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MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch this: First nuclear reactor explosion took 4 milliseconds

The SL-1, short for Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One, was a nuclear power reactor located about 40 miles from Idaho Falls, Idaho. SL-1 was just one of many experimental nuclear power plants the Army built. Most of the reactors were off in the middle of nowhere, away from people. Not the SL-1. In fact, it was just forty miles from a major town, Idaho Falls. A steam explosion and meltdown of the SL-1 tragically killed three of the plant operations. It’s the only nuclear reactor accident in the US to cause immediate fatalities. It ended so badly but it started out with high hopes. The first fatal nuclear reactor accident in America took just four milliseconds to happen.

How the SL-1 began

Shortly after the end of WWII, we started looking for ways to make more weapons (of course). We also started looking at ways nuclear reactors could help fuel the country. Everyone was doing it and Russia and the UK were leading the way. So we needed to catch up – and fast. The Army quickly assemlbed teams and we constructing nuclear power plants all over the place.

At the time, Arctic nuclear reactors used diesel generators for power. But the Army thought they had a more effective and efficient alternative. So, the idea was to create a low-power reactor that was simple, reliable, easy to build. Oh, and it also needed to be functional in the harsh climate of the Arctic.

Enter the SL-1.

On December 2, 1958, the plant officially opened. A protective 15-meter-high quarter-inch steel cylinder housed the reactor. Just to be safe, it was embedded in gravel at the ground-level.

Inside of a nuclear reactor without fuel
The inside of a nuclear reactor just *looks* dangerous.

Not all things nuclear follow with disaster, but some do…

Here’s the thing to keep in mind. The SL-1 was built as an experiment. It was supposed to be a prototype for America’s introduction to nuclear power. And it was also supposed to serve remove military facilities in cold weather conditions.

For a few years, everything went great. SL-1 hummed along, worked well, and even powered the town.

That all changed when it was shut down for routine maintenance on December 21, 1960.

Then, on January 3, 1961, a group of three operators, two Army Specialists and a Navy CB, prepared the nuclear reactor for its return to operation.

Well, we all know that anything involving nuclear power has the potential for disaster, and unfortunately, disaster struck that day. One of the Army Specialists withdrew the central control rod of the nuclear reactor much too far, resulting in a steam explosion that caused the reactor to lift over two meters into the air. The explosion impaled the supervising Navy CB to the ceiling, and a high-pressure spray of radioactive stream water hit the other two men. The impaled Navy CB and one Army Specialist were killed instantly, while the other died not long after.

This all happened within a matter of seconds after the withdrawal of the central control rod. Thankfully, the remote location of the nuclear reactor in the high desert of Idaho saved the accident from having a lot more serious radioactive consequences on surrounding communities.

The true cause of the accident will forever remain a mystery

While some suspected suicide or even suicide-murder because of possible bad blood between two crew members, the most likely cause of the disaster was much less dramatic. The reactor was known to have sticky control rods, so it is reasonable to assume the Army Specialist accidentally pulled the rod out too far, immediately triggering the explosion. These are just theories, however. The true cause we’ll never know.

After analyzing the incident, the Army made two very wise decisions. One was to abandon the reactor’s design. The other was to ensure that one small error with a control rod would not leave a nuclear reactor in critical condition ever again.

Related: This is why there’s no Cold War Medal

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1,000 bombers took part in largest World War II bombing raid

The largest bombing raid of World War II was the British attack on Cologne, Germany, on May 30, 1942, when over 1,000 bombers were sent to destroy chemical and machine tool facilities there in a single-night attack.


The bombing raid took place before American forces had built up large concentrations of forces in Europe. Britain in 1942 was benefiting from American industry, but its bomber strength was still limited from the lingering effects of the Battle of Britain as well as the toll of regular combat sorties over German-held territory.

So the English forces had only 416 first-line bombers ready for missions. Air Marshal A.T. Harris, the Royal Air Force’s top officer for strategic bombing, had to decide how to use these bombers to best effect. Every mission launched resulted in lost planes Britain was struggling to replace, but every mission canceled allowed Germany to produce more of its own arms, including bombers and fighters.

Harris came up with a plan for getting more bombs on target while, hopefully, sacrificing fewer bombers. He reasoned that there were a fixed number of defenders at each target and a relatively fixed number of German interceptors that could reach a site during a bombing raid. He could trickle out his bombers over multiple missions at one target, limiting the number of bombs he would have to drop on each target, but that would allow the defenders to focus on fewer planes at once.

Watch this: First nuclear reactor explosion took 4 milliseconds
A view of a power station in Cologne, Germany, during a daylight bombing raid in 1941. The city largely survived these daylight raids, leading to a massive night attack in May 1942. (Royal Air Force)

 

Or, he could change bomber doctrine and send an overwhelming number of bombers at once. Sure, this would draw the fire of every interceptor and every air defense crew within range, but they would have a limited time in which to attack the bombers. So, instead of German defenders having to fend off a few dozen or even a couple hundred planes, getting to rest and refit, and then doing it again, the defenders would have to defend against many hundreds of planes all at once.

He put together a plan to send not only the 416 first-line bombers, but also all available second-line and even training bombers, to Cologne, Germany, where workers made industrial goods and chemicals. Together, these units would send 1,046 bombers against the target in just 90 minutes. Prime Minister Winston Churchill approved the mission.

And so, on May 30, 1942, Operation Millennium was launched, and the over 1,000 planes dropped almost 1,500 tons of bombs on the target, damaging 600 acres of the city and crippling industrial output from Cologne. A bomb burst, on average, every two seconds. Britain lost 40 bombers, meaning that over 1,000 bombers made it back from Operation Millennium.

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The German city of Cologne in 1945. The city suffered the largest single bombing raid in World War II with over 1,000 bombers hitting it in one night. (U.S. Department of Defense)

 

But the raid was not without criticism then or now. Strategic bombing in early-World War II was not accurate, and night raids had to be launched against cities, not against pinpoint targets. Many British bombers in 1942 were still using the Course Setting Bomb Sight from World War I, and even those with Britain’s Mark XIV bomb sight could not target an individual building.

Approximately 45,000 Germans were made homeless by the bombing raid, and 469 were killed. But, for Allied leaders, the juice was worth the squeeze. After all, Britain had suffered similar losses in single-night bombing raids against London in 1941, so they weren’t about to cry themselves to sleep over dead German civilians. And, even better for Britain, those 40 planes lost in the raid amounted to 4 percent casualties.

Royal Air Force bombing missions over Germany would, over the course of the war, result in an average of 5 percent losses per mission, so suffering 4 percent losses while wiping out the target in a single mission was an intriguing prospect. As Churchill telegraphed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “I hope you were pleased with our mass air attack… there is plenty more to come.”

No other single attack would have as many bombers as the attack on Cologne, but raids against targets like Dresden in 1945 would feature over 700 bombers.

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5 real life games you can play to get ready for war

Most service members played Army when they were kids. And throughout our childhood educational years, we were presented with a host of games that stretch our minds and hone our analytical skills.


In the military, the goal isn’t much different — though the information is just delivered through alternative means like “death by PowerPoint.” And isn’t nearly as much fun

Related: 5 crazy games you played while in the military

So to avoid the boredom of paper and screens, we compiled a list of real life games you can play stateside that will increase your unit’s communication, physical stamina, and mental toughness.

1. Laser Tag

Running into a low-lit terrorist cell with weapons at the ready with your adrenaline pumping and still being ready to “expect the unexpected” while you clear the room can be incredibly stressful.

Dial back the dangerous nature of the mission and you could have a friendly game of laser tag.

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2. Treasure hunt

In grade school, we used to bury or hide objects at the playground, draw a detailed map where we left them and dare our friends to hunt down the prize — sounds easy.

Pretty much what land navigation is today minus the prize, it’s now your objective.

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3. Flag football

It was in the late 1860s that the football game kicked off between Princeton and Rutgers — and at the time, players typically played both offense and defense. This game requires plenty of communication and sets each player into different jobs and rolls.

While on patrol or in a convoy, if allied forces take contact from the bad guys, it’s up to the leader to “quarterback” the defensive strategy and instruct men how to bring the fight to the enemy.

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The Company Grade Officers Council goes for another touchdown during their flag football game at Eglin Air Force Base, (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

4. 52 cards

You can pull many different infantry games from a deck of playing cards. The main focus is to develop a game to build muscle memory. Assign an exercise or action drill for every suit in the deck and use the cards’ face value for the number of repetitions.

First one through the deck is the winner.

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Also Read: 5 things I wish I knew before deployment

5. Blindfolded tag

We conduct military operations at night, attacking the enemy once the sun goes down when they least expect it. There’s no better way to learn to fight if your night vision goes down while you’re stateside than blindfolded tag.

Watch this: First nuclear reactor explosion took 4 milliseconds

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

A paratrooper supply clerk survived a combat jump with zero training

In the military, sometimes things just get lost in transit. Gear goes adrift, paperwork gets filed wrong, and soldiers with no training in parachuting from a perfectly good airplane end up getting thrown out of a perfectly good airplane. It was bound to happen, and frankly, we should be a little surprised it took so long.


On Feb. 22, 2000, U.S. Army Spc. Jeff Lewis made his first ever parachute jump from a C-130 aircraft at Fort Bragg, N.C. The only problem was that no one had ever trained Specialist Lewis on how to jump from an airplane with the Army. Lewis was with the 82nd Airborne, so his unit was correct, it just turns out he wasn’t a paratrooper. He was a supply clerk. The then-23-year-old never mentioned anything to the jumpmaster because he wanted to do what the Army expected him to do.

“The Army said I was airborne-qualified,” Lewis said. “I wasn’t going to question it. I had a job to do, and I had to believe in what I was doing.”

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A Jumpmaster can be held responsible for any training accident.

Lewis did eventually go to jump school, becoming airborne qualified just a few weeks after jumping out the airplane door for the first time. He was also promoted in that timeframe. But Lewis didn’t go out the door entirely unprepared. He took the 82nd’s one-day refresher course for those soldiers who are already airborne-qualified, and it might have saved his life. After stepping out of the airplane on the wrong foot, his equipment apparently got tangled. He was able to open the canopy by kicking with his feet, as instructed in the class.

Even though the troopers were doing a static line jump, the jump was only half the instruction necessary. The other half is, of course, the landing. Paratroopers are trained to land safely using certain techniques that redistribute the energy from the force of their fall. Even with the chutes, they can hit the ground as fast as 15 miles per hour. The untrained or new paratroopers can snap their legs when landing incorrectly and taking the brunt of the fall.

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This could have been his first jump.

There’s a reason paratroopers train for weeks to learn to properly stick the landing. The chutes used by the Army aren’t like civilian chutes. They’re designed to get the trooper to the ground faster. While the Army could definitely afford safer, easier-to-use parachutes, the entire point of paratroopers is to get them on the ground and fighting as fast as possible. The more time they spend suspended in mid-air, the more opportunity enemy troops have to light them up.

In short, Lewis got lucky.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The bittersweet story of the Christmas Truce of 1914

War stems from division. It happens when there are problems we just can’t seem to solve. War is seldom beautiful, but every now and then, a little light shines through. The Christmas Truce of 1914 was one of those rare moments. 

It all started with one of the ugliest wars in history. 

World War I began on July 28th, 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. It quickly escalated, pinning the Ottoman Empire, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, known collectively as the Central Powers, against the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania and Japan, known as the Allied Powers. The two sides proceeded to engage in over three years of brutal trench warfare. The experience was hellish, with mass casualties on both sides. In total, over 16 million people lost their lives. 

In the midst of utter carnage, the opposing side often seemed evil. Yet, it wasn’t. It was war itself that was inhuman, not the men across the trenches. On Christmas Eve, 1914, soldiers on both sides did the unthinkable; they laid down their arms and sang. 

The renowned Christmas Truce that followed was unauthorized. 

In the earliest weeks of the war, forces on both sides were aggressive and angry. By December, they had seen enough death and destruction for a lifetime. They had initially believed the war would be over by Christmas and many of them longed for an end to the fighting. While Pope Benedict XV called for a temporary ceasefire for the holiday, none of the countries involved settled on any official agreement, so the exhausted soldiers took matters into their own hands. 

As Christmas approached, a sudden cold snap turned weeks of wet weather into an eerily beautiful winter landscape. On Christmas Eve at around 8:30 pm, the truce began. German soldiers began lighting their trenches and singing carols. Small Christmas trees dotted the trenches. Initially, the British were suspicious. One officer reported to headquarters that, “Compliments are being exchanged but am nevertheless taking all military precautions.” 

Soon, it became apparent that it wasn’t a trap. The Germans sang “Silent Night”, and the British responded with “The First Noel”.  A British soldier, Private Frederick Heath, reported that a Christmas greeting rang out through the darkness: “English soldier, English soldier, a merry Christmas, a merry Christmas!” 

Between the trenches, the war-battered no man’s land transformed. 

Cautious at first, scouts ventured out of the trenches and over the barbed wire that divided the two sides. There, they imparted a message: If you don’t fire at us, we won’t fire at you. Let us have peace, if just for a night. Spontaneous truces sprang up along the trench lines without anyone really knowing how they began. In addition to sharing songs and well-wishes, impromptu games ignited. The Germans claim to have won a soccer match against the British 3-2. Meals, drinks, and laughter were shared until dawn. 

The truce was imperfect, but miraculous nevertheless. 

Unsurprisingly, many officers were against any type of truce. Fraternizing with the enemy was frowned upon, and measures were taken to prevent it from ever happening again. It’s unclear how widespread the truce really was, but some evidence suggests the truce extended across much of the British-held trench line that extended across Belgium, but other reports suggest that the truce took place in sections, scattering pockets of peace and brotherhood throughout thickets of gunfire. 

If anything, that makes the night’s events even more striking. The soldiers who chose to shake hands with their enemies must have been afraid, but they chose to do it all the same. The next day, the war continued with just as much hostility and destruction as it had before, but the opposing forces had been humanized. A grain of respect had settled in. The surprising events that took place on December 24th, 1914 along those dark and bloodied trenches didn’t bring any lasting resolution, but to those who were there, the truce brought the greatest Christmas gift of all: Hope. 

The video below is just a reenactment (and an advertisement at that), but it’s a pretty moving reminder that Christmas spirit lives on, even in the darkest of places. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US raided a Soviet arctic base in the Cold War

The U.S. and Soviet militaries in the Cold War both understood the importance of the Arctic. Their submarines moved under it, their bombers moved over it, and both sides kept radar stations to track each other’s planes and potential missile launches. But after the U.S. figured out how to track Soviet submarines from drift stations, they wanted to know if the Soviets had figured out the same trick.


The problem was that drift stations were small bases built on floating ice islands. It’s hard to sneak onto such isolated and small installations. Luckily, drift stations are a bit dangerous. As the ice shifts on the island, it can crack and rupture. Drift station commanders had to keep firm eyes on their runways. Otherwise, the ice could crack too badly and make escape impossible.

So they had a tendency to get abandoned every once in a while, but only as they were becoming inaccessible. Well, inaccessible to the Russians, who couldn’t get personnel out of the remote areas without a runway. But America had a new trick up its sleeve in 1962 it wanted to try out.

That was the Skyhook, an ingenious but dangerous tool that allowed planes to scoop people off of the ground using a system of hooks, wires, and balloons. A famous Batman clip actually shows the concept in very exciting detail. And, Russian Station NP 9 had recently been abandoned.

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An instruction comic for the Robert Fulton Skyhook.

(CIA)

But the mission would be dangerous. A small team would need to parachute into Arctic conditions, scrounge through the rubble of the rapidly breaking base, and then get extracted with a Skyhook before it all fell apart. This was Operation Coldfeet.

Two men were selected for the mission. Air Force Maj. James Smith was a Russian linguist with experience on American drift stations, and U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Leonard LeSchack, an Antarctic geophysicist. LeSchack had to learn to jump out of planes, and both men had to train on the retrieval system.

But as the men trained, the target drift station was shifting further from their launch point at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. Luckily, something even better came along.

Station NP 8 was a more modernized station, but its runway rapidly degraded and the Soviets abandoned it. America found out in March 1962 and shifted the planned operation to target NP 8.

But the operation was short on time. NP 8 wasn’t expected to last long. It was drifting quickly and would soon be crushed in the ice. And the training and the surveillance of NP 9 and then NP 8 had used up the funds allotted for the operation. So the military went shopping for partners, and the CIA was happy to help. They had their own questions about Soviet drift stations.

So an aviation company and CIA front, Intermountain Aviation, got a polar navigator and prepared to drop the men.

The insertion took place on May 28, and the two investigators got to work. They searched through piles of documents, technological equipment, and other artifacts to piece together what was happening at the drift station.

They discovered that, yes, the Soviets were tracking American subs. Worse, they were developing techniques to hunt them under the ice.

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The Fulton Skyhook being used by the men of Operation Coldfeet in 1962.

(CIA)

Smith and LeSchack made a prioritized set of documents and items they needed to get out, and they carefully packed it into bags. Over six days and five nights, they cataloged, documented, and packed. Then they attached them to balloons, filled the balloons with helium, and sent them into the sky where the plane snagged them up.

Once they were sure the bags were safe, they sent their own balloons up and got pulled out by the plane.

The Soviets wouldn’t know for years that their secret was out.

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 disgusting diseases older troops had to worry about

So, it turns out there’s a reason your local medic wants to look at your body parts and fill you with pills, and it’s not because they’re a pervert — I mean, they probably are, but that’s not why they’re doing it. See, your ancestors fought in wars where it was fairly common their kidneys to swell up and burn, their genitals to start dripping pus, and their livers to grow holes and leak bile into their blood.

If you consider any of the descriptions above humorous or entertaining (sicko), then read on!


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Soldiers undergo delousing on the Serbian front of World War I, an effort to reduce diseases like trench fever.

(Popular Science Magazine)

Trench fever

Trench fever was a fever characterized by skin lesions, sore muscles and joints, and headaches — yeah, not much fun. It was first recognized in 1915 as it spread through the trenches of World War I, but it also broke out in some German units in World War II.

It was spread through infected body lice and usually cleared up in a couple of months, but became chronic in rare cases. At least, with trench fever, the lesions were mostly confined to your skin and back… unlike the next entry.

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Front and back cover of a truly disturbing book given to World War I troops headed back to the states, apparently filled to the brim will all sorts of disgusting genital bacteria.

(National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

Literal blue balls (thanks to genital lesions!)

We’re not including a photo here for obvious reasons. A soft chancre is an “infectious, painful, ragged venereal ulcer” that develops at the site of Haemophilus ducreyi. The bacteria can also cause “buboes, or ‘blue balls'” according to a 1918 pamphlet issued by the War Department.

After a regrettable Google search and lots of crying, this author can confirm that the ulcers look very painful, but nothing about the affected organs looks particularly blue.

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Treatment for gonorrhea in 1911. Yes, the doctor is holding what you think he is, and that injection is going where you hoped it wouldn’t.

The clap and syphilis

While gonorrhea — also known as “the clap” — and syphilis are still common STDs, early detection on military bases and a lack of fraternization with locals has made it less of a problem in modern wars than when your grandparents fought. But for troops marching across Europe, hitting on as many French girls as they could, getting a series of sores on their genitals or seeing the dreaded discharge come out of their naughty bits was a real possibility.

And, back then, the only sure-fire test available for diagnoses was getting “rodded off the range,” a test where a doctor slid a cotton swab into a man’s “barrel” and swirled it around 5-10 times. Now, blood and urine tests are used instead. Big win for modern science.

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Not today, tuberculosis. Not today.

Tuberculosis

Another disease that was a bigger problem for grandpa than it is for you, tuberculosis is a nasty infection that usually hits the lungs, causing bloody coughs, but can also wreck your liver, kidneys, and other organs. It causes chest pain, breathing troubles, fatigue, chills, and other issues that absolutely suck, especially while in a World War I trench.

It is spread through the air and infected surfaces, which is a big problem when thousands of dudes are sleeping on top of each other in crowded bunkers.

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Typhoid Mary, famous for being imprisoned by New York authorities after she was found to be a carrier of typhoid fever.

(Public domain)

Typhoid fever

Typhoid fever, caused by salmonella that infects the intestines, was a huge problem in the Civil War and World War I. Back then, the particularly bad sanitation practices allowed fecal material from infected troops to make it into the food and into the digestive tracts of healthy ones. It triggered skin lesions, diarrhea or constipation, trouble breathing, and fever, among other symptoms.

In the Civil War, doctors hadn’t even figured out the disease yet, and treatment basically involved throwing a bunch of home remedies at the problem while continuing the study the disease’s spread. By World War I, we at least knew what caused it and had a vaccine, but still no cure. It wasn’t until after World War II that the disease became treatable.

War nephritis

Nephritis is inflammation of the kidneys. “War nephritis” was named by doctors in World War I who were looking into a sudden increase in cases with additional symptoms, like headaches, vertigo, and shallow breath.

While it’s still very possible to experience nephritis in war today, the worsened symptoms observed in World War I were thought to be tied to conditions in the trenches and along the front. Nephritis limits the kidneys’ ability to filter the blood, and exposure to the cold and wet conditions of wartime Europe made the problem much worse.

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This is your intestines on dysentery.

Dysentery

Dysentery has a reputation for being a particularly bad case of diarrhea, but that’s not a full picture of the problem. It’s diarrhea that can last for months and include bloody stools. Even when treated, it could lead to secondary infections, like hepatitis and liver abscesses. The liver degradation leads to a buildup of toxins in the blood and body.

So, yeah, pretty horrible. And troops shifting between different fronts and battlefields in World War I allowed different versions of the disease to reach new places and vulnerable populations. Today, it’s easier to diagnose and treat, but the best safeguard is good hygiene and sanitation.

“Soldier’s heart” or effort syndrome

Effort syndrome, also known as “soldier’s heart syndrome,” wasn’t well understood, but it was a tendency for soldiers in the Civil War and World War I to experience heart palpitations, shortness of breath, exhaustion, and cold extremities. It’s thought that the syndrome may have been caused by a previous disease, like fever, jaundice, dysentery, etc. combining with the stress and rigors of war.

Over 36,000 troops were discharged in World War I for heart ailments.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This War of 1812 veteran saw the Battle of Gettysburg from his porch – then joined it

These days it’s hard to think of a veteran who could have served from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. It’s happened, of course.


But imagine a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War fighting in the Civil War. That’s a span of more than 60 years — much longer than the 24 years that separated the beginning of WWII and the Vietnam War. Then again, during the 20th century, pivotal battles weren’t literally in our front yard.

An average 69-year-old might be happy to ride out his golden years from a rocking chair.

But not John Burns.

He fought in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War and even tried to work as a supply driver for the Union Army but was sent back to his home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

He wasn’t too happy to be excluded from the war.

See, Burns already lived twice as long as the average American of the time and was ready to do more for his country. But Gettysburg was much further north than the Confederates could ever attack – or so he thought.

Burns was considered “eccentric” by the rest of the town. That’s what happens when you’re fighting wars for longer than most people at the time spent in school.

When Confederate Gen. Jubal Early captured the town, Burns was the constable and was jailed for trying to interfere with Confederate military operations. When the Confederates were pushed out of Gettysburg by the Union, Burns began arresting Confederate stragglers for treason.

His contributions to the Union didn’t end there.

On the morning of July 1, 1863, Burns watched as the Battle of Gettysburg began to unfold near his home. Like a true American hero, he picked up his rifle – a flintlock musket, which required the use of a powder horn – and calmly walked over to the battle to see how he could help.

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He “borrowed” a more modern musket (now a long-standing Army tradition) from a wounded Union soldier, picked up some cartridges, then walked over to the commander of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry and asked to join the regiment.

This time, he wasn’t turned away; but the 150th Pennsylvania commanders did send Burns to Herbst Woods, away from where the officers believed the main area of fighting would be.

They were wrong.

Herbst Woods was the site of the first Confederate offensive of the battle. Burns, sharpshooting for the Iron Brigade, helped repel this offensive as part of a surprise counterattack.

John Burns was mocked by other troops for showing up to fight with his antiquated weapon and “swallowtail coat with brass buttons, yellow vest, and tall hat.” But when the bullets started to fly, he calmly took cover behind a tree and started to shoot back with his modern rifle.

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He also fought alongside the 7th Wisconsin Infantry and then moved to support the 24th Michigan. He was wounded in the arm, legs, and chest and was left on the field when the Union forces had to fall back.

He ditched his rifle and buried his ammo and then passed out from blood loss. He tried to convince the Rebels he was an old man looking to find help for his wife, but accounts of how well that story worked vary. Anyone fighting in an army outside of a uniform could be executed, but the ruse must have worked on some level–he survived his wounds and lived for another 9 years.

The Battle of Gettysburg was a major turning point in the Civil War. The Confederates would spend the rest of the war – two years – on the defensive.

As the poem “John Burns of Gettysburg,” written after the war by Francis Bret Harte, goes:

“So raged the battle. You know the rest. How the rebels, beaten and backward pressed, Broke at the final charge and ran. At which John Burns — a practical man — Shouldered his rifle, unbent his brows, And then went back to his bees and cows.”

Burns became a national hero after the battle. When President Lincoln stopped in the Pennsylvania town to deliver the Gettysburg Address, he asked to speak with Burns and met the veteran at his home.

He was photographed – a big deal at the time – and a poem was written about his life. A statue of Burns was erected at Gettysburg National Military Park in 1903, where it stands today.

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The base reads “My thanks are specially due to a citizen of Gettysburg named John Burns who although over seventy years of age shouldered his musket and offered his services to Colonel Wister One Hundred and Fiftieth Pennsylvania Volunteers. Colonel Wister advised him to fight in the woods as there was more shelter there but he preferred to join our line of skirmishers in the open fields when the troops retired he fought with the Iron Brigade. He was wounded in three places. – Gettysburg report of Maj.-Gen. Doubleday.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 black service members who helped shape history

From the American Revolution and beyond, Black service members have had an irreplaceable role in the trajectory and success of the United States military. Their contributions have helped shape the outcome of individual battles and missions, as well as paved the way for changes regarding equality in the armed forces. Here are three service members who each played unique and incredibly important roles during their time in the service.


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Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr.

Pilot and instructor of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, history’s first Black military pilots, Gen. James has an untouchable legacy of accomplishments. From the time he was young, Chappie, a nickname gifted by his brother, had always wanted to be a pilot. At 19, he would become a Tuskegee graduate and respected instructor. In July of 1943, as a Second Lieutenant, he became a pilot and member of the Tuskegee Airmen.

His time as a fighter pilot only bolstered his reputation. During the Korean War, he flew over 100 combat missions. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1950, for his leadership over a flight of F-51 Mustangs (a 1947 re-designation of the legendary P-51) during a close air support mission for U.N. troops, which saved U.S. soldiers from a serious and fatal threat.

Following the Korean War, James quickly began rising in the ranks, and by 1967, as a colonel, he became Vice Wing Commander of the Eighth Tactical Fighter Wing in Thailand, and flew 78 combat missions over North Vietnam. The most notable of which being Operation Bolo, which is considered to be one of the most successful tactical missions against Vietnamese fighter forces during that time.

In addition to all of James’s war efforts, he made an important impact on issues of racial equality, both within and outside of the military. One of his first assignments with the Tuskegee Airmen involved training in B-25 Mitchells at the Freeman Field in Indiana. Here, a group of Black service members were arrested and charged with mutiny and disobeying orders when they entered a “white only” officers’ club. When asked to sign an order supporting the need for racial segregation, James, along with 100 other Black officers, refused to do so. James, who was a Lieutenant at the time, was instrumental in aiding communication between those who were arrested and those in the public, in order to bring attention to what was happening. This incident led to Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War at the time, to ban access to facilities based on race, including officers’ clubs.

In 1975, James became the first Black four-star general in the armed forces. He was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1993. Prior to his death in 1978, he was asked to reflect on his life and service in the United States military, to which he responded, “I’ve fought in three wars and three more wouldn’t be too many to defend my country. I love America and as she has weaknesses or ills, I’ll hold her hand.”

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Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown

Following President Truman’s ban on segregation and discrimination in the military in 1955, Johnson-Brown joined the U.S. Army, having previously graduated from the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing. She served in the Army from 1955 to 1983, becoming the first Black female Brigadier General in 1979.

Her unparalleled skills as a nurse as well as her leadership capabilities contributed greatly to her successes throughout her career. Her ability to lead was evident when, over time, she was named both Director of the Walter Reed Army Institute School of Nursing as well as Chief Army Nurse in South Korea. She was also named the first Black Chief of the United States Army Nursing Corps, which granted her the distinguished responsibility of not only overseeing 7,000 Army nurses, but also the entirety of eight Army medical centers, 56 community hospitals, and 143 freestanding clinics both in the United States and around the world.

During her time in the Army, she received numerous awards and recognition for her work and contributions. Among them were the Army Commendation Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Meritorious Service Award, Legion of Merit as well as being named Army Nurse of the Year twice. Her time in the service was spent at a variety of medical facilities, some of the most notable being Valley Forge General Hospital and the 8169 Hospital, Camp Zama, Japan.

Johnson-Brown’s ability to lead and inspire continued in her life as a civilian following retirement. She was a professor of nursing at Georgetown University, as well as George Mason University in Virginia, where she played a large role in developing and implementing the Center for Health Policy, which aimed not only to educate nurses in health policy and policy design, but to also actively involve them in the process.

She was also an advocate for racial equality, and was said by many to have challenged the inequalities she witnessed. In reference to a recent promotion, Johnson-Brown was asked about the potential impact of her race on her advancement, to which she responded “Race is an incidence of birth. I hope the criterion for selection didn’t include race but competence.”

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Doris “Dorie” Miller

A perfect example of an unsung hero, Dorie Miller’s bravery and actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor saved countless lives and helped change history. As a means to provide more financial stability for his family, Miller enlisted in the Navy in 1939. He received training in Virginia and was promoted to Mess Attendant Third Class which, due to existing segregation in the Navy, was one of the few ranks afforded to Black service members at the time.

In 1940, Miller was transferred from the USS Pyro, to the USS West Virginia, which was where he was on December 7th, 1941. What was a normal work day for him, which began with gathering laundry, quickly shifted to what would become his defining moment. Upon hearing an alarm sound, Miller then went to his assigned battle station, which had already been destroyed by a torpedo, so he returned to seek reassignment.

Since Miller had the well known reputation of being the ships heavy-weight boxing champion, he was tasked with helping wounded soldiers to safety, which included the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Mervyn Sharp Bennion, who had been severely injured.

Following that, Miller was ordered to begin feeding ammunition into an unmanned .50-caliber Browning machine gun, despite having never been trained to use them due to his rank. He manned not one but two of these weapons until he ran out of ammunition and the USS West Virginia began to sink. He was one of the last three men to abandon ship.

In recognition of his actions and heroism, Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, by Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. At the time, this was the third-highest combat related Naval award, and Miller was the first Black sailor to be awarded the medal. He was also the recipient of a Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacifc Campaign Medal and the American Defense Service Medal.

While it has never been definitively proven just how tactically effective Miller’s manning of weapons was, his dedication to protection and service in the face of adversity is what makes him such an integral part of history. Miller continued his service until November 24th, 1943, when he and two-thirds of the crew of the USS Liscome Bay died or went missing following a Japanese torpedo strike. The USS Miller, a U.S. Navy Knox class destroyer, was launched in 1972, with its name honoring Dorie.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

Articles

Unexploded German WWII bomb found in British port

Germany dropped a lot of bombs on England (not to mention the rest of the United Kingdom) during World War II. Not all of them exploded – and unexploded ordnance, or UXO, has been an ongoing issue.


According to a report by NavalToday.com, war’s gift that keeps on giving turned up in Portsmouth, England. This is where the Royal Navy is planning to base the 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

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The Royal Navy’s largest ever warship HMS Queen Elizabeth is gently floated out of her dock for the first time in Rosyth, Scotland in July 2014. (Photo from U.K. MOD)

The report said that the German SC250 bomb, which weighed 500 pounds and had 290 pounds of high explosive, was discovered while dredging was underway as part of a program to improve the Royal Navy base’s infrastructure. The London Guardian reported on a past UXO find in Portsmouth in November that was rendered safe in a controlled detonation. The Guardian report also mentioned a bomb discovered in September.

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U.S. Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians work with local law enforcement bomb squad members to transport Civil War cannonballs washed ashore from Hurricane Matthew to a safe location at Folly Beach, S.C., Oct. 9, 2016. After the discovery of ordnance on the beach, local law enforcement and Air Force personnel worked together to properly dispose of the hazards. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sean Carnes)

UXO has been a long-running problem after wars. In fact, last October saw EOD personnel in the United States tasked to deal with Civil War cannonballs that were unearthed by Hurricane Matthew. UXO from World War I and World War II has been very common in Europe, including poison gas shells.

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U.S. Marines with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) platoon, Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBRIF) participate in a final training exercise with Fire Department of New York (FDNY) responding to and deactivating a notional explosive threat found at a steam plant on Randall’s Island, N.Y., Sept. 15, 2016. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Maverick S. Mejia)

In 2009, a U.S. Navy release reported that a number of leftover mines and a British torpedo from World War II were discovered during a mine countermeasures exercise during that year’s BALTOPS. Three years later, during that same exercise, an unexploded aerial bomb was discovered according to another U.S. Navy release.

A 2011 Navy release estimates that in the Baltic Sea alone, there are over 200,000 pieces of UXO from not only conflicts, but training exercises dating back to the Russian Revolution.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How doughnuts have a storied history in the trenches of WWI

Necessity is the mother of invention — and war is often the catalyst. Sure, we can look at all of the obvious military advancements that trickled down to the civilian sector, like fixed-winged aircraft, GPS, the microwave, and the can opener, but it’s a little-known fact that a lot of contemporary American foods also got their start on the battlefield.

The doughnut, one of the most American deserts known to man, got its start when troops needed a tactical desert to get their minds off the horrors of WWI.


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Looks just like the line at your local Krispy Kreme — some things never change.

(National Archives)

During WWI, the Salvation Army actually deployed overseas with the troops, offering a wide variety of support for the troops. This support ranged from preparing home-cooked meals to sending money back home to sewing their uniforms when needed. The organization was entirely independent from the Armed Forces, but they followed units around the battlefield — oftentimes going to the front lines with them.

Two women assigned to assist the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division, Ensign Helen Purviance and Ensign Margaret Sheldon, endured the hellish environment of Monte-sur-Soux, France, just as the soldiers did. It rained for thirty days and supplies were running thin. They needed to come up with something — anything — to boost the abysmal morale.

They searched the countryside for ingredients and came back with eggs, milk, yeast, sugar, and a bit of vanilla. Perfect ingredients to make a cake, but that wouldn’t be enough for all the troops. They made some dough, used a wine bottle to work it, and cooked the cake batter on a frying pan in some grease. They served it up — and the soldiers loved it.

Soldiers would gather from all around when they smelled the doughnuts being cooked. It was said that the lines were so long that troops would miss duty or formation because they just wanted a single doughnut. One soldier eventually asked Ensign Purvaince, “can’t you make a doughnut with a hole in it?” She obliged this request by cutting the middle of the doughnut out with an empty condensed milk can and used the rest of the batter for other doughnuts.

Doughnuts quickly spread across the U.S. front and other Salvation Army officers started making them for the troops in their care. It didn’t take long for the women making the sweets to be given the nickname of “doughnut girls” or “doughnut lassies” — despite the numerous other ways in which they aided troops.

So, when National Doughnut Day rolls around on the first Friday of June, know that it’s about more than the glazed treat you used to cheat on your diet this morning. It’s a day in honor of the women who served on the front-lines with the troops, preparing tasty treats in hopes of cheering them up.

To learn more about Doughnut Girls or real meaning behind National Doughnut Day, check out the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

There was a time when duels ‘downsized’ the officer ranks

In 1814 the War of 1812 was rising in intensity and the young American nation found itself struggling to mount a serious defense against the British juggernaut. Compounding America’s problems of short-manning and a limited supply of weapons was the fact that officers kept killing each other in duels over matters of honor, Donald R. Hickey said in his book, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict.


 

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Duelists fighting to the death over perceived insults. Painting: Public Domain

 

“One in twelve American navy officers who died on active duty before 1815 were killed in duels, eighteen in all,” Stephen Budiansky wrote in Perilous Fight; “easily twice that number had fought a duel, and every officer lived with the knowledge that his reputation for courage was always liable to be tested on the field of honor.

A Smithsonian.com article noted an even grimmer statistic saying, “Between 1798 and the Civil War, the Navy lost two-thirds as many officers to dueling as it did to more than 60 years of combat at sea.”

One spot of ground near Washington, D.C. was popular for both duelists and journalists. At least 26 duels, many of them between military officers, were fought there. In one duel in 1820, Commodore Stephen Decatur, a decorated naval officer, was killed by Commodore James Barron over a years-old disagreement.

The disagreement stemmed from the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair and was the root cause of 8 other duels as well. Officers fought each other to the death to determine who should be blamed for the USS Chesapeake‘s surrender to the HMS Leopard in a skirmish in 1807.

Gen. Andrew Jackson was nearly killed in a duel in 1806 when he dueled attorney Charles Dickinson and was shot within inches of his heart. Jackson plugged the wound with a handkerchief before killing Dickinson.

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Andrew Jackson wins the Battle of New Orleans two weeks after the War of 1812 ended. Not photographed: The hole in his chest from the nearly fatal dueling wound he shrugged off. Painting: Public Domain.

It got so bad that in 1814 the War Department threatened to discharge duelists in a failed attempt to bring the practice to an end.

This would have been a direct reversal of common military culture at the time. In 1813, a regimental commander refused a duel from one of the doctors in his unit. The doctor was later convicted of insubordination but immediately pardoned.

Other officers from the same camp had convinced the commanding general that it was a greater injustice that a duel had been refused than that a doctor had posted insubordinate notices. When the war was over, the Army kept the insubordinate doctor but released the colonel from service.

Abraham Lincoln, before he was president, nearly cut down Army officer James Shields. Lincoln had ridiculed Shields in the press and Shields demanded the chance to defend his honor. Lincoln chose broadswords as the weapon and, on the dueling ground, used his much larger arms to cut down a branch that was over Shields’ head.

With the encouragement of the crowd, the men called off the duel. During the Civil War, then-Brig. Gen. Shields defeated Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Kernstown, an important victory for the Union.

Although generally frowned upon, duels still happened until after the Civil War.

popular

That time an entire battle stopped to watch two soldiers in a fistfight

There’s just something about two people in a fistfight that’s irresistible to watch. We can’t look away. There’s something about the sound of a sliding barstool, the rising tide of voices shouting, and the sudden rush of action in one spot that is just pure entertainment.


But there shouldn’t be any reason to stop and watch two soldiers fistfight in the middle of war.

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Though it’s an interesting idea.

 

That’s why it’s surprising that it actually happened. And all the onlookers were Americans – it was during the Civil War.

In May 1864, Union and Confederate armies clashed in a dense wooded area known as “The Wilderness” over the course of three days. More than 120,000 Yankees fought some 65,000 Rebels to an ultimately inconclusive result. Both sides took tens of thousands of killed and wounded, and the Union Army of the Potomac pushed further into Virginia.

Before anyone knew the outcome of the battle, however, one small skirmish captured everyone’s attention, Union and Confederate.

In the middle of the Wilderness, between the two armies’ centers, was a clearing called Saunders Field. Being the only real clearing in the area between two opposing armies meant that it was full of artillery shells and the holes made by those shells, along with bullets. Just tons of and tons of bullets.

 

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Why are Civil War bullets so large?? WHY

As the two sides clashed near a gully in the field, a Union soldier hid there to avoid being captured by the enemy. Then a Confederate soldier threw himself into the gully to avoid the hail of Union bullets coming toward him. They were the only two in the gully and didn’t even see one another.

Until they did see one another. And then they started “bantering” to one another.

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Something like this, except basketball players never actually throw punches.

Eventually the two had enough of one another and decided to take it outside…of the gully. They stepped into the road for a good ol’ fashioned “fist and skull fight.” Whoever won would take the other as prisoner.

They were halfway between both sides of the battle, in full view of everyone in each opposing army. And the men in each of those armies stopped fighting the Civil War to watch a fistfight. All the other soldiers even ran up to get a better view of the fight.

Did I mention the Civil War stopped to watch this fight?

 

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Let’s see Floyd Mayweather do that.

The account, written by a cavalryman of the Virginia Infantry, doesn’t mention how long the fight lasted, only that “Johnny [Reb] soon had the Yank down.” The Union soldier, true to his word, surrendered. They both returned to the gully, fighting resumed, and the man was taken back to Confederate lines.

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