Over the years, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has graduated thousands of officers who have gone on to do great things with their lives. Two Presidents of the United States and 75 Medal of Honor recipients are West Pointers. But no single class has been quite as successful as the Class of 1915.
The Class of 1915 was comprised some of the most famous names in the history of the U.S. Army, including Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. There were 164 graduates that year and over one third, 59 total, went on to become generals, spawning the nickname ‘The Class the Stars Fell On.”
All told, two of them were named as five-star Generals of the Army, two others became four-star generals, seven made lieutenant general, 24 pinned on two-stars, and 24 made brigadier. To top it all off, Dwight Eisenhower was elected as the 34th President of the United States.
There were a number of factors that affected the outcome for this class. The first was the timing of their graduation. With the Punitive Expedition in 1916 and America’s entry into World War I in 1917, the Class of 1915 found themselves in combat early in their careers.
Second, a career as a military officer was rather nice for the times, compared to other jobs. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, resignations became exceedingly rare, even if promotions were non-existent.
Finally, with the rapid expansion of the armed forces for World War II, this class of officers quickly moved into high level command positions due to their experience and seniority. The first among the class to reach the general officer ranks was also the first Puerto Rican and Hispanic to attend and graduate from West Point, Luis R. Esteves.
The two highest ranking members of the class were Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. Eisenhower quickly gained a reputation for his planning and administrative abilities and in just three years’ time would advance from the rank of brigadier general to General of the Army, a five-star rank, as the commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. During World War II, he planned and led the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Normandy. Bradley would enter the war with Eisenhower in North Africa and quickly receive promotions as well. Bradley took charge of the Twelfth Army Group, consisting of four field armies and over one million men, the largest group of American soldiers to ever serve under a single field commander. Bradley would not receive his fifth star until the Korean War, when he served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The class also had two four-star generals in Joseph McNarney and James Van Fleet. McNarney was originally commissioned in the infantry but then attended flight school. Under his recommendation, the Army Air Forces became an autonomous component of the Army. He would eventually become the Supreme Commander of the Mediterranean Theatre. James Van Fleet was also commissioned in the infantry and during World War II he commanded both the 4th and 90th Infantry Divisions as well as III Corps. During the Korean War, he commanded the Eighth Army. He was also one of, if not the, most decorated officers of the class, having earned three Distinguished Service Crosses, three Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, and three Purple Hearts.
Although a number of the class distinguished themselves in combat in World War I, many members of the class did not, and would not, see combat until World War II, where they would truly distinguish themselves. A total of thirteen men from the class would command divisions during WWII. In Europe, Generals Leland Hobbs led the 30th Infantry Division, earning the nickname ‘Roosevelt’s SS’ from the Germans and were considered by S.L.A. Marshall to be the number one infantry division in theatre.
Lt. Gen. John Leonard, who received a Distinguished Service Cross in WWI, would lead the 9th Armored Division throughout the war and during their daring taking of the Remagen Bridge. In the Pacific, Joseph Swing, who would eventually become a Lieutenant General, commanded the 11th Airborne Division. Swing was instrumental in saving the airborne divisions by chairing the Swing Board and showing their utility in the Knollwood Maneuver.
In the air, Lt. Gen. Hubert Harmon would command the Sixth and Thirteenth Air Forces and go on to be the first Superintendent of the Air Force Academy. Another Lieutenant General, George Stratemeyer, would command the air forces in the China-India-Burma Theatre of Operations.
Many of these officers retired shortly after World War II but a few continued to serve. The longest serving member of the class was Lt. Gen. Hubert Harmon who retired in 1956 after 41 years of service. The last surviving general of the class was James Van Fleet, who died at the age of 100 in 1992. Although the number of graduates each year at West Point is now significantly greater than it was in 1915 it is highly unlikely that there will ever be another class to achieve such greatness.
Peter MacDonald is one of the last remaining Navajo Code Talkers. The former chairman of the Navajo Nation recently sat down with VAntage Point staff to explain what made the “unbreakable” code so effective, and how it helped save lives and secure victory in the Pacific.
“Without Navajo, Marines would never have taken the island of Iwo Jima,” he said. “That’s how critical Navajo Code was to the war in the Pacific.”
The Unbreakable Code
Code Talkers used native languages to send military messages before World War II. Choctaw, for example, was used during World War I. The Marine Corps, however, needed an “unbreakable” code for its island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. Navajo, which was unwritten and known by few outside the tribe, seemed to fit the Corps’ requirements.
Twenty-nine Navajos were recruited to develop the code in 1942. They took their language and developed a “Type One Code” that assigned a Navajo word to each English letter. They also created special words for planes, ships and weapons.
Understanding Navajo didn’t mean a person could understand the code. While a person fluent in the language would hear a message that translated into a list of words that seemingly had no connection to each other, a code talker would hear a very clear message.
Here is an example:
Navajo Code: DIBEH, AH-NAH, A-SHIN, BE, AH-DEEL-TAHI, D-AH, NA-AS-TSO-SI, THAN-ZIE, TLO-CHIN Translation: SHEEP, EYES, NOSE, DEER, BLOW UP, TEA, MOUSE, TURKEY, ONION Deciphered Code: SEND DEMOLITION TEAM TO …
In addition to being unbreakable, the new code also reduced the amount of time it took to transmit and receive secret messages. Because all 17 pages of the Navajo code were memorized, there was no need to encrypt and decipher messages with the aid of coding machines. So, instead of taking several minutes to send and receive one message, Navajo code talkers could send several messages within seconds. This made the Navajo code talker an important part of any Marine unit.
The U.S. Marine Corps is rooted in tradition, discipline, and legacy — both on and off the battlefield. For their 244th birthday, we put together a short but noble list of badass Devil Dogs that you may not have heard of before!
From Marine Raiders in the Pacific to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) officers in North Africa to a World Series champion and a Hollywood heartthrob — this list reminds us that Marines are some of the best the United States has to offer.
1. William A. Eddy
William A. Eddy was an enigmatic figure. He was well-traveled, well-spoken, and had knowledge that many Americans during World War II lacked: an immersion in Islamic culture. Eddy was the son of missionaries and spent his childhood in Sidon, Syria (now Lebanon). He later immigrated to the United States and received an education from Princeton University.
At Princeton, Eddy studied 18th-century literature and Islamic customs, and he developed a fascination with “Gulliver’s Travels” from author Jonathan Swift. During World War I, he exchanged academia for bravery when he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and the French Fourragère as an intelligence officer. The Battle of Belleau Wood left him severely wounded when an explosive shell peppered his hip, an injury that plagued him for life.
Following the war, Eddy took a job teaching English at American University in Cairo, Egypt, and taught basketball and tennis to students after hours. He wrote the first basketball rulebook in Arabic. In 1941, after professors resigned in protest because of his school curriculum, Eddy said, “College presidency is a job with which I am definitely out of love. I want to be a Marine.” A year later he was commissioned as a major in the Marine Corps, and William Donovan — the founder of the OSS — gave him a cover job as a naval attachè. This cover provided him the access needed to lead all Allied Intelligence across North Africa.
In 1944, he resigned from the Marines to pursue a career that would enhance his love for research, writing, and building relationships. President Franklin Roosevelt asked him to become minister plenipotentiary to Saudi Arabia. Since he spent much of his childhood in the Middle East, Eddy was proficient in the Arabic, French, and German languages. All three are spoken in North Africa, which was an asset in his diplomatic career. He once personally acted as a translator between Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia on the deck of a naval destroyer in the Suez Canal. At the time, he was the only person who could speak both English and Arabic.
A year later, he served in Yemen to develop a U.S. treaty despite not being allies. From 1946 to 1947, he served as special assistant to the secretary of state and was in charge of research and intelligence. When Eddy wasn’t pioneering rapports with Middle Eastern leaders, he and his wife, Mary, enjoyed birdwatching, skiing in Switzerland, and aimlessly traveling the deserts of Lebanon and Beirut. In 1962, he died from a sudden illness at 66 years old. Eddy left behind a legacy as an Arabian Knight who secured the U.S.-Saudi alliance, as well as a war hero, intelligence officer, teacher, and diplomat.
2. Evans Carlson “Carlson’s Raiders”
Like many Marines, Evans Carlson gained his education and life experience through intense combat. Military historian John Wukovitz referred to Carlson as “an intellectual who loved combat; a high school dropout who quoted Emerson; a thin, almost fragile-looking man who relished fifty-mile hikes; an officer in a military organization that touted equality among officers and enlisted; a kindly individual with the capacity to kill; the product of small New England towns who sought adventure in vast reaches of the world; a man who believed in decency and love and fairness, but whose actions generated bitterness hatred and empathy.”
After running away from his Vermont home at age 14 and lying about his age at 16, Carlson enlisted in the Army in 1910 and matured as a man in a time of war. His duration in the Army was short, though worth noting because his service in the Pacific resulted in many promotions. He advanced to sergeant major and later was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, deploying to Europe just in time for the armistice agreement to be approved. In 1919, he left the Army and mingled around the civilian world before enlisting in the Marine Corps with a reduced rank.
Evans Carlson in uniform with a chest full of medals from his time in 2nd Raider Battalion.
As an officer, Carlson proved himself in Nicaragua with a team of just 12 Marines. They repelled 100 bandits, and he was awarded his first Navy Cross. Later, between 1937 and 1939, he was a witness to the developments of the Chinese army. While living among their forces, Carlson traveled thousands of miles on horseback through difficult terrain. He jotted down his findings and studied the tactics of Japanese foot soldiers. As an author of two books — “The Chinese Army” and “Twin Stars of China” — Carlson was an advocate for the Chinese, who he thought could be an ally in the Pacific against the aggressive Japanese military.
In 1941, he led the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion and called his unit the “Kung-ho (Work Together)” or “Gung-ho Battalion.” Others called them Carlson’s Raiders. He valued each man by their merit, not by their title. Carlson utilized his past experiences from his three trips to China to build rapport with allied-native forces and hit the Japanese in shock-and-awe violence.
While aboard two submarines — the USS Nautilus SS-168 and the USS Argonaut SM-1 — traveling from Pearl Harbor, the Marine Raiders were tasked with a secret mission to attack the island of Butaritari (sometimes referred to as Makin Island). Although they trained for this mission using light rubber boats, Murphy’s Law always has a say in real-world operations. At 3:30 AM, the Raiders launched 20 boats from the submarine — 11 men each — into the heavy surf and rain. Some of the equipment, such as mortars and mission essential supplies, were lost at sea because they weren’t tied down.
Adding to the confusion, one soldier accidentally discharged his weapon, which erased the element of surprise. Carlson phoned the submarine on the radio with a SITREP and said, “Everything lousy.” Alongside legendary Chinese Marine Sergeant Victor Maghakian — who served in the famed Shanghai Municipal Police — the Raiders successfully deceived the Japanese into believing this amphibious landing was the main assault, thus drawing attention from Guadalcanal. For his decisive leadership, Carlson received a Gold Star for his second Navy Cross.
In November, the Carlson’s Raiders reached Guadalcanal and hiked 18 miles through dense jungle foliage. This hike was later called Carlson’s patrol or the long patrol and has since reached legendary battlefield status. Led by native scouts — and in just 29 days — 488 Japanese soldiers were killed, 16 Americans killed in action (KIA), and 18 Americans wounded. The success of the operation was largely due to the guerilla warfare tactics the unit employed, the understanding of the Japanese fight-to-the-death mantra, and the effectiveness of small units and their capabilities.
3. Merritt A. Edson
Merritt A. Edson’s path was similar to Evans Carlson’s. Both were commanders of a Marine Raider Battalion — Edson leading the 1st and Carlson leading the 2nd. Prior to World War II, Edson pursued an aviation career but made the transition as a grunt from 1928 to 1929. During that span, he fought 12 separate ground engagements against Nicaraguan bandits, which earned him his first Navy Cross. This is where his nickname, “Red Mike,” was born because he wore a long, red beard during the fighting. This is also where his platoon of specially trained Marines honed a capability they would use during World War II.
Edson is most notably remembered for his heroism on what was later described as “Edson’s Ridge” (Lunga Ridge) near the captured Japanese airfield later renamed Henderson Field on Guadalcanal on Sept. 13-14, 1942. Edson’s Raider Battalion, enforced with two companies from the 1st Parachute Regiment, were hunkered down to rest on a warm August evening. A numerically superior force of 2,500 heavily armed and determined Japanese launched an all-out ambush that initially overwhelmed the estimated 800 Marines. Edson called for his men to push back to avoid being overrun.
Merritt “Red Mike” Edson, Medal of Honor Recipient and Marine Raider during World War II.
Edson told his Marines to prepare for their final stand as they began mowing down the waves of charging Japanese soldiers. They effectively repelled the attack, and Edson’s fierce leadership was awarded with the Medal of Honor. After World War II, Edson was promoted to major general before retiring from the military in 1947. However, his service didn’t end there — he became the first commissioner of the Vermont State Police, the state in which he grew up. The state police uniform was modeled after the Marines, and the troopers were structured in a paramilitary-type ranking system. When Bennington College student Paula Weldon disappeared in 1946, Edson helped establish the Department of Public Safety. The case has remained unsolved, but it was a driving force in creating an organization to effectively solve crimes in a unified manner rather than allocating help from outside state and federal resources.
Edson’s practices and innovation in the police force encouraged other departments and agencies to follow suit. In 1948, the first state police radio system allowed stations and patrol cars to communicate with each other. And in 1949, an Identification and Records Division was established, which ultimately changed the future of policing. After four years of dedicated service, Edson retired in 1951. Four years later, he committed suicide by carbonmonoxide poisoning in the garage of his home in Washington, D.C. At the time, he was working for the National Rifle Association.
4. Sterling Hayden
To his fellow Marines, Hollywood heartthrob Sterling Hayden was known by his alias, John Hamilton. At age 22, Hayden had already secured a master’s certificate in sailing, and his passion was at sea. He used his acting career to fund his adventurous sea voyages. “I just laughed it off at the time,” he said in an interview in 1972. “But a year or so later, when I had finally managed to buy my own ship only to see her irreparably damaged on her first voyage, a few months in Hollywood seemed like a quick and easy way to get enough dough and buy another one.”
Hayden thought his acting chops were lacking and was waiting for someone to tap him on the shoulder and ask what he was doing there. Others, especially women, saw a 6-foot-4, blonde, and handsome character actor with a soft smile who was easy on the eyes. He married British actress Madeleine Carroll, who was known for her roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s “39 Steps” and “Secret Agent.” The pair were a fair match as both had resentments about Hollywood, but for Hayden, who grew up idolizing World War I ace fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker, more adventures were waiting. He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marines during World War II as a secret intelligence and paramilitary organization was being created for which they were in search of Marines with advanced skills.
Sterling Hayden at the helm of the Wanderer.
(Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society.)
In order to operate undercover at the OSS, he adopted an alias, which was common practice for OSS officers. As John Hamiliton, Hayden was sent to commando school in Britain to learn parachute skills and tradecraft from the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He then assumed his pastime as a sailor, except this time he was running guns through German-patrolled waters to Josip Broz Tito’s partisan forces in Yugoslavia. From Christmas Eve 1943 to Jan. 2, 1944, Captain Hamilton operated clandestine missions through hazardous waters and scouted enemy positions for reconnaissance. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.
When Hamilton first met OSS officers, he said it was “the first time since joining the OSS that I was associated with men who were actually doing a job.” Hamilton later sailed another mission carrying food and nourishment to the Yugoslav people, who were cut off from outside assistance. Captaining a 50-foot Italian fishing vessel, their crew crept through the Adriatic Sea off the Albanian coast completely unarmed. Between February and April, they made 10 trips. Hayden later commented: “By plunging through the Allied minefield late of an afternoon a schooner always had a fighting chance of reaching Vis at dawn—barely in time to be backed into a precipitous cove where she could be hastily camouflaged with pine boughs festooned in her rigging, unloaded the following night, the camouflage repeated, and then driven toward Italy as soon as the weather served.”
In the summer, he was tasked with transporting 40 tons of explosives near the shores of Croatia, but the mission was passed to the SOE at the last minute. When the war ended, Hayden returned to his old habits, sailing the world with legendary seafarer Spike Africa and his children, writing of his adventures in his popular autobiography “Wanderer” and his novel “Voyage,” and acting in popular movies. He appeared in “The Godfather” as the chief of police and in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” and “Dr. Strangelove.” He died in 1986 at age 70.
5. Hank Bauer
Hank Bauer was a New York Yankees all-star who played on the same team as baseball icons Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle. One sportswriter described him as having “a face like a clenched fist.” Bauer holds the record for the longest hitting streak in World Series history, with at least one hit in 17 consecutive games. He is also a World Series Champion, both as a player and as a manager for the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite all his success as an athlete, Bauer said his brother, Herman, who was killed in action in France in 1944 during World War II, was the family’s best player. Like his brother, Bauer served during the war, but with the elite unit known as the Marine Raiders. While serving with the 4th Raider Battalion in the Pacific, Bauer’s immune system had a problem with malaria — or that’s what outsiders would tell you, since he contracted and fought the disease 23 times. This was largely due to his stubbornness as he refused to take atabrine pills to prevent it.
Bauer saw action on the islands of New Georgia, located north of Guadalcanal, and he recalled it as “indescribable — the worst [place he had] ever seen.” As the Marines island-hopped across the Pacific, Bauer was wounded by shrapnel on two separate occasions. During the Battle of Okinawa, Bauer was the platoon leader for 64 Marines. Only six of them survived the hellacious fighting. In 32 months of combat, he was awarded two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.
Steve Fredericks, one of the Marines in Bauer’s platoon, said, “On Guadalcanal when things quieted down, he had a baseball glove and I’d go out and have a catch with him. You could tell he played, but it didn’t enter my mind [that he could be professional]. When I got back to the states I heard him on the radio and watched him on TV. But it didn’t surprise me; he was built. He was all muscle. He was a strong man.”
Remembering D-Day with World War II Vets in Normandy
The year is 1967. The location is Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base. There, Captain Robert Salas was on duty with his Commander 60 feet underground in the missile launch bunker. They were in charge of 10 missiles. Each of these missiles contained an eight-ton nuclear weapon. Salas was in charge of launching the missiles if given the order, so it’s not like he was just clowning around. This was serious, and Cpt. Salas knew it.
UFOs are all fun and games until they happen to you
While his Commander took a nap in the early morning hours, Cpt. Salas stayed awake. That’s when the above-ground security guards contacted him about some strange lights they saw in the sky. At first, Salas thought it was a prank, so he laughed it off. But they rang him again 10 minutes later, and by then they were utterly terrified.
The guard screamed at Salas into the phone about an oval-shaped, glowing red object about 40 feet in diameter above the front gate. It was moving in a jerky, strange way that the guard had never seen: quick short spurts, stopping and changing course abruptly, making sharp 90-degree turns, dropping then rising back up, and making no noise at all.
A strange situation gets even stranger
Salas immediately wakes his Commander and informs him about the odd, frightening UFO situation going on above ground. Not moments later, all 10 missile lights inexplicably turn from green to red, an indication that they have been disabled. That meant the missiles were no longer launch-able, leaving the US compromised in the event of an attack.
What would be going through your mind if this happened to you? Salas was thinking the same thing, that they were under attack. Desperate, they tried everything to get their missiles functioning again, but to no avail.
And here’s what makes the whole thing even stranger, if you can believe it. A week earlier, another Malmstrom missile launch crew had reported the exact same thing. They described the same UFO with the same red lights and jerky movements, only to find their entire fleet of nuclear missiles disarmed moments later.
The case of the disabled missiles remains unsolved
The fact that it happened twice didn’t make Salas feel any better. He knew these missiles were the most sophisticated weapons they’d ever had, and now something strange and unknown had been able to disable them, just like that. Both of the UFO occurrences disarmed the weapons for almost 24 hours.
To this day, no one knows what those UFOs were, how they shut down the missiles, or why they did it. Salas is convinced that the UFOs were extraterrestrial. Once the information was de-classified, he has been on a mission to foil the government cover-ups and help the public see that these events truly happen.
When Lt. Kara Hultgreen died while trying to land on the USS Abraham Lincoln, the event touched off a national debate about women in combat roles and the military pushing women who weren’t ready into active service. Except Hultgreen was more than qualified to be a naval aviator – she was just a victim of a well-known deficiency in the F-14’s Pratt & Whitney engine.
“Top Gun” doesn’t mention engine deficiencies.
Hultgreen’s mom thought she would be the perfect debutante. Instead, her little Kara set out to be a Naval Aviator, flying the F-14 Tomcat. The goal didn’t stop at the F-14, Kara Hultgreen wanted to be an astronaut one day. But she didn’t start with the Tomcat, she started her career flying the less-pretty EA-6A. She made it to the Tomcat 18 months later.
“Yes, it’s a macho job in a number of ways,” she told Woman Pilot magazine before she died. “But that’s not why I wanted to do it. I did this to become a fighter pilot. It makes me feel no less feminine and it should not make men feel less masculine. The F-14 is a humbling jet and I’ve been humbled.”
Call Sign: “Revlon”
What she meant by being humbled is that Hultgreen narrowly failed her first attempt at F-14 carrier qualification. But she passed easily her second time around, ranking third in her class overall. Tragically, it was a similar event that would result in her death.
On Oct. 25, 1994, she was attempting to land her F-14 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. She overshot the landing area’s centerline and attempted to correct the mistake. Her correction disrupted the airflow into her Tomcat’s left engine, which caused it to fail. This was a known deficiency in that particular engine. What she did next caused the plane to tilt over to the left. When her Radar Intercept Officer realized the plane was not recoverable, he initiated the plane’s ejection sequences. He was fired out, and .4 seconds later, Hultgreen was fired out of the plane.
But by then, the Tomcat had turned over by 90 degrees and Hultgreen was launched into the ocean, killing her instantly.
By the time she died, Lt. Hultgreen had more than 1,240 hours of flying time in the F-14 Tomcat and had landed on a carrier some 58 times, 17 times at night. She was ranked first in defending the fleet from simulated attacks by enemy aircraft and in air refueling, and second in tactics to evade enemy aircraft and in combined familiarization with tactics and aircraft. The Aerospace Engineer was a Distinguished Naval Graduate of Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola.
Yet, despite all of her achievements, training, and preparation, there were some who blamed the military for her death, alleging her superiors overlooked her mistakes in training in trying to beat the Air Force in training the first female fighter pilot. One group, the Center for Military Readiness, claimed to have obtained Hultgreen’s training records in 1995, records which they said would have disqualified her as an aviator.
These records are contradicted by records released from Hultgreen’s family the year prior, however. Her colleagues and fellow pilots praised her performance as a naval aviator and reminded people that 10 F-14 pilots were killed in accidents between the years of 1992 and 1994. Hultgreen once even brought an EA-6A Intruder to a safe landing, despite flying it with crippled landing gear.
‘Empire’ is such a great word. It evokes images of lasting power, strength, and historical importance — even when it has nothing to do with an actual empire.
When it does have to do with an actual empire, you expect some kind of lasting imprint on humanity — some kind expansive reach; some kind of anything, really. Empires aren’t supposed to just rise for no reason and collapse like the Cowboys in the playoffs.
6. The Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire has a glorious 600-year history of basically just scaring Europeans about the spread of Islam. If you look at the current state of affairs, it’s obvious that Europe never needed the help in the first place. When it came to actually spreading Islam, the Caliphate wasn’t quite so good at it.
At its height, the Ottomans didn’t even have full control over the lands they supposedly ruled. As soon as they reached a period of peace and prosperity in the 18th century, they kinda let the whole Empire decline. And even when Ottoman military power recovered, they still suffered losses in territory and in wars. After choosing the wrong side of WWI, they became modern-day Turkey. At only 100 years old, it already has a history and culture more unique than the Ottomans ever had.
5. The German Empire
Another victim of poor decisions during WWI, the German Empire only lasted 47 years. That’s not even long enough for the Kaiser to have a mid-life crisis.
Even though it saw a lot of technological and industrial achievements, it pretty much squandered those on a couple of World Wars that it somehow lost. It was late to the game of creating a colonial empire — one with a plan that can be best described as “oh yeah, me too,” as they simply took what Britain and France left behind.
4. The Galactic Empire
As dramatic as the changeover from Republic to Empire might have been (as painstakingly recounted in the Star Wars prequels), their biggest achievements include getting beaten by a fleet of space fighters that resemble your Uncle Todd’s Camaro after spending all their time enslaving and killing entire populations.
Not to mention their big goal was trying to build the same space station twice and they got trounced in their efforts both times. They left no cultural legacy on the people of the galaxy except for “I’m so happy they’re gone.”
3. The Russian Empire
This was an empire that was constantly trying to keep up with everyone else. The few Tsars who managed to drag Russia, kicking and screaming, into being competitive, had to do it by some extreme means — like publicly cutting off beards.
Peasants in parts of Russia were essentially slaves from the 11the century until the 19th century. They weren’t emancipated until 18-goddamn-61. With all that free labor, Russia still struggled to keep up with the rest of the world. And we wonder why the Soviet Union was so popular at first.
2. The Holy Roman Empire
What is it? No, seriously. WHAT IS IT? French philosopher Voltaire once said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Like an early European Union, a group of small kingdoms and principalities chose their Holy Roman Emperor to operate out of any city he wanted. He ruled basically nothing and the smaller kingdoms could ignore him at their will.
Sure, individual emperors could get things done, but that was because of who they were outside of being the Holy Roman Emperor, not because actually being Holy Roman Emperor. It’s especially sad for the Holy Roman Empire that a family or dynasty could overshadow the whole history of the empire.
1. Austro-Hungarian Empire
Besides the Herculean effort to stop the Ottomans at Vienna (we went over that), Austria-Hungary is most famous for getting kicked around by Napoleon and losing the World War they dragged everyone into.
Imagine a family of really dumb, inbred, rich people who owned a huge plot of land and put an army on it. Then they hired their stupid friends to command the army because uniforms are cool. Then, that family’s neighbors always come bail them out when they’re losing wars because they don’t want the neighborhood going to shit.
Chaplains do a lot for the troops they serve during war, whether it’s bringing comfort to a badly wounded soldier in their last moments or helping guide a troop through rough, emotional times. A chaplain may be of just about any religion, but no matter which he’s chosen, he’s there for all troops.
There was one instance where four chaplains proved exactly that. In the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943, John P. Washington (Roman Catholic), Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), George L. Fox (Methodist), and Clarke V. Poling (Reformed Church of America) would go down in history as “The Four Chaplains.”
These men came from a variety of backgrounds. According to ArmyHistory.org, Fox was already a hero of note – a Silver Star and Croix de Guerre recipient from his service as a medic during World War I. Washington had survived a BB gun accident that nearly blinded him and had cheated on a vision test to serve in the Army. Goode followed in his father’s footsteps to become a rabbi and had shown a talent for bridging religious divides. Poling’s father had been a prominent radio evangelist. Washington and Goode, coincidentally, had both been rejected by the Navy.
However, all four of these chaplains would soon meet their end at the hands of a German U-boat and, in doing so, would become known for their extreme bravery and poise.
When torpedoes from the German submarine U-233 hit USAT Dorchester, it triggered a calamity. The stricken transport developed a sharp thirty-degree list, rendering a number of lifeboats unusable. Over a third of the personnel on board were quickly killed and many of the survivors were panicked.
The four chaplains took control of the situation, passing out life jackets to the troops who needed them. At one point, a navy officer went looking for a pair of gloves when Goode stopped him, handing over his own gloves, claiming he had an extra pair. Another soldier began to panic about not having a life jacket and Fox was heard saying, “Here’s one, soldier.” A survivor witnessed Fox giving the panicking soldier his own life jacket. The official summary of the statements by survivors noted merely that the chaplains on board had a “calm attitude” throughout the Dorchester’s last moments.
All four chaplains perished in the sinking of the Dorchester. They received Distinguished Service Crosses and the Purple Hearts posthumously. Their heroism, though, will live on.
The video below is part of the 75th-anniversary tribute to these men:
By the time Samuel Woodfill was earning his Medal of Honor in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1917, he was already a veteran of another war. The fighting of World War I just happened to be very different from the fighting he saw in the Philippine-American War. But Woodfill was practically born to be an Army man.
His father was a veteran of the Civil War and Mexican-American War and raised Samule to be an excellent shot with a rifle. By 1901, he was enlisting in the U.S. Army the way his father had 60 years before.
Woodfill was immediately sent to the Philippines with the 11th Infantry in 1901. There, he fought Filipino Insurrectionists in the jungles of the islands for three years before returning to American territory. When World War I broke out, the growing U.S. Army needed its skilled veterans to train and lead the new recruits being sent over to European battlefields.
He deployed with the American Expeditionary Force to France in 1917, still an enlisted non-commissioned officer. But the same need for veterans and leaders that saw Woodfill deploy with the AEF soon saw him promoted to a Lieutenant’s commission. By 1918, almost 17 years to the day he first joined the Army, he was promoted again.
Woodfill was then sent to lead men in the coming Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September 1918. In the second week of the massive offensive, Woodfill and his men found themselves near the French town of Cunel, moving through heavy fog. Despite the fog, they were spotted by German defenders, who opened up on the Americans with heavy machine gun fire.
His men immediately took cover, but Lt. Woodfill did not. He rushed straight at the German defenders, a machine gun nest manned by four enemy soldiers. He shot three of them and, jumping into the enemy position, fought the German officer in hand to hand combat. Woodfill killed the opposing officer too.
Signalling his men to get up and keep moving, they found themselves under fire again from another German machine gun. This time, he ordered his men to advance on the position, which they did. It was overrun and its three-man crew were captured. As they moved forward, they were again shot at by an enemy machine gun.
Charging forward, the American dispatched the third machine gun nest, with Woodfill emptying his rifle and taking down five more Germans. They then entered a German bunker guarded by two more enemy troops. Having spent all his ammunition, Woodfill grabbed a nearby pickaxe and beat the two defenders to death.
Throughout the whole ordeal, Woodfill and his men hadn’t noticed that the air was becoming thick with mustard gas, but they were beginning to feel its effects. He ordered his men to get out of the enemy area and go back to the American lines. The gas was only means of stopping the American advance in the area.
None of his men were killed in the fighting, but the mustard gas knocked Samuel Woodfill out of the war. It took him weeks to recover from its primary effects, but the gas left his lungs permanently scarred for the rest of his life. He was soon awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions near Cunel.
His exploits as a soldier were so legendary, Gen, John J. Pershing, who gave Woodfill his battlefield commission in 1917, called him “The Most Outstanding Soldier of World War I.”
He was even chosen to be one of the pallbearers for the Unknown Soldier of World War I. Though he retired as a Master Sergeant in 1923, at the onset of World War II, the Army recommissioned him as a major and put him in charge of training new troops in Alabama.
His second retirement from the Army came in 1942, after the death of his wife. Samuel Woodfill died nine years later and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Today, the Ticonderoga-class cruiser is the epitome of a vessel designed with the primary purpose of protecting capital ships from an aerial threat.
With the Aegis fire control system, two 64-cell Mk 41 vertical launch systems, and a pair of five-inch guns, among other weapons, the Tico can handle just about anything the enemy has that flies.
But this wasn’t the only cruiser designed to primarily confront the aerial threat. That honor falls to the cruiser USS Atlanta (CL 51), which was commissioned 17 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Atlanta was also designed to serve as a scout or a flotilla leader for destroyers, but her main battery of 16 5-inch/38 guns gave her a powerful anti-aircraft armament.
The Navy originally ordered four of these cruisers, but doubled the total after the start of the war. Three slightly modified versions, known as the Juneau-class cruisers, were later acquired, but not finished until after the war.
According to the “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships,” the USS Atlanta saw action in the Battle of Midway, the invasion of Guadalcanal, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. In that last battle, she was heavily damaged by both friendly and enemy fire, and ultimately had to be scuttled.
Other than the second ship of the class, USS Juneau (CL 52) — best known as the vessel that the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, perished aboard — the rest of the Atlanta-class cruisers survived the war.
The USS Reno (CL 96) did have a hell of a fight for survival after being torpedoed in November 1944.
The last Atlanta-class cruiser to serve in the United States Navy was the USS Juneau (CL 119), the lead ship of her sub-class that was completed in the months after World War II.
Roald Dahl is often considered to be one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century. Among his most popular publications are classic stories like “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda,” “Fantastic Mr Fox,” “The BFG” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Even if you haven’t read the books or seen their film adaptations, the titles of these stories have achieved a mythical status in the world of children’s entertainment. Those that have read his second autobiographical publication, “Going Solo,” will know that Dahl served as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force during WWII. In the book, he details his service to King and Country and his combat experiences against Axis forces.
After finishing school and taking a hiking trip through Newfoundland in 1934, Dahl went to work for the Shell Petroleum Company. Following two years of training in Britain, he was assigned to Mombasa, Kenya and then Dar es-Salaam, Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania); the former German colony was still home to many Germans. In August 1939, as a second war with Germany loomed on the horizon, Britain made plans to round up the hundreds of Germans living in Dar es-Salaam to prevent any sort of rebellion or uprising. Dahl joined the King’s African Rifles, receiving a commission as a lieutenant and command of a platoon of indigenous askari soldiers.
In November of that year, Dahl joined the RAF as an aircraftman and made the 600-mile drive from Dar es-Salaam to Nairobi where he was accepted for pilot training. Of the sixteen other men that joined with him, only three would live to see the end of the war. After just seven hours and forty minutes of instruction in a De Havilland Tiger Moth, Dahl made his first solo flight.
Following his initial flight training, Dahl received advanced flight training at RAF Habbaniya outside of Baghdad. He trained there for six months on Hawker Harts before he was commissioned as a pilot officer on August 24, 1940.
Dahl was assigned to fly the obsolete Gloster Gladiator, the RAF’s last biplane fighter, with No. 80 Squadron RAF. Though he received no training on the Gladiator nor any specific instruction on aerial combat, Dahl received orders on September 19, 1940 to fly his Gladiator from Abu Seir to No. 80 Squadron’s forward airstrip near Mersa Matruh. On the last leg of his flight, Dahl could not locate the airstrip and was running low on fuel. With night approaching, he attempted an emergency landing in the desert. The undercarriage of his Gladiator hit a boulder and Dahl crashed, fracturing his skull, smashing his nose, and emerged from his aircraft’s wreck temporarily blinded. He passed out and was rescued by friendly forces who took him to the aid station at Mersa Matruh before being transferred to the Royal Navy hospital in Alexandria. An RAF inquiry later revealed that Dahl had been given an incorrect location and was mistakenly sent to the no man’s land between the British and Italian forces.
In February 1941, Dahl was discharged from the hospital and returned to flight status. By then, No. 80 Squadron had been transferred to Eleusina, near Athens, as part of the Greek campaign. The squadron had traded in their Gladiators for the new Hawker Hurricane and Dahl was ordered to fly one across the Mediterranean in April after just seven hours in the aircraft. Luckily, Dahl made it to Greece without incident and rejoined his squadron. At this point in the Greek campaign, the RAF combat aircraft in the operating area consisted of just 14 Hurricanes and four Bristol Blenheim light bombers.
On April 15, Dahl got his first taste of action flying solo over the city of Chalcis. He intercepted a formation of six Junkers Ju 88 bombers that were attacking ships and managed to shoot one of them down. The next day, he scored another kill on a Ju 88.
On April 20, Dahl took part in the Battle of Athens alongside his friend David Coke and Pat Pattle, the highest-scoring British Commonwealth ace of the war. The battle was an absolute furball which Dahl described as “an endless blur of enemy fighters whizzing towards me from every side.” Five of the twelve Hurricanes involved in the battle were shot down and four of their pilots were killed including Pattle. Greek observers counted 22 German aircraft shot down, but because of the chaos of the aerial melee, none of the pilots were able to take credit for specific kills. Dahl received credit for one kill, though he likely shot down more.
In May, as the Germans closed on Athens, Dahl and No. 80 Squadron were evacuated to Egypt and reassembled in Haifa. From there, Dahl flew daily sorties over the course of four weeks. On June 8, he shot down a Vichy French Air Force Potez 63 heavy fighter, and on June 15, he shot down his third Ju 88.
Following this period, Dahl began to suffer from headaches that caused him to blackout and he was invalided home to Britain. He would serve the rest of the war as a diplomat and an intelligence officer, attaining the rank of wing commander by its end. In 1946, he was invalided out of service with the rank of squadron leader. His combat record of five aerial victories, confirmed by post-war research and cross-referenced with Axis records, qualify him as a fighter ace.
Dahl would go on to write the aforementioned children’s stories and many more besides. His kindhearted books and their warm sentiment serve as the antithesis to his violent wartime experiences.
January 29, 1863 was a snowy day in Northern Virginia. The Confederate Army was about to face the most challenging year of its short life span, but that wouldn’t stop a few thousand soldiers from having a little fun. Some of the Confederacy’s Texas soldiers began tossing snowballs around while quartered in Virginia Rappahannock Valley when they decided to execute a sneak attack on some of their fellow volunteers from Arkansas.
When all was said and done, more than 9,000 troops were throwing snowballs at each other in the biggest snowball exchange ever recorded.
The year 1863 was a hard year from the start for the Confederates. It began on January 1, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves held in the “rebellious territories.” It would mean an influx of Black troops for the Union and prevent Europeans from entering the war for the Southern cause.
The Confederates would end up fighting desperate battles against Union forces at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg. But first, they would fight a a light but cold war against each other in the Rappahannock Valley.
When the soldiers woke up that January morning, they found the entire valley blanketed with a heavy snowfall and snow drifts up to seven feet deep. The 1st and 4th Texas made quick use of the precipitation, and pelted their fellow Texans in the 5th Infantry with hard-packed ice balls.
Outnumbered and surprised, members of the Texas 5th quickly responded with a barrage of their own. They drove their assailants back to their own tents. With their fellow Texans repulsed, a small truce was declared, giving the Texans enough time to formulate a plan of attack on the neighboring Arkansas regiments.
Again, with the element of surprise, the Texas hit the 3rd Arkansas Infantry, who quickly surrendered. The two groups merged and the joint force next moved into full battle mode, Now under the command of their officers, with battle flags, drummers, and buglers, a 1,500-strong force marched nearly a mile for a surprise attack on the Georgia Brigade.
The Georgians were ready for the attack, having been alerted to the snowball melee happening down the road. Holding the high ground, the Georgians fought their fellow Confederates. Outnumbered by the Georgia infantry, the Texans and Arkansans were forced to fall back and wait for reinforcements.
When those new troops came, they assaulted the Georgians again, driving them back to their tents, where the Georgia infantry surrendered to their attackers. Having subsumed the Georgia infantry, the snowball army boasted a division’s strength and marched on another division, this one commanded by Gen. Lafayette McLaws. With two divisions tossing snowballs at one another, an estimated 9,000 men in the Army of Northern Virginia were fully committed to the icy battle that came to be called “The Great Snowball Fight of 1863.”
Like so many things that are fun, the people in charge weren’t pleased when they found out about the incident. There was good cause for the outrage, though. When the Confederates formed up for their snowy assault, the Union troops on the other side of the valley mobilized for a real Confederate attack. Gen. James Longsteeet soon banned any snowball fighting in the Confederate Army.
The Blackburn Buccaneer was a fast-attack jet of the Royal Navy designed to kill Russian cruisers from just above the waves with conventional and nuclear weapons in engagements lasting only a minute or so. Now, a retired oil company CEO has bought a retired Buccaneer and flies it around South Africa.
The plane was sent to the fleet in 1962 and served for over 30 years. The need for the jet came in 1952 when Russia introduced the Sverdlov-class cruisers. These were a class of cruisers valuable for defending the Russian coasts and attacking British and other carriers at night when the British would be unable to launch planes.
Britain could either build a new fleet of its own to counter Russia’s new fleets and the Sverdlov cruisers or, it could find a way to negate the new Russian assets. The British decided to build a new plane that could launch day or night, and that could quickly attack enemy ships and get away before the ship could retaliate.
This was a tall order against the Sverdlov which had cutting-edge radar and anti-aircraft weapons. British designers got around this by making the Buccaneer capable of flying just over the waves, below the radar of the enemy ships. And when they reached the target, the Buccaneers would launch their weapons in less than a minute and make their escape.
A Blackburn Buccaneer with its wings folded.
(Paul Lucas, CC BY 2.0)
The Buccaneer was supposed to eventually receive a custom-made nuclear air-to-surface missile, but actually spent most of its career carrying conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. Despite the failure to create the nuclear air-to-surface missile, the Buccaneer was equipped with nuclear free-fall bombs.
The aircraft performed plenty of training in the Cold War and were used for a number of missions, including extensive duties in Iraq during the Gulf War, but was retired in 1994 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
And that was where Ian Pringle came in. A successful oil businessman, Pringle had the money to scoop up a Buccaneer when it went up for sale. He had the plane transported to Thunder City, South Africa, where civilians are allowed to fly nuclear-capable aircraft.
Once there, he took lessons in how to fly the aircraft, a dangerous process. His plane was an operational one, and so it only has controls in the front seat, so his trainer had to sit in the back seat and coach him from there. If Pringle had panicked in flight, there was no way for the instructor to take over.
But Pringle figured it out, and now he races the plane low over the grass of South Africa when he can. The plane was made to allow pilots to fly just above the water, and so he can take it pretty low to the grass.
He’s one of only two civilians ever to fly the plane, though he obviously can’t fly it with missiles or bombs on board.
The National Aeronautical and Space Administration has done very well with their small force of WB-57 Canberra reconnaissance planes. These planes have flown for nearly 60 years and they continue to serve today. With such a long, storied history, it’s easy to forget why the B-57 came to be in the first place. Let’s stroll down memory lane.
Originally, the B-57 Canberra was designed to be a light bomber that used high performance to avoid interception. The British started development of this plane in the latter years of World War II. While the American-produced versions did see some use as bombers during the Vietnam War, the Canberra truly hit its stride as a high-altitude reconnaissance asset for the Air Force.
The RB-57D Canberra variant was designed specifically for high-altitude recon missions.
The RB-57A was the first adaptation of the Canberra designed specifically for reconnaissance work, but the RB-57D was the first such plane intended to do so at high altitudes. Three versions of this recon jet were developed: One was for photo-reconnaissance, using advanced (for the time) camera, a second for electronic warfare, and a third that packed a powerful radar for mapping the ground.
The RB-57F, a much later version, which was created from re-manufacturing older Canberras. These souped-up planes featured more powerful engines and longer wings. They were able to operate at higher altitudes and were used for weather reconnaissance and to collect samples from nuclear tests.
This RB-57 started its life in the Air Force, and now flies with NASA as plane number 926.
Today, NASA still operates three B-57 Canberras. Whiles Canberras have now retired, a few are still flying in civilian hands, undertaking mapping missions.
Watch to video below to learn how the RB-57D was introduced to the United States.