Jacklyn Lucas did not live forever, but his memory might. He died of leukemia in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, probably because death had to wait until Lucas was 80 years old before working up the courage to come get him.
Lucas joined the Marine Corps at age 14, after bribing a notary and forging his mother’s signature. He had already been in military school for four years at this point, attending the Edwards Military Institute since he was 10.
He trained for years to become a heavy machine gunner and by 1945 was based at Pearl Harbor. Seeing that the war might end soon and itching to get into the fight, he deserted his unit and stowed away aboard the USS Deuel. The Deuel was transporting the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines to a little island called Iwo Jima.
The young boy turned himself in to rifle company commander Robert Dunlap, who took Lucas to see the battalion commander. As punishment for his desertion, Lucas was sentenced to join Dunlap’s rifle company and land on Iwo Jima.
Five days later, the men of 1/26 Marines landed on the beaches of the island and Jaclyn Lucas was with them.
While moving to assault an airstrip, his four-man fire team came upon a pillbox and series of trenches occupied by Japanese soldiers. To clear the pillbox, they first had to clear the trenches of soldiers. Fire erupted immediately and both sides lobbed grenades at one another.
Lucas dove on the grenades, smothering them with his body in order to save his fellow Marines. One of them did not explode, while the other blew Lucas into the air and onto his back, gravely wounding the entire right side of his body.
“I hollered to my pals to get out and did a Superman dive at the grenades,” he told President Truman at his Medal of Honor ceremony.
Stunned but alive, he lay motionless. The other Marines pressed on and cleared the enemy out of the area and left Lucas there. They thought he had died of his wounds but more Marines would soon follow. Noticing he was alive, the Marines called for a Corpsman, who had Lucas removed from the battlefield.
Jaclyn Lucas survived the grenade blast, but not before being filled with fragmentation. After more than 20 surgeries, doctors had to leave 250 pieces of the metal frag inside his body. There was so much that it would later set off metal detectors at airports.
Lucas received the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on those grenades, becoming the youngest Marine and the youngest person in World War II to receive the medal.
After the war, Jaclyn Lucas was still a young man and he decided to join the U.S. Army in 1961. He was afraid of heights, so he chose to go to the 82nd Airborne. On one of his early training jumps, his parachute failed to open. Then his reserve chute failed to open. He hit the ground without one. He told reporters that his “stocky build” and his last-second parachute landing fall saved him that day.
At the end of his life, Lucas was fighting leukemia and was on a kidney dialysis machine. Knowing full well what would happen if he was taken off of dialysis, he decided to finally let death have a go at him. He asked doctors to remove the machine.
He is still the youngest person to receive the Medal of Honor since the Civil War.
When dictators get toppled or governments change, things get chaotic, to say the least. Sometimes a despotic leader gets to escape to Saudi Arabia to live the rest of his life, presumably not eating people.
Democracies tend to have a more peaceful transfer of power, ones that don’t involve revolutionaries storming buildings and stringing people up. But in any conflict, there is always the chance that something will get lost to history.
I’m willing to bet these seven military leaders didn’t expect to end up as a decoration somewhere.
1. Oliver Cromwell’s Head
Cromwell has been called a lot of things: tyrant, dictator, hero. It all depends on your point of view. When he died in 1658, the state gave the former Lord Protector of England a fine funeral under his son, the new Lord Protector, Richard.
Unfortunately, Richard sucked at his job and the monarchy was restored. The new king, Charles II put everyone who killed his father, King Charles I, on trial immediately, with no exceptions. This included Oliver Cromwell’s corpse.
Cromwell’s dead body unsurprisingly stayed silent on his guilt or innocence, was pronounced guilty, and hanged. He was then beheaded and the head put on a spike outside Parliament.
For like, 20 years.
In 1685, a storm blew the spike down, and sent the head flying into Parliament Square. It was picked up by guard who secretly took it home to sell it for cash. Instead, he got cold feet and hid it in the chimney until the day he died.
To make a long story short, the head was sold from collector to collector for a full 301 years before it was reburied in Cambridge.
2. Napoleon Bonaparte’s Penis
In 2007, Evan Lattimer’s father died. From him, she inherited Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis even though the French government swears the little corporal is not that of the Emperor.
In 1821, he died in exile on the island of St. Helena and while the British weren’t watching, the Corsican conducting Napoleon’s autopsy cut off a few pieces for some reason.
It traveled around the world for decades, eventually ending up under the bed of American urologist John Kingsley Lattimer, who put it there and seldom showed anyone because “Dad believed that urology should be proper and decent and not a joke.”
3. Benito Mussolini’s Leg and Brain
Mussolini met a pretty ignominious end during WWII. He was captured by Italian anti-Fascist partisans, beaten and then strung up by his feet. The U.S. Army ordered the bodies taken down and eventually placed Il Duce in la tomba.
His unmarked grave was found by three young fascists who dug him up and took the body from place to place, eventually ending up in a monastery near Milan. By the time his body was found, it was missing a leg. The legless body was interred in his family crypt in Predappio.
The fun doesn’t stop there. While the body was in American custody, an autopsy was performed on the dictator’s brain. The Americans took half of the brain in an attempt to study what makes a dictator, returning it in 1966.
Every now and again, however, vials pop up on eBay, claiming to be the Italian’s remains. His leg was never found.
4. King Badu Bonsu’s Head
Dutch colonists in what is today called Ghana got pretty pissed when the Chief of the local Ahanta tribe killed two Dutch messengers, cut their heads off, and put them on his throne.
The Dutch, slightly miffed at having their citizens used as decoration, responded the way most colonizers would – with a punitive expedition. They captured Badu Bonsu and lopped off his head. This time, instead of putting it on a chair, they put it in a jar. Of formaldehyde.
Fast forward two hundred years later, the Netherlands have gracefully decided to give the old man’s head back to his home country. You might think the people who happened to be carrying around the pickled head of an African chief might keep track of it but no. It was found locked in a closet where it had presumably been for 170 years.
5. Che Guevara’s Hair
The Cuban revolutionary met his end in Bolivia in 1967, executed by Bolivian forces. His hands were cut off as proof and his body was thrown into an unmarked grave. But, like the people who surrounded Napoleon after his death, someone with access to Guevara’s body decided to take home a souvenir.
The person who happened to be present and bury Guevara was also a CIA spook. He kept a scrapbook that included photos, documents, fingerprints, and a lock of Guevara’s hair. In 2007, it was all sold at auction for $100,000.
6. Geronimo’s Skull
In 2009, native tribes sued the Yale University secret society known as the Order of Skull and Bones. They alleged the group had the skull of Apache leader Geronimo on display in the clubhouse. And the Apaches wanted it back.
Geronimo died as a POW at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1909. A Skull and Bones legend says Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. Bush and grandfather to George W. Bush, dug up the Apache’s body and stole the skull and other bones. He then brought it to the clubhouse in New Haven, Connecticut.
7. Thomas Paine’s Entire Body
Unlike everyone else on this list whose head or skull was stolen after death, Thomas Paine’s good friend John Jarvis was already thinking about getting his hands on the famous patriot’s noggin. Paine, of course, asked Jarvis to leave his bones the hell alone. When Paine died in 1809, they did just that. For a while. Somebody dug his body up ten years later.
Since Paine died a drunk in New York, very few people were present for his funeral. Wanting to give Paine a proper burial, newspaper editor William Cobbett and some friends exhumed Paine with the intent of moving his body to England.
The only problem happened when the body got to England – Cobbett couldn’t afford the burial. The old editor stashed the remains in his attic, where Tom Paine remained until Cobbett died. After that, no one knows what happened to the Revolutionary author.
As the United States was preparing to carry out the invasion of Panama, dubbed “Operation Just Cause,” there was a very real problem that had to be dealt with before any meaningful operation against Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega could take place.
The regime had an American hostage in its prison, and the guards where this hostage was being held had orders to kill him if America attacked.
According to an account posted on SpecialOperations.com, Kurt Muse had been making pirate radio broadcasts until he was arrested in early 1989. He’d received some technical assistance from the CIA to make those broadcasts, which had the goal of taking Noriega down a peg or two.
Muse would daily hear – or see – Noriega’s thugs torture inmates at the prison.
As tensions increased, Muse was visited by a military officer, later identified as Air Force Col. James A. Ruffer, who would pass reports to Delta Force. The special operators constructed a full-scale mock-up of the prison where Muse was held captive, and the Delta commandos carried out numerous rehearsals.
On December 19, 1989, Muse would receive his last visit. In the presence of reporters, prison guards, and others, the colonel asked Muse if he was aware that orders had been issued by Noriega to kill him if the United States carried out any military action against Panama.
Muse said he understood.
The colonel then made a statement that if Muse were to be harmed, nobody in the prison would emerge alive.
Muse knew that something was up.
At 12:45 AM on the morning of Dec. 20, 15 minutes before the official H-Hour, two AH-6 Little Bird helicopters carried out an attack on a nearby military compound using M134 Miniguns and Hydra rockets. One of the helicopters would be damaged and forced to crash-land, with the crew making an escape.
Two AC-130H Spectres then carried out their own attack on that compound, using a tactic called “Top Hat.” The massive volume of fire from the gunships had the effect of drawing the attention of Noriega’s goons.
As that went on, MH-6 Little Birds landed on the roof of the prison and deposited Delta commandos. The operators went through the prison, killing anyone who resisted the rescue. They reached Muse’s cell, forced it open, bundled Muse into body armor and a helmet, then began their exfil.
The MH-6 Muse was loaded on took some hits. In a display of superb airmanship, the pilot would fly the helo down a side street until it was hit again and crashed. Ironically, Muse would help defend the perimeter until they were retrieved by U.S. Army armored personnel carriers.
Operation “Acid Gambit” ended with the mission accomplished.
The M50 Ontos might be the craziest-looking armored vehicle in American history. But with six mounted recoilless rifles, the tank-killer design did more than its fair share of work on the battlefield, whether it was with the Army or the Marines. The Marine Corps would eventually find more use for it than the Army.
This tracked vehicle behemoth was first designed to be a lighter-weight, air-transportable tank destroyer in the 1950s. To do this, it used two arms holding three manually loaded 106 mm recoilless rifles each. It was a powerful weapon, both facing the enemy and anything unfortunate enough to be behind it when it fired all six rifles.
During its trials at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in the mid-1950s, it successfully tested each of its turrets in single fire mode. But when the M50 fired all six turrets at the same time, the blast from the combined force smashed the masonry on nearby buildings and destroyed the rear windows in several parked vehicles.
The Army ultimately decided to cancel the production of the M50 as an anti-tank weapon because crews needed to leave the safety of the armor to reload the recoilless rifles. Another issue with the tank was that it could only carry a limited number of rifle rounds, given the small size of the tank and the need for mounted machine guns to defend the crewmen.
While the Army took a pass on the M50, the Marine Corps was still very interested in an armored anti-tank vehicle. Instead of its intended anti-tank role, the Marine Corps found a very different use for the vehicle once United States Marines entered ground combat in South Vietnam.
The People’s Army of Vietnam, also known as the North Vietnamese Army, fielded tanks in combat against American and South Korean troops, but not at the same levels U.S. troops had experienced in wars past. NVA tanks were seen in combat, but were nowhere as numerous as the pitched tank battles of World War II or the Korean War.
When the U.S. Marine Corps brought the M50 Ontos to bear on the communists in Vietnam, they began to use its six recoilless rifles as an infantry support weapon. This direct fire support was never its intended use but it brought significant firepower to the battlefield for the Marines.
It was a highly mobile weapon, light enough to cross the pontoon bridges used by Americans in Vietnam, It was also able to be carried by CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters along with a platoon of Marines and be dropped anywhere in the country. Time and again, its performance with Marines in combat was so effective, the enemy would break and run from fortified positions at the mere sight of its spotting round.
The Marine Corps used the M50 in Vietnam until 1969 and handed what was leftover to the Army, who used them until they ran out of parts for the vehicles. When they could no longer move on their own, the soldiers turned them into defensive fire positions.
John A. asks: Are there any real examples of medieval castles having alligators in the moat to keep out intruders?
A common image in pop-culture is that of a castle moat filled to the brim with water and hungry crocodiles. So did anyone ever actually do this?
The short answer is that it doesn’t appear so. That said, while there’s no known documented instance of crocodiles intentionally being put into moats, we do know of at least one castle that had (and has, in fact) a moat full of bears…
Before we get to that and why crocodiles in moats are probably not the best idea in the world, or at least not a very efficient use of resources if your concern was really defense of a fortress, we should address the fact that the common image most people have in their heads of a moat isn’t exactly representative of what historical moats usually looked like.
To begin with, moats have been around seemingly as long as humans have had need of protecting a structure or area, with documented instances of them appearing everywhere from Ancient Egypt to slightly more modern times around certain Native American settlements. And, of course, there are countless examples of moats being used throughout European history. In many cases, however, these moats were little more than empty pits dug around a particular piece of land or property- water filled moats were something of a rarity.
Bodiam Castle, a 14th-century castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, England.
You see, unless a natural source of water was around, maintaining an artificial moat filled with water required a lot of resources to avoid the whole thing just turning into a stinking cesspool of algae and biting bugs, as is wont to happen in standing water. As with artificial ponds constructed on certain wealthy individuals’ estates, these would have to be regularly drained and cleaned, then filled back up to keep things from becoming putrid.
Of course, if one had a natural flowing water source nearby, some of these problems could be avoided. But, in the end, it turns out a water filled moat isn’t actually that much more effective than an empty one at accomplishing the goal of protecting a fortress.
And as for putting crocodiles (or alligators) in them, introducing such animals to a region, beyond being quite expensive if not their native habitat, is also potentially dangerous if the animals got out. Again, all this while not really making the act of conquering a fortress that much more difficult- so little payoff for the extra cost of maintaining crocodiles.
Unsurprisingly from this, outside of a legend we’ll get to shortly, there doesn’t appear to be any known documented cases of anyone intentionally putting crocodiles or alligators into their water filled moats.
It should also be mentioned here that while at first glance it would appear that the key purpose of a moat is to defend against soldiers attacking at the walls, they were often actually constructed with the idea of stopping soldiers under the ground. You see, a technique favoured since ancient times for breaching cities, fortresses and fortified positions was to simply dig tunnels below any walls surrounding the position and then intentionally let them collapse, bringing part of the wall above that section tumbling down. Eventually this was accomplished by use of explosives like gunpowder, but before this a more simple method was to cart a bunch of tinder into the tunnel at the appropriate point and set the whole thing ablaze. The idea here was, after all your diggers were out, to destroy the support beams used to keep the tunnel from collapsing while digging. If all went as planned, both the tunnel and the wall above it would then collapse.
North view of the fortress of Buhen in Ancient Egypt.
To get around this very effective form of breaching fortifications, moats would be dug as deeply as possible around the fortification, sometimes until diggers reached bedrock. If a natural source of water was around, surrounding the fortress with water was a potential additional benefit over the dry pit at stopping such tunneling.
Either way, beyond making tunneling more difficult (or practically impossible), dry and wet moats, of course, helped dissuade above ground attacks as well thanks to moats being quite good at limiting an enemy’s use of siege weaponry. In particular, devices such as battering rams are rendered almost entirely useless in the presence of a large moat. Though the later advent of weapons such as trebuchets made moats less effective overall, they still proved to be formidable barrier capable of kneecapping a direct assault on a castle’s walls.
All this said, it wasn’t as if proud moat owners didn’t put anything in them. There are plenty of ways to beef up moat defences without the need for water and crocodiles. Pretty much anything that slows an enemy’s advance works well. And, better year, anything that is so daunting it deters an attack at all.
In fact, archaeological surveys of moats have found evidence of things like stinging bushes having once grown throughout some moats. Whether these were intentionally planted on the part of the moat owners or just a byproduct of having a patch of land they left unattended for years at a time isn’t entirely clear. But it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think this may have been intentional in some cases. As you might imagine, wading through stinging or thorny plants while arrows and rocks and the like are raining down at you from above wasn’t exactly tops on people’s lists of things to do.
As for moats that were filled with water, while filling them with crocodiles or alligators wasn’t seemingly something anyone did, some savvy castle owners did fill them with fish giving them a nice private fishery. (As mentioned, artificial ponds built for this purpose were also sometimes a thing for the ultra-wealthy, functioning both as a status symbol, given maintaining such was incredibly expensive, and a great source of food year round).
Moving back to the dry bed moats, when not just leaving them as a simple dug pit or planting things meant to slow enemy troops, it does appear at least in some rare instances fortress owners would put dangerous animals in them, though seemingly, again, more as a status symbol than actually being particularly effective at deterring enemy troops.
Most famously, at Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic there exists something that is most aptly described as a “bear moat”, located between the castle’s first and second courtyard. When exactly this practice started and exactly why has been lost to history, with the earliest known documented reference to the bear moat going back to 1707.
Whether designed to serve as a stark warning to potential intruders, a status symbol, or both, the castle’s grizzliest residents were tended to by a designated bearkeeper until around the early 19th century when the practice ceased. This changed again in 1857 when the castle’s then resident noble, Karl zu Schwarzenberg, acquired a pair of bears from nearby Transylvania intent on reviving the tradition. From that moment onward, outside of a brief lapse in the late 19th century, the castle’s moat has almost always contained at least one bear.
Today the bears are most definitely completely for show, and each year bear-themed celebrations are held at Christmas and on the bears’ birthdays during which children bring the bears presents.
If bears aren’t you thing, Wilhelm V, the Prince Regent of Bavaria, in the late 16th century supposedly kept both lions and a leopard in the moat of Trausnitz Castle while he lived there. However, again, it appears that Prince Wilhelm kept the animals more for show and fun than he did for defence. Beyond dangerous creatures, his moat also contained pheasants and a rabbit run.
Moving back to crocodiles being put in moats, the earliest reference to something like this (though seemingly just a legend), appears to be the legend of the Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo.
This story is recounted by the 19th and 20th century historian and politician Benedetto Croce in his “Neapolitan Stories and Legends“:
In that castle, there was a moat under the level of the sea, dark, humid, where the prisoners, who they want to more strictly castigate, were usually put. When, all of a sudden, they started to notice with astonishment that, from there, the prisoners disappeared. Did they escape? How? Put a tighter surveillance and a new guest inside there, one day they saw, unexpected and terrifying scene, from a hole hidden in the moat, a monster, a crocodile entering and, with its jaws, it grasped for the legs the prisoner, and dragged him to the sea to eat him.
Rather than kill the creature, the guards decided to make the fearsome creature an “executor of justice”, sending prisoners condemned to death to meet their end in its toothy maw. Exactly where the crocodile came from and when this supposedly happened depends on which version of the legend you consult, though our favourite version suggests that Queen Joanna II smuggled it over to Naples from Egypt sometime in the 15th century with the sole intention of feeding her many, many lovers to it.
A consistent element in most versions of the legend is that the beast bit off more than it could chew when it tried to eat a leg of a giant horse, ultimately choking on it.
Of course, this is generally thought to be nothing more than a legend, with no evidence that it actually occurred or even exactly when. At least the story does show that the idea of a crocodile in a moat isn’t just something found in modern pop culture.
Moats are starting to make a bit of a comeback in modern times, such as used to protect certain embassies from car bombings. There’s also a concrete moat around the parts of Catawba Nuclear Station that isn’t bordered by a lake, again for the purposes of protecting against car bombings and the like.
On the note of poky plants planted in moats, there are variations of a popular Scottish legend that have the thistle playing a key role in foiling the attack of an invading force. In one such version of the legend, a nighttime raid on Slains castle in modern day Aberdeenshire was foiled when sneaking Norsemen stepped on the thistles and cried out in pain, alerting the guards that a surprise attack was eminent. It is sometimes further stated that this is how The Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Thistle of Scotland was established and how the national flower of Scotland was chosen. Of course, there isn’t any documented evidence that exists to support the various versions of this legend.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
While taking enemy contact, a Chinese mortar struck a Marine bunker near where replacement Marine Cpl. Salvatore Naimo was engaging opposing forces. From this position, he heard the screams of his wounded comrades coming from inside the newly-damaged area.
Naimo, who joined the Marines to avoid being drafted into the Army, dashed over to aid his brothers, exposing himself to enemy fire.
As mortars continued to destroy the surrounding area, Naimo spotted two severely wounded Marines and scooped up one of them up, protecting him with his own body. Soon after, Naimo dropped off the first injured Marine at the aid station and headed right back for the second man as waves of incoming enemy fire blanketed their position.
After returning to the aid station with the second wounded Marine, Naimo informed the corpsmen that he was going to head back to the bunker and continue to fight.
Upon his arrival at the unmanned bunker, he was lucky to discover the Marines before him had stockpiled it with machine guns, ammo, and extra grenades. As the next wave of Chinese attacks throttled, Naimo fired the arsenal of weapons into the enemy — who closed within 15 yards of his position.
Hours later, Marine Lt. Walter Sharpe came across Naimo’s bunker, where he found 36 dead soldiers from the 65th Army Group of Mongolian laid out. Sharpe decided to recommend Naimo for the Navy Cross but sadly was killed in action two days later. He never filed the proper paperwork to get Naimo his Navy Cross.
More than six decades after his heroic efforts, then-Lt. Bruce F. Meyers (who was injured in that same battle) filed the necessary paperwork to award Cpl. Salvatore Naimo the well-deserved Navy Cross.
In the early days of mass produced, bottled beer, a good rule of thumb was that any beer in a clear glass bottle was probably not worth drinking. Back then, beers like Miller High Life, Corona and other common favorites would have been shunned.
What would people in the Midwest pour into their frozen margaritas on Cinco de Mayo if clear glass-bottled beer were still as awful as it was way back when?
The simple reason for this is that brown bottles keep the beer fresher for a longer period of time. When beer first started being delivered in bottles in the early 1800s, clear glass was used, but these beers became real stanky real fast when stored in any kind of sunlight.
Like putting a good pair of sunglasses on in summertime, beer makers began using brown glass to keep their loyal customers from experiencing a pandemic of bitter beer face. The brown glass did a better job of blocking out the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
In the beer-making industry, the term for a beer turned skunky by ultraviolet light is “lightstruck,” and it happens because of the same ingredient in beer that makes that IPA you love you so bitter, the hops. When light hits the hops, even though they’ve been boiled beyond recognition, it creates a chemical reaction.
This reaction, which is actually a series of reactions, creates a substance in the beer which is molecularly similar to a skunk’s self-defense mechanism. That’s why it tastes and smells just like it: because it basically is.
Any beer can get lightstruck, whether it comes from a brown bottle, a can, or a tap. The only necessary ingredients are the hops and some light. If you pour any beer into a clear glass, open or closed, and let the sunlight in, it’s going to turn skunk.
Until World War II, the world of beer brewing got along just fine with the new and improved brown glass (even during Prohibition in the United States, beer still came in brown glass bottles). But when the war broke out and everything suddenly became rationed for the war effort, brown glass became a hot commodity.
Like many commodities during World War II, brown glass became hard to come by and much too expensive to use in mass producing something like beer. Brewers still needed to keep their beer fresh. After the end of Prohibition and the start of a world war, we needed a good beer. Emphasis on good.
Brown glass is made by using sulfur, carbon and iron salts in glass production. Sulfur would have been a critical war resource, so allowing it to be used for beer bottles seems a little unnecessary. Whereas green glass is colored using iron(II) oxide, which is pretty much used just as an industrial coloring agent, and was thus more widely available.
These days, bottle makers say they can use special coatings on the outsides of clear bottles to block UV light from damaging the precious golden elixir on the inside of the bottle and keep it from getting that skunky taste usually reserved for frat parties and sadness.
If you want to guarantee your beer keeps on tasting fresh and not like something that came out of a forest animal’s behind, get your beer from a can and keep it in the can. Or just down it fast enough that no light can touch it.
On Sept. 5, 1945, a young Soviet cipher clerk in Ottawa, Canada packed his things to leave the office and go home for the day. It was a day like any other day, for the most part, except this time as he put on his coat, he also stuffed a number of top-secret documents underneath. It was just days after the end of World War II in Europe, and the young clerk was hoping these documents would buy him asylum in Canada.
Igor Gouzenko had evidence the Soviet Union was operating an extensive spy operation in Canada. It was the first time the West was forced to come to terms with the idea that the Soviet Union was not their friend.
Igor Gouzenko would appear in television interviews with his identity hidden by a cloth bag.
The documents held by Gouzenko did indeed earn him asylum in Canada. Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were able to round up 11 of the 24 suspected spies as the Parliament began investigation and prosecution proceedings. Prime Minister Mackenzie King then informed the world about the raids and the spy operation. Gouzenko was subsequently interrogated by MI5, the British internal security service, and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, to whom Gouzenko was able to reveal the names of 20 or so spies.
Soviets spies had infiltrated universities, the military, and even the Canadian Parliament, all in search of nuclear secrets. Canada was playing a role in the Manhattan Project, the U.S. development of an atomic weapon, and the Soviets were looking for any clues that would give them an edge in duplicating the effort. The spy ring uncovered by the young cipher clerk extended all the way to Los Angeles.
Gouzenko later wrote a book about the experience.
The documents Gouzenko provided were of so much value, many of them were still classified as of 2014. The young cipher clerk divulged all of the Soviet Union’s most sensitive military and intelligence codebooks, and even implicated MI5’s former chief Sir Roger Hollis as a Soviet agent. Worldwide, Soviet espionage activities suffered in the immediate aftermath. This was not only due to increased suspicion against their onetime allies and to root out suspected moles but also because the Soviets began to overhaul their own methods.
Soviet installations were suddenly crippled by new safety and reporting procedures, extensive screening processes for overseas stations that were more attractive than the Soviet Union. Even one of Stalin’s assassins who was reportedly supposed to kill Gouzenko had been in Canada so long, he didn’t want to leave. Rather than kill the traitor, he defected too, giving up information on all of the Soviet death squads in the country.
Before women were allowed to join the military, Cathay Williams decided that she wouldn’t let her gender, or the color of her skin, get in the way of her ambitions. She became the first known African American woman in American history to join the armed forces by disguising herself as a man.
Williams was born into slavery in the year 1842 in Independence, Mo. She was a house slave for William Johnson, a planter in Jefferson City, Mo. During the beginning of the Civil War, Williams was claimed to have been “freed” by Union soldiers, but was forced to work for the Federal Army as a paid cook and laundress.
During her time serving in the Federal Army, she gained an insight into military life by answering directly to two Union Generals, one of whom was General Philip Sheridan. After the war ended, Williams did not have the means of supporting herself, but she wasn’t about to let her newly garnered freedom get snuffed out like a flame.
In November 1866, Williams disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the U.S. Army as William Cathay. Full-on medical exams weren’t mandatory at the time, and Williams was able to pas a quick, general health check before filing in among the ranks.
She was found fit for duty and assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry, Company A, an all-black regiment in St. Louis, Mo. which, eventually, became a part of the renowned Buffalo Soldiers. Apparently, the only two people knew her secret — a friend and a cousin — both of whom served alongside her in the same regiment. They never divulged her charade.
Williams traveled with her regiment and helped protect miners and immigrants from Apache attacks at Fort Cummings, Mo. Unfortunately, military service took its toll on Williams. She was in and out of the hospital for most of her service due to neuralgia (pain caused by a pinched nerve). Surprisingly, it was six months after her first hospitalization when they found out that she was a woman.
After the truth was revealed, Williams was discharged from the Army honorably on October 14, 1868. Little of her life is known after she was discharged, except for her attempts to get a pension for the disabilities that she incurred from military service.
Sadly, Williams never received compensation for her medical issues. The Pension Bureau claimed her illnesses were pre-existing and, because she was a woman, her service was not considered legal, disqualifying her from pension pay.
She may not have intended to become a prominent figure in history, but one thing is for sure, Cathay Williams will forever be regarded as the first and only female Buffalo Soldier to have served in the U.S. Army.
Contrary to what many civilians believe, not everyone in the military is a soldier. While the Army has soldiers, the Navy has sailors, the Air Force has airmen, Space Force has Guardians (we’re still trying to wrap our heads around that one), and don’t ever let a Marine hear you call them anything but a Marine. While the Army and Air Force call their officer trainees in ROTC and their service academies cadets, the same can’t be said for the Navy.
Students at the Naval Academy, Merchant Marine Academy, and enrolled in Navy ROTC are called midshipmen. Not only does this differentiate them from their Army and Air Force counterparts, but it reflects the long lineage of naval history and tradition.
1662 saw the first recorded use of the term midshipman. It referred to more experienced sailors aboard British ships with increased responsibility over regular deckhands, but was not a formal military rank. The name itself is derived from the middle section of a ship called amidships. Between the main and mizzen masts, this is where midshipmen generally worked and berthed below decks.
In the 18th century, midshipman became a more formal title held mostly by officer candidates who failed their lieutenant exam or were passed over for promotion. By 1794, midshipman evolved into a proper rank and referred exclusively to officer candidates. Midshipmen were generally young men who aspired to become naval officers and were sent into naval service by their families. After a set amount of time at sea and upon completion of their naval studies, midshipmen could be promoted to lieutenants.
When the United States declared its independence from Britain, much of its military was modeled after the British. After all, many Americans previously served in the British military. Moreover, the British had the most powerful Army and Navy in the world, so it made sense to copy them. With the Naval Act of 1794, Congress established the United States Navy and included midshipman as a warrant officer rank. Like their British counterparts, American midshipmen were generally young men between the ages of 14 and 22 who were in training to become naval officers.
In 1845, the United States Naval Academy was created. This formal institution replaced the longstanding practice of naval apprenticeships that previously created naval officers. To distinguish these new naval students, Naval Academy trainees were referred to as cadet midshipmen.
In 1865, the Department of Steam Enginery was created and engineer students were admitted to the Naval Academy. To differentiate them from the regular cadet midshipmen, the Naval Academy created the titles of engineer cadet and naval cadet. However, this didn’t last long. In 1882, Congress eliminated the distinction and all student officers were referred to as naval cadets. In 1902, the naval cadet title was eliminated entirely and reverted back to midshipman.
Legally, midshipmen in the U.S. Navy are a special grade of uncomissioned (not noncommissioned) officer. They sit between E-9 and W-1 (W-2 in the Coast Guard). Today, the midshipman rank is also held by aspiring Marine Corps officers at the Naval Academy and in NROTC. Whereas the Navy midshipmen wear gold fouled anchors for their rank, Marine-option midshipmen wear a gold Eagle, Globe, and Anchor to differentiate themselves.
Upon graduation, Naval Academy and NROTC midshipmen are commissioned as ensigns in the Navy or as 2nd Lts. in the Marine Corps.
The Civil War Trust, known for its great maps and historical accounts of the war, has branched into animated maps that show move-by-move accounts of important battles like Antietam, Vicksburg and Shiloh.
The trust’s still maps are known for their accuracy and detail, and these new animated maps continue that tradition. The big difference is the motion; it’s like watching the battle play out on a sand table during a ROC drill.
A narrator provides context for the action, telling viewers everything from how the crippling heat affected the repeated clashes at Little Round Top to why Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles made his ill-advised deployment of artillery on the Union’s front.
Meanwhile, short video clips try to put the viewer on the ground with soldiers during the most fierce and important events, showing things like when Maj. Gen. John Reynolds was shot in the neck and killed.
The full videos for each battle are a little long, about 15-20 minutes each. But they let you get a better understanding of each battle that you can knock out in a lunch break. Check out Gettysburg below:
The question that kept many a Cold Warrior awake at night was usually one of how to keep anyone in the chain of missile launch command from starting a nuclear war without considering the consequences, if they weren’t 100 percent sure of a Soviet first strike, or worse, just firing nukes off on a whim? But someone wondered – what if someone had to die to be able to launch the U.S. arsenal?
Do we get to choose who? Because I have some ideas.
Like the old urban legend of Special Forces operators being forced to murder a dog, or their dog, or whatever animal the urban legend mentioned, imagine how the thought process of launching a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union might have changed if one of the key holders had to die for the United States to be able to launch its missiles. This was the thought experiment posed by Harvard law professor Roger Fisher. Fisher wanted to consider the idea of surgically implanting the launch codes in a human body.
Right now, the President is followed around by a military officer who holds the “football,” a suitcase that contains all the codes needed to fire off a nuclear weapon – or all the nuclear weapons. But what if the President of the United States had to kill the man who held the football to be able to extract the codes? Would it be so easy to launch?
Fisher’s rationale was that a President being briefed by Pentagon officials would have to talk through what was about to happen in a very matter-of-fact, unemotional way. He would be repeating lines of codes, ordering unspeakable horror in the blandest way possible. Fisher thought the President should have to make an emotional stand in order to fully execute and understand what he was about to do – to ensure that it was absolutely necessary, he should kill the first casualty himself.
The codes would be in a capsule near the heart of the volunteer holding the football, and now the football included a large, sharp knife for the President to use. This way, there would be no chance the volunteer would survive the interaction with the President, and the President would see the results of what he was about to do. In Fisher’s words, “Blood on the White House carpet. It’s reality brought home.”
We in the west have a tendency to focus on the European tensions that led to World War II. And while the rise of Mussolini and Hitler caused a massive conflict that rocked Europe and Russia, open fighting was going on in Asia for years before Germany’s encroachment into Sudetenland. And Japanese officers triggered a round of fighting in 1931 by attacking their own railroad.
Japanese troops enter Tsitsihar, a city in northeast China.
(Japanese war camerman, public domain)
The Mukden Incident took place in 1931. Japan had ambitions on the Asian continent, but the Japanese political establishment was, shall we say, less aggressive about it than the Japanese military would have preferred.
There was a railroad running through the Liaodong Peninsula near Korea. It connected key cities in the peninsula to the rest of the continent. Japan acquired the railroad and peninsula after the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, giving it a much larger foothold on the continent. The railroad became one of Japan’s most economically important assets on the continent.
And, worse, China was politically unifying at the time. It created a real risk that China may become resilient to further expansion. There was even a possibility that Japan would eventually be kicked off the continent.
The site of the 1931 railway sabotage that became known as the Mukden Incident and kicked off the fighting in Asia that would become World War II.
So, in the middle of all this tension, someone blew up a short section of the railroad on Sept. 18, 1931. An under-powered bomb did little lasting damage, and the railway was operating again almost immediately.
But even more immediate was the counter-attack. In just a day, Japanese artillery was sending rounds into Chinese-held territory. In just a few months, Japan had conquered the most resource-rich areas bordering the peninsula. The limited damage, the quick Japanese retaliation, and the brutal invasion has led some historians to believe that mid-level Japanese Army officers conducted the bombing to give themselves a pretext for invasion.
Japan occupied the area for the next 14 years, and its troops continued to conquer China. It attacked Shanghai in 1932, threatening European and American interests as well as, obviously, Chinese security and sovereignty.
The American and European navies stepped up their game in the Pacific, reinforcing Pacific outposts and building new ships. Meanwhile, Japan remained on the march, continuously expanding until 1942. It would conquer vast portions of China and all of Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Burma, and more.
And it all started with a shady as hell attack against its own railroad in 1931.