Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

If you look at the USS Constitution today, berthed at the Boston Navy Yard, you might find yourself wondering how a wooden ship got the nickname, “Old Ironsides.” The answer to that question is actually very simple: Cannonballs used to literally bounce off the hull of the Constitution in battle, falling harmlessly into the sea below.

The Constitution is currently the oldest active ship in the US Navy today. Launched in 1797, it was one of the earliest ships to enter service with the fledgling Navy. Ordered as a heavy frigate as part of the Naval Act of 1794, the Constitution and five other similarly-configured ships were to be the backbone of the new Navy — heavy warships that other, smaller, ships could support and rally around.

Though slated to carry 44 guns (cannon of varying sizes), sailors often crammed more than 50 aboard the vessel when it put out to sea. Three masts, decked out with massive sails, would provide the propulsion needed to drive the nearly 1600-ton ship through the rough Atlantic waves.


 

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
USS Constitution under pursuit (Painting by Anton Otto Fischer)

It was during the War of 1812 that the Constitution earned her now-famous nickname, under the command of Isaac Hull. Well-liked and revered by those who served under him, Hull took it upon himself to personally ensure that the Constitution and her crew were ready for combat at all times. In mid-July, 1812, the heavy frigate encountered a small squadron of British ships, who gave chase. With a bit of planning and a little creativity, Hull managed to maneuver his ship away to safety.

The following month, the Constitution encountered one of those pursuing ships — the HMS Gurriere, commanded by James Dacres. This time, battle was inevitable and the two ships began trading blows. Hull quickly repositioned his ship, giving his gunners a clear view of the Gurriere.

Scrambling over the upper and the gun decks of both ships were sailors and Marines, frantically reloading their weapons for the next salvo. Aboard Constitution, sailors watched as 18-pound cannonballs whistled through the air, bracing for an impact that would certainly penetrate the walls of the ship, killing and maiming anybody in their way.

And then, nothing happened.

Though some of the cannonballs did inflict damage, others bounced off and fell into the roiling sea, much to the bewilderment of both sides. An American sailor notably yelled out, “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!” and thus, the nickname, “Old Ironsides” was born.

 

(US Navy)

A combination of different types of oak layered around each other made the ship’s surfaces dense and difficult to pierce. The multiple layers of wood absorbed the cannonballs’ impacts of the and dissipated the forces quickly. Extra ribbing and bracketing on the internal walls also contributed to making the Constitution so sturdy.

By the end of the battle, the Guerriere was beyond salvage, much to the disappointment of Hull. Broadside after broadside had done the frigate in. The British crew was taken aboard Constitution and salvage parties took what they could off the smoldering Royal Navy vessel before lighting it afire and setting the ship adrift to descend to its watery grave.

Old Ironsides sailed into Boston Harbor, packed with prisoners of war, as jubilant American sailors and Marines celebrated their triumphant return home. After doing battle with more British ships in the following years, Constitution was briefly laid up in mothballs while her future was decided by the Department of the Navy.

Amidst fears that the Constitution would be scrapped, having long outlived its original intended lifespan, public outcry spurred on by a poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, entitled Old Ironsides after the ship’s nickname. The powerful poem motivated the Navy to fund a refit and refurbishment of the battle-scarred frigate. The nickname has since stuck, even through the Constitution‘s years of obscurity in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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These two Medal of Honor recipients could be the first American servicemen to become saints

Though “saintly” is a term quite often used to describe the virtuous actions of American troops in combat zones — from providing humanitarian aid and medicine to those in need, to placing themselves between civilians and the line of fire — it could have a very literal meaning in the near future when describing two deceased military chaplains.


Decades after their passing, Catholic priests Fr. Emil Kapaun, and Fr. Vincent Capodanno, are currently undergoing the process for canonization with the Roman Catholic Church, which could see these two Medal of Honor recipients become the first official saints to have served with the US military.

Emil Kapaun was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the US Army in 1944, seeing service as a chaplain in the Burma Theater towards the end of World War II. Briefly leaving the Army at the war’s conclusion to pursue graduate studies, he returned to active duty soon afterwards and was stationed in Japan with a cavalry unit.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Chaplain Emil Kapaun celebrates a Catholic Mass for cavalry soldiers during the Korean War (Photo US Army)

The young priest, respected among his peers and often sought out as a source of advice and friendship by the soldiers he ministered to, was sent back to a combat zone during the onset of the Korean War. Using the hood of a jeep as his altar, Kapaun led prayer services and Catholic Masses in the midst of combat for soldiers who requested it, sometimes even while under withering enemy fire that would see his jeep lit up with machine gun rounds by Chinese and North Korean forces.

The chaplain was taken prisoner, along with a number of others from his unit during the Battle of Unsan, and was force-marched to a Chinese prison camp where he and his fellow prisoners of war would undergo harsh treatment at the hands of their captors. Kapaun developed a quick reputation for stealing food and medicine from Chinese storage sites at the camp to feed the malnourished and aid the sick POWs.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Emil Kapaun’s official portrait (Photo US Army)

He would also go without his meager rations for considerable periods of time, having volunteered them to others who he felt needed it more than he did. Above that, Kapaun incurred the wrath of his Chinese guards for halting the executions of wounded American troops by tackling or shoving the soldiers lined up to commit the dastardly act.

Still ministering to his fellow POWs as best as he could, Kapaun died in captivity. His body was thrown in a mass grave by his Chinese captors along with the remains of many other deceased American POWs. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 2013 by former President Barack Obama.

Lieutenant Vincent R. Capodanno was another military chaplain similarly decorated for bravery like Kapaun, who lost his life in war. After joining the Catholic priesthood and completing his studies in a seminary, the freshly-ordained reverend from New York was commissioned an officer in the Navy upon hearing of a need for chaplains to minister to Marines and sailors.

Though he could have requested to stay away from the front lines, Capodanno felt that he was called to a deployment overseas in Vietnam, ministering to infantry Marines embroiled in a brutal fight against the Communist North Vietnamese forces. In 1966, Capodanno’s request was granted and he was sent to South Vietnam to serve with the 7th Marine Regiment.

Liked unanimously by the Marines he ministered to, Capodanno was affectionately referred to as “The Grunt Padre” for his willingness to go into combat and assist corpsmen in administering aid to casualties sustained in battle. Capodanno extended his tour in Vietnam for another year, this time with 5th Marine Regiment.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Vincent Capodanno’s official Navy portrait (Photo US Navy)

It was during this last tour in 1967, that the Navy chaplain would lose his life. In the onslaught of an outnumbered fight, where small elements of Marines were pitted against an overwhelming force of NVA troops and irregulars, Capodanno ran into battle repeatedly to pull fallen Marines away from danger, sustaining critical wounds himself.

Refusing to be evacuated, the Grunt Padre continued onward, giving Last Rites to the dying while tending to the wounded with combat medical aid. A burst of machine gun fire finally cut down Capodanno as he attempted to shield a fallen Marine from enemy fire with his own body.

The Navy chaplain’s heroism and valor under fire was witnessed by every Marine and corpsman on the field of battle that day, and the following year, Capodanno’s family was notified that he would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor as a result.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Chaplain Capodanno celebrating a Catholic Mass for Marines during a lull in fighting in Vietnam (Photo US Marine Corps)

In the years after their passing, Kapaun and Capodanno have generated huge followings, especially among soldiers, Marines and sailors alike, a number of whom devoted time to praying for their spiritual intercession. And interestingly enough, a number of miraculous events have occurred in the time since, apparently attributed to the assistance these two chaplains have supposedly provided from even beyond the grave, still serving faithfully.

According to the Catholic Church, a series of verified miracles attributed to a candidate for sainthood are required before someone can be confirmed through a process called the “cause for canonization.” Currently, the miracles ascribed to Capodanno and Kapaun’s intercession are under procedural investigation by the Church, and should they be approved, these two former servicemen who gave their lives for their brothers in arms could very well find themselves canonized the first American military saints in history.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The fighting spirit of this haircut is sadly unauthorized

The Mohawk is as intertwined with the military history of Airborne paratroopers as the playing card. To this day, a debate rages about which unit shaved the sides of their heads first. The 82nd claims it got the idea from a radio show. The 101st, on the other hand, claims it was the idea of a Choctaw demo-man’s mother who thought, “if they scream ‘Geronimo!’ and sound like Indian warriors, they might as well look like them, too!”


Regardless of who claims ownership, the modern Mohawk has its roots among the paratroopers of D-Day and WWII in general.

Related: This is why Screaming Eagles wear cards on their helmets

While sticking to traditions is a big part of military life, the Mohawk, unfortunately, is only donned by war-reenactors and by soldiers on special occasions.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

The hairstyle and accompanying face paint was adopted by paratroopers in an effort to channel the historical fighting spirit of their Native American allies. The Mohawk people of present-day New York were fierce allies during the American Revolution. Lt. Col. Louis Cook (or Akiatonharónkwen to the Mohawk people) was a decisive leader in the Battle of Oriskany and the Battle of Valley Forge.

However, calling it a Mohawk is actually a misnomer. Mohawk warriors traditionally pluck out everything but a square on the crown. The style as we know it comes from the Pawnee warriors of present-day Nebraska. The Pawnee people were also close allies of Americans. They, along with the Mohawks with which they’re often confused, were excellent scouts and raiders who would fight until the last breath — a sentiment that fits perfectly within the Airborne.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
This is how soldiers feel when they put on face paint. (Image via New York Times)

Perhaps the most famous of modern military Mohawks were donned by members of the “Filthy 13” of WWII fame. Lead by a member of the Choctaw Nation, demolition expert Sergeant Jake McNiece (aka Sgt. McNasty), these saboteurs sneaked behind enemy lines and planted explosives to devastate the Germans and aid Allied forces. It was under McNiece’s orders that his men shaved their heads, just like his mother suggested.

McNiece was a rebel at heart, demoted for disobedience and quickly promoted again for bad-assery. He and his unit took part in Operation: Market Garden, the Siege of Bastogne, and the Battle of the Bulge. Despite his goofball mentality, he would become acting first sergeant of his company around the time of his unprecedented fourth combat jump into Prüm, Germany.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
He may not get much love from history books, but he’s immortalized in toy form and was the loose inspiration for MGM’s The Dirty Dozen. (Image via Toy Square)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Air Force has ‘natural’ explanations for all these UFO sightings

From 1947 to 1970, the United States Air Force conducted investigations into the increasing number of unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings throughout the United States. The purpose of the investigations was to assess the nature of these sightings and determine if they posed any potential threat to the U.S.

Three successive projects were created to carry out these investigations: Sign, Grudge, and Blue Book.


Blue Book was the longest and most comprehensive, lasting from 1952 to 1970. A 1966 Air Force publication gave insight into how the program was conducted:

The program is conducted in three phases. The first phase includes receipt of UFO reports and initial investigation of the reports. The Air Force base nearest the location of a reported sighting is charged with the responsibility of investigating the sighting and forwarding the information to the Project Blue Book Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
If the initial investigation does not reveal a positive identification or explanation, a second phase of more intensive analysis is conducted by the Project Blue Book Office. Each case is objectively and scientifically analyzed, and, if necessary, all of the scientific facilities available to the Air Force can be used to assist in arriving at an identification or explanation. All personnel associated with the investigation, analysis, and evaluation efforts of the project view each report with a scientific approach and an open mind.
The third phase of the program is dissemination of information concerning UFO sightings, evaluations, and statistics. This is accomplished by the Secretary of the Air Force, Office of Information.
—Project Blue Book, February 1, 1966, p. 1. (National Archives Identifier 595175)

After investigating a case, the Air Force placed it into one of three categories: Identified, Insufficient Data, or Unidentified.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Project Blue Book, February 1, 1966, p. 2.
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

Sightings resulting from identifiable causes fall into several broad categories:

  • human-created objects or phenomena including aircraft, balloons, satellites, searchlights, and flares;
  • astronomical phenomena, including meteors and meteorites, comets, and stars;
  • atmospheric effects, including clouds and assorted light phenomena; and
  • human psychology, including not only psychological frailty or illness but also fabrication (i.e., hoaxes).

The conclusions of Project Blue Book were:

(1) no unidentified flying object reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security;
(2) there has been no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as unidentified represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present day scientific knowledge; and
(3) there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as unidentified are extraterrestrial vehicles.
—Project Blue Book, February 1, 1966, p. 4. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

In 1967, the Air Force’s Foreign Technology Division (FTD), the organization overseeing Blue Book, briefed USAF Gen. William C. Garland on the project. The July 7 report stated that in the 20 years the FTD had reported and examined over 11,000 UFO sightings, they had no evidence that UFOs posed any threat to national security. Furthermore, their evidence “denies the existence of flying saucers from outer space, or any similar phenomenon popularly associated with UFOs.”

The FTD reiterated an expanded finding from Project Grudge:Evaluations of reports of UFOs to date demonstrate that these flying objects constitute no threat to the security of the United States. They also concluded that reports of UFOs were the result of misinterpretations of conventional objects, a mild form of mass hysteria of war nerves and individuals who fabricate such reports to perpetrate a hoax or to seek publicity.”

An independent review requested by FTD came to the same conclusion:

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Briefing by 1st Lt. William F. Marley, Jr. to General William C. Garland, July 7, 1967, p. 7
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

Looking to specific investigation files, we can see what a typical investigation was like, the kinds of documentation and information collected, the investigatory process, and how the Air Force arrived at its conclusions.

Datil, NM, 1950

Cpl. Lertis E. Stanfield, 3024th Air Police Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, reported seeing a strange object in the sky on the night of February 24/25, 1950. He had a camera with him at the time and took several pictures, including the following:

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force)

The details of the sighting were included in an investigation report:

Report of Investigation, 7 March 1950, p1. (National Archives Identifier 595175)Report of Investigation, 7 March 1950, p2. (National Archives Identifier 595175)Report of Investigation, 7 March 1950, p3. (National Archives Identifier 595175)


This was not the first time an unusual sighting had occurred at Holloman. In fact, it was part of a recurring pattern (and one that explains Stansfield’s possession of a camera at the time of the sighting).

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Report of Aerial Phenomena, Holloman Air Force Base, February 21, 1950, through April 31, 1951.
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

At the time, Project Grudge was unable to provide an explanation. However, a decade and a half later, a similar sighting over the Soviet Union provided Blue Book with an answer: a comet.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Project 10073 Form, ca. 1965
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

Several sightings of this kind were reported in the desert Southwest around this time. Despite the delay in reaching a conclusion, the similarity of the photographic evidence to known comet sightings led the Air Force to conclude it was dealing with a comet here too.

Redlands, CA, 1958

On December 13, 1958, a man in Redlands, California, snapped a photograph of a strangely shaped object in the sky.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Close-up photo of UFO in Redlands, CA, 1958.
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

The UFO worksheet described the sighting in detail:

UFO Worksheet, 16 December 1958 (National Archives Identifier 595175)UFO Worksheet, 16 December 1958 (National Archives Identifier 595175)


However, inconsistencies in the reporting led the Air Force to initially determine that the case was impossible to analyze accurately.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Correspondence, February 5, 1959.
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

A final report dated January 1959, elaborated on these inconsistencies but reached a conclusion nonetheless. The observer had photographed a lenticular cloud.

Report, January 30, 1959 (National Archives Identifier 595175)Report, January 30, 1959 (National Archives Identifier 595175)


All of these sighted were explained as initially misinterpreted natural occurrences. In the next post of the series, we’ll turn our attention to sightings ultimately identified as human-created objects and one sighting truly classified as a UFO.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Native American nations declared war on Germany twice

After members of the Native American Blackfeet Nation overwhelmed an Army recruiting office in 1941, those waiting in line cried, “since when has it been necessary for Blackfeet to draw lots to fight?


Hitler surely didn’t realize the fight he was picking.

Japan kicked off their war with the U.S. with a bang — no declaration necessary. Their formal declaration came the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. One by one, the United States and the Axis countries declared war on one another. But the war between Native American nations in the United States and Germany had never actually been resolved, so they just resolved to continue fighting.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

The Iroquois Confederacy declared war against the Kaiser’s Germany in 1917 alongside the U.S. after 16 members of a traveling circus were detained by the Germans, ostensibly for their own protection. The capture of those 16 prompted the leaders of the Iroquois to issue a declaration of war and implored members of the Iroquois Nation to enlist to fight alongside their U.S. ally, even though they were ineligible for American citizenship.

Some 12,000 Native Americans enlisted in the U.S. military during World War I, mostly volunteers, serving as scouts, snipers, and code talkers. Their incredible service in World War I prompted the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, John J. Pershing, to write:

The North American Indian took his place beside every other American in offering his life in the great cause, where as a splendid soldier, he fought with the courage and valor of his ancestors.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
Comanche veterans of World War II.

Beyond code talkers 

When World War II came about, the Iroquois hadn’t yet made peace with Germany, so they were already ready to go back to Europe to give Germany more of the same. The Chippewa and Sioux Nations, this time around, also issued formal declarations of war.

Members of the Navajo Nation overwhelmed recruiting offices in three states with recruits ready to go fight – no draft required. One fourth of the entire Mescalero Apache Nation joined the U.S. military during World War II as did all the able-bodied Chippewas at the Grand Portage Reservation. So great was the Native Americans’ desire to serve that if all Americans had joined the military during World War II in the same proportion that Native Americans did, there would have been no need for a draft. Ten percent of all Native Americans served in World War II.

Another 150,000 left the reservations and went to work in war production, serving in factories and farms while Native women took over the traditionally male roles on the reservations.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Coming home

Native Americans won their citizenship after World War I with the 1924 Snyder Act, but it was World War II that disrupted so much of traditional American society, including Native American nations.

Natives came home with a new standard of living, new skills, and shaped a new way forward for pan-Native American societies. For the first time, Native Americans were able to assert themselves and their status as equals, fighting for the rights and privileges of every other American, as well as those granted to them by existing treaties with the United States.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WWII nose art motivated airmen with sex and humor

From the court-martial of Billy Mitchell to Robin Olds’ mustache, U.S. Air Force history is filled with examples of Airmen thumbing their nose at authority. So of course what started as a way to identify friendly units in mid-air in World War I quickly evolved into a way of thumbing one’s nose at military uniformity and authority. The unintended consequence of that effort is a gallery of beauty and style — a lasting legacy in the minds of generations to come.


Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

This art form is as old as powered flight. In the context of war, crews created designs to immortalize their hometowns, their wives and sweethearts back home, to earn themselves a name in the minds of their enemies, or provide some kind of psychological protection from death, among other motifs.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

 

Some things were universal. “Mors ab alto” is Latin for “Death from above.” And then some art was based entirely on the record of the plane. Like the B-29 Superfortress Bockscar, below, who dropped the atomic bomb dubbed Fat Man on Nagasaki, Japan, and whose nose art depicts a train boxcar nuking Nagasaki.

 

Nose art was also a great way to build esprit de corps with the crew and maintainers around a plane, as seen in this photo of the crew of Waddy’s Wagon recreating their own nose art.

 

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Of course, a list of the best WWII nose art would not be complete without the pin-ups.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Nose art wasn’t all sexy women and bombs, though. Some crews used their nose to (deservedly) brag.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Don Gentile, World War II Eagle Squadron member and the first ace to beat Eddie Rickenbacker’s WWI dogfighting record, flew a P-51B famously called Shangri-La, which featured a bird wearing boxing gloves.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

And sometimes, when your war record is long enough, it’s okay to let the world know you’re watching the clock.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Popular cartoons were also featured on World War II-era planes. Walt Disney famously looked the other way (in terms of copyright infringement) for much of the art done in the name of winning the war, notably on bomber jackets and nose art. The RAF’s Ian Gleed flew a Supermarine Spitfire featuring Geppetto’s cat Figaro.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

American pilot and Doolittle Raider Ted Lawson flew a B-25 Mitchell Bomber over Tokyo called the Ruptured Duck, an image of an angry, sweating Donald Duck wearing pilot headphones in front of crossed crutches.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Next time you watch Dumbo with your kids, remember that Dumbo dropped ordnance on Japan and was said to be fairly accurate.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Bomb icons depicted the number of missions flown over the enemy. For some icons weren’t enough. Thumper here took the war personally and marked the name of each city it bombed.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

 

Nose art was also used to complain (as all troops do) as a way to deal with the monotony of deployed life, the lack of supplies, and/or the frustrations of the crew to keep their bird flying, as seen by Malfunction Sired by Ford.

Or it was used to brag that they could keep their girl in the air, with whatever they had lying around.

 

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Some crews definitely brought their A-game to the art form, like the crew of this B-29 Superfortress.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Others tried, but were ultimately (and obviously) better suited to fighting the war than designing the nose of their B-24 Liberator.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

The award for all-around best nose-art in World War II has to go to the RAF’s James Archibald Findlay MacLachlan, who lost an arm to a combat injury early in the war and thus had to fly with a prosthetic limb. His fighter plane’s nose depicted the hand from his own amputated arm making the “V for Victory” sign.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Now: 6 of the most badass US military test pilots of all time

MIGHTY HISTORY

Not forgotten: ceremonies around the world honor the Battle of Iwo Jima

This past week was a special anniversary for Americans.


We observed the 75th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, and specifically, on Feb. 23, we honored the 75th anniversary of the raising of the flag and the immortal photo taken by Joe Rosenthal.

Around the country, there were special celebrations to honor the men who served in that ferocious and terrible battle. Many politicians, notable figures and average Joe’s took to social media to honor the men who fought and died on Iwo.

With the passage of time, there are fewer and fewer men who fought on the volcanic rock, so events honoring them get more and more special.

Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams was honored at a Washington Capitals game over the weekend. Williams, who earned Medal of Honor as a flamethrower on Iwo Jima, was showered with applause and adulation by the Capitals fans, players and members of the opposing team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Williams is the last recipient living of the 27 men who were awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during Iwo Jima.

Watch Williams being honored at the game:

Williams took to Twitter (yes, Medal of Honor Iwo Jima vets have Twitter too) to express his excitement of being at the game.

Williams, aged 96, shows no sign of stopping. He will be giving a TEDx talk this March at Marshall University.

While many other events took place around the country, a very special commemoration took place in California.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Twenty-eight Iwo Jima veterans and members of the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee posae for a picture after an event commemoratiing the 75th annivesary of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

ROYCE DORMAN/MARINE CORPS

Camp Pendleton hosted a reunion of over two dozen Iwo Jima veterans last week. Over the course of three days, the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee held events on Pendleton to honor the men that fought there. Sadly, the Marine Corps put out a statement saying that this would probably be the last formal event as fewer and fewer veterans are alive and in shape to travel.

But as they say, tell that to the Marines.

“It’s very special to be a part of this ceremony,” said William “Bill” Wayne, an Iwo Jima veteran whose fellow Marines of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, raised the flag on Mount Suribachi. “I get a real kick out of coming and seeing everyone and talking to the young Marines.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

At the height of World War I, British intelligence provided the United States with a secret telegram sent from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the government of Mexico. The telegram promised the Mexicans a military alliance if the United States entered the war against Germany. The Germans promised Mexico it would help them recover the American territories of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico it lost in the Mexican-American War.

The interception of the telegram was one of the earliest big wins for signals intelligence. Maybe the Kaiser shouldn’t have sent it via Western Union.


Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

“Hopefully no one breaks this code STOP It would mean we lose the war STOP We’re paying by the word STOP”

The note from Zimmerman was sent to the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, letting him know that the German high command intended to resume its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in the coming days. This strategy, while effective at keeping the British Isles from getting its necessary supplies also had the adverse effect of killing innocent civilians from neutral countries – countries like the United States.

On May 7, 1915, this policy resulted in the sinking of the luxury liner RMS Lusitania, killing some 1,128 people. And 128 of those people were American civilians bound for England. The incident was illegal under international law and sparked widespread anti-German outrage in the U.S. You know relations are strained when Americans rename their food to sound less German.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

“Sauerkraut” is still “Liberty Cabbage” to me.

The note read:

We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain, and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.
Signed, ZIMMERMANN

This wasn’t even the first time the Germans tried to incite the Mexicans against the U.S. There were at least five other occasions when the German Empire funded or assisted efforts to create tensions in North America. President Wilson even had to send U.S. troops to occupy Veracruz during his administration. What the Germans didn’t take into account was the fact that Mexico was already in the middle of its own civil war, Mexico didn’t stand a chance against the U.S., even then, there was already a peace agreement in place, and Mexico knew Germany couldn’t actually support it in any meaningful way.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

“Mexico: We are with you. But not like… there. We have to be here. But good luck in your war with the US.”

The British sent the telegram to the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, who eventually got it to President Wilson. Wilson promptly gave it to the American media. When delivered to the American people, who were already anti-Mexican and anti-German, the result was explosive. To make matters worse, Zimmerman admitted the telegram was genuine in a speech to the Reichstag, and the Germans soon sunk two American merchant ships with u-boats. Three months later, in the face of American public opinion, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Armistice Day became Veterans Day

Growing up, learning about World War I usually involved learning about three things: trench foot, poison gas, and bloody stalemate. Right before the history teacher moves on to World War II, we learn the old mnemonic device — on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, ‘The War to End All Wars’ ended with an armistice.


Then, there was one kickass, worldwide party.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
And then…u00a0the sequel.

Obviously, glossing over one of the deadliest, most expensive, and most avoidable wars in American history does the Doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force an injustice. We need to remember that World War I was more than just a prelude to World War II. The horrors of WWI led to the annual recognition of those the who had to fight it. The day The Great War ended came to be remembered thereafter as Armistice Day.

But, when the 11th day of the 11 month rolls around, we all celebrate Veterans Day. What happened?

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

This is what Armistice Day 1938 looked like in Omaha, Nebraska.

The first public celebration of Armistice Day came in November, 1920. Much like how we celebrate Veterans Day today, the occasion was marked by speeches, parades, and exchange of drinks and stories between veterans of the war. The exception came when that 11th hour rolled around. For a moment, there was a pause in all activities across the country.

In that moment, mere years ago, millions of armed men stopped butchering each other over control of several yards of No Man’s Land.

In 1926, Congress made Armistice Day official, resolving that the “recurring anniversary of November 11, 1918, should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace between nations.” In 1938, Armistice Day became a Federal Holiday.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Literally.

As we all know, the “War to End All Wars” didn’t actually end all wars — or any wars. It actually led very directly to the next war, World War II. Which led to the next war, the Korean War, which was part of a greater war, the Cold War. You get the point. By the time the Korean War ended, there was a whole new generation of war veterans who felt deserving of recognition for a job well done.

Veterans of those war lobbied Congress to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954, in order to honor veterans of every war. Congress agreed and President Eisenhower signed on to it, too.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

Gerald Ford, the voice of reason.

In 1968, Congress acted again. This time, they wanted to give federal employees a couple of three-day weekends throughout the year, so they changed the dates of some major holidays to fall on certain Mondays. Columbus Day, Memorial Day, and Washington’s Birthday were all given Mondays. And Veterans Day was moved from the historic date of November 11 to “the fourth Monday in October.”

The states rightly thought that was a stupid idea and refused to recognize the movement of Veterans Day until President Ford changed it back in 1975.

Veterans Day is currently celebrated nationally on November 11, as it has been for decades. When the day was originally changed to Veterans Day in 1954, it was just in time for then-104-year old Albert Woolson, the last surviving veteran of the Civil War, to celebrate it. With him were two veterans of the Plains Wars, veterans of the Spanish-American War, and vets from the Philippines War.

States, local municipalities, and other governments have declared their own Veterans Days, some dating as far back as the end of World War II, recognizing the courage and sacrifices of every U.S. citizen who answered the country’s call to arms.

Articles

That time an American cruise missile hit the wrong continent

Today, we see cruise missiles as very accurate. This was not always the case. In fact, one cruise missile has the distinction of hitting the wrong continent – and it was quite a miss.


Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
SM-62 Snark in flight. (USAF photo)

The missile in question was the SM-62 Snark. It was intended to help deter Soviet aggression. According to Designation-Systems.net, with a maximum range of 6,000 miles and a top speed of 550 knots, it had a W39 nuclear warhead with a 4 megaton yield – 20 times as powerful as the W80 used on the Tomahawk cruise missile and the AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile.

It flew at 50,000 feet – which at the time made it hard to intercept with enemy anti-aircraft missiles.

The Snark needed the big warhead. The closest it came to hitting its target was within about eight miles. That is a very far cry from the 260 feet that Designation-Systems.net cited the early models of the Tomahawk cruise missile achieving.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
SM-62 Snark missile on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

But Air Force magazine described the miss to end all misses. On Dec. 5, 1956, a Snark was launched with a flight plan to cruise to Puerto Rico and return to its base in Florida. Only, it stopped responding to signals.

Even a self-destruct command didn’t work. The Air Force scrambled fighters to shoot down the wayward missile, but they couldn’t pull off the intercept – proving that the design got that part right.

Ultimately, the missile went beyond tracking range – last seen headed towards Brazil. The missile would remain missing for 26 years until some wreckage was found in that South American country.

According to a Reuters report in the Regina Leader-Post, unidentified Brazilians found the parts and reported them.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
SM-62 Snark launching from Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. (USAF photo)

Designation-Systems.net reported that the Snark would achieve a brief period of fully operational service from February to June 1961 (an initial operating capability was established in 1959). But then-President John F. Kennedy ordered the one active wing to stand down, largely due to the development of inter-continental ballistic missiles.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This isn’t the Guard’s first pandemic response

The last time that the United States faced a national health crisis as deadly as the COVID-19 pandemic, antibiotics did not exist. 

Neither did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When the first case of the Spanish flu arrived in the United States at an Army camp in Fort Riley, Kansas, in the spring of 1918, World War I dominated the headlines. 

That pandemic resulted in roughly 50 million deaths worldwide in 1918-19, and about 500 million people were infected. Approximately 675,000 Americans died.  

“The flu was a disaster,’’ said Carol Byerly, author of “Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I.’’ “It killed more people in the military than the war did, and so they tried to understand it. They didn’t understand viruses at the time.’’ 

More than 1,400 National Guard Medical Services personnel were sent overseas, leaving only 222 NGMS officers at home to assist with controlling the spread of influenza and pneumonia, according to the National Guard Bureau. (By comparison, a high of 47,000 National Guard members supported the COVID-19 response in May.) In 1918, most of the National Guard’s members — more than 12,000 officers and nearly 367,000 soldiers — served in World War I. 

“[In] 1918, the pandemic hit, and most of the medical services were deployed overseas,’’ said Dr. Richard Clark, historian of the National Guard Bureau. “The National Guard mobilized its medical forces to augment stateside military forces to help with the military bases.’’ 

The National Guard previously had not assisted with such a widespread health emergency. For more than three months, beginning in September 1858, the New York National Guard helped alleviate a disturbance during a yellow-fever quarantine on Staten Island. In late 1910 and early 1911, the Michigan National Guard enforced a quarantine of smallpox patients at a state asylum. Those missions did not provide medical support, though.  

The thought of using [the National Guard] in a medical capacity to respond domestically had not really been thought about until that point,’’ Clark said. 

The military’s role in spreading the Spanish flu is undeniable. As soldiers moved between camps in the U.S. or were deployed to France, the number of infections increased. Some Army camps, such as Camp Devens near Boston, were particularly hard-hit. When ships carrying troops returned from overseas, more soldiers got sick.  

War-bond parades left citizens susceptible to infection, too, including one in Philadelphia, attended by 200,000 people, that resulted in a spike of cases. Despite the rising totals, the pandemic was downplayed. 

“Every day, you read the newspaper, and a couple of cases were developed in the city, and officers were saying, ‘It’s no big deal,’’’ Dr. Alex Navarro, the assistant director for the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. “[Then] there would be hundreds and hundreds of cases, and this is something very serious. Very rapidly, they had to deal with the threat. 

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

The one major issue was that there was a shortage of doctors and nurses, as well as some medical supplies like surgical gauze and masks, so the war effort definitely hindered that medical response.’’ 

Some preventive measures, including social distancing and mask laws, were put into place. The military tried quarantining camps and limiting troop mobilizations, but those restrictions were not sustainable during wartime, Navarro said. They even stopped the draft in October, a month before World War I ended, Byerly said.  

“They didn’t want to stop the draft,’’ Byerly said. “They didn’t want to reduce crowding on the ships and in the training camps. They didn’t want to send more nurses and doctors to the soldiers, but that is what you have to do in order to take care of your personnel.’’ 

A total of 43,000 U.S. service members died because of the pandemic. More than a quarter of the Army’s soldiers, about 1 million men, became infected, and at least 106,000 Navy sailors were hospitalized, according to Byerly. The National Guard has no records of how many of its members died or were infected. 

While the National Guard’s role in combating the Spanish flu a century ago was minimal, a valuable lesson came out of that pandemic, Clark said. Officials began preparing to offer more support during national health emergencies. The wisdom of that decision is being felt a century later. 

“We’re not going through something new,’’ Clark said.  

“History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it rhymes, so the lessons of the past should not be taken as a one-for-one example or a guide to what we need to do today. Many of the details, much of the context is very, very different, but what you can use the past as a guide for is for critical thinking about the situation. … What is the same, and what is different?’’ 

This article originally appeared on Reserve + National Guard Magazine. Follow @ReserveGuardMag on Twitter.

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This Spitfire shot down near Dunkirk just flew again

During the famed and perilous evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II, brave pilots, sailors, and citizens fought tooth and nail to rescue soldiers trapped on the French beach from the German Luftwaffe as it attempted to wipe them out.


One of the pilots, Squadron Leader Geoffrey Stephenson, was shot down in a Spitfire MK1 N3200 on May 26, 1940, the opening hours of Operation Dynamo. Stephenson spent most of the war as a prisoner of the Germans, eventually staying at the famous Colditz Castle after numerous escape attempts from other prisons.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
A Spitfire Mk. 1A flies in 1937. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

But his aircraft, hit through the radiator and with other damage to the body, was left on the beach near Calais, France. The Spitfire plane became a popular photo destination for German soldiers who would often take small parts of the aircraft with them as souvenirs.

By the time the Allies liberated Calais in 1944, no one was too worried about digging what scrap remained out of the beach. And so the plane continued to sit, slowly becoming more and more buried by the mud and sand on the beach.

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
The restored Spitfire Mk. 1A taxis to the runway at an air show in England. (Photo: YouTube/Imperial War Museums)

It wasn’t until 1986, over 40 years after the war ended, that the plane was recovered — and it wasn’t until the new millennium that someone decided to actually restore the old bird.

Thomas Kaplan, an American investor and philanthropist, backed the 14-year restoration project and gifted the plane, now back in flying condition, to the Imperial War Museum.

Now the plane is housed at the same hangar on the same base that it flew from that fateful day in 1940, but it has a much different mission. It serves as a flying history exhibit for the museum, soaring over air shows and allowing visitors to hear what the original Spitfires sounded like in combat.

Learn more about the history of the plane and see it in flight in the video below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US and Indian Navies fought a fake battle you didn’t hear about

In the Bay of Bengal, the United States Navy and the Indian Navy went head-to-head.


Sort of.

According to DefenceLovers.In, the modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov) and its air group of MiG-29K Fulcrums took on the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and Air Wing 11, mainly composed of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, in a joint training exercise that should leave Russia, with similar aircraft in its force, indirectly warned.

The Indian Fulcrums and the American Hornets took turns maintaining a combat air patrol over a ship while the other side practiced anti-ship strikes.

 

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
MiG-29K of INAS 303 prepares to catch the wire aboard the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya in 2014 | Indian Navy

 

“The MiG-29s that were flying off the Vikramaditya and the FA-18 Super Hornets flying off Nimitz made approaches to the opposite flight decks, got up in the air and got to do some dog fighting as well, which was pretty overwhelming,” Rear Admiral William D. Byrne, Jr., the commanding officer of the Nimitz carrier strike group, told the Indian site.

India bought the Vikramaditya in 2004, and commissioned the ship in 2013 after over nine years of refitting. The Vikramaditya is armed with four AK-630 Gatling guns, and can also fire Barak surface-to-air missiles, using launchers cannibalized from a retired frigate, It carries up to 26 MiG-29K Fulcrums and 10 helicopters. Russian Navy MiG-29Ks saw some action over Syria during the Admiral Kuznetsov’s deployment to the Mediterranean in 2016, but one was lost in a splash landing.

 

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution
An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Knighthawks of Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 136 lands on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anthony N. Hilkowski/Released)

When serving with Russia as the Baku (later re-named Admiral Gorshkov after the fall of the Soviet Union), the Vikramaditya was a modified Kiev-class carrier armed with 12 SS-N-12 “Sandbox” missiles and 24 8-round SA-N-9 “Gauntlet” launchers, along with two 100mm guns, eight AK-630 Gatling guns, and two quintuple 533mm torpedo tube mounts. It carried a dozen Yak-38 Forgers and as many as 20 anti-submarine helicopters.

By comparison, Air Wing 11 on board USS Nimitz included four squadrons of F/A-18C, F/A-18E, or F/A-18F multi-role fighters, along with E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning planes, EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes, and MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters.

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