6 well-known ways the White House stays secure - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

The little old building on the back of the $20 bill is known all around the world as the residence and workplace of the leader of the free world. Being said leader of the White House is a dangerous prospect: There have been thirty-three known attempts at the lives of sitting U.S. presidents. Four of those attempts, unfortunately, were successful.

It stands to reason that measures must be taken at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to prevent any attacks on the lives of the president, the first family, and anyone else who serves there. But protecting the president requires far more than just armed guards and motion-activated cameras.

The true extent of the protection at the White House has never been — and shouldn’t ever be — released to the public. While the White House is open about sharing some of its protective measures, it should be assumed that the men and women of the Secret Service have thought of ways to counter or deal with literally any other scenario a would-be threat could conjure up.


6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

You really don’t want to try your luck at finding out what the President’s bathroom looks like.

21-day advanced tour notice

When you think of a “secure location,” the last place you think of is somewhere that’s so widely visited that it offers tours in eleven different languages. But not just anyone can easily mosey on into the White House.

In order to be given the tour of the highest office in the land, you must submit an application at least 21 days before your scheduled visit. This gives the security an accurate headcount and the ability to perform background checks on visitors. For obvious reasons, the tour is also guided through only select portions of the White House.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

If gas stations and banks have them, you can assume the White House has better.

(Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead)

Bulletproof windows

Windows are typically vulnerable to firearms. Funnily enough, in any photo you see of the White House, you’ll also see countless windows. Even the Resolute Desk is positioned with the President’s back turned to a bunch of windows in the Oval Office.

Thankfully, they’re some of the most impenetrable windows known to man. In November 2011, an attacker fired seven rounds from a semi-automatic rifle into the White House, but not even consecutive shots could shatter a window.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

“There he is! Get him!”

Infrared sensors

Every inch of the perimeter is surrounded in infrared lasers that detect even the most minuscule threat against the White House. These aren’t the lasers that you’d see in old spy films that challenge intruders to a deadly game of limbo. No, these blanket everything to include the sky, the surface, and even underground.

With that level of security, you’d expect swarms of agents to descend on even the smallest intruders — like a wayward squirrel. Well, it happens all the time. But it’s better to be aware of every single squirrel than to let a single threat wiggle by.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

In this photo are at least seven SAM batteries (probably), so the White House itself wouldn’t need one.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher)

Surface-to-air missiles

Washington D.C. is a no-fly zone. Any plane not scheduled or following the strict path into Ronald Reagan National Airport are first given a warning. If they don’t show any sort of compliance immediately, they’ll be taken down by one of the countless surface-to-air missiles located around the capital.

While it’s known that many missile batteries are located in Washington D.C., it’s more of an urban legend that there’s an Avenger missile system on top of the White House itself. That remains unproven, but the White House does have those high-tech laser systems that can detect any possible threat from a mile out, alerting other missile systems that then take down the threat.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

Which probably means the guy who had fun with the drones might now be in charge of them. Or not. We’ll never know.

(United States Secret Service photo)

Drones

In January, 2015, an unnamed government employee and amateur drone hobbyist was having fun with his drone outside the White House lawn after his shift. It was able to fly through the detection systems fairly easily until it hit the ground and set off countless alarm systems, sending every single agent into a frenzy. The man wasn’t charged because he was an employee at the White House and because it highlighted a major security fault in the systems at the time.

Since then, the White House has employed drones of their own to act as both roving security cameras and to take down any other drones that come into area. Coincidentally, the same drones that the Secret Service now uses are the same that the hobbyist used.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

Everyone always looks through the fence, but never stops to admire the awesomeness that is the fence itself.

The fence

With all of these security measures in place, the most obvious one is actually the most effective, historic, and iconic: the fence that surrounds the White House. First erected in 1801 by President Thomas Jefferson, it has seen many changes over its lifetime. What was once a simple barricade to keep the president’s livestock on the property has now become an 11-foot tall, vehicle-stopping, climb-resistant, behemoth of steel and rebar.

Not only is the newest fence crowned with spikes to deter attempts at climbing, it also alerts agents the moment anyone puts pressure on it to ensure nobody makes it over.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Mexico’s military deployed in the United States for the first time in 150 years

In September 2005, Mexican Marines arrived under the Mexican flag to Harrison County, Miss. It was the first time in 159 years that Mexican troops operationally deployed inside the United States. There, they met U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy sailors. But they weren’t there to do battle; they were there to clear the debris.

Harrison County was hit by one of the most intense hurricanes ever to hit the United States. Harrison County was devastated by the strongest winds of the whole storm.


6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast, August 2005.

(NASA)

Hurricane Katrina was the fourth most intense storm ever to hit the United States. The storm killed more than 1,800 people, making it the deadliest to hit the United States since 1928. It was also the costliest hurricane in terms of physical damage done to the areas affected by the hurricane. In all, the total price tag for Katrina’s damage came to a whopping 5 billion – but just throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it.

Damage wrought on communities by storms like Katrina require an all-hands approach to recovery, especially in the immediate aftermath. Charitable organizations like the American Red Cross, Oxfam, and Habitat for Humanity responded. So did many members of the international community, even those considered to be at odds with American foreign policy at the time. Those who offered assistance included traditional allies Germany, the UK, and Canada. But even those who did not have the considerable resources of the West, like Mexico. That’s how Mexican Marines ended up clearing timber from schools around Mississippi.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

Sailors from the Dutch and Mexican navies distribute water and Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs) to residents of D’Iberville, Miss.

(FEMA photo by Mark Wolfe)

In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, then-President of Mexico Vicente Fox sent a message to the United States, saying:

“In the name of the people and of the government of Mexico, I assure you of my deepest and most sincere condolences for the devastating effects caused by Hurricane Katrina.”

Mexico’s Red Cross sent Rescue Experts to New Orleans while the Mexican Navy deployed off the American Gulf Coast with helicopters, ATVs, amphibious ships, tankers, medical personnel, and tons of food aid. The Mexican Air Force later flew 200 more tons of food in as a convoy of trucks from Mexico shipped hundreds of tons more. It was the first time since the Mexican-American War (which ended in 1848) that Mexico’s troops were inside the United States, and they were here to help.

The Mexicans also helped clear debris and distribute supplies to Harrison County, hit especially hard by Katrina’s intense winds. Gulfport, Miss. took the brunt of the damage, but the surrounding areas were devastated as well. The following month, having finished cleaning up and distributing supplies, the mission ended, and Mexico went home.

popular

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

Believe it or not, the Germans were not surprised that the Allies were ready to invade Fortress Europe as a means of bringing World War II to an end. As a matter of fact, in much of Europe, the Nazis were ready for whatever the Allied troops were going to throw their way. The Nazis knew about the military build-up in England, and even the lowest-ranking Wehrmacht trooper knew the invasion would come at some point.

Luckily, the Allied powers still had a few tricks up their sleeves.


Hedgehogs forming part of the Pas-de-Calais defenses in 1944. (Wikimedia Commons)

They didn’t think Normandy would be the target.

The ideal point of an invasion of Europe from England, Nazi planners determined, would come at Calais. There were many reasons for this, but the simplest explanation is that Calais is the closest landing point from England. The English Channel is a tough, choppy sea with inclement weather – a more distant location could put a substantial invasion force at risk, so the troops manning the Atlantic Wall were reasonably sure Normandy was safe.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
U.S. troops of Japanese descent fighting in the 442d Regimental Combat Team, one of the most storied units of the war. (Wikimedia Commons)

No one expected it in June 1944.

Most experienced German troops and planners believed the Allies would not open a second invasion of Europe from the West until the Invasion of Italy was complete. Most thought another invasion of Allied forces would come only after the Italian Campaign reached the Alps or even crossed over them. This, coupled with the fact they thought the landings would come at Calais meant the Germans manning defenses at Normandy were not the best troops for the job. Those troops were hundreds of miles away.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
American troops fighting in the hedgerows of the French countryside. (US Army)

The advance was much faster than expected

German troops marveled at the speed with which American, British, and Canadian forces were able to move their men and materiel, not only in crossing the English Channel on D-Day and the days after, but in the weeks following June 6. The formation of a firm beachhead and the rapid advance through the French countryside astonished the Germans, who had made the same lightning advance across the territory just a few years prior.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
German sailors of the Kriegsmarine. (Wikimedia Commons)

How much the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine failed them

During the D-Day landings, the presence of the German Air Force or Navy was minimal where it existed at all. The Wehrmacht was the only real resistance to the Allied landings. Were it not for the Channel’s infamous choppiness and bad weather, the landings would have made it across the water entirely unabated. With no air cover or protection from the water, the army was essentially left out to dry.

D-Day surprises
Members of the Maquis several months after the invasion (Wikimedia Commons)

The coordination of the Maquis

The Germans largely despised the resistance movements in France and other occupied countries and looked down on them with disdain. In practice, however, the close coordination between French resistance cells and the Allied command created a situation where German troops, transports, and heavy weapons that might have thrown the Allies back into the English Channel were instead tied up and slowed down for hours, leaving only the defenses sitting on the Atlantic Wall to try and stem the tide.


Feature image: US Army photo

Articles

These Brits debunk the deadly M1 Garand ‘ping’ myth

The beloved M1 Garand Rifle carried the deadly end of American foreign policy from U.S. shores into Europe and the Pacific in World War II and into the forests of Korea the following decade.


But the iconic rifle is typically discussed alongside its “fatal flaw” — it emitted a distinctive ping when the clip, usually an eight-round strip, was ejected with the final cartridge it held. As the theory goes, that ping told the enemy that a rifle was empty, giving them a chance to leap up and kill the now defenseless American.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Military legend R. Lee Ermey discusses the M1 Garand. (Photo: YouTube)

But as YouTuber “Bloke on the Range” shows in the video below, it’s actually very unlikely that the enemy would gain any real advantage from the M1 Garand’s sound.

And many veterans of World War II interviewed after the wars said they actually preferred to have the sound as a useful reminder to reload.

To get a grip on the controversy, imagine being a young G.I. in combat in World War II. You’re moving up on a suspected Japanese position with a fully loaded M1 Garand. You catch a bit of movement and realize the small mounds on the ground in front of you are actually enemy helmets poking up from a trench.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
U.S. Army troops fighting in the streets of Seoul, Korea. Sept. 20, 1950. (Photo: Public Domain)

You drop into a good firing position and start throwing rounds down range. With seven shots, you kill one and wound another. Your eighth shot reinforces the man’s headache, but it also causes the ping, telling the attentive third Japanese soldier that you’re completely out of ammo.

The theory states that that’s when the third soldier jumps up and kills you. But there are a couple issues with the theory.

First, in the chaos of combat, it would be uncommon for an enemy to hear the clip ejecting over the sound of the fight. Second, soldiers typically fight as a group, so the G.I. in the hypothetical should actually have five to nine other soldiers with him, and it’s unlikely that more than one or two of them would be out of ammo at the same time.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Pictured: A bunch of Marines on Iwo Jima not fighting on their own. (Photo: US Marine Corps)

Third, as the Bloke demonstrates, it doesn’t take long for the shooter to reload, putting them back in the fight and ready to kill any enemy soldiers running to take advantage of the ammo gap.

ArmamentResearch.com found a 1952 Technical Memorandum where researchers asked veterans who carried the rifle what they thought of the ping. Out of 315 responders, 85 thought that the ping was helpful to the enemy, but a whopping 187 thought it was more useful to the shooter by acting as a useful signal to reload.

An article by a Chief Warrant Officer 5 Charles D. Petrie after he reportedly spoke to German veterans of D-Day who found the idea of attacking after a ping laughable. They reported that, in most engagements, they couldn’t hear the ping at all, and the rest of the time they were too aware of the rest of the American squad to try to take advantage of it.

See the full video from Bloke on the Range Below:

YouTube, Bloke on the Range

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what happened to the USS Scorpion

The loss of the nuclear attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN 589) was the last peacetime loss of a Navy vessel until the Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessel USS Guardian ran aground off the Philippines. Unlike the case of the Guardian, 99 sailors lost their lives when USS Scorpion sank after an explosion of undetermined origin.


Related: Life aboard WWII submarines was brutal

For the time, America’s Skipjack-class submarines were very fast. According to the “13th Edition of Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet,” these 3,075-ton submarines had a top speed of over 30 knots. Armed with six 21-inch torpedo tubes capable of firing anything from World War II-vintage Mk 14 torpedoes to the early versions of the multi-role Mk 48, this sub was as lethal as they come.

 

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
USS Scorpion (SSN 589) in 1960. (US Navy photo)

The USS Scorpion was the second of the six vessels to be completed and was commissioned in 1960. According to GlobalSecurity.org, she carried out a number of patrols between then and 1967 before being slated for an overhaul. However, this overhaul was cut short by operational needs. The Scorpion was sent out on Feb. 15, 1968, for what would become her last patrol.

After operating in the Mediterranean Sea, she began her return voyage, diverting briefly to monitor a Soviet naval force. The last anyone heard from the sub was on May 21, 1968. Six days later the Scorpion failed to arrive at Norfolk, where families of the crew were waiting.

The Navy would declare her to be “overdue and presumed lost,” the first time such an announcement had been made since World War II. The sub would not be found until October of that year.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
The bow of USS Scorpion (SSN 589), taken in 1986 by an expedition. (US Navy photo)

 

The Navy would look into the disaster, but the official court of inquiry said the cause of the loss could not be determined with certainty. But there are several theories on what might have happened.

One centered around a malfunction of a torpedo. But others suspect poor maintenance may have been the culprit, citing the rushed overhaul.

Check out this video about what it was like to be on the Scorpion.

Engineering Channel, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Viet Cong took out a Navy transport

Historically, the Vietnam War is one of America’s longest-running conflicts — only Operation Enduring Freedom has been longer. But, of all the chaos and carnage that characterized the Vietnam War, one of the most notable clashes is similar to one performed on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) about 36 years later.


The date was May 2, 1964. Viet Cong commandos had been trying to hit an American transport ship in Saigon to stop the flow of materiel to the South Vietnamese government. Two ships, the USNS Card and the USNS Core, had been serving as transports for helicopters and other essentials. The ships were World War II-era Bogue-class escort carriers that displaced about 16,600 tons and could travel at a top speed of 18 knots while carrying a dozen F4F Wildcats and nine TBF/TBM Avenger torpedo bombers.

U-Boat.net credits aircraft from the Card with sinking eight Nazi subs. Planes from the Core put four U-boats to rest on the seafloor.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
A TBF Avenger comes into land on USS Card (CVE 11) during World War II. The Card sank eight U-boats in that conflict. (U.S. Navy photo)

After World War II, these carriers were too small to operate jets and a bit too slow for front-line service. Still, when a ship has a flight deck that is 439 feet by 70 feet — almost 31,000 square feet – and a hangar deck of roughly the same size, it’s still useful. So, the Military Sea Transport Service (the forerunner to today’s Military Sealift Command) took these ships. After all, they were pretty much free.

According to the National Interest, the Viet Cong managed to pull off the May 2 attack by sending a commando through the sewer system. A pair of limpet mines were stashed by the sewer’s exit, waiting for the commando as swam out toward the ship. He then planted the limpet mines on the side of the Card, set the timer, and made a clean getaway. At three in the morning, the mines went off. Severely damaged, the Card settled on the bottom of the harbor with five of her crew killed.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
USS Card (CVE 11) in World War II. While she wasn’t able to operate jets, she had a lot of space to transport materials, giving this escort carrier a second lease on life as a transport. (U.S. Navy photo)

But she didn’t stay there. It took the Navy 17 days to do the temporary repairs required to get the Card out of the harbor. By the end of the year, the former escort carrier was back in service, and she made other runs carrying materiel. She did so for five more years after returning to service. In 1971, the Card was scrapped. Any claims that the Communists in Vietnam sunk a carrier are nothing but propaganda.

Articles

5 awesome facts you didn’t know about Memorial Day

Celebrated on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day brings America together to remember the 1.1 million men and women who died in service to their country.


As most of us spend our day flipping burgers, wearing pro-American attire and saving money on those amazing furniture deals, it’s important to understand the significance of the historic day.

Related: 5 interesting facts about the Marine Corps birthday

Check out these awesome facts you probably didn’t know about our beloved holiday.

1. Moment of remembrance at 3 pm

On Dec. 28th, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which asks all Americans to pause on Memorial Day at 3:00 pm local time for a full minute to honor and remember all those who perished protecting our rights and freedoms.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Airmen from the 317th Airlift Group stand at parade rest during a Memorial Day ceremony at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. (Photo: Airman 1st Class Charles V. Rivezzo/ Released)

2. Wearing red poppies

You may have noticed people wearing red poppy flowers pinned to their clothing on Memorial Day. This idea was influenced by the sight of poppies growing in a battle-scarred field in WWI which prompted the popular poem “In Flanders Fields” written by former Canadian Col. John McCrae.

The American Legion adopted the tradition of wearing the red poppy flowers along with many allied countries to commemorate troops killed in battle.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Honor the dead. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

3. Flag raising procedures

Americans love to proudly display their flags and let them wave high and free. On Memorial Day, there’s a special protocol to properly raise and exhibit the ensign. Here it is.

When the flag is raised at first light, it’s to be hoisted to the top of the pole, then respectfully lowered to the half-staff position until 12:00 pm when it is re-raised to the top of the pole for the remainder of the day. Details matter.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Service members saluting the raised American flag. (Photo: Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel)

4. The origin of the holiday

Originally called “Decoration Day” by Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, in 1868, the day was intended to honor the estimated 620,000 people who died fighting in the Civil war and was celebrated on May 30th.

But it wasn’t until 1971 that Congress shifted the holiday to the last Monday of May to ensure a three-day weekend and renamed it to what we all know today.

Thank you, Congress.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

Also Read: The mother of the boy in this iconic photo has a Memorial Day message all Americans should read

 5. The holiday’s birthplace

At least five separate cities claim to be the birthplace of “Decoration Day,” including Macon and Columbus, Georgia. Of course, there’s no real written record or D.N.A test to prove who is truly the mom and dad.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
California, you are not the father… or mother. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a couple of frisky Iwo Jima sailors asked for pen pals

In January 1946, a rather amusing wanted ad was published in the pulp comic book Rangeland Romances. “Three lonely sailors” of the USS Mellette sent in a request for pen pals that seems like it would have been hard to ignore. 

The USS Mellette (APA-156) was a Haskell-class attack transport commissioned Sept. 27, 1944, conducting a series of training operations in the Pacific before she got underway for Iwo Jima on Jan. 27, 1945. She participated in the initial assault on Feb. 19, unloading supplies and taking on casualties. She would remain active in the Pacific, including Okinawa, Saipan, and Nagasaki, until she finally witnessed the official surrender of Japan in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. In June, 1946, she was decommissioned and entered into the Reserve Fleet at Yorktown, Virginia.

The Beach-Party Sailors’ letter was shared on Twitter by Vera Herbert, Writer and Co-Executive Producer of This is Us, a show that has taken great effort and care toward telling military stories. It’s no wonder, then, that she would get excited over this treasure of an ad:

Beach-Party Sailors

Dear Editor:

We wonder if you have room in your “Pony Express” for three lonely sailors.

We read RANGELAND ROMANCES and enjoy them very much. We are Marvin Munson S2/c and John Williams S2/c and Clayton Daniels S1/c. We have been overseas for several months and don’t get much mail at all. So come on, girls everywhere, and make some lonely sailors happy.

We are “beach-party” sailors and were in the invasion of Iwo Jima and have some interesting things to write about. So, girls, let’s sling some ink.

Sincerely,

U.S.S. Mellette (APA-156)

℅ Fleet Post Office

San Francisco, Calif.

JOHN WILLIAMS S2/c

MARVIN MUNSON S2/c

CLAYTON DANIELS S1/c”

Whether those frisky sailors ever heard from Rangeland Romances readers is tough to say, but I’m with Herbert in hoping they found love through the pages of pulp comics. 

They’re not the only service members who appreciate letters from home. One military spouse, Army wife Christina Etchberger, set up a pen pal program so people can write to veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Anyone who wants to is invited to write a letter to a veteran. Etchberger encourages pen pals to include thin objects like photos, cards, crafts, stickers, postcards, stamps, or seed envelopes and write a little something about yourself on the back (for example, Etchberger’s son wrote “looking for a pen pal who likes planes!”). Keep the letter positive and avoid controversial topics. 

Then mail your letter directly to the Lawton-Fort Sill Veterans Center, 501 SE Flower Mound Road, Lawton, OK 73501.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

What happens when the two sides of a war fundamentally disagree?


“Uh…well,” you’re thinking, “that’s pretty much the definition of war and you’re kind of a donut for asking, aren’t you?”

Yes, but hang with me. What I mean is, what happens when the disagreement goes beyond politics or ideology or territorial dispute, when the two sides disagree, on a basic level, about what the war they’re fighting is even about? And as a result, fail to agree on how the war will be fought?

Such cases produce quagmires of horrifying scope and duration.

One such case was the Vietnam War.

 

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

 

For America, Vietnam began as an earnest attempt to free a small country from unwanted and undesirable Communist conscription. As the war ground on, however, idealism gave way to a more basic agenda, to prove the rightness and righteousness of America as a function of its overwhelming military power.

Also read: Green Beret: The US is fighting a 100 year war

For the North Vietnamese, and the Viet Cong guerrillas who aided them, the war was about finally shaking off the yoke of western colonialism. After years of occupation by the French, American military presence seemed merely the heavy hand of a new foreign master. They were fighting to reunify North and South Vietnam under the ideology of their choice, which happened to be communism.

 

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

 

In 1956, then Congressman John F. Kennedy was a wholehearted champion of the Cold War-era clarion call to Stop the Spread of Communism.

Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the keystone to the arch, the finger in the dike.

But after an extensive fact-finding tour through the Middle and Far East, he returned to the U.S. convinced that preventing the threat of a new communist colonialism in Indo-China would require more than simply offering — by friendship or force — an American colonialism as the superior alternative. Much better to promote the nationalistic aspirations of the region’s native peoples, so long as those aspirations tended toward an American-style love of liberty.

But as the stakes were raised on his own Presidency by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the raising of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy felt an increasingly dire need to prove democratic righteousness and might (Mighteousness?). It was a terrifying time. The nuclear prerogative, which had once been ours alone, was now in the hands of nations whose ideals seemed to us not so much foreign, as alien. Vietnam would have to be, for the American Way, a definitive demonstration. Kennedy again:

…we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place.

Had he lived to serve his full term in office, who knows if Kennedy might have have been able to carry out a nuanced foreign policy in Vietnam. He was assassinated in Nov. 1963 and the Vietnam War would become the problem of two more successive administrations. The practical result was a strategy of force, bombardment and attrition that floundered in the face of an enemy who refused to fight by those rules.

The facts on the ground in Vietnam made it clear to American servicemen that there was a grave disconnect between what we thought we were doing there (and the strategy we’d devised for achieving those goals) and how the Vietnamese — allies, enemies, and civilians in between — saw things.

A 1965 skirmish near Danang in which U.S. Marines killed 56 Viet Cong guerrillas put a very fine point on the issue. Among the Vietnamese dead was a 13-year-old boy who, just a day earlier, had been hospitably selling drinks to the Marines. Found on his body were hand-drawn maps of the Marine’s positions and defenses, intelligence for the Viet Cong.

 

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

 

It’s a hard pill to swallow for soldiers who view themselves as a liberating force, to realize that the people they’ve been sent to help view them as the enemy, as occupiers, as aliens. It’s an issue our troops have faced every day in Afghanistan and on the fronts of the War on Terror. Righteousness is a delicate stance and a dangerous dance.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This fake amphibious assault saved hundreds of lives in Desert Storm

Deep into night on Feb. 23, 1991, the U.S. military and its coalition partners launched the long-anticipated invasion of Iraq with a three-pronged attack that crippled Iraqi command and control, isolated and devastated enemy units, and resulted in one of the fastest land wars in military history as the U.S. secured victory in 100 hours.


But the three-pronged attack consisted of two real prongs — an infantry assault as well as the famous “left hook” of tanks cutting through the Kuwaiti and Iraqi deserts — and one ruse attack. The ruse was an amphibious assault of Marines hitting the beaches of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait and pushing west towards Baghdad.

 

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
The USS Wisconsin fires a Tomahawk cruise missile during Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

If the ruse was successful, the Iraqi units would continue to look east, orienting defenses and their attentions towards a fake amphibious assault as light infantrymen and paratroopers secured positions to their rear and one of history’s greatest armored thrusts smacked them right in the capital.

The Navy called on two of its greatest weapons to ensure that the Iraqis looked east, the USS Wisconsin and the USS Missouri, massive battleships taken out of retirement in the early 1980s by Ronald Reagan.

The two Iowa-class battleships bristled with guns and had already seen heavy fighting in the mine-laden waters off the coast of Iraq and Kuwait. They took part in the initial Tomahawk cruise missile attacks that January. They also provided naval artillery support to American and coalition troops on the ground by hurling shells of up to 2,700 pounds against Iraqi artillery and bunkers.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
The USS Missouri fires during Operation Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Dillon)

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, U.S. commanders kept everyone’s eyes on the big ships, calling in shots from the battleships throughout the fighting and getting the effects of those 16-inch guns onto the front pages of newspapers like The New York Times.

The NYT even reported on the likelihood that America would invade by sea, saying in the second paragraph of an article on February 4:

Powerful guns aboard the battleship Missouri lobbed 2,700-pound shells against Iraqi command bunkers near the Kuwaiti coastline, military command officials said, describing the shore bombardment as a further indication that an American-led amphibious assault on occupied Kuwait might be drawing near.

On Feb. 23, the battleships cleared their throats once again. A targeting drone from the Wisconsin was flying over the coast as the shells ripped into Iraqi positions once again, softening up the coast and sowing panic into the defenders.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
The Pioneer drone is moved on the USS Wisconsin during Desert Storm. The small aerial vehicle was used to observe naval artillery and its effects during the war. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate John Kristoffersen)

The bombardment was so effective that, when the drone flew back over the target, Iraqi troops attempted to surrender to it by waving small white flags.

But the U.S. wasn’t done.

Just a few hours later, the ground offensive began. The British Special Air Service was the first military unit to cross into Iraqi territory, but multiple troops poured over the border by the thousands throughout the morning.

Throughout the day on Feb. 24, coalition forces hit ground target after ground target and American tanks began tanking out bunkers in the armored thrust that would stun the world.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
USS Wisconsin fires her main battery during Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

But America still wanted Iraqi commanders too scared to pull their forces back from the coast to counter the growing threat of armor and infantry. And so the battleships were called up once again.

On Feb. 25, the Missouri once again fired into Iraqi-occupied Kuwait. And this time, the Marine Corps sent in 10 helicopters to simulate a landing force. The Iraqis launched anti-ship missiles at the Missouri, but a British ship shot down the only one that actually threatened the battleship. Coalition planes quickly found the launch site and destroyed the missiles based there.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Abrams tanks and a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle move out during Operation Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy D. W. Holmes II)

The Iraqis near the coast stayed put even as coalition armor was slamming into their best units. On Feb. 26, then-Cpt. H.R. McMaster fought the famous Battle of 73 Easting that saw one armored cavalry troop of Abrams and Bradleys wipe out 44 enemy tanks and armored vehicles with no losses.

A ceasefire was declared on Feb. 28, halting the fighting until Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein accepted the terms of the peace deal. The coalition forces lost 300 troops in the fighting, much fewer than they would have lost if the Iraqi forces had been able to concentrate on the real threat.

The Iraqi forces lost an estimated 8,000-10,000 killed.

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. 

Articles

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Throughout military history, the gear our ground troops wear has depended on different aspects, for instance: the available technology, budget, and the weather (for the most part).


The needs of the mission and the environment determine what gear our infantrymen haul on their backs, around their waists, and even what they stuff into their many cargo pockets.

But the endgame of the mission always remains the same — win the war at all cost.

Related: These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

Today, the modern battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted our military to change what our troops take with them. “SAPI” plates (Small Arms Protective Insert) were added to help protect the service members vital organs from small arms fire.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
All that gear adds up. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

Travel back in time where medieval Knights wore several layers and different types of heavy body armor to protect themselves from sharp swinging swords to the accurately shot arrows. These fearless men would spend countless hours training while cloaked in their protective garments, acclimating their bodies for war.

Fast forward to the rice patties of Vietnam where Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Soldiers bravely left the wire typically sporting only their thin layered green t-shirts due to the constant humidity of the jungle while still toting pounds of extras.

Also Read: That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

One 155-pound TV show host wanted to experience just how heavy the gear of an American GI in Vietnam was. So after donning the full Vietnam War style combat load — complete with ammo, an M-16 rifle, an individual medical bag, and 2 quarts of water — the TV show host’s total weight amounted to just under 235 solid pounds of gear. It was an 80-pound difference.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to see this TV show host play grunt for an afternoon.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

What a Hiroshima resident saw the day the bomb dropped


On Aug. 6, 1941, P. Siomes, a German priest, was sitting in his room when the sunny, summer day outside was suddenly lit by an even brighter light that blinded him just before an explosion of sound and heat slammed into the building he was in.

The next month, he gave a full recounting of the hours and days following the bombing in a statement to the U.S. Army.


Author’s note: This article is based on a statement from P. Siomes, a German priest who was in the outskirts of Hiroshima when the bomb dropped. His English is great, but not perfect, but we’ve decided to be as honest to his original text as possible when transcribing. This leaves a few minor grammar and spelling errors, but we do not believe it hinders comprehension. His full statement is available here.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

An atomic cloud rises over Hiroshima after the bomb is dropped.

(509th Operations Group)

Siomes was part of the Society of Jesus, headquartered in a church at the edge of Hiroshima, and he remembers it being about 8:14 when the city center suddenly filled with a bright, yellow light. He described it as being like the magnesium flash from a camera, but sustained. Over the next ten seconds, he felt an increase in heat, heard what sounded like a small and distant explosion, and was halfway to his door when his window suddenly exploded inward.

He was later glad to have made it away from the window, because he later found that his wall was filled with large shards of glass from the explosion that would’ve been embedded in him instead of the wall.

Siomes had believed that the damage to the building was from a bomb that burst overhead, assuming that the light was an unconnected phenomenon. But when he went outside to check the damage, all the worst damage was on the side of the building facing the city, and there was no bomb crater in sight.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

A Red Cross Hospital is one of the only things left standing after the bomb. Near the center of the city, even the buildings that survived the blast were consumed within hours and days by the fires triggered by the heat and radiation.

(Hiroshima Peace Media Center)

But looking out into the city, he could see the extent of the damage. Houses were burning closer to town, and nearby woods were already becoming a large inferno. As the men at the facility, mostly monks and priests, begin helping fight the flames, a storm started, and rain began to fall.

Yes, the skies were clear before the bombs dropped, but a sudden rainfall is actually one of the very weird side effects of a nuclear blast. This would help fight the fires, but it also carries tons of irradiated dust, debris, and ash back to earth and helps it cling to the skin of survivors, but Siomes didn’t know this in 1945.

He and his fellow Christians began assisting the wounded in addition to fighting the fires. One of the priests “had studied medicine” before he took his vows, and the priests gave as much medical support as they could.

Father Noktor who, before taking holy orders, had studied medicine, ministers to the injured, but our bandages and drugs are soon gone. We must be content with cleansing the wounds. More and more of the injured come to us. The least injured drag the more seriously wounded.
6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

A military document provides a guide to the extent of destruction caused by the single bomb on August 6.

(U.S. Army illustration)

And the damages to the city and surrounding area weren’t limited to just the immediate effects of the bomb. High winds damaged infrastructure and knocked over trees and buildings for hours after the initial blast. Siomes believed that this may have been caused by the fires pulling in more air, and research after the war backed him up.

Finally, we reach the entrance of the park. A large proportion of the populace has taken refuge there, but even the trees of the park are on fire in several places. Paths and bridges are blocked by the trunks of fallen trees and are almost impassable. We are told that a high wind, which may have resulted from the heat of the burning city, had uprooted the large trees.

Later on, Siomes would see some of this chaos himself. He went into the city with others to search out some of the missing priests, and they were able to find their quarry. But as they tried to make it back out ahead of the fire, they kept finding wounded trapped under debris, and attempted to rescue them, but then had to move on as the fires got close.

Eventually, they’d take refuge in Asano Park and, as the fires got close:

A very violent whirlwind now begins to uproot large trees, and lifts them high into the air. As it reaches the water, a water spout forms which is approximately 100 meters high.

This infrastructure damage made it harder for survivors to organize themselves and render aid, which was catastrophic as new emergencies kept popping up. Worse, planners had never envisioned losing an entire city in one fell swoop, and they had concentrated key supplies in a few caches near the city center, all destroyed by the bomb and fires.

For Siomes, the priests, and the monks, this all meant that their aid would necessarily be limited. It took more than a day for them simply to find out where all of their own survivors were. Some of them even had the exotic new injuries that only nuclear bombs can create.

One of the priests had been serving in the city when the bomb hit, and while he was processing the sudden burst of light, his hand was already blistering from what would later be identified as radiation. It was the equivalent of an instant, severe sunburn.

Father Kopp is bleeding about the head and neck, and he has a large burn on the right palm. He was standing in front of the nunnery ready to go home. All of a sudden, he became aware of the light, felt the wave of heat and a large blister formed on his hand.

Father Kopp was lucky; he had actually been near the epicenter of the blast but was well protected by the structure which held firm.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

The city of Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945.

(U.S. Navy Public Affairs)

As the hours turned into days, the survivors kept tending the wounded and eating what they could find. Bodies lined the rivers and streets, and only skeletons remained of most of the buildings. Survivors had to drag the bodies or carry them on available carts out of the city, gather wood, and then cremate them in the valleys.

Rumors and stories began to rise, especially among the fifty or so refugees that were housed at what remained of the church, about what exactly had happened.

Some were likely propaganda or ill-informed attempts to explain what had happened:

As much as six kilometers from the center of the explosion, all houses were damaged and many collapses and caught fire. Even fifteen kilometers away, windows were broken. It was rumored that the enemy fliers had first spread an explosive and incendiary material over the city and then had created the explosion and ignition.
6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

View, looking northwest, from the Red Cross Hospital which survived the bomb. The other structures are largely ones re-built after the bomb.

(U.S. Government)

Some of the rumors were reports of how different victims suffered from the bombs:

Many of the wounded also died because they had been weakened by under-nourishment and consequently the strength to recover. Those who had normal strength and who received good care slowly healed the burns which had been associated with the bomb. There were also cases, however, whose prognosis seemed good who died suddenly. There were also some who had only small external wounds who died within a week or later, after an inflamation of the pharyax and oral cavity had taken place.

A paragraph later, Siomes recalls:

Only several cases are known to me personally where individuals who did not have external burns died later. Father Kleinserge and Father Cisslik, who near the center of the explosion, but who did not suffer burns became quite weak some fourteen days after the explosion.Up to this time small incised wounds had healed normally, but thereafter the wounds which were still unhealed became worse and are to date (in September) still incompletely healed.

But the biggest surprise probably comes at the end of the document where Siomes shares debates between he and his peers about the morality of the bomb.

He doesn’t come to a final decision, but he does note:

None of us in those days heard a single outburst against the Americans on the part of the Japanese, nor was there any evidence of a vengeful spirit…We have discussed among ourselves the ethics of the use of the bomb. Some consider it in the same category as poison gas and were against its use on a civil population. Other were of the view that in total war, as carried on in Japan, there was no difference between civilians and soldier and that the bomb itself was an effective force tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan to surrender and thus avoid total destruction.

It’s an argument that continues today, but apparently consumed some of the immediate attention of survivors in the hours and days following its first use.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information