on social media during the 2016 presidential campaign,” he said. “Trump’s version of ‘fake news’ became a catchphrase among the president’s supporters, seeking to expose biases in mainstream media.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The “Bermuda Triangle” is a geographical area between Miami, Florida, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the tiny island nation of Bermuda. Nearly everyone who goes to the Bahamas can tell you that it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll die a horrible death.
From 1946 to 1991, there have been over 100 disappearances. These are some of the military disappearances that have been lost in the Bermuda Triangle.
1. U.S.S. Cyclops – March 4th, 1918
One of the U.S. Navy’s largest fuel ships at the time made an unscheduled stop in Barbados on its voyage to Baltimore. The ship was carrying 100 tons of manganese ore above what it could typically handle. All reports before leaving port said that it was not a concern.
The new path took the Cyclops straight through the Bermuda Triangle. No distress signal was sent. Nobody aboard answered radio calls.
This is one of the most deadly incidents in U.S. Navy history outside of combat, as all 306 sailors aboard were declared deceased by then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.
2. and 3. USS Proteus and USS Nereus – November 23rd and December 10th 1941
Two of the three Sister ships to the U.S.S. Cyclops, The Proteus and Nereus, both carried a cargo of bauxite and both left St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands along the same exact path. Bauxite was used to create the aluminum for Allied aircraft.
Original theories focused on a surprise attack by German U-Boats, but the Germans never took credit for the sinking, nor were they in the area.
According to research by Rear Adm. George van Deurs, the acidic coal cargo would seriously erode the longitudinal support beams, thereby making them more likely to break under stress. The fourth sister ship to all three of the Cyclops, Proteus, and Nereus was the USS Jupiter. It was recommissioned as the USS Langley and became the Navy’s first aircraft carrier.
3. Flight 19 – December 5th, 1945
The most well known and documented disappearance was that of Flight 19. Five TBM Avenger Torpedo Bombers left Ft. Lauderdale on a routine training exercise. A distress call received from one of the pilots said: “We can’t find west. Everything is wrong. We can’t be sure of any direction. Everything looks strange, even the ocean.”
Later, pilot Charles Taylor sent another transmission: “We can’t make out anything. We think we may be 225 miles northwest of base. It looks like we are entering white water. We’re completely lost.”
After a PBM Mariner Flying Boat was lost on this rescue mission, the U.S. Navy’s official statement was “We are not even able to make a good guess as to what happened.”
4. MV Southern Districts – 5 December 1954
The former U.S. Navy Landing Ship was acquired by the Philadelphia and Norfolk Steamship Co. and converted into a cargo carrier. During its service, the LST took part in the invasion of Normandy.
Its final voyage was from Port Sulphur, Louisiana, to Bucksport, Maine, carrying a cargo of sulfur. It lost contact as it passed through the Bermuda Triangle. No one ever heard from the Southern Districts again until four years later, when a single life preserver washed on the Florida shores.
5. Flying Box Car out of Homestead AFB, FL – June 5th, 1965
The Fairchild C-119G and her original five crew left Homestead AFB at 7:49 PM with four more mechanics to aid another C-199G stranded on Grand Turk Island. The last radio transmission was received just off Crooked Island, 177 miles from it’s destination.
A month later on July 18, debris washed up on the beach of Gold Rock Cay just off the shore of Acklins Island (near where the crew gave its last transmission).
The most plausible theory of the mysterious disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle points to confirmation bias. If someone goes missing in the Bermuda Triangle, it’s immediately drawn into the same category as everything else lost in the area. The Coast Guard has stated that “there is no evidence that disappearances happen more frequently in the Bermuda Triangle than in any other part of the ocean.”
Of course, it’s more fun to speculate that one of the most traveled waterways near America may be haunted, may have alien abductions, or hold the Bimini’s secret Atlantean Empire.
The sea is a terrifying place. When sailors and airmen go missing, it’s a heartbreaking tragedy. Pointing to an easily debunkable theory cheapens the lose of good men and women.
While everyone knows about Pearl Harbor, what most don’t remember was that Japan tried hard throughout World War II to hit the U.S. mainland.
Tokyo ended up using very old technology – hot air balloons – to deliver bombs to the United States.
The genesis of this attack was the Doolittle Raid of 1942. The attack had caused the Japanese military to lose face, so they resolved to strike back. After several bomber projects failed, Tokyo turned to what they called the fūsen bakudan, or “fire bomb.” Manufactured primarily by teenage girl laborers, over 9,000 of these balloons were sent America’s way, according to WarHistoryOnline.com, with the goal of creating forest fires to draw American resources away from the front.
In what may be the first intercontinental weapon in military history – the fūsen bakudan, or fire balloon. Japan produced 9,3000 of them. (Youtube Screenshot)
First launched in November 1944, the balloon bombs reached as far east as Detroit, Michigan. These 30-foot balloons used the jet stream to reach America. American and Canadian fighter pilots saw some of them, and shot down about 20. Many others were seen to come down, and at least seven were recovered by the U.S. Army.
The United States covered up knowledge of the ICBM precursor — mostly fool Japan into thinking the balloons weren’t making it to the mainland. Speculation centered around the internment camps and submarines, but geologists traced the sand in the sandbags to Japan.
Only one of the bombs caused any fatalities. On May 5, 1945, a minster, Archie Mitchell, and his wife took five Sunday School students on an outing to the forest. Mrs. Mitchell and the students then found the balloon while Rev. Mitchell was still at the car. The bomb detonated while the students were trying to drag it out, and Mrs. Mitchell and all five students were either killed or later died of their wounds.
An Army investigation determined the balloon bomb had been in the area for weeks before it blew.
The tragedy surrounding that outing was the only balloon attack that was publicized by the military. As a result, Japan cancelled the program. America’s media blackout had worked. Only 300 of the balloon bombs were seen in the United States, according to a 1995 Salt Lake Tribune article. One bomb was found in Canada in 2014, and detonated by EOD personnel.
Check out this National Geographic video for more details of Japan’s WW2 ICBMs.
The battles that marked the period of the Crusades were bloody and brutal. Medieval warfare flat out sucked; not only was it incredibly violent, but medicine was basically nonexistent, there was poor sanitation practices, and really bad tactics.
The weapons used in the fighting were about as hellish as any martial tools could get. Think about it — it’s no surprise the phrase “get Medieval on them” strikes such fear.
The warriors of the Crusades, from the late 1000s to mid-1200s, were a mix of peasants, soldiers, and knights, and their mix of weaponry reflected the means by which each could acquire arms.
Peasants often had simple weapons — mostly tools used for agriculture — since they could not afford such luxuries of destruction. Knights had more expensive swords and armor, while others had bows, arrows, and spears.
So what are the deadliest weapons to encounter during the Crusades?
1. A mace or club
The mace is a type of club with a ball at the end. When it comes to length, the mace varies between two or three feet. The shaft was made of wood while the ball was usually of iron.
The ball may be smooth and round or have flanges. While this is somewhat of an infantry weapon, some horsemen would also carry the mace. However, a cavalryman’s mace was much longer so that the rider could reach down and swipe his opponent.
The purpose of the mace was to crush bone since it is a top-heavy weapon. One blow from a mace could break a man’s bones easily. Many maces also had flanges for extra damage.
While a ball can crush, a mace with flanges can exploit and penetrate the flexible armor in order to crush the bone underneath, possibly causing the victim to bleed to death.
2. The spear
The spear may be simple in design, but it has proven itself to be an effective close combat weapon over the centuries.
The length of the spear is between six to eight feet. The purpose of the spear in combat is to keep your foe at a distance by thrusting at him, or if the infantryman in question has extra spears or a side arm he can rely on, he could throw it at the enemy.
Spears were used not only against infantry but also against cavalry charges — and to great effect.
The purpose of the spear is to pierce, not tickle. A good spear thrust can pierce and shatter bone, killing in one hit.
The arrow delivered by a bow provided a nasty punch to the enemy. Arrows used against the cavalry would have been shaped to pierce armor while arrows used against ill-equipped infantry likely had barbs to make them harder to pull out of skin and bone.
The men who fought at the Battle of Dorylaeum in 1097 during the First Crusade found this out when they fought the Seljuk Turks, who fired volley after volley of arrows into their opposition.
Even though the Crusaders won the battle, it was costly and they learned a valuable lesson about their enemy’s tactics.
The purpose of the arrow is simple: to strike an opponent from a distance. However, many Crusaders would soon learn to place padding under their chainmail. In doing so, the arrows are said to have passed through the chainmail only to lodge into the padding without piercing the soldier.
While killing is the objective, many forget that maiming is just a sufficient. However, if an archer cannot kill or maim his opponent, he can also be a nuisance and harass him by showering down arrows upon him.
The trebuchet is a siege engine first developed in China and brought westward by the armies of Islam, where it was introduced to European warfare during the First Crusade, though some historians doubt this timeline.
The trebuchet was a type of catapult and required many men to operate due to its sheer size and weight.
The purpose of the trebuchet was to weaken and bring down fortress walls. Not only could it fire stone projectiles, it also delivered incendiary objects. While stone is meant to crush, objects of a flammable nature were hurled over castle or city walls to set the various buildings on fire.
Of course, if you want to start a plague, just load up the bodies of plague victims and send them over the walls, as the Mongols did at Caffa in 1347.
What made the battle axe a fan favorite of some Crusade-era fighters was that, while being close in size to a sword, it was cheap to use and required limited skill — much like the mace.
The axe was either single or double-headed and the length of the blade was roughly 10 inches from the upper and lower points.
What makes this weapon so destructive is that not only could it crush a man’s bones wearing armor, the right hit was capable of cutting a limb off. In addition to lopping off enemy limbs, it was also used by doctors to provide amputations on medical patients (though with no guarantee of success).
Of all the weapons to inflict a considerable amount of damage to a human body, the sword was the most prestigious.
While many men could afford such a weapon, primarily nobles and those of wealth used it. Of course, over time, many more men, particularly those who were equipped by the states; i.e. the kings, used the sword.
What made the sword so popular was that it was a symbol of authority. While its design suggests power and of great importance, the judgment it could deliver onto a foe was devastating.
The sword was designed to do three different things, crush, pierce, and slice. Of course, this depends on the blade of the sword. In any case, the three functions of the sword gave its user an upper hand.
If he could not crush his opponent with a single hit (knocking him over, or breaking his arm or leg), he could try to slice him in an exposed are not covered by armor. If that failed, he could try knocking him down and aim for the areas that are vulnerable like the armpits, groin, and knee pit to name a few.
While the sword during the Crusades probably did the least amount of killing, it had the greatest impact as in being the symbol of conquest.
Don’t let the pretty little ponies fool you — the lance will mess your sh** up.
I tip my hat to the person who could survive a lance blow from a cavalryman. Yes, all weapons can kill if used properly, but of all the weapons mentioned, they either, crush, lop, slice, or pierce. In many cases, the victim survives or dies shortly after, which could be days.
The lance, which is least considered, won many of the battles during the early crusades. The lance did it all in one big swoop. As the lance made contact with the victim, it immediately crushed his torso and began to pierce through the body.
As it pierced, it began to slice through the vital organs before exiting the back. There are very few cases where the would-be receiver of the lance survived from his torso wound.
As the knights charged in with their lances, the enemy would be impaled immediately.
The length of a lance measured between 9 and 14 feet. Given the length and weight, along with the rider and his horse moving a full speed, it would not be unthinkable to suggest that two or even possibly three men could be impaled to a lance due to a swift cavalry charge into enemy lines.