After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor during World War II, Oregon residents became uneasy. As a west coast state, they felt like Oregon could be the next target. In response to their anxiety about a possible invasion, several towns on the Oregon coast developed citizen militias. They patrolled the beaches hoping to scare off or at least slow down an attack.
The role of Oregon families and children in WWII
Even Oregon schoolboys participated in the citizen-organized war effort. They built model airplanes to help sky watchers identify enemy aircraft. Many cities, including Portland, practiced air raids and blackout drills. Families learned skills they probably never dreamed of learning, including how to neutralize firebombs in case they landed in their homes.
A state suddenly full of active military installments
Oregon also had more formal participation in the war. Pilots from Oregon’s Pendleton Air Base General flew during General Dolittle’s bombing raid on Tokyo. Other bases that represented all military branches were scattered around the state as well.
Strategically inland, the Umatilla Ordnance Depot stockpiled every single type of munition. The Tillamook Navy Air Base supported Military blimps that patrolled the Oregon coastline searching for energy submarines. The state’s largest training base was Camp Adair, which brought in 45,000 new faces to the Corvallis area. This area had previously been nothing but tiny, quiet towns, and now it was bustling with activity. The young ladies surely did enjoy all the young men around.
The only WWII fatalities on the US mainland
The only fatalities from war action on the US mainland happened in Oregon in May 1945. The Japanese had sent thousands of bomb-carrying hydrogen balloons toward the US mainland. Most didn’t make it to land, though about 300 did. Most exploded harmlessly, except for one on Gearhart Mountain in southern Oregon’s Fremont National Forest. A minister’s wife and their five children died from the explosion.
Portland prospered thanks to WWII
As often happens during wartime, the US experienced many shortages of pretty much everything. In nearly every town in Oregon, residents pitched in and salvaged scrap metal, paper, and rubber to donate to the war effort. They drove their cars less and cut back on electricity use. They even donated bacon grease if you can believe it.
Yet from industry to agriculture, production was booming. Portland grew and prospered as a result, as did many cities. People from the smaller towns in Oregon came to Portland during the war period looking for work, knowing they would get it.
All sorts of industries needed hired help, including shipyards and aircraft factories. Many rural loggers happily came in and took those jobs because they paid a lot more money. Women also came to work in fields that would have never been available to them without the war. Thanks to all the new help, three Portland-area shipyards built over 700 vessels during the war.
Born on Aug. 22, 1930, in Temple, Texas, Forrest Fenn did not begin his life wealthy, with his father working to support the family via a job as a principal at a local school. Things would change, however, during the latter half of his life thanks to a love of exploring and collecting various artifacts. His first such object was a simple arrow head he found when he was nine years old, something he still has to this day some eight decades later. Said Fenn, “I was exhilarated and it started me on a lifelong adventure of discovering and collecting things.”
After finishing school, Fenn decided to do a little exploring on the government’s dime, joining the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and traveling the world. Ultimately rising to the rank of Major, as well as flying a remarkable 328 combat missions in one year during Vietnam, he used his free time while in the service to search for artifacts wherever he was. Among many other finds during his time in the Air Force he reportedly discovered such things as a spearhead in the Sahara desert dated to around the 6th century BC and even a jar still filled with olive oil from Ancient Rome.
When he finally retired from the service, he decided to see if he could make a career out of his hobby, opening a shop, Fenn Galleries, with his wife and a business partner, Rex Arrowsmith, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The business ultimately became extremely successful, apparently grossing a whopping million per year in sales at its peak.
Fast-forwarding almost two decades later, in 1987, Fenn’s father died of pancreatic cancer. Things got worse the next year when Fenn himself was diagnosed with kidney cancer. During treatment, his doctors told him there was about an 80% chance of his cancer being terminal within a few years.
And so it was that with more money and valuable objects than anyone in his family would need when he was gone, he decided he’d like to use some of his artifacts to inspire people to get out of their homes and go exploring. As he noted a couple decades later in an interview with The Albuquerque Journal in 2013, “I’m trying to get fathers and mothers to go out into the countryside with their children. I want them to get away from the house and away from the TV and the texting.”
His method for doing this was, in 1990, to purchase an approximately 800 year old bronze chest for ,000 (about ,000 today) and then place inside of it a slew of valuables including rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and emeralds; several antique items including pre-Columbian gold figures; a 2,000 year old necklace; a Spanish ring covered in gems from the 17th century; well over 100 gold nuggets of various sizes; 256 gold coins; and, finally, an autobiography of himself written in ultra small print and encased in a sealed jar. To ensure it could be readily read by the discoverer, he helpfully also included a magnifying glass.
That done, his first idea was to simply wait until he was near death, then leave behind a series of clues to a spot he had picked to go die, lying next to his treasure chest.
Fortunately for him, he survived his cancer, though he would quip surviving “ruined the story”.
Now with more life in him, instead of going through with the plan, he simply placed the treasure chest and its valuable contents in his personal vault where it sat, waiting for his cancer to come back so he could execute his plan.
Two decades later and no cancer returning, at the age of 80 in 2010, he figured it was time to put a version of the plan in motion anyway. Thus, he drove somewhere in the Rockies between Santa Fe, New Mexico and the border of Canada, got out of his car and lugged the chest some unknown distance. From here, it is not clear whether he buried it, or simply left it on the surface to be discovered.
Whatever he did, after driving home, he announced what he’d done shortly thereafter in his self-published autobiography called The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir.
Given this was initially just sold in a bookstore in Sante Fe and he doesn’t seem to have otherwise too widely promoted what he’d done beyond locals, as you might imagine, little notice was given at first.
Things all changed, however, when an inflight magazine, who had stumbled on the story who knows how, decided to feature it. A Today’s Show producer ultimately read this and decided it would make good fodder for their show in 2013. Not long after this, the story exploded across the news wires and treasure hunters the world over swarmed to the Rockies to find the chest.
Since then, an estimated few hundred thousand people have gone looking for Fenn’s treasure. Some even have regular meetups in the Rockies each year to sit around camp fires and enjoy each other’s company, while sharing hypotheses of where the treasure might be. Not always wrong, according to Fenn, a few who have emailed him of where they looked have even come within a couple hundred feet of it, implying that they probably correctly identified the starting point he gives in the clues we’ll get to shortly.
But nobody has found it yet.
Worse, in the process of searching, at least four people to date have lost their lives — one Jeff Murphy died after falling down a steep slope in Yellowstone. In another case, a Pastor Paris Wallace somehow got swept away in the Rio Grande during his search. In another instance, one Eric Ashby was rafting in Colorado during his search when he drowned. In his case, Ashby apparently specifically moved to Colorado the previous year to devote himself to finding the treasure.
Finally, Randy Bilyeu, who retired from his job as a mechanic to search for the treasure full time, was found along the Rio Grande, though it isn’t clear how he died other than the temperatures were below freezing at the time he was searching.
For whatever it’s worth, it’s also been claimed by Bilyeu’s ex-wife, Linda, that a family of an unnamed individual reached out to her to offer their condolences and revealed their loved one had also died searching, but they had chosen not to make that information public. On top of that, it’s often mentioned that a Jeff Schulz, who died while hiking in Arizona in 2016, was searching for the treasure, though nothing in his family’s memorial to him and Facebook posts seem to mention any such connection, despite it being widely reported.
Whatever the case, in response to these deaths, Fenn, who actually rented a helicopter to help search for Bilyeu when he went missing, continually reiterates that searchers need to remember the treasure is “not in a dangerous place… I was eighty when I hid it…. don’t look anywhere where [an]… 80-year-old man can’t put something. I’m not that fit. I can’t climb 14,000 feet.”
This fact also has many speculating that from the starting point where he exited his vehicle might have only been a couple hundred feet given the 42 pounds the chest apparently weighed and his revelation that several people had come within two hundred feet of the chest.
Whatever the case, because of the deaths, and some people’s reported obsession with finding the treasure, with a handful of people even bankrupting themselves in the search, Fenn has been asked by certain authorities to retrieve the chest and call off the hunt.
A request Fenn refuses to grant, noting the overall benefit to hundreds of thousands who’ve got to go on a real treasure hunt in the wilderness. He further states, “I regret that some treasure hunters have invested more in the search than they could afford, although those numbers are small. I also regret that several people have become lost in the winter mountains. . I have said many times that no one should extend themselves beyond their comfort zone, physically or financially.”
And as for the addicted, he states this is unavoidable with any activity “in the same way gold miners, gamblers, hunters and baseball fans become addicted.”
Naturally, others have claimed it’s all one big hoax, such as the aforementioned Linda Bilyeu. Fenn is adamant, however, that it is not and he really did put the treasure chest somewhere in the Rockies.
(Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
As for proof, he offers none but his word. That said, for whatever it’s worth a few of his friends have come forward and stated they saw the chest in his vault with the items over the years leading up to 2010 when it suddenly disappeared. For example, a long-time friend of his, noted author Douglas Preston, states he saw the chest and the items, and that “As far as proof goes, there’s no proof. It’s hard to prove a negative. The negative is that the chest is gone. It’s not in his house and it’s not in his vault. And also knowing Forrest for as long as I have, I can absolutely say with 100 percent confidence that he would never pull off a hoax. I’m absolutely sure that he hid that treasure chest.”
So where is it? As for the main set of clues Fenn has given, they are as follows:
As I have gone alone in there And with my treasures bold, I can keep my secret where, And hint of riches new and old. Begin it where warm waters halt And take it in the canyon down, Not far, but too far to walk. Put in below the home of Brown. From there it’s no place for the meek, The end is ever drawing nigh; There’ll be no paddle up your creek, Just heavy loads and water high. If you’ve been wise and found the blaze, Look quickly down, your quest to cease, But tarry scant with marvel gaze, Just take the chest and go in peace. So why is it that I must go And leave my trove for all to seek? The answers I already know, I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak. So hear me all and listen good, Your effort will be worth the cold. If you are brave and in the wood I give you title to the gold.
Beyond that, he’s also mentioned in his autobiography that it is “in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe”. That the treasure is not in any cemetery or grave (apparently some people were beginning to dig up graves, convinced he left it in one) nor on his property or any of his friends. (This one came out because people kept digging in his and his friend’s properties.) He also states it’s not in or under any man-made structure nor in a mine. Finally, in 2015, he stated at a certain point that it was wet at the time and surrounded by “wonderful smells, of pine needles or piñon nuts or sagebrush”.
In the end, apparently achieving his goal, since the treasure was allegedly placed, many thousands have used it as an inspiration for a fun family vacation in beautiful areas, in most cases seemingly little upset about not actually finding the treasure. As Fenn himself states, even for all who don’t find it, “the adventure [is] the greater treasure.”
Seemingly concurring, one retired searcher, Cynthia Meachum, has taken over 60 trips into the wilderness to try to find it, stating “You go out, you look, you don’t find it, you come back home, you go through your clues again, your solves again and you think, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ And you go out and you do it again. And I have actually seen some of the most spectacular scenery because of this that I ever would’ve seen.”
Of course, for one lucky individual someday they might just also walk away with a literal, rather than figurative, treasure, which is the hope of Fenn, who states that given the number of people having correctly followed the clues to a point and come so close, he expects someone will find it soon. However, with him now at 89 years old, he may not live to see the day.
(And if you’re now wondering, Fenn has also stated that he is the only one who knows the treasure chest’s location and he has left no definitive record of its whereabouts other than the already revealed clues.)
Speaking of buried treasure, a back injury and a recommendation by his doctors to take frequent walks saw one Kevin Hillier of Australia deciding to use the time more productively than just exercise, taking strolls through former gold fields with a metal detector. Broke, one night he dreamed he found an endless gold nugget that was so big that it could not be dug out of the ground. The next morning, he drew a picture depicting his dream on a piece of paper and had his friend Russell sign it as a witness for some odd reason.
Whether he made that part up, it was coincidence from having gold on his brain, or indeed prophetic, on Sept. 26, 1980, the dream would come true. After lunch, Kevin and his wife Bip were detecting in opposite directions when Kevin screamed. Rushing to him, Bip found her husband on the ground sobbing while kneeling in front of a tip of a gold nugget that couldn’t be pried from the ground directly.
The Hand of Faith, the largest gold nugget in the world.
As a result, they began to dig… and dig and dig until they finally reached the bottom. Lifting it up, they realized what they had found was history. Weighing an astounding 27.2 kilograms (nearly 60 pounds), it was the largest gold nugget ever found by a hand held metal detector and the second largest discovered in Australia in the 20th century. In a recent interview, Bip claimed that the couple had some heavenly intervention, “People will say it was all coincidence and that’s fine. But that’s my Father up there…and he’s interested in everything we do.” To them, the rock looked like a hand making a blessing. So, Bip and Kevin named the gold rock the “Hand of Faith.”
Scared to tell anyone, they rushed it home and soaked the sixty-pound chunk in the sink. The kids all helped to clean it with toothbrushes. That night, the family slept as the gold sat in a kiddie pool under the parents’ bed. After a few days of debate about what to do, they decided to hand the rock over to a trusted friend to take it back to Melbourne for a delivery to the government.
A few days later, at a televised press conference, Victorian Premier Dick Hamer announced the discovery. However, the Hilliers were not there. They were hold up in a motel room watching the press conference on television, refusing to be identified. Said one of the Hillier kids, “Even for years afterwards, we kids never brought it up.”
It took several months for the nugget to sell (according to Bip, this was the government’s fault and caused the nugget to dip in value as the hype died down a bit), but finally in early February of 1981, with the help of Kovac’s Gems Minerals, it was sold to the appropriately-named Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas for about a million dollars (approximately .7 million today).
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The American Civil War was a bloody, brutal time in the history of the United States. It not only pitted “brother against brother,” as the saying goes, it was a fight over the soul of the country for (at least) the next 150 years.
But while most people know the broad brushstrokes of the war’s causes and conflicts, there are some little known facts that for some might cast America’s bloodiest war in a whole new light.
1. The first soldier killed in the war died entirely by accident.
The opening salvos of the Civil War were fired during the siege of Fort Sumter in South Carolina. When P.G.T Beauregard accepted the surrender of the fort, there were zero fatalities on either side. When the Union troops lowered the American flag, they gave it a 100-gun salute.
2. The Civil War began and ended at the same guy’s house.
While the opening shots of the war were in Charleston Harbor, the first major battle was fought nearly three months later at the First Battle of Bull Run, also known as “First Manassas.” General Beauregard used the house of Virginian Wilmer McLean as his headquarters during the fight. McLean moved his family away from the area shortly after to a two-story house at a place called Appomattox Court House.
3. Battles have multiple names because the of the backgrounds of their soldiers.
The bulk of the Union troops were city dwellers and townspeople. When they talked about a battle, the notable things they saw were the natural features of the battlefield. Confederates were by and large from rural areas. When they remember a battle, their inclination is to talk about the manufactured, populated, or otherwise man-made features of the area.
For example, both times the two forces met near Manassas Rail Station, the Southerners dubbed the fights First and Second Battle of Manassas, while the Union troops named it after Bull Run, the nearby stream. At least 230 such Civil War combat actions are known to have multiple names.
4. Black soldiers refused their pay in protest for 18 months.
In 1864, Congress ordered they be paid equal wages, with full pay, retroactive to the start of their enlistment. In a seemingly odd historical contrast, black soldiers fighting for the South were paid equal wages from the start of the war.
5. A disproportionate number of black men and immigrants fought the Civil War.
Meanwhile, roughly 25 percent of recruits for the Union army were immigrants. By 1860, 13 percent of Americans were born overseas and 43 percent of the armed forces were either immigrants or the sons of immigrants. Foreigners lined up at U.S. diplomatic legations abroad to join the Union cause — so many that the U.S. minister to Berlin had to put a sign up to tell people his office was not a recruiter, for example.
6. Slavery didn’t end until eight months after the war ended.
President Lincoln outlawed slavery in U.S. territories in 1862. He freed slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves held in rebel states. The President worked to eliminate slavery from the U.S. in the most piecemeal fashion he could. There was no formal law abolishing slavery until the passage of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery — except by punishment of a crime.
The 13th Amendment was passed on January 31, 1865, but that didn’t end slavery there. For an amendment to be added to the Constitution, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the States – including those in rebellion. When the war ended in April 1865, the amendment needed 27 of the 36 states, but only had 22. Georgia became the 27th when it ratified the 13th amendment on December 6th, 1865. About 45,000 slaves were freed in the last two slave states (Delaware and Kentucky) 12 days later.
7. Men drafted by the Union during the Civil War could hire a substitute.
The first-ever forced conscription in American history was enacted by the Confederacy. White men between ages 18 and 35 (and later, 45 as the war dragged on) had a three-year mandatory service obligation. The Confederate draft was very unpopular because it was viewed as a government violation of personal rights — the reason the South was fighting the Civil War.
8. Lincoln’s first War Secretary thought Gen. William T. Sherman was insane.
It was Sherman’s capture of Atlanta that won Lincoln’s re-election in 1864, ending the Democratic Party’s call for peace talks. His March to the Sea and subsequent uncontested sweep through the Carolinas devastated the South and hastened the end of the war.
But in 1861, Sherman wasn’t himself. When then-War Secretary Simon Cameron asked Sherman how many men he needed to defend the North, the general’s request for 260,000 men caused Cameron to remove Sherman from command and send him to Kentucky under the command of a Brigadier of U.S. Volunteers, Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman had a nervous breakdown and was considered unfit for duty.
After Grant’s rise to prominence in the Union Army, Sherman was moved to Grant’s old command and the rest is history. When Congress moved to have Sherman elevated to Grant’s position, Sherman wrote to them:
General Grant is a great general. I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always.
9. Neither side could actually afford to fight the war.
The Union, as any high school history class teaches us, was the manufacturing center of the United States in 1861, while the South had a mostly agrarian economy. With this industrial base, the North was able to produce the goods needed to fight the war while the South had to make do with what it could scrape together.
But history shows neither side could really afford the war. The Union’s total income through taxes could only account for 15 percent of its spending. Even with increased tariffs, the first income tax, and other excises taxes, the Federal government only ever made a quarter of what it spent. The Union was forced to take on foreign debt to finance itself – $2.7 billion worth.
The South fared no better, of course. Its tax revenues only earned 11 percent of its fiscal needs. A third of its revenues came from printing money, as opposed to 18 percent in the North. Where the North’s borrowed money would lead to a post-war boom, the interest on Confederate debt being bought in England and the Netherlands began to cost more than the war itself. Tax revenues in the South actually declined as the war continued.
10. The Civil War killed more American troops than any other war, and 2/3 died of disease.
An estimated 625,000 people were killed in the Civil War, and that number only includes those who died fighting. There an estimated 225,000 civilian casualties, which would set the total as high as 850,000.
The number one killer of Civil War troops was disease – the most prevalent were dysentery, typhoid fever, malaria, pneumonia, and simple childhood troubles like measles and mumps. Flies, mosquitoes, ticks, lice, maggots, and fleas were rampant and germ theory was not yet accepted medical practice.
11. The Rebel Flag isn’t really the Confederate Flag.
The now-controversial and highly recognizable rebel flag, or “Dixie Flag,” wasn’t the official banner of the Confederate States of America. The crossed bar flag was actually just the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
A few states still base their flag on different iterations of the actual, official CSA flag, including North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee. The “Stars and Bars” flag that represented the Southern states features three bars and seven stars. The battle flag was used to make it easier to distinguish it from the North’s flag in combat.
12. The U.S. government is still paying a Civil War pension.
“Whenever there is no surviving spouse entitled to pension, the Secretary shall pay to the children of each Civil War veteran who met the service requirements of section 1532 of this title a pension at the monthly rate of $73.13 for one child.” Thus reads the text of Title 38 of the U.S. Code regarding the rules for veterans’ benefits to spouses and dependents of former soldiers.
In 2014, the Wall Street Journal found Irene Triplett, the 86-year-old daughter of Civil War veteran Mose Triplett (a rebel, in case you were curious, who deserted and joined the Union). Mose died in 1938, but his daughter continued receiving the $73.13 owed to her from Department of Veterans Affairs.
In September 2005, Mexican Marines arrived under the Mexican flag to Harrison County, Miss. It was the first time in 159 years that Mexican troops operationally deployed inside the United States. There, they met U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy sailors. But they weren’t there to do battle; they were there to clear the debris.
Harrison County was hit by one of the most intense hurricanes ever to hit the United States. Harrison County was devastated by the strongest winds of the whole storm.
Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast, August 2005.
Hurricane Katrina was the fourth most intense storm ever to hit the United States. The storm killed more than 1,800 people, making it the deadliest to hit the United States since 1928. It was also the costliest hurricane in terms of physical damage done to the areas affected by the hurricane. In all, the total price tag for Katrina’s damage came to a whopping 5 billion – but just throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it.
Damage wrought on communities by storms like Katrina require an all-hands approach to recovery, especially in the immediate aftermath. Charitable organizations like the American Red Cross, Oxfam, and Habitat for Humanity responded. So did many members of the international community, even those considered to be at odds with American foreign policy at the time. Those who offered assistance included traditional allies Germany, the UK, and Canada. But even those who did not have the considerable resources of the West, like Mexico. That’s how Mexican Marines ended up clearing timber from schools around Mississippi.
Sailors from the Dutch and Mexican navies distribute water and Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs) to residents of D’Iberville, Miss.
(FEMA photo by Mark Wolfe)
In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, then-President of Mexico Vicente Fox sent a message to the United States, saying:
“In the name of the people and of the government of Mexico, I assure you of my deepest and most sincere condolences for the devastating effects caused by Hurricane Katrina.”
Mexico’s Red Cross sent Rescue Experts to New Orleans while the Mexican Navy deployed off the American Gulf Coast with helicopters, ATVs, amphibious ships, tankers, medical personnel, and tons of food aid. The Mexican Air Force later flew 200 more tons of food in as a convoy of trucks from Mexico shipped hundreds of tons more. It was the first time since the Mexican-American War (which ended in 1848) that Mexico’s troops were inside the United States, and they were here to help.
The Mexicans also helped clear debris and distribute supplies to Harrison County, hit especially hard by Katrina’s intense winds. Gulfport, Miss. took the brunt of the damage, but the surrounding areas were devastated as well. The following month, having finished cleaning up and distributing supplies, the mission ended, and Mexico went home.
The United States has been very proud to call itself a constitutional republic that is led by citizen-elected representatives. America is and has been, historically, very much opposed to monarchies. That is, until 1859, when a legitimately crazy guy wrote into a newspaper, proclaiming himself the “Emperor of these United States.”
Of course, he had absolutely no legal authority and no one truly believed his claim. In fact, “Emperor” Joshua Norton was actually a homeless man dressed in nice clothes. He ended up being a major tourist attraction for the city, however, so the locals just gave him a collective, “sure, buddy. Whatever you say.”
And so, an empire was born.
That’s enough to drive anyone flippin’ crazy…
Before his nosedive straight into the deep-end of crazy town, Joshua Norton was a highly successful businessman. He bought real estate outside of goldmines just before the Gold Rush really boomed. He would sell all of his holdings to invest in rice in 1852. The Chinese rice industry had been struck with a famine that barred the export of rice, which drastically raised the price of rice in San Francisco to 25 cents per pound.
Norton, being the savvy businessman that he was, found a source for Peruvian rice, which was being sold for 12 cents per pound. His idea was to spend all of his money on rice from Peru and resell it in the U.S. at the swelled rate of Chinese rice. As soon as the sale was finalized, however, the per-pound price of Peruvian rice dropped to 3 cents and would be sold at near cost. In short, Norton blew everything he had on rice he couldn’t sell.
By 1858, the once-powerful businessman was bankrupt, penniless, forced into a boarding home, and forgotten by his elite former peers.
He would also declare himself a pope, but that was more or less for the funeral for a stray dog.
Not much is known about his downward spiral into insanity but it was during that transition that he decided he couldn’t have been the son of regular English parents, but was rather a child of the House of Bourbon (despite the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette twenty five years before he was born.) This was confirmed in his mind by the fact that his first name was ‘Joshua’ — his logic was that his parents gave him a common name to hide his royal lineage.
He took his ramblings to the San Francisco Bulletin on September 18th, 1859. It’s remains unclear why the newspaper allowed it to run, but the audiences found it hilarious. In his editorial, he declared himself Emperor of these United States, decreed that Congress be abolished, and called for his “subjects” to gather at the city’s Musical Hall the following February 1st.
Congress was not abolished due to the whims of some random homeless guy — obviously. He ordered General Winfield Scott, Commander of the Union Armies, to clear the halls, but didn’t — obviously. Readers of the Bulletin did gather in droves at his call — likely because they figured it’d be funny. The doors were locked, but the crowds embraced the joke nonetheless.
He even printed out worthless “Norton-bucks” that San Franciscans embraced and used because that’s exactly how fiat money works.
By 1861, the legend of “Emperor” Norton I had spread around the country and was fully embraced by San Franciscans. Among his many decrees, he demanded that…
…the unpopular California State Supreme Court would be abolished.
…anyone using the word ‘Frisco’ in reference to San Francisco would be exiled.
…and that Governor Henry Wise of Virginia be fired for hanging the abolitionist John Brown of Harper’s Ferry fame.
These were all things locals agreed with before the Civil War.
“Emperor” Norton I became so popular that even politicians and business owners would placate him in order to not upset the townsfolk. Officers at the U.S. Army post at the Presidio of San Francisco offered him an elaborate blue uniform with gold epaulets to keep the joke going, because you know, it was still kind of funny.
In 1876, the actual Emperor of Brazil, Don Pedro II, would visit San Francisco on an official trip — only to be greeted by Norton I. They met for an hour at the Palace Hotel and enjoyed what we can only assumed was an awkward conversation.
“Emperor” Norton I passed on January 8th, 1880. His funeral saw the attendance of 10,000 people who mourned their local celebrity. Many years after his death, the Oakland-San Francisco Bridge was completed and many called for it to be renamed “The Emperor’s Bridge” in honor of the goofy homeless guy who jokingly became an emperor.
Remember, if you fall on hard times and feel your sanity start slipping… lean hard into that crazy and you could just wind up becoming a legend.
A secret plan was passed around the Roosevelt Administration in 1940 and 1941 that called for dozens of American bombers with American crews masked by Chinese markings to fly bombing missions against Japanese cities, crippling crucial war production facilities and, hopefully, keeping Japan too busy with China to attack British and American interests in the Pacific.
For President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the late 1930s and early 1940s were a minefield of grave threats to the American people. The war in Europe posed a significant threat to American allies while growing tensions in the Pacific were looking disastrous to both allied and American interests and territory. All the while, the American economy was still trying to scramble its way out of the Great Depression.
There is debate today about whether Roosevelt was trying to pull a reluctant America into war with Japan in 1940 and 1941, but it is certain that he saw American and British interests as being threatened by the island nation — and he wanted to make sure that the Japanese were either deterred from attacking Western interests or so hamstrung by the war with China that they couldn’t attack.
One of the plans that emerged from his administration would later become known as “JB 355.” It called for the formation of a new Chinese front company using money from the Lend-Lease Act. This company, headed by former Army pilot and then-director of the Chinese Air Force flight school, Claire Chennault, would be a Second American Volunteer Group. Like the First American Volunteer Group, it would be disguised as a Chinese mercenary group but manned by American pilots and supplied with American planes.
The 1st AVG was already formed and undergoing training in the summer of 1941 when JB 355 was approved. With 100 American fighter aircraft and 99 American pilots, it was preparing to attack Japanese air forces and disrupt their shipping operations.
Some of the pilots in the First American Volunteer Group pose with their P-40.
(U.S. Air Force archives)
The mission of the 2nd AVG, approved in July 1941, would be very different. Comprised of 50 American bombers and the appropriate crews, the 2nd AVG was to drop incendiary weapons on Japanese cities, like Tokyo, that were essential to Japan’s war production.
The attacks were tentatively scheduled for November.
So, why didn’t American bombs strike Tokyo the month before Japanese bombs hit Pearl Harbor?
The first planes ordered for the Second American Volunteer Group were Lockheed Hudsons, but they were never delivered because shortages delayed their production until after the Pearl Harbor attacks made the company unnecessary.
(National Museum of the Air Force)
Because American industry was not yet on a full, wartime footing. There simply weren’t enough supplies to fulfill all the approved requests.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall was struggling to get supplies everywhere they were needed throughout 1941. He detailed some of his efforts and setbacks in a February letter to Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short who had just taken command at Pearl Harbor. In the letter, he explained where all of his supplies were going but promised that his priority was to protect the Navy’s fleet:
You, of course, understand the pressures on the Department for the limited materiel we have, for Alaska, for Panama, and, most confidentially, for the possible occupation of the Azores, not to mention the new leased bases. However, as I have already said, we are keeping clearly in mind that our first concern is to protect the Fleet.
The Sherman tank of World War II is both legendary and infamous. It was selected for World War II by Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. himself, America’s first tank officer and a pioneer of armored strategy.
The traits for which Patton loved the Sherman, its speed and agility, ease of transport, and decent gas mileage, made it a general’s tanks. The tanks could reliably be manufactured in large numbers and easily be deployed into transport.
The war in Europe was therefore a nightmare for the tank crews who fought their way east from Normandy. They fought in cramped quarters, had to desperately vie for close shots on the flanks and rears of German tanks, and often had to reinforce their own armor with items stolen off the battlefield.
Get a look at what the crews in World War II Shermans had to live with in the video below:
Few figures in American history loom as large as Teddy Roosevelt. The man embodied the can-do American spirit and the gritty resolve of the American fighting man.
But when the former “Rough Rider” was offered up his first military command, the gutsy Roosevelt initially demurred.
Theodore Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy when war with Spain broke out in April 1898. As soon as Congress authorized three volunteer cavalry regiments, Secretary of War Russell Alger offered command of one of those regiments to Roosevelt.
A former frontiersman and staunch advocate for American intervention in Cuba, Roosevelt was eager to join the fight. But as ready as Roosevelt was to go, he had no idea how to lead men in combat, as he explained in his recollection of the war:
“Fortunately, I was wise enough to tell the Secretary that while I believed I could learn to command the regiment in a month, yet that it was just this very month which I could not afford to spare, and that therefore I would be quite content to go as Lieutenant-Colonel, if he would make [Leonard] Wood Colonel.”
The next month, Roosevelt resigned his position in the Navy Department to join his friend Leonard Wood in raising the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. The original recruiting plan called for nearly 800 volunteers from New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and the Indian Territory. However, the regiment was allowed a strength of 1,000 men drawn from anywhere. So Roosevelt recruited his old acquaintances from Harvard as well as other Ivy League men from Princeton and Yale.
The regiment would eventually consist of cowboys, ranchers, and miners from the territories, former lawmen and soldiers, college scholars and athletes, as well as Indians and even a few foreigners. Considering the diversity of his volunteers, Roosevelt was often worried discipline would be an issue. But in the end, he was “agreeably disappointed.”
The men gathered in San Antonio, Texas, to begin preparations for war. It was around this time that the term “Rough Riders” was first applied to the unit. Though Wood and Roosevelt initially fought against it, they eventually embraced the name.
While Wood had the military wherewithal to lead the men, it was Roosevelt’s connections that made it all possible. Roosevelt used his political connections to ensure his people received the same equipment as regular army units. Wood, knowing the system, expedited the requests through the ordinance and quartermaster departments. Roosevelt then greased the wheels in Washington to make sure their equipment arrived promptly.
The regiment issued the Krag-Jorgensen .30-caliber carbine and Colt .45 revolver to its troops. The regular army equipment was vital, as it meant the Rough Riders could link up with regular army cavalry units and share supplies. Roosevelt’s affluence and family ties also garnered a pair of M1895 Colt machine guns from a wealthy donor.
Finally, the unit adopted a uniform appropriate to its nickname. The Rough Riders’ uniform consisted of a slouch hat; blue flannel shirt; khaki trousers; leggings; boots and a handkerchief tied loosely around the neck. It was “exactly as a body of cowboy cavalry should look.”
Once equipped and outfitted with the necessities, the unit set about training as a standard cavalry unit. Wood was mostly engaged in acquiring the equipment necessary to deploy the regiment. This left much of the training in the hands of Roosevelt. Though most of the men were already excellent horsemen, they drilled in shooting from horseback and fighting in military formation. After some deliberation, Roosevelt decided to neither train nor arm the men with the standard cavalry saber, as they were wholly unfamiliar with it. Instead, their secondary weapon would be the revolver, a weapon the cowboys knew well.
By the end of May, with scarcely a month of training, the men departed San Antonio for Tampa, Florida, where they would embark for Cuba. A transportation shortage meant only eight of the regiment’s 12 companies would make the trip – with no horses. Those companies arrived in Cuba on June 23, 1898, and were assigned to the Cavalry Division, Fifth Army Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. William Rufus Shafter.
The very next day, the Rough Riders saw their first action at the Battle of Las Guiasimas. Led by Gen. ‘Fighting Joe’ Wheeler, a former Confederate officer, the Rough Riders – along with the 1st and 10th Cavalry Regiments and Cuban units – advanced against a Spanish outpost. In the excitement of the fighting, Wheeler is said to have exclaimed “Let’s go boys! We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run again!” confusing his time in the Civil War over 30 years prior.
This small fight brought initial fame to the Rough Riders when the stories hit newspapers back home. But the Rough Riders were not done yet. A week later, the unit would go down in history its their part in the battle of San Juan Hill.
On July 1, the bulk of Fifth Corps advanced on Santiago de Cuba. A bloody fight broke out at San Juan and Kettle Hills outside the city. Roosevelt was now leading the Rough Riders after Wood’s promotion to Brigade Commander. Disturbed by the inaction and slow pace of orders being given by Shafter, Roosevelt pressed his men forward under heavy Spanish fire. Roosevelt felt the orders to progress slowly were inadequate to take the hill. He ordered his men into a full frontal assault.
The Rough Riders, joined by surrounding units who were encouraged by their tenacity, surged forward in a series of rushes against the Spanish trenches and blockhouses. They succeeded in taking the position, though casualties were high. Roosevelt’s leadership during the battle earned him the Medal of Honor in 2001.
After the battle of San Juan Hill, the Rough Riders assisted in the siege of Santiago and the final defeat of the Spanish in Cuba. During the campaign, the Rough Riders suffered 23 killed in action and just over 100 wounded. On September 18, 1898, just four months after its initial formation, the Army disbanded the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry.
The story behind what came to be known as the Wham Paymaster robbery began on the morning of May 11, 1889, when a U.S. Army paymaster called Major Joseph Washington Wham was charged with transporting a lockbox containing the salaries of several hundred soldiers across the Arizona desert from Fort Grant to Fort Thomas located some 50 miles away. All in all the lockbox contained $28,345.10 in gold and silver coins worth the equivalent of about $784,000 today.
Tasked with protecting the contents of the lockbox, Paymaster Wham’s convoy included 9 Buffalo Soldiers of the 24th Infantry and two privates of the 10th Cavalry. At this point it’s probably worth mentioning for anyone unfamiliar with the term “Buffalo Soldiers” that all of the soldiers protecting Wham and his convoy were black.
This is important as a few hours after setting off the convoy was attacked by as many as 20 bandits who shot at the convoy while screaming racial slurs at the soldiers guarding it. More particularly, it’s thought that one of the ways those who robbed the convoy justified it from a moral standpoint was simply that it was no real crime in their minds to take money from black soldiers. (More on this in a bit.)
Whatever the case, during the ensuing 30 minute firefight, 8 of the soldiers guarding the convoy were shot, two of them multiple times. Of note are the actions of one Sergeant Benjamin Brown who shrugged off a bullet wound to the gut to stand out in the open firing at the bandits with his trusty revolver.
After being shot twice more (once through each arm), a fellow soldier braved the bullets to carry Brown to safety. Unwilling to halt his one-man assault, Brown continued firing on the bandits while being carried away.
Another Buffalo Soldier, Corporal Isaiah Mayes, similarly ignored the hailstorm of bullets, two of which hit him in the legs, to quite literally at times crawl to get help two miles away at a nearby ranch.
Unfortunately, with nearly everyone in the convoy seriously injured, they were forced to retreat away from the wagons, at which point heavy gun fire kept them pinned down while some of the bandits ran in, used an axe to open the lockbox, and stole the contents.
While the bandits succeeded in their goal, Paymaster Wham was astounded by the bravery of the soldiers (all of whom miraculously survived despite many being shot as noted). In fact, according to one of the witnesses to the event, Harriet Holladay, Sergeant Brown “had a bullet hole clean through his middle but he acted as if it didn’t bother him at all.”
Because of their uncanny bravery and dedication to protecting government property with their own lives, Wham immediately recommend 9 of the Buffalo soldiers for the Medal of Honor. Both Brown and Mayes were subsequently awarded that medal, while 8 other soldiers Wham singled out for their bravery were instead awarded certificates of merit.
As for the money, nobody is exactly sure what happened to it because nobody was ever convicted of the crime in question, despite that many among the robbers were recognized during the gunfight as they brazenly did not wear masks. It’s speculated that they didn’t bother with masks because they felt morally justified in the robbery and were all upstanding, church-going members of a nearby town, Pima, with the robbery seemingly organized by the mayor himself, Gilbert Webb.
Webb had come on hard times and was on the verge of bankruptcy. As he was a major employer in the town, and the town itself had come on hard times, he seems to have gotten the bright idea to simply take the money from the U.S. government to solve his and the town’s problems.
As to why he and others in the extremely religious town thought this was a perfectly moral thing to do, well, the town was largely made up of Mormons who felt very strongly (and not really unjustified in this case) that the U.S. government had been oppressing them for years, and so taking money from Uncle Sam was no real crime.
On top of this, the individuals guarding the money were all black outside of Wham, as were many of the soldiers that were to be the recipients of the money once it was delivered. Thus in their view, to quote a contemporary article written on subject during the aftermath about the general sentiment of some in the town, “The n**ger soldiers would just waste the money on liquor, gambling, and whores, so why not take it and use it to the benefit of a community that really needed some cash…”
And so it was that when seven suspected members of the robbers were tried for the robbery, community members were seemingly stepping over themselves to give them an alibi (with 165 witnesses testifying in all).
On top of that, the original judge, William H. Barnes, had to be removed from the case when it was discovered he was not only a friend of one of the accused, but also was actively intimidating witnesses for the prosecution. This all ultimately resulted in U.S. President Benjamin Harrison himself stepping in and appointing a new judge, Richard E. Sloan.
In the end, despite many of those called in defense of the robbers completely contradicting themselves, eye witness testimony identifying a few of the men, and that some of them, including Mayor Gilbert Webb, were found in possession of stolen gold coins, all were ultimately acquitted for the crime. Deputy William Breakenridge summed up the reason- “the Government had a good case against them, but they had too many friends willing to swear to an alibi, and there were too many on the jury who thought it no harm to rob the Government.”
It should be noted, however, that several of the accused, including Mayor Webb, would later in their lives be convicted of other theft-related crimes, including Webb having to flee town when he was indicted for stealing $160 ($4400 today) from the Pima school district. (We should also probably mention that Webb actually left his former home in Utah to settle in Pima because he was under charges for grand larceny…)
In the years that have passed since the famed robbery, numerous legends have arisen about where exactly the money ended up, including several that posit that the money is still buried somewhere out there in the Arizona desert. However, given none of those who committed the robbery were convicted and it would seem much of the money was used by Mayor Webb to pay off debts around town, as well as forgive the debts of some of the men who helped him in the robbery, this seems extremely unlikely.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
As the Red Army pressed into Finland, their progress was continuously slowed. Their soldiers were being harassed by Finnish infiltrators before they could reach the frontline. Even the Soviet commando teams dispatched to hunt the evasive Finns were being cut down. The havoc that these raiders created led the Soviets to place a bounty on the unit’s leader – 3,000,000 Finnish Marks for the head of Lauri Allan Törni.
Born in Finland on May 28, 1919, Törni started his career of service early, serving in the Civil Guard (a volunteer militia) as a teenager. In 1938, he entered military service and joined the 4th Independent Jäger Infantry Battalion, a unit that specialized in sabotage, guerilla warfare, and long-range reconnaissance. When the Soviet Union carried out a surprise attack on Finland the next year and started the Winter War, Törni’s battalion was quickly brought to the frontline.
Törni after graduating cadet school in 1940 (Finnish public domain)
At Lake Lagoda, a body of water previously shared by Finland and the USSR, the Soviets attacked the Finns with superior numbers of infantry and armor. During their defense, the Finnish troops lost contact with their headquarters. Without hesitation or orders, Törni stealthily skied through the Soviet lines to re-establish communications. Upon his return to the Finnish lines, he took command of a Swedish-speaking unit of demoralized troops. Though he didn’t speak their language, Törni organized the troops with a series of gestures, shouts, and punches. For his bravery during this engagement, Törni was promoted to 2nd Lt. However, despite some Finnish victories and high Soviet casualties, the Winter War soon ended with a Soviet victory and Finland was forced to concede 11% of its territory.
In the months following the Winter War, Nazi Germany became a strong Finnish ally, and in June 1941, Törni went to Austria for seven weeks to train with the Waffen SS. During this training, Törni wore an SS uniform and swore an oath of loyalty to the Nazi party, both of which would haunt him for the rest of his life. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa, Finland made a push to retake the land they had lost to the Soviets in what became known as the Continuation War.
Törni in an SS uniform (Finnish public domain)
At the onset of the Continuation War, Törni was given command of a Finnish armored unit, employing captured Soviet tanks and armored cars. On March 23, 1942, Törni was skiing behind enemy lines to capture Soviet prisoners when he skied over a friendly mine. He recovered from his injuries, immediately went AWOL from the hospital and returned to the front. Törni’s unit was tasked with hunting Soviet commandos that had infiltrated Finnish lines, and eventually infiltrated Soviet lines themselves to attack headquarters and communication sites. Impressed with his ruthlessness and efficiency on the battlefield, Törni’s commanders allowed him to create a hand-picked, deep-strike infantry unit that became known as Detachment Törni.
Törni and his raiders conducted sabotage and ambush missions deep behind Soviet lines. Operating separately from the rest of the Finnish Army, Detachment Törni equipped themselves with Soviet weapons which both confused their enemy and made ammunition plentiful for the raiders. Their engagements often led to close-range, hand-to-hand combat in which they brutalized Soviet troops. Their reputation on the battlefield spread and resulted in the Soviet bounty on Törni’s head. For his leadership and bravery, Törni was awarded the Mannerheim Cross, Finland’s highest military honor, on July 9, 1944.
Despite Törni’s efforts and other Finnish victories, the sheer size of the Red Army could not be matched and the Continuation War ended in a Soviet victory in September 1944. Finland was forced to concede more territory, pay reparations, and demobilize most of their military, including Detachment Törni. Unhappy with this result, Törni joined the Finnish Resistance and went to Germany for training in 1945.
Törni went to Germany with the intention to return to Finland, train resistance fighters and free Finland from the Soviet Union. In order to conceal his involvement with the Nazis, Törni assumed the alias Lauri Lane. During his training, the Red Army had taken over all of Germany’s eastern ports. With no way to return to Finland, Törni joined a German Army unit and was given command as a captain. Though he spoke poor German, Törni used the same ruthless tactics he employed against the Soviets in Finland and gained a reputation for bravery, quickly earning the respect and loyalty of his soldiers.
Törni (center) as Finnish Army Lieutenant (Finnish public domain)
By March 1945, the German Army was all but defeated. To avoid capture or death at the hands of the Soviets, Törni and his men made their way to the Western Front where they surrendered to British troops. Imprisoned in a POW camp in Lübeck, Germany, Törni feared that the British would turn him over to the Soviets or discover his past connection to the SS and try him for war crimes. To avoid either fate, Törni escaped the camp and made his way back to Finland. While trying to locate his family, Törni was caught and imprisoned by the Finnish State Police. He escaped, but was imprisoned again in April 1946. Törni was tried for treason, having joined the German Army after Finland signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, and was sentenced to six years in prison.
During his time in prison, Törni made several escape attempts. Though all of them failed, he was released in December 1948 after Finnish President Juho Paasikivi granted him a pardon. Törni made his way to Sweden where he became engaged to a Swedish Finn named Marja Kops. Hoping to establish a career before settling down, Törni adopted a Swedish alias and sailed to Caracas, Venezuela as a crewman aboard a cargo ship. From Caracas, Törni joined the crew of a Swedish cargo ship bound for the United States in 1950.
While off the coast of Mobile, Alabama, Törni jumped overboard and swam to shore. He made his way up the east coast to New York City where he found work in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park “Finntown” as a carpenter and cleaner. In 1953, he was granted a residence permit and joined the U.S. Army in 1954 under the Lodge-Philbin Act which allowed the recruiting of foreign nationals into the armed forces.
Upon enlisting, Törni changed his name to Larry Thorne. He befriended a group of Finnish-American officers who, along with his impressive skill set and combat experience, helped him join the elite U.S. Army Special Forces. As a Green Beret, Thorne taught skiing, survival, mountaineering, and guerilla tactics. After attending OCS in 1957, he was commissioned as a 1st Lt. and was eventually promoted to Captain in 1960. In 1962, while assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group in West Germany, Thorne served as second-in-command of a high risk mission in the Iranian Zagros Mountains. The team searched for, located, and destroyed Top Secret material aboard a crashed U.S. plane. Thorne’s performance during the mission earned him a positive reputation in the Special Force community.
Thorne’s official Army photo (U.S. Army photo)
In November 1963, Thorne deployed to Vietnam with Special Forces Detachment A-734 as an adviser to ARVN forces. During an attack on their camp at Tịnh Biên, Viet Cong forces managed to breach the outer perimeter and nearly overran the U.S. and South Vietnamese troops stationed there. All members of the Special Forces detachment were wounded during the attack, including Thorne who was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valor. The character Captain Steve “Sven” Kornie in Robin Moore’s book, The Green Berets, is based on Thorne and his courageous actions at Tinh Biên.
A U.S. Army H-34 Choctaw similar to the one that carried Thorne on his final mission. (U.S. Army photo)
Thorne volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam and was put in command of a MACV-SOG unit. On October 18, 1965, Thorne led a clandestine mission to locate Viet Cong turnaround points on the Ho Chi Minh trail and destroy them with airstrikes as part of Operation Shining Brass. The mission was the first of its kind and the team was composed of Republic of Vietnam and U.S. forces. During the mission, the U.S. Air Force O-1 Bird Dog observation plane and the Republic of Vietnam Air Force H-34 Choctaw helicopter carrying Thorne went missing and rescue teams were unable to locate either crash site. After his disappearance, Thorne was presumed dead, posthumously promoted to the rank of Major and awarded the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross.
It was not until 1999 that Thorne’s remains were found by a Finnish and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Team. It was concluded that Thorne’s Choctaw had crashed into the side of a mountain while flying nap-of-the-earth. His remains were repatriated and formally identified in 2003. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on June 26, 2003 with full honors along with the remains of the RVNAF casualties from the crash. Thorne is the only former member of the SS to be interred at Arlington.
Though he was engaged at one point, Thorne spent most of his life committed to fighting communist forces. He left behind no wife and no children. His ex-fiancée would go on to marry another man. Instead, Thorne’s legacy is one of a warrior who ruled the battlefield. He was a scourge on the Soviets in Europe and a deadly threat to Viet Cong in Vietnam. His service and commitment to both his home country of Finland and adopted country of the United States stand as models for anyone willing to take up the profession of arms.
When the U.S. Army quartermaster called on Hershey’s chocolate to create a chocolate bar designed especially for the military, it had very specific specifications. One of these might have seemed at odds with the way most people think about chocolate, but there are a lot of things about military service that defy common expectations.
Called the D-Ration, the chocolate bar was intended to be an emergency source of calories for American soldiers deployed overseas. So it had to be lightweight, high in calories, and able to withstand higher than normal temperatures when carried.
Hershey’s current offering would not pass the temperature test, so the chemists at the corporation got down to business. Using chocolate liquor, sugar, skim milk powder, cocoa butter, oat flour, and vanillin, they created a chocolate bar that was roughly the weight of two C batteries but packed 600 calories. To make it less tasty, they used less sugar and more liquor.
The resulting chocolate was so dense it wouldn’t melt enough to be poured, so the company had to use molds to form the bars. Quartermaster Capt. Paul Logan approved, so Hershey went about mass producing what would be known as Field Ration D.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the company had to package the bars like any other field ration, protecting them from the effects of poisonous gas. They were stored in sealed cellophane, packaged in cardboard boxes, dipped in wax, and shipped in a wooden case boxed with steel nails.
Producing the chocolate bars for the military might have saved Hershey’s chocolate entirely, as the federal government considered shutting down the entire U.S. candy industry as a nonessential business and rationing sugar and cocoa for the war effort. Milton Hershey was able to show the D-Ration as proof that his business was supplying vital calories for the American troops fighting overseas.
He was definitely making the chocolate, as records show billions of the bars were produced between 1939 and 1945. But the troops weren’t exactly loving them. This was the intent, of course, but having to carry whatever they needed to fight in the field, a disgusting “chocolate” bar wasn’t going to top the list. Most troops would ditch the D-Ration for a decent kind of ration or, better yet, more ammunition.
When they did take the bars with them, they found them almost inedible. Soldiers with poor teeth couldn’t chew them and those with good teeth had to whittle slices off the bar to consume. Those who tried to eat the chocolate bars began calling them “Hitler’s Secret Weapon” because it absolutely wrecked their intestines – a situation today’s U.S. troops often refer to as “bubbleguts.”
It stands to reason that, with flavor being an important sticking point for the Army quartermaster, Capt. Logan did eat some of the bar before approving them for mass production and consumption. Logan may not have had the same bubbly reaction in his gastrointestinal tract later experienced by the troops deployed in World War II.
This is why some soldiers evolved trust issues when it comes to Army food.
On Sunday morning, Nov. 4, 1979, 3,000 university students, many armed, stormed the US Embassy in Tehran. Two weeks prior, President Jimmy Carter had allowed former Iranian head of state Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to enter the US for cancer treatment. The radical protesters took more than 90 hostages, including 63 Americans, planning a nonviolent three-day revolt using the hostages as leverage to demand the Shah’s return for trial. But what unfolded was a 444-day saga that became known as the Iranian hostage crisis. Only two days after the US Embassy was seized, the US military was tasked with the rescue efforts code-named Operation Eagle Claw.
Staff Sgt. Mike Vining, 29, was participating in winter warfare training in Breckenridge, Colorado, when his squadron was alerted to immediately return to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Vining had been a plank owner or founding member of the Army’s then-brand-new counterterrorism team established by Army Special Forces legend Col. Charles Beckwith, based on the British SAS. The unit collected the best the Army had to offer, and Beckwith valued those with combat experience or unique skill sets. Vining had both, previously serving as an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) specialist in Vietnam for a 12-month tour, where his composite team was responsible for the destruction of the largest enemy weapons cache in the war.
Operation Rice Bowl
When Vining and other members of B Squadron returned to their unit’s compound, they were briefed on the situation and put into isolation to begin planning. The planning stages were dubbed Operation Rice Bowl. The name was picked to suggest, in the event their mission brought scrutiny, that something was going on in Southeast Asia away from the Middle East.
“We were really fearful of any satellites picking up any indication of what we were trying to do,” Vining told Coffee or Die Magazine in a recent interview. “The Russian satellites and so forth. We were worried that the Russians would alert the Iranians.”
The assault teams moved to Camp Peary in Virginia, home to “The Farm,” where CIA operations officers are trained to perform covert missions. The site was transformed to create a mock replica of the US Embassy in Tehran. The CIA even built a 3D model similar to the one used in preparation for the Son Tay Raid in Vietnam, where one could take the roof off and see the interior within.
“When you do military operations and stuff like that you create what’s called a sand table,” Vining said. “The Rangers do that in Ranger School. You draw in the sand what the objective looks like, points that you need to know about. And so it’s just like a sand table, but very elaborate, very sophisticated. It was a great model.”
In Iran, the 27-acre US Embassy compound housed 50 hostages guarded by some 500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, while three additional hostages were kept in the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs building 16 blocks away. Throughout the crisis, several hostages were released early, and a secret operation dubbed Canadian Caper helped others escape to a safe house and use Canadian passports to leave the country. This operation was later chronicled in the Hollywood movie Argo.
The planned assault on the embassy was the easy part. It was getting there that was the challenge and that would spiral out of control for the ill-equipped joint-military operation.
The elaborate plan
Beckwith initially proposed a parachute infiltration, but that was quickly scrapped once predictions estimated the ground rescue force would likely suffer a 7% casualty rate right at the start. Instead, planners came up with a helicopter raid, and the training resumed at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona.
The Navy’s helicopter pilots lacked tactical expertise. They were not used to flying at nap-of-the-Earth altitude under night vision goggles, nor were they equipped to transition from desert flying to urban flying. The Marine Corps pilots had no prior experience working with the Navy pilots. Moreover, both the Navy and Marine models of the Sikorsky H-53 helicopters were old and worn out, with frequent mechanical problems. In the end, Marine aircrews were selected to fly Navy helicopters, the first of several decisions to pair up mismatched equipment and personnel that would haunt the mission.
Weeks before the pilots or assaulters were set to launch on the operation, Beckwith enlisted Maj. John Carney, an Air Force Combat Controller (CCT), to install a hidden airstrip with lights that were only visible under night vision goggles. The site was called Desert One, about 200 miles from Tehran, and would be the operation’s initial rally point and refueling site. Next came a small advanced force that would infiltrate Tehran and secure a warehouse containing five Ford trucks and two Mazda vans. The vehicles had facade compartments that would conceal the assaulters as they went through Iranian checkpoints to reach the embassy.
“We had with us people that spoke Farsi really well,” Vining said, adding some of the members included former Iranian generals. “They were going to be our drivers on the vehicles.”
The plan was elaborate. Eight US Navy RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters would fly from the USS Nimitz in the Arabian sea to Desert One. There they would meet the assault force, which would reach Desert One on Air Force C-130s. The helicopters would refuel, and the assaulters would then board the helicopters to fly to a site 50 miles outside of Tehran, called Desert Two. During daylight hours, Vining and the assaulters would stay in a warehouse, while the helicopters hid at Desert Two. The raid would come on the second night.
The escape was even more audacious: The assault teams would move the hostages to a nearby soccer stadium, where helicopters would fly in to pick them up. Meanwhile, a Ranger element would secure a nearby air base. The helicopters would ferry the raiders and the hostages to the air base, where Air Force C-141s would arrive to fly the whole force home.
If anything went wrong, the teams had contingencies to escape.
“We had maps and everybody was carrying money,” he said. “I had $10,000. I had $5,000 in American money and I had $5,000 in Iranian money to help drive our way out. We had stuff to jump-start vehicles if we had to steal a vehicle and get out of Tehran. Then our E&E (Escape and Evasion) plan, we’d head up into the mountains and work our way across the mountains towards Turkey, hopefully running into some Iranians that were friendly, and would help us.”
The plan, however, never made it past Desert One.
Operation Eagle Claw
On April 20, 1980, the complex plan was set into motion. The rescue ground force was flown to Germany, then to Egypt, before the flight to Desert One.
“But as soon as we landed, we see headlights come in, and there was a bus coming down the road,” Vining said. “So Beckwith hollered, ‘Stop that bus!’ So one of the Rangers fired a 40 mm round at the front of the bus. And the bus came to a stop and we boarded the bus.”
Two more vehicles came down the road, a fuel truck and a pickup, who the raiders believed were likely gas smugglers. A Ranger fired a rocket at the fuel truck and it caught fire. “That tanker blew up because it had been sitting there on fire and lit up the sky with a giant fireball,” he said. “It was like, we are really announcing here we are.”
That was only the beginning.
The helicopters were late. Among the eight Sea Stallion helicopters scheduled to land at Desert One, only six arrived, one of which was immediately declared out of service for mechanical issues. Five was the bare minimum the plan allowed to continue the rescue mission.
Vining and his assault team sat inside the EC-130 that had brought them to Desert One. They would board the Sea Stallions after the helicopters took on the fuel that the EC-130 had brought for them. In the center of the EC-130, the large communications pod normally on board the aircraft had been swapped with a bladder of 5,000 gallons of fuel.
On the improvised airstrip, the Air Force CCTs told two of the waiting helicopters to move away from the sandblast of the EC-130’s propellers. One of the helicopters couldn’t taxi on the ground because it had suffered a hard landing and flattened its tires.
“He had to actually lift up off the ground to reposition,” said Vining. “He lifted up, kicked up some sand, [the pilot] got vertigo, and he turned and he twisted. Next thing I know you feel this movement of our aircraft and then the rotors of the helicopter actually cutting into the top of the fuselage.”
The left front cockpit door blew in and behind it was nothing but fire and flames. As the Sea Stallion crashed into the EC-130, its fuel tanks exploded. “The people that witnessed this from the outside said our two aircraft completely disappeared,” he said, “disappeared into a fireball. They thought that both aircraft were at that instant gone.”
Eight Americans died in the initial fireball. Inside the doomed plane, next to a gas tank, Vining thought for sure he was going to as well.
“I really didn’t believe I could make it from my position to that door,” Vining recalled. “I thought I was going to die that day. I was surprised when I actually made it to the door and jumped out. I came out and did a somersault, landed on some hot metal, came to my feet, and just ran.”
As Vining sprinted to safety, he started to hear grenades and small-arms ammunition cook off in the fireball. Then came six Redeye missiles shooting out into the air and into the desert. In the chaos, all of the other helicopter aircrews left their helicopters and ran to fixed-wing planes.
There would be no rescue mission. The task force piled onto the remaining helicopters and planes and returned to a US base in Oman.
“Contrary to what you ever heard, there was no head count taken at Desert One,” he said. “We didn’t know who we had or who we didn’t have until we got to Oman. Then we figured out that we lost eight people, three Marines and five Air Force crewmen that were in the front of the cockpit.”
Operation Eagle Claw was later cast as the “Desert One Debacle.” The Iranians split up the hostages so that they were no longer all in one spot. Still, a second hostage rescue mission was planned, but it never came to fruition. In June 1980, the Iranians released an American hostage with multiple sclerosis. The rest of the hostages were released in January 1981.
Although Eagle Claw wasn’t a success, its failure kick-started the buildup of US special operations forces and capabilities. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the Joint Special Operations Command, and the rest of the US special operations forces can all trace their beginnings to Desert One.
Ferdinand “Fred” Waldo Demara Jr. wanted to be somebody — so he decided to be everybody. The man who could be called ‘The Great Impostor’ was at times an assistant warden at a prison in Texas, a dean of philosophy at a college in Pennsylvania, a zoology graduate, a lawyer, a cancer researcher, a teacher, and a doctor, among other professions during his 23-year career as a professional confidence man.
The Massachusetts native who ran away from home at the age of 16 had initially joined a monastery to become a monk. “Now don’t worry,” Father Desmarais of the Trappist monks told his parents. “He has joined the most demanding religious order in the world and he’ll be home in several weeks.” When he returned home, he enlisted in the US Army on an impulse after enjoying food and drinks at the Union Oyster House in Boston. It wasn’t long before he went AWOL. His patterns were often spontaneous. He later enlisted in the US Navy and went AWOL again, even going as far as leaving behind a suicide note at the Navy docks in Norfolk, Virginia.
He had a world-class ability to assume fake identities and convince unsuspecting job interviewers that he was authentic. He bounced around the country and entered new career fields he certainly didn’t have the qualifications for.
His most preposterous and famous impersonation came in March 1951 when he took a bus to St. John, New Brunswick, in Canada. The “greatest impostor” assumed the identity of Dr. Joseph Cyr, an acquaintance he’d met a year prior while he pretended to be an American lawyer named Dr. Cecil B. Hamann. He had convinced Cyr to provide him the documentation of his qualifications in order to help him get an American medical license. Naturally, he disappeared and took this precious information to steal his identity and commission as a surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).
His first assignment was at an RCN hospital in the navy port of Halifax. He was to take sick calls despite having no knowledge of medicine. As any great con man would do, he presented his job as a problem to be addressed by one of his superiors.
“I’ve been asked by some people to work up a rule of thumb guide for the people in lumber camps,” Demara told biographer Robert Crichton about the ruse he employed for The Great Impostor, a book about his life. “Most of them don’t have doctors handy and they’re pretty isolated. Could we get together a little guide that would pretty well cover most serious situations?”
“How does that look?” the superior who took on the challenge asked him.
“Gosh, doctor,” Demara told him, “I think it’s great. You really know your medicine and how to get it across to the layman. This is great.”
His wit and intuitive ability to outsource opinions from other doctors to strengthen his cover didn’t always work. When he was reassigned to the HMCS Magnificent, an aircraft carrier in the Halifax Bay, the commanding medical officer saw right through his scheme. He wrote in a report that Cyr “lacked training in medicine and surgery, especially in diagnosis.”
His most serious undertaking was as the medical officer of the Canadian destroyer named Cayuga. He was responsible for the care of 211 enlisted sailors and eight officers. Whenever a medical problem arose, he would disappear and scour through page after page of medical books using his alleged photographic memory to learn the procedures. He performed a successful dental surgery on Commander Plomer, the Cayuga’s captain, extracting a number of sore teeth despite not having the slightest idea as to how much anesthetic to administer. The following morning, Plomer thanked Cyr for “the nicest job of tooth pulling I’d ever had.”
While they patrolled the Korean coast near the 38th parallel, a small Korean junk filled with as many as 19 wounded troops made contact with the Cayuga.
“Everything went fine to start with and then as these people [Republic of Korea soldiers] came off, they were not doing too well, some of them,” recalled Peter Godwin Chance, who served aboard the Cayuga. “They were wounded and a couple DOAs but our doctor, Joe Cyr, was the hero. And he was parading up and down the upper deck with his whites and his hat and doing this patchwork and so on and for which we were all highly impressed.”
The “doctor” also performed more critical duties including the removal of a bullet during chest surgery. Most didn’t think anything was awry. His colleagues even put Dr. Cyr in for a commendation. After a public relations specialist was contacted, all of the major outlets including The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, and Reuters learned about the citation proposal. When the real Dr. Cyr read about his medical achievements abroad, he contacted the authorities and they issued a report that there was an impostor.
“Well, we said, those crazy armchair buggers back in Ottawa, they haven’t got a bloody clue,” Chance said.
When the RCN learned Demara was a fraud and his true incompetence was revealed, he was kicked out of the Canadian military. The mystery man’s past aliases were also disclosed, and his exploits were later immortalized in the 1961 film The Great Impostor starring actor Tony Curtis. In 1979, at an RCN reunion held in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the famed “doctor” made an appearance and was welcomed with open arms. Perhaps the greatest impostor the world had ever seen died in 1982 at 60 years old.