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MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: Here’s what it takes to become a Coastie

US Coast Guard Training Center Cape May is where the Coast Guard enlisted corps call home. It is also the only place in the entire Coast Guard where enlisted men and women can train for this Military branch. To put it another way, can’t enter the Coast Guard without passing through Cape May. For this reason, Cape May, New Jersey is considered to be the original home of the Coast Guard. Currently, it is the Coast Guard’s fifth-largest base. 

Eight weeks of physical and mental intensity coming right up

coast guard

The eight-week boot camp at Cape May is nothing short of intense. The core of the training includes search-and-rescue, law enforcement, and national defense, though it covers things like navigation and environment protection as well. In total, the Cape May boot camp includes 11 statutory missions, divided between classroom instruction and practical training. 

The practical training provides necessary hands-on experience to ensure recruits fully know what they are getting into when they become “Coasties.” For instance, they must undergo firefighter training, where they experience a simulated fire. They also have to swim 100 meters in either front crawl, sidestroke, or breaststroke and tread water for five minutes. 

Pass or fail, there is no in between

If trainees don’t pass both the written and physical tests, they don’t graduate to become Coasties. And here’s a scary statistic about Camp May: an astounding one in five recruits do not graduate. Some of them are dismissed for not passing, while others ask to dis-enroll. The sheer amount of responsibility and discipline it takes to be a member of the Coast Guard isn’t for everyone, clearly. 

If you’re looking for a break, Coast Guard training is not for you

The mess hall where recruits eat during their training might seem like a place where they can relax a bit, but the opposite is true. Recruits say mealtimes bring on some of the greatest pressure, as they endure lots of screaming. But why in the mess hall, you ask? It’s all part of the mental challenges young recruits are up against. 

The level of intensity of both the physical and mental challenges at Camp May are meant to prepare recruits for the life-or-death situations they will likely come up against as Coast Guards in the real world. Recruits need to be able to operate quickly and effectively as a team under stress. If they can’t do that, they have no place in the branch. After all, no one calls the Coast Guard on good days. 

Related: California Coast Guard cutters seize over $156 million in cocaine

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘The war began in my front yard and ended in my parlor’

“The war began in my front yard and ended in my parlor.” This statement about the start and the end of the U.S. Civil War was spoken by Wilmer McLean and is surprisingly almost perfectly true.

Wilmer McLean was born on May 3, 1814, in Alexandria, Virginia, one of fourteen children. When his parents passed away at an early age, McLean was raised by various family members. At 39, McLean married a widow by the name of Virginia Mason, who had two daughters from a previous marriage. Mason also inherited her family’s 1,200 acre Yorkshire plantation located in Bull Run, Virginia.


Life was peaceful at the Yorkshire plantation with McLean working as a fairly successful wholesale grocer. As tensions mounted between the North and South, McLean, a retired military man (former member of the Virginia militia with the rank of Major) and current slave owner, offered to let his plantation be used by the Confederate army and it was soon put into service as the headquarters for General P.G.T. Beauregard of the Confederacy.

McLean welcomed General P.G.T. Beauregard to stay at his house on July 17, 1861. The next night, July 18, 1861, General Beauregard was sitting at McLean’s dining room table when a cannonball exploded through the fireplace and into the kitchen. General Beauregard wrote about the event in his diary, “A comical effect of this artillery fight (which added a few casualties to both lists) was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fireplace of my headquarters at the McLean House.”

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Cannons at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

What followed was the First Battle of Bull Run (also known as “The Battle of First Manassas”). Although the Civil War technically started at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, besides being the first major land battle of the war, the First Battle of Bull Run is generally marked as the point when the war began in earnest.

During the Battle of Bull Run, the Union soldiers were initially able to push back the Confederate troops, despite the impressive efforts of Confederate Colonel Thomas Jackson — Jackson earned his nickname “Stonewall”, for holding the high ground at Henry House Hill (shown in the background of the picture above). In the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements arrived and were able to break through the Union lines. The Union troops were forced to retreat all the way back to Washington D.C. Their retreat was a slow one, as it was delayed by onlookers from Washington who wanted to watch the battle unfold.

After the First Battle of Bull Run, the McLean household was used as a Confederate hospital and a place to hold captured Union soldiers. The Confederate army paid rent to the McLean family during their stay, a total of 5 (about ,000 today) over the course of the war. McLean also made a small fortune running sugar and other supplies through the Union blockade to the Confederacy.

McLean started to fear for the safety of his growing family when the Second Battle of Bull Run started in 1862. His house and land were in disarray from the war, so he decided to make a fresh start in southern Virginia. After scouring the area, McLean found a nice two story cottage in Appomattox, Virginia about 120 miles south of his home in Bull Run. Here he hoped to stay away from the war and all of the problems it had caused for his family.

The McLean family enjoyed a few years of peace and quiet in this way, but in 1865 McLean found the Civil War at his front steps once again with the Battle of Appomattox Court House started on the morning of April 9, 1865.

Prior to this battle, General Robert E. Lee was forced to abandon the Confederate state capital of Richmond, Virginia after the Siege of Petersburg. Heading west, Lee hoped he would be able to connect with Confederate troops in North Carolina. The Union troops pursued Lee and his forces until they were able to cut off the Confederate retreat. Lee then made his final stand at Appomattox Court House and was forced to surrender as his troops were overwhelmingly outnumbered, four to one.

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General Robert E. Lee.

A messenger sent to McLean informed him of the Confederates intentions to surrender and asked him to find a location where the surrender could take place. On the afternoon of April 9, Palm Sunday, General Robert E. Lee met with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant in McLean’s parlor to officially surrender. The terms of the surrender were generous to Lee and his army: none of his soldiers were to be held for treason or imprisoned; his men could take their horses home for spring planting; and the starving Confederate troops received food rations.

While this time around McLean’s house didn’t get partially blown up, after the Confederates surrendered, Union soldiers started taking tables, chairs, and any other household items from McLean as souvenirs to remember this historic event. A few soldiers gave McLean money as he protested the theft of his household items. For instance, the table that General Lee signed the surrender document on was purchased by General Edward Ord for (about 00 today).

In the days that followed the surrender, the McLean house was used as the headquarters for Major General John Gibbon of the United States Army. It was also at this time that local civilians started visiting the house… and taking any part of the home that they could get their hands on. McLean did manage to continue to make some money off of this for a time, selling many items supposedly in the house during the signing; he reportedly sold enough items in this way “to furnish an entire apartment complex”.

Bonus Facts:

  • General Lee was offered the position of the head of the Union army by Abraham Lincoln, but decided to lead the Confederate army instead as he couldn’t bring himself to lead troops against his native Virginia. Despite the Confederates being vastly outnumbered and not as well equipped as the North, Lee and his right hand man, Stonewall Jackson, managed to post victory after victory against the North, primarily due to Lee’s brilliance, Jackson’s audacity, and the North’s moronic and sometimes timid Generals.
  • Albert Woolson was the last known person to die who fought in the Civil War, living all the way until August 2, 1956. He was a member of the Union Army.
  • Joshua L. Chamberlain was the last Civil War soldier to die of wounds incurred in the Civil War, managing to live until 1914 with lingering health problems from wounds inflicted during the war. He also has the distinction of being one of the few soldiers to be battlefield promoted to General.
  • It is estimated that during the First Battle of Bull Run, there were 4,700 total casualties during this battle, 2,950 for the Union and 1,750 for the Confederacy.
  • Even though McLean made some money during the war by renting out his house and much more running sugar for the Confederacy, he had little to show for it after the war. McLean was paid entirely in Confederate notes — a currency that no longer existed after the fall of the Confederacy. In 1865, his house was foreclosed on for ,060 (about ,000 today).
  • After losing the house and having very little money to his name, McLean moved his family back the Alexandria, Virginia. There McLean lived out the rest of his life as an IRS auditor. He retired at the age of 66 and passed away two years later.
  • The McLean cottage in Appomattox lay in ruins until Congress bought the house in 1930 and rebuilt it. The Appomattox house became a tourist site starting in 1949. Today, McLean’s Yorkshire plantation no longer remains but there is a historic marker where it once stood.
  • 1 in 13 veterans of the Civil war became amputees because of the war.
  • During the American Civil War, the Union soldiers blocked many supply lines to the Confederacy. Due to this, there were mass shortages of a variety of things. One such shortage that resulted was that newspaper offices ran out of paper. Instead, some took to using wallpaper to print their newspapers (this was not ripped from parlor walls as some books mistakenly state, but rather new rolls of wallpaper that were available). Some editions of the Confederate papers were even printed on other substitutes like brown wrapping paper, blue ledger paper, and even tissue paper.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years

Johnie Webb’s corner office is full of memories from a grim but fulfilling mission.

As the Army veteran leans over his desk — strewn with gifts given to him over the course of a 40-year career — he grabs a wooden box and pulls out a modest bracelet. Engraved on stainless steel reads the name of a staff sergeant killed in the Vietnam War.


When he begins to share the story of how he received it, his light blue eyes well up with tears.

“I keep it on my desk, because this is what we’re all about,” said Webb, deputy of outreach and communications for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Since 1975, Webb has traveled dozens of times to former combat zones as a Soldier and later as a civilian for the joint agency or one of its predecessors. The agency is responsible for locating the remains of the more than 82,000 Americans who are still missing from past conflicts.

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upper right, deputy of outreach and communications for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, sits with team members during a recovery mission in Papua New Guinea in 1978.

While much of his time had been in search of those fallen service members, Webb, 72, is now an advocate for their families who continue to wait for updates.

“I’m not going to say closure, because I’m not sure if there ever is closure when you lose a loved one. But at least [we can] provide them answers and give that loved one back,” he said. “That’s extremely important and I’m honored to play a small part.”

Vietnam veteran

Early in his Army career, Webb, a retired lieutenant colonel, led convoys as a logistics officer all over Vietnam to ensure bases had fuel for operations during the war.

Under the constant threat of roadside bombs and ambushes, he briefed his Soldiers to move their vehicle out of the road if it were ever hit so other vehicles could escape.

“If you block the road, then we’re all done,” he recalled saying.

During one of those missions, a Soldier did just that after a rocket-propelled grenade struck the cab of his 5-ton vehicle and left him with severe burns.

His sacrifice was something Webb never forgot.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t survive,” he said. “But he probably saved the rest of us by doing what we were trained to do and that was to get his truck off the road.”

A few years after his tour, the Army assigned Webb to the Central Identification Laboratory-Thailand, which was later moved to Hawaii and consolidated into DPAA.

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Johnie Webb holds a stainless steel bracelet given to him by the father of a Soldier whose remains were found by the agency.

The role of the new unit was to find the remains of Americans from the Vietnam War.

At first, he was confused, he said, since he knew nothing about the organization or its mission. In the Army’s eyes, though, he was qualified for the job because as a young lieutenant he once took a course on graves registration.

It would eventually come full circle for Webb in 1985, when he was chosen to lead the first recovery team into Vietnam only a decade after the end of the war.

“It became very personal for me,” he said, regarding the sacrifices made by fallen comrades. “We couldn’t let them be forgotten.”

Being back in Vietnam was initially “unnerving,” he said. After all, he had once fought an enemy there and it was uncertain how his team would be treated.

The mission was to search for human remains from a B-52 bomber crash site near Hanoi. But the team’s visit to Vietnam was also an opportunity to rebuild the diplomatic relationship between the former warring nations.

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Johnie Webb points to a photo of him published in a book on U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations after the war inside his office at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 13, 2018.


The Vietnamese still distrusted Americans then, he said, and even photographed his team with cameras that were crudely hidden in briefcases.

Now, more than 30 years after that first mission, Vietnamese officials work closely with the DPAA teams that rotate in and out of the country each year. The agency is even permitted to permanently base one of its detachments in Hanoi to support teams as they search for roughly 1,600 Americans missing from that war.

“We were there before we had diplomatic relations. We were there before an embassy was ever established,” Webb said. “A lot of groundbreaking effort went into getting us to where we are today.”

North Korea

While the agency’s mission started with the work to account for those lost in Vietnam, it grew to include sites from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War and other conflicts.

Webb was again behind another pioneering effort, but this time in North Korea. He and others took several trips to the country and helped negotiate with the North Koreans so teams could conduct missions at former battle sites from 1996 to 2005.

They even traveled from the capital, Pyongyang, to the Chosin Reservoir, where a decisive battle had taken place in the winter of 1950. As they were driven through the country, Webb recalled seeing how desperate the North Koreans had lived.

“It was very interesting times,” he said, “but it made sure you were really appreciative of being an American.”

As U.S. and North Korean governments currently aim to thaw relations between each other, Webb hopes it will lead the reclusive country to reopen its borders to the agency’s teams.

About 7,700 Americans are still unaccounted for from the Korean War, with the majority believed to be in North Korea.

“If we want to get answers to the families, and we definitely want to get them answers, we’re going to have to get access back into North Korea,” he said.

With the days of digging at excavation sites now behind him, Webb maintains a pivotal role in keeping families, distinguished visitors and veterans service organizations apprised of agency efforts.

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Johnie Webb stands next to then-President Bill Clinton during his visit to an excavation site.


“I couldn’t say enough good things about Johnie Webb and the fact that he is literally one of the staunchest contributors to this mission,” said Kelly McKeague, the agency’s director.

McKeague, a former Air Force major general, credits Webb’s “Texas roots” for his compassion and calm demeanor. There is no better person, McKeague said, to speak with families struggling with loss.

“Johnie has a sense about him to be able to communicate with them, to be empathetic to them, and to literally not just be their friend but be their confidant,” he said. “They have so much confidence in him.”

Family advocate

Whether in a foreign country or back at the headquarters in Hawaii, Webb said the younger troops at the agency have always impressed him.

“Most of them weren’t even born when the guy who they are trying to recover was lost,” he said. “Still, they feel that kinship to that military buddy who wore the uniform for them.”

The “grunt work” these troops — many of whom are Soldiers — do at an excavation site can take months to years to find remains, if there are any. Once recovered, it can take even longer to identify them by lab staff.

While the long process sometimes leaves families irritated, the agency wants to ensure human remains are properly excavated and identified.

“Not only is it frustrating to the families, it gets frustrating for us as well because we want to provide those answers,” Webb said. “We want to return that loved one, but we want to do it right.”

When the answers do come, some family members do not want to believe them.

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Johnie Webb consoles a grieving family member.


Inside a wooden box on his desk, the engraved bracelet reminds Webb of one such family member.

The father of the staff sergeant whose name is on the bracelet often spoke to Webb about his missing son before he was found. He had hoped his son was still alive and pleaded to Webb to bring him back.

A team then discovered remains from a site of a crashed helicopter, which the staff sergeant was on. Shortly after, Webb advised the father to prepare to receive his son’s remains so he could honor his life.

“It was clear that he was not wanting to hear that,” Webb remembered.

Webb asked other families who knew the grief-stricken father and had also lost loved ones to talk to him so he could come to terms with the news. He finally did.

When his son’s remains were returned to the family, there was a huge outpouring of public support. The funeral had full military honors and even dignitaries showed up to it.

“It was a day of celebration for this young man to come back home,” Webb said. “I was happy that he had honored his son the way he should have been honored.”

A few weeks later, a brown envelope addressed to Johnie Webb came in the mail. In it, there was a “thank you” note along with the bracelet, which the father always wore.

“I’m giving to you the POW bracelet that I have worn since my son was lost,” Webb said, recalling what the father wrote. “I finally took it off when he came back home. I want you to have it as a token of my appreciation.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

popular

This insane law would force everyone who wanted a war to go fight it

In 1916, the people of the United States were not feeling good about the rest of the world. President Woodrow Wilson easily won re-election on the slogan, “He kept us out of war” as World War I raged on in Europe and elsewhere. The Mexican Revolution threatened to pull the United States back into conflict in the American Southwest. On top of all that, the U.S. military was a conscripted, third-rate power; a far cry from the professional, all-volunteer force that we enjoy today.

But it was almost an Army comprised only of those who wanted to go to war in the first place.


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Five months after his inauguration, we were at war. Just sayin’.

 

The Constitution of the United States says only that the U.S. Congress can declare a state of war. There are no formal rules for how and when the Congress can do so, only that they can. In one instance, the President signed the legislation for war, and in others, it simply passed as a resolution. In 1916, the Congress had only declared war three times: against Britain in 1812, Mexico in 1848, and against Spain in 1898. The American people were not looking forward to a potential war in Europe, no matter who was on the other side.

Especially a concerned group of citizens from Nebraska, who created legislation that would change how the United States declared war – and who would fight it.

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“Get in, loser. We’re going to liberate Belgium.”

 

This proposed amendment to the Constitution outlined the process of declaring war as a national referendum, a direct vote by American citizens, where the majority would decide if the country was going to war or not. If the war referendum passed, all those who voted in favor of the war would be enlisted to fight that war.

Folks in Nebraska were surprised by how much popular support their proposed amendment received. The petition to submit the amendment to Congress had so many signatures, scraps of paper had to be added after the fact to ensure they all ended up on the document. While deciding who fights a war is very important, declaring a state of war comes with many automatic legal triggers, many of which have likely kept Congress from declaring war in the past few decades. An official state of war has not been declared since World War II.

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That face you make when you can still use the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to bomb Southeast Asia.

 

While the rules for how the United States conducts itself in a declared war versus an undeclared use of military force vary greatly, the rules for who fights the wars do not. All American male citizens are required to register for Selective Service at age 18, but the draft has not been used as a means of military recruiting since 1973, and was finally ended by President Gerald Ford in 1975. Ever since, the U.S military has been an all-volunteer force.

The question that has come out of the formation of an all-volunteer military in the past few years is one of disproportionate representation. If only certain segments of the American population have to fight the wars of the future, is it easier for a political class to launch unnecessary wars if they don’t have to be personally affected by its manpower needs? Those Nebraskans might have had a good point.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Michael F. asks: Are executions really held at midnight like shown in the movies? If so, why?

By the time Rainey Bethea was executed on Aug. 14, 1936, most of the United States had ceased executing people publicly. However, in Kentucky in 1936 an execution could still be held publicly and, according to the jury at his trial, Bethea deserved such an end, though not without controversy given the fact that the whole thing from murder to scheduled hanging took place in only about two months. On top of that, this was the case of a young black man who had previously only been convicted of a few minor, non-violent crimes being sentenced to death for rape and murder without any real defense on his behalf. He also claimed the confessions he gave were given under coercion. Whatever the case, the jury deliberated for less than five minutes and returned with the sentence of death by hanging, a mere three weeks after the crime was committed.


Approximately 20,000 people gathered around the gallows to witness the execution. When the time came, the trap door was opened and the rope snapped Bethea’s neck. After 14 minutes, his body was taken down and he was confirmed dead. This was the last public hanging ever performed in the United States.

So what does any of this have to do with executions being held at midnight? While a common Hollywood trope is the classic execution at midnight, it turns out for most all of history, this really wasn’t a thing. As with the case of Bethea, executions were largely a public spectacle and, outside of mob murders, people weren’t exactly keen on gathering at night to watch someone be killed; so executions tended to occur at more civilized hours.

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(Flickr photo by Alan Levine)

Interestingly, the fact that people preferred day time executions actually appears to be one of the chief reasons executions were, for a time in the United States, initially switched to late night, giving us the Hollywood trope that has largely endured to this day.

The earliest examples of this change occurred in the late 19th century as certain states began looking to curtail the spectacle that was public executions. As professor John Bessler of the University of Baltimore School of Law states, “There was pickpocketing at these public executions, thefts and sometimes violence. They were trying to get rid of the mob atmosphere that attended these public executions.”

The fix was easy — simply move the execution time to an hour when most people are sleeping, getting rid of the boisterous crowds and accompanying extra media coverage.

Now, given the switch to banning public executions completely, you might at this point be wondering why the nighttime time slot endured and became popular enough for a time to become a common trope?

One of the principal reasons often cited is simply to cut down on potential for more red tape in certain cases. While there are exceptions, in many states in the U.S. death warrants were, and in some cases still are, only legal for one day. If the execution is not carried out on the specified date, another warrant would be required which, as you might imagine for something as serious as killing someone legally (and ensuring the executioner cannot be charged for murder), this is a lot of paperwork and not always a guarantee. By starting at midnight, it gives the full 24 hours to work through potential temporary stays of execution, if any, before the time slot has ended and a new death warrant must be procured.

That said, perhaps more importantly, and a reason cited by many a prison official, is simply the matter of staffing. Executions performed at the dead of night see the inmates locked up in their cells, with minimal guard presence needed. Thus, prison workers don’t have to worry about any potential issues with the inmate populace during an execution. Further, some normal staff can easily be diverted to handling various aspects of a nighttime execution without taxing the available worker pool, a key benefit given prison systems are notoriously understaffed in the United States.

All this said, contrary to popular belief, midnight executions are not really much of a thing anymore. There are a variety of reasons for this, but principally this is as a courtesy for the various people processing and working on the appeals. For example, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor notes, “Dispensing justice at that hour of the morning is difficult, to say the least, and we have an obligation … to give our best efforts in every one of these instances.”

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Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

(Flickr photo by kyle tsui)

Arguments for a switch in time slot have also been made on behalf of the loved ones of both the condemned and victims. These people were formerly made to arrive a couple hours before the execution at midnight, and would then have to stay until after it was carried out if they wanted to witness it. Even with no delays, this tended to see them not processed out the door until a few hours after midnight. And if there were temporary stays of execution, they might have to skip a night’s sleep to be sure they were there to watch someone, perhaps a loved one or potentially the opposite, die.

There is also the issue of overtime. While ease of staffing is generally listed as a positive reason for late night executions, it turns out that as states began to move the executions into the light of day again, issues with the other inmates during daytime executions never really manifested, while overtime costs to keep the necessary staff on hand to process the execution at night were not trivial. For example, in the execution of Douglas Franklin Wright in 1996, staff assigned to the execution cost just shy of an extra ,000 (about ,000 today) in overtime compared to if the execution had been carried out in the daytime. Some prisons have also taken to simply implementing special modified lockdown procedures during executions to free up normal staff while reducing the risk of issues with the rest of the inmates.

What about the potential paperwork problem? This has easily been worked around by many states who’ve moved to daytime executions. For example, in Missouri they just switched the time limit to 24 hours, regardless of date. What matters is just the starting time. Other states simply have moved to longer periods like a week or ten days granted for such a warrant.

Thus, contrary to what is often depicted in films, midnight executions have gone the way of the dodo in the United States, though there are a few places in the world that still prefer to execute people in darkness. For example, in India executions are typically carried out before sunrise, with the stated reasoning being staffing convenience — as was the case in the U.S., at these hours more staff are available to handle the execution before normal daily activities begin.

Bonus Fact:

  • Botched executions are surprisingly common, for example occurring in about 7% of all executions in the United States. Historically, between 1890 and 2010 in the United States, 276 executions were messed up in some way, sometimes dramatically. One young black teen, who very much appears to have been innocent of the crime he was convicted of, even had to be sent to the electric chair twice. After the first attempt at killing him failed and he had to be brought back to his cell, the subsequent controversy over whether it was legal to try to kill him again brought to light the fact that there really wasn’t any evidence against him other than a forced confession. We’ll have more on this in an upcoming episode of our podcast The BrainFood Show, which you can subscribe to here: (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed)

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why disfigured World War I veterans had their own park benches

It wouldn’t do much good for a wounded World War I veteran trying to reintegrate into society to have a passersby gasp in shock and horror every time they saw him. The town of Sidcup in England attempted to ameliorate this shocked, audible response by attempting to warn the locals about the tenants of a nearby soldiers hospital.

Seeing a man on a blue bench when all the other benches in town were a different color warned the locals the image of a man sitting on it might come as a shock – and the veterans were grateful.

WARNING: Some of these images might be disturbing to even modern eyes.


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A World War I veteran who was treated at Sidcup

World War I was an entirely different kind of warfare than the world had ever known previously. With that new, modern, and mechanized destruction, came new wounds and scars that would mark its veterans forever. Few in any military had ever seen anything like the gruesome scars of war left on World War I vets, so it’s safe to say that few civilians had either.

The Great War was packed with horrifyingly disfiguring weapons similar to wars past. Bullets are nothing new, neither was shrapnel. But the new weapons of war were able to unload hundreds of bullets in a minute and fire high explosives and poison gas from places the soldiers on the ground couldn’t even see. Soldiers on both sides suffered disfigurement at an astonishing rate. For the lucky ones who survived, that meant coming home to a population that wasn’t entirely prepared to see the horrors of the war.

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The effects of the earliest plastic surgery on World War I veterans, this work done in London.

Sidcup, England had a hospital devoted to such soldiers. The hospital held hundreds of troops whose facial features were an object of terror to the unprepared. The benches of Sidcup were a warning to passersby that a veteran sitting on the bench might be disfigured, and it’s best not to stare. While this may seem offensive to us these days, for veterans who suffered from these afflictions, it was a blessing. Sidcup became the one place in the world where wounded, disfigured vets could walk around without the gasps and cries found everywhere else.

More than that, such hospitals featured pioneering medical techniques to attempt to mitigate the physical damage and return some kind of normalcy to the subject. World War I veterans were essentially the world’s first plastic surgery recipients. For those who couldn’t get that kind of work done, masks were an option – a painted replica of an unwounded face, covering the wounds of war that marked their daily lives.

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Masks for WWI-era wounded soldiers were usually specially designed for the individual, created for the subject’s unique injury or war wound, and then painted one by one to ensure the look and fit of the mask matched the person wearing it. There are many occasions where (albeit in black and white photos) it’s hard to distinguish the masked face from what might be the soldier’s undamaged face.

They were remarkably accurate and allowed the soldiers a degree of freedom, walking around without the horrors of war written upon their faces.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An Army officer disobeyed orders and stole four tanks to save 65 soldiers in Korea

In April 1951, Lt. Dave Teich heard a call from about 65 U.S. Army soldiers from the 8th Ranger Company. They were completely cut off from the rest of the main force and some of them were wounded. 

Meanwhile, some 300,000 Chinese soldiers were on their way to overrun their position. The Rangers were calling for help from Lt. Teich’s tank company. Teich asked his captain if he could go to their rescue. His response was a firm no. Teich went anyway.

One of the trapped Rangers, E.C. Rivera, told NBC News he’d risked his life in a slow low crawl to make his way to a ridge just so he could get line of sight to use his radio. When he peeked over the ridgeline, he saw four American tanks. 

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Rangers E.C. Rivera (left) and Joe Almeida (right) recline against an M39 Armored Utility Vehicle. Rivera carried the radio that was the 8th Ranger’s only link to friendly forces during the battle of Hill 628. Photo Courtesy USAHEC Ranger Photo Collection

He called it “the most beautiful sight of my life” 60 years after the end of the Korean Conflict, which is a title the view still held when the veterans met up for their 60th reunion.

The tankers and the rangers were about five miles south of the 38th parallel, which divided the two Koreas then, as it does today. When the Rangers radioed that they were in “bad shape,” Lt. Teich asked his captain if they could move to assist. The answer was a surprise to Teich. 

“We’ve got orders to move out. Screw them. Let them fight their own battles,” he said. 

Teich disagreed with his captain’s assessment. He stayed behind with four tanks as the main force moved out, disobeying order from both the captain and higher command. Teich felt he had a moral obligation to help the wounded and cut-off Rangers as both an Army officer and a human being. 

“I know I did the right thing in my heart because if I didn’t and those guys got wiped out,” Teich said, “I could never live that down.”

The Chinese were coming in what the Rangers then described as a “river of soldiers,” blocking the Rangers’ escape from the napalm-charred hill they were defending. The Chinese came in hot, firing a barrage of bullets at the beleaguered Americans. They all had to move as fast as they could, even if they were wounded to rendezvous with the waiting tanks. 

After carrying their wounded and sick comrades over a mile’s distance, a total of 65 wounded Rangers were loaded onto Teich’s four tanks, who sped them all to safety as the rest of the Rangers who could move beat a hasty retreat in the face of the Chinese wave coming at them.  

Ever since that day in Korea that gave Dave Teich the opportunity to fulfill his moral obligation to the wounded and stranded soldiers of the 8th Ranger Company, he’s received calls and letters from the men he helped pull from the jaws of death.

“Though we don’t always say it, Dave Teich saved our lives,” the leader of the Ranger company, then-Capt. James Herbert said. “If it wasn’t for him, we figure all of the survivors of the battle would have been killed or captured by Chinese. We look upon Dave as our savior.”

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8TH Ranger Company commander Capt. James Herbert (left) and his second in command Lieutenant Giacherine (right) confer with an unknown officer (middle). Photo Courtesy USAHEC Ranger Photo Collection.

Herbert himself had a hole in his neck from the Chinese attack. He survived by plugging the hole with his finger until he could get to an aid station.

Teich doesn’t know many of the men who send him cards, calls, and letters every year, but he knows their names, at least. 

“If somebody asks for help, you can’t deny them,” Teich said.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first satellite into an elliptical, low-Earth orbit. It was only 184lbs with a 23″ diameter and managed to stay in orbit for 21 days before the battery powering the transmitter ran out. It burned up in the atmosphere three months later. This marked the beginning of what would be known as the “Space Race” between the Soviets and the U.S. However, according to legend, America may have accidentally beaten the Soviets at launching something into space — a manhole cover.


In the summer of 1957, during Operation Plumbob, American scientists were testing the capabilities of nuclear explosions in all fashions at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. They tested different alloys, various yield sizes, and, controversially, how troops react to exposure, but this story’s all about using a nuclear explosion as a propellant.

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During the Pascal-A test on July 26, scientists tested a nuclear warhead underneath the surface of the Earth, marking the first U.S. underground nuclear test. The test yield was 50,000 times greater than expected and the blast spewed out of the 500-foot, deep-cased hole. It destroyed the five feet of concrete that was used to cap the explosion.

Like every good scientist, they tried it again on Aug. 27 to test “safety.” Instead of the 55-ton yield of the previous test, they used 300 tons and placed a 2-ton concrete cap just above the bomb. Sitting atop the hole was the destined-for-greatness manhole cover. Scientists expected the concrete plug to vaporize, but when the vapors expanded, the pressure was forced up the shaft and blew the 4-in thick, 500lb, steel manhole into the air. The only high-speed camera, capturing one frame per millisecond, was only able to capture the manhole cover in a single frame.

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Fun Fact: Many tourists came from Las Vegas to witness the nuclear blasts. Probably not the best idea. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

When asked about the manhole cover, Dr. Robert Brownlee, the designer of the experiment, said that there was no way to account for all the variables at play and determine the fate of the steel cover. When pressed by a supervisor, he said that it must have reached six times the escape velocity of Earth (which is 11.2km/sec). A more modern estimate puts the speed of the steel cap at around 56 km/sec. For comparison, the speed of sound in air is 0.33 km/sec — or if you need a more veteran-friendly comparison, the muzzle velocity of an M4 is 0.9km/sec. The fastest man-made thing is the Helios 2, which travels 70.2km/sec.

There was no way to verify any of this, as the manhole cover was never found, but if the math was right and the manhole cover survived the extreme pressure and heat, Dr. Brownlee may have made it to space first, created the fastest object while in Earth’s atmosphere, and the third-fastest object known to man.

MIGHTY HISTORY

California once used children to fight a war on squirrels

The year is 1918, and American troops are facing the Germans in deadly trench warfare on the Western Front. That isn’t the only place war has taken hold, the Great War is raging all over the world, and California is no different. There, along the far, far Western front, California state horticulturist George H. Hecke called up California’s most precious natural resource: children.

Their enemy was a pest unlike any other the state had ever seen, and Hecke decided their time had come. The squirrels had to go.


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The new children’s crusade called for a seven-day operation whereby California schoolchildren would attack the vicious squirrel army (often depicted wearing the pointed “Hun” helmet worn by the German army at the time). When the students weren’t creating passive killing fields by spreading rodent poisons where squirrels were known to gather food the kiddos were encouraged to form “a company of soldiers in your class or in your school” to go out and meet the enemy head-on, hitting the furry huns where they lived. “Squirrel Week” was on.

“All the killing devices of modern warfare will be used in the effort to annihilate the squirrel army, including gas,” wrote the Lompoc Journal. “Don’t wait to be drafted.”

The U.S. government made every effort to link the anti-squirrel effort to the war effort, referring to the California Ground Squirrel as “the Kaiser’s aides” while showing the squirrels decked out in enemy uniforms, wearing the Iron Cross. The government even distributed recipes for barley coated with the deadly poison strychnine.

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The state had a point. Otospermophilus Beecheyi, also known as the California Ground Squirrel, was not only a pest to farms and stored food, but was also known to carry certain diseases, such as bubonic plague. More importantly, the rodent ate nearly 0 million in crops and stored food in California (using today’s dollar values), food which could otherwise go to the doughboys fighting the World War raging in Europe. Children were even asked to bring in squirrel tails to school to show off their confirmed kills.

The schoolchildren did not disappoint. In all, More than 104,000 squirrels met their furry maker during Squirrel Week 1918 – but that was just one battle. The war raged on as long as the War in Europe raged on. California children continued killing the squirrels for a long time after Squirrel Week. The effort did not have lasting consequences for the squirrels at large, however. Today the California Ground Squirrel’s conservation status is the lowest at “least concern.”

Least concern, or lulling us into a false sense of security before counter-attacking? You decide.

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What is known about Blackbeard’s (still) buried treasure

There is no doubt that the most well-known and infamous pirate of all time is Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. He terrorized the Caribbean for years before his eventual death in 1718. Three hundred years later, his massive, hidden fortune is still lost to history.


Despite how they’re portrayed in pop culture, pirates did not leave maps laying around with an “x” marking the spot — probably because that’s a terrible plan. If anything, they would know a general location and remember where it was buried. When it comes to massively successful pirates like Blackbeard, however, a single treasure chest buried six feet deep wouldn’t be nearly enough.

 

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Sorry to any Robert Louis Stevenson fans… but, no.

In fact, as far as we know, only one pirate, Thomas Tew, used an actual treasure chest to stow his prize. That particular cache of wealth was valued at around $102 million in today’s money. According to Blackbeard’s ledger, his wealth was evaluated at a (comparatively) paltry $12.5 million. If you think that’s suspiciously low for a pirate of his stature, you’d be correct. His ledger also notes that his real treasure “lay in a location known only to him and the devil.”

In terms of a suitable hiding spot, it’s more than likely stowed in a cave similar to Dungeon Rock in Massachusetts, where pirate Tom Veal hid his treasure. Knowing that Edward Teach often docked in the Carolinas, that’d be a logical start for treasure hunters. Ocracoke Island, North Carolina was his most common hang-out spot, but if it hasn’t been found there over the last three hundred years, you can be sure it’s not there.

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And believe me: Every tourist who goes to this island thinks they’ll be the one to finally find it.

Weeks before his death, Blackbeard knew his time was coming to an end. The Spanish and British were hot on his tail and, if he hadn’t already, he wouldn’t have had the time to consolidate all of his Caribbean treasures. He went down with his ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, off the coast of Ocracoke Island.

Many ships have been discovered off the shore, but none have identified as Queen Anne’s Revenge. Although Blackbeard’s ship was boarded, no Englishman was recorded as becoming extremely wealthy after the raid there’s little reason to believe that there was a large sum of money on his ship.

As far as anyone knows, it’s still out there somewhere…

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happens when you hit an RV with a Civil War mortar

After reading the headline of this article, you might be thinking, “why?” We think it’s better to start with, “what?”

In this case, “what” is a replica of the “Roaring Meg,” a mortar used in the English Civil War in 1646 to absolutely devastate the final holdout of Royalists who resisted the Parliamentarians.


See, in mid-17th century England, there was a very spirited debate about just how much of a monarchy England should be. To make a very long story short, King Charles I and the Parliament at Westminster were prosecuting a war against Scottish forces and then Irish rebels from 1639-1641. In 1642, differences of strategy led to the King’s parliament starting a civil war against him.

Yeah, the whole thing was really messy.

The war didn’t go well for the King, and he lost entire sections of his country in 1642 and 1644. By 1646, he had only one good castle left, Goodrich Castle at Herefordshire, but it was defended by a very loyal knight. In June 1646, Parliamentarians demanded that the Royalists surrender, but were politely rebuffed.

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Except for some missing lead, this is basically what Goodrich Castle looked like after ole’ Meg was done with it. Note that the castle builders hadn’t designed the walls and towers to have those gaping holes in them.

(David Merrett, CC BY 2.0)

So, a siege ensued. For six weeks, the Parliamentarians attacked with artillery and managed to destroy the castle cisterns and a number of other structures, but the defenses held. So, the Parliamentarian commander, Colonel John Birch, commissioned a massive mortar from the local blacksmith.

“Roaring Meg” could fire an approximately 200-pound ball loaded with about 4 pounds of gunpowder that would explode in the courtyard, devastating nearby buildings with the blast wave and shrapnel. Meg destroyed buildings and walls and, combined with the mining operations happening at the same time, forced the defenders to surrender.

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Now, Meg is a historical display, but a group of men got together to see what, exactly, a replica Meg could do. Because of modern ideas of “safety,” and “survival,” and “not being horribly maimed for the purposes of entertainment,” the men decided to fire the mortar at a caravan without any explosives loaded inside the ball. Then, after getting their hit, they would place explosives with similar power into the caravan and blow it up that way.

The video is pretty sweet (even if it took them a lot of shots to actually hit the caravan, which is normal with an old-school mortar). Check it out above.

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6 badass military quotes created by combat

The only things more badass than these quotes were the actions that followed them.


1. “Just hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards!” – Maj. Audie Murphy, U.S. Army

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U.S. Army


In January 1945, while fighting to reduce the Colmar Pocket, then-Lt. Audie Murphy led the depleted B Company, 15th Infantry Regiment in an attack on the town of Holtzwihr. The attack quickly ran into stiff resistance from German armor and infantry. Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw while he held his position to continue to call in artillery on the advancing Germans. The Germans were nearly on top of him, but he continued to call for fire. Fearful of firing on their own soldier, headquarters asked Murphy how close the enemy was, to which he replied: “Just hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards!” During the same engagement, Lt. Murphy mounted a burning tank destroyer and drove off the Germans with its .50 caliber machine gun and continued artillery fire. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions.

2. “I have not yet begun to fight!” – John Paul Jones, U.S. Navy

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When John Paul Jones sailed the USS Bonhomme Richard against the HMS Serapis in 1779, he was already famous in the Continental Navy for his daring in the capture of the HMS Drake. Although outgunned by the Serapis, Jones attempted to run alongside and lash the ships together, thus negating the advantage. The Bonhomme Richard took a beating, which prompted the British captain to offer to allow Jones to surrender. His reply would echo in eternity: “I have not yet begun to fight!” And he hadn’t – after more brutal fighting, with Jones’ ship sinking and his flag shot away, the British captain called out if he had struck his colors. Jones shouted back “I may sink, but I will never strike!” After receiving assistance from another ship, the Americans captured the Serapis. Unfortunately, the Bonhomme Richard was beyond salvage and sank.

3. “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?!” – Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly, USMC

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U.S. Marine Corps

Then-1st Sgt Dan Daly was leading the 73rd Machine Gun Company at the Battle of Belleau Wood. He already had two Medals of Honor and cemented his place in Marine Corps history by then. Always tough and tenacious in the face of the enemy, Daly inspired his men to charge the Germans by jumping up and yelling “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?!” The Marines attacked the woods six times before the Germans fell back. Daly was awarded a Navy Cross for his actions during the battle.

4. “I’m the 82nd Airborne and this is as far as the bastards are going.” – Pvt. 1st Class Martin, U.S. Army

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U.S. Army

As Christmas 1944 approached, the American forces in the Ardennes Forest were still in disarray and struggling to hold back the German onslaught. Versions of the story vary, but what is known is that retreating armor came upon a lone infantryman of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment digging a foxhole. He was scruffy, dirty, and battle-hardened. When he realized the retreating armor were looking for a safe place, he told them, “Well buddy, just pull that vehicle behind me. I’m the 82nd Airborne and this is as far as the bastards are going.” They would indeed hold the line before driving the Germans back over the next several weeks.

5. “You’ll never get a Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!” – Col. Henry P. Crowe, USMC

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National Archives

Henry Crowe is known in the Marine Corps for his time as a Marine Gunner and his exploits in combat. He first displayed his gallantry at Guadalcanal while leading the Regimental Weapons Company of the 8th Marines. While engaged in fierce fighting with the Japanese, then-Capt. Crowe leaped up and yelled “Goddammit, you’ll never get a Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!” before leading a charge against Japanese positions. He received a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions on Guadalcanal and later a Navy Cross for his actions on Tarawa.

6. “Retreat, Hell!” – A number of American badasses who were told to retreat

Americans troops hate to retreat and traditionally respond with “Retreat, Hell!” when told that they should. Here are three of the most badass examples:

Maj. Lloyd W. Williams, USMC

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U.S. Marine Corps

The Battle of Belleau Wood had no shortage of hardcore Marines making a name for the Corps (literally, the moniker ‘Devil Dog’ is attributed to the battle) and then-Capt. Lloyd Williams set the tone from day one. As the French were falling back in the face of a German assault, they came across a Marine officer of the 5th Marine Regiment advancing on Belleau Wood. A frantic French officer advised the American that they must retreat. Not one to shy away from a fight, Capt. Williams responded “Retreat, Hell! We just got here!” Capt. Williams was killed in the fighting nine days later but posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross and a promotion to Major.

Col. Rueben H. Tucker, U.S. Army

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U.S. Army

After the initial assault landings at Salerno in September 1943, the Allied beachhead was in a precarious position. The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment conducted a combat jump to reinforce allied lines and moved out to the high ground at Altavilla to shore up the line. When a strong German counterattack threatened to dislodge the paratroopers, Gen. Dawley, VI Corps commander, called Col. Tucker and ordered his withdrawal. He vehemently replied “Retreat, Hell! Send me my 3rd Battalion!” 3/504 went in support and the regiment held the line.

Gen. Oliver P. Smith, USMC

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U.S. Marine Corps

 

The Battle of Chosin Reservoir is a story of incredible toughness and tenacity by American forces, particularly the 1st Marine Division. Chesty Puller had his own memorable quotes during the battle, but it was 1st Marine Division commander Oliver P. Smith who reiterated American resolve and refusal to retreat when he said “Retreat, Hell! We’re just advancing in a different direction!” And he meant it – the 1st Marine Division broke through the encirclement and fought its way to evacuation at Hungnam.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Marine Raiders saved the day at the Battle of Edson’s Ridge

By October 1942, American Marines and the Japanese were fighting a vicious battle around Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. Marines held a perimeter around Lunga Point while the Japanese controlled the remainder of the island.


The Marines guarding the perimeter mostly consisted of those from the 1st Marine Division. Holding a small ridge along the Lunga River, known as Lunga Ridge, were Marines from the 1st Raider Battalion and the 1st Parachute Battalion.

Those Marines were led by the indomitable Lt. Col Merritt “Red Mike” Edson, commanding officer of the 1st Raider Battalion. Edson was already on his way to becoming a legend having earned two Navy Crosses during his career. He would cement his status on Guadalcanal.

The fact that the Marines were even in place to meet the Japanese was due to Edson’s foresight. Edson, along with Col. Gerald Thomas – Vandegrift’s operations officer, believed that the Japanese were likely to attack at Lunga Ridge. However, Vandegrift believed the attack would come from another area and would not approve the placement of Marines along the ridge. Thomas finally convinced him it would be a good place for Edson’s Raiders to rest, thus plugging a significant gap in the line.

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On the night of September 12, 1942, after trudging through Guadalcanal’s thick jungles, Japanese troops, preceded by an artillery barrage, emerged from the jungle and engaged the Marines on the ridge. However, the Japanese attack was somewhat premature as many other units had failed to reach their jump-off points for the attack.

After some skirmishing and an attack that drove the Marines back, most of the Japanese withdrew to regroup for an attack the next night.

Edson’s men made what preparations they could to improve their defenses.

Unbeknownst to them, they were outnumbered by over three to one.

That afternoon, as darkness approached, Edson stepped up onto a grenade box to address his men:

You men have done a great job so far, but I have one more thing to ask of you. We have to hold out just one more night. I know we have been without sleep a long time, but I expect another attack and I believe they will come through here. If we hold, I have every reason to believe we will be relieved in the morning.

Just after dark on Sept. 13, the Japanese surged out of the jungle into the Marine positions on Lunga Ridge.

A Japanese attack on the right flank dislodged the Marine Raiders of Company B from their hilltop position.

Almost simultaneously, another Japanese assault drove back the Marines of Company B, 1st Parachute Battalion. In the face of the Japanese onslaught, Edson ordered the two companies to fall back towards his command post on Hill 123 in the center of the ridge.

A third Japanese assault slammed into the Marines of C Company, 1st Parachute Battalion, which sent them reeling. With three companies in the midst of falling back, confusion and fear began to take hold. The situation was heading towards a rout for the Marines when Edson appeared with several officers from his staff and, with forceful language and spirit, turned the Marines around to face the Japanese.

Meanwhile, the remaining Raider companies were desperately holding the line against the Japanese.

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Lieutenant Colonel Edson (front row, second from left) poses for a group photo with other Marine officers on Tulagi shortly after the battle in August, 1942.

Over 2,500 Japanese were facing just over 800 Marines. Wave after wave came on.

Edson sent the reinvigorated Paramarines against the exposed left flank with fixed bayonets. They caught the surging Japanese by surprise just as they were preparing to roll up the Marines’ flank and drove them off the hill.

Still, the Japanese attacks continued.

Marine artillery fire pummeled the area in front of the Marines’ positions, inflicting heavy casualties on the Japanese.

Those that survived were met with heavy fire from the Marine defenders on the ridge. When this was not enough, the Marines fought off their attackers in hand-to-hand combat in the pitch-black night.

As each successive wave was mowed down, another formed to take its place.

Eventually, the beleaguered Raiders and Paramarines were joined by the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment who helped to repulse the final two Japanese assaults before dawn.

The final Japanese positions on Lunga Ridge were destroyed by U.S. Army Air Corps AiraCobras early that morning. What remained of the Japanese assault force retreated into the jungle and away from Lunga Ridge.

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The terrific fighting on Lunga Ridge came to be known to many as the Battle of Bloody Ridge. But for the Raiders and Paramarines that fought there, it was known as Edson’s Ridge.

Throughout the battle, Edson was never more than a few meters from the front lines. And, according to the account of one Marine officer, he boldly stood in his position while most of them hugged the ground. Edson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership during the battle.

The tenacity of the Marines in holding their position saved Henderson Field and, with it, the American effort on Guadalcanal. Had the Japanese broken through, it is likely they could have driven the Marines from the island. The Japanese losses in the battle were difficult to replace.

The result of the battle likely had a large impact on the overall Japanese strategy in the Pacific, as resources were diverted to Guadalcanal that were needed elsewhere. And for the Americans, it was the closest they came to losing their toehold in the Pacific.

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