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

How the US Navy captured its first enemy ship in 129 years

In the early days of the U.S. Navy, boarding and capturing enemy vessels was common practice. As naval firepower increased, the practice became to sink the other ship rather than capture it. Then in 1944 with some daring actions–and a stroke of luck–the U.S. Navy captured a German U-boat, its first such accomplishment since the War of 1812.


The German U-boat, U-505, was known as a hard-luck case, though it could also be said that it was a boat that wouldn’t sink. On her fourth patrol of the war, a British Hudson bomber scored a direct hit in an attack run so low that the explosion caused the plane to crash as well. The captain gave the order to abandon ship but the technical crew insisted on staying aboard to save the vessel. After two weeks of repairs, the U-boat was able to limp back to Europe and had the honor of being the most heavily damaged submarine to ever return to port.

Despite numerous abortive cruises due to French saboteurs, U-505 finally sailed for another patrol; this time, however, it earned another dubious honor when her skipper became the first–and only–known submarine commander to crack and commit suicide while under attack.

Finally, in the spring of 1944, fully-repaired and under the command of a new captain, U-505 set a course for the coast of West Africa for an 80-day war patrol.

Also heading towards West Africa during that time was Task Group 22.3, commanded by Captain Daniel Gallery from his flagship, the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal. Task Group 22.3 was employed as an anti-submarine Hunter-Killer group as part of the Battle of the Atlantic. Along with Guadalcanal the group also consisted of five destroyer escorts.

 

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Hunter-Killer Task Group 22.3 had one mission: take out German U-boats. (Museum of Science+Industry Chicago)

 

During Task Group 22.3’s second Hunter-Killer cruise, Captain Gallery had an important revelation. A long-running battle with U-515 ended when the U-boat was too heavily damaged to continue and surfaced so its crew could abandon ship. As the Germans abandoned ship, the task group blasted it until it finally sank. Gallery realized that if he had a trained boarding party ready they could quickly board a scuttled U-boat and save it from sinking. As the task force returned to port, Gallery began making preparations for just such an event during the next sortie.

On June 4, 1944, Task Group 22.3 found the perfect prey. As U-505 was returning from its war patrol, it inadvertently stumbled right into the middle of the task group. The sub tried to dive but the clear waters allowed the Guadalcanal’s aircraft to maintain visual contact and use their guns to mark the submarine’s location in the water. The task group’s destroyer escorts then moved in for the kill.

USS Chatelain began its attack by launching its Mark 4 Hedgehog anti-submarine weapon at the U-boat. When those failed to score a hit, Chatelain repositioned and dropped a pattern of depth charges against the sub.

 

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Task Group 22.3 attacks the German U-505. (Museum of Science+Industry Chicago)

 

A U-505 surviving crewmember, Hans Goebeler remembered the attack vividly. “They really gave it to us,” he said. “The explosions were the biggest I ever heard.” The depth charges caused severe internal and external damage to the U-boat. With all hope seeming lost, the commander gave the order to surface and abandon ship–just as Gallery had anticipated.

As the sub came to the surface, the American ships and aircraft raked it with gunfire, hoping to quickly drive off the German sailors before they could properly scuttle the ship. The fire had the intended effect. The Americans killed one German and wounded two others as the rest of the crew quickly jumped overboard to escape the maelstrom of bullets.

Normally the American destroyer escorts would have moved in to finish off the U-boat and send it to Davy Jones’ Locker but Captain Gallery’s decision to try to capture a German submarine called for a different action. As the Germans fled the sinking sub, a nearby destroyer escort, the USS Pillsbury, launched a boarding party to rescue the stricken vessel. The other ships picked up their new German POWs.

Led by Lt. Albert David, the boarding party plunged through the conning tower and into the submarine. It was a race against time–the ship sinking beneath them was rigged with scuttling charges that could explode at any moment. The boarding party quickly found the open sea strainer, an 11-inch pipe pouring water into the submarine, and capped it. To their relief, the party found that in their haste to abandon ship, none of the Germans had taken the time to arm the scuttling charges. Most of the submarine was below the water with just the front portion and most of the conning tower still visible. The sub was hanging on by an air bubble in one of the dive tanks.

The boarding party quickly secured the biggest prize of all: U-505’s log books, charts, codes, and its Enigma machine. The ship was still in danger of sinking, however, and with little working knowledge of German submarines, the task of salvaging U-505 fell on the task group’s chief engineer, Commander Earl Trosino. As Gallery would later say when the situation was the most precarious, “thanks to Trosino’s uncanny instinct for finding the right valves, and his total disregard for his own safety, we succeeded in saving U-505.”

 

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Task Group 22.3 takes great risk to capture U-505–and the wealth of intelligence on board. (Museum of Science+Industry Chicago)

 

With the submarine secured, the task group took it under tow and headed for Bermuda. The intelligence gained from the capture of U-505 was invaluable. By maintaining strict secrecy of the operation, the Germans were never aware that the Americans had captured their U-boat intact with its precious cargo of information. The entire task group was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions. Lt. David was awarded the Medal of Honor for his part in leading the boarding party.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Five Air Force officers volunteered to be nuked and survived

Unless there is a lead-lined refrigerator lying around, we’re guessing none of you reading this would be too keen on standing at ground zero of a nuclear blast. But it turns out this is exactly what six men chose to do with their afternoon in July of 1957 — five of them even volunteered, with the sixth not told what he’d be ordered to do that day until he showed up to work… So who were these men, why were they there, and what happened after?

As the Cold War began heating up and the U.S. and Soviets were each attempting to set a record for money spent stock piling thousands of weapons not intended to be used, the general public were getting a little nervous about both the testing of said weapons and what would happen if one of the two super powers decided to take things to the next level, particularly as rockets and missiles tipped with nukes started to become a thing. Despite assertions that there was nothing inherently dangerous about a rocket with a nuclear warhead detonating directly above you, the citizens of the United States weren’t buying it.


Putting their money where their mouths were, Colonel Arthur Oldfield of the Continental Air Defense Command decided to prove the assertion, ordering to have just this sort of thing filmed happening. This particular test, named John, was a part of the five month long Operation Plumbbob series of nuclear tests.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

(National Nuclear Security Administration)

Besides the men involved with John, these tests also included over 18,000 other members of the military being put in relatively close proximity to nuclear blasts, with the point being to determine how troops would react in battle with nukes detonating nearby. The tests also included over a thousand pigs being used to study the biological effects of the detonations when the subjects were much closer to the blasts than officials were comfortable putting humans. (Squeal piggy!!!)

The five men who volunteered to insert themselves into John were Colonel Sidney Bruce, Lt. Colonel Frank P. Ball, Major Norman “Bodie” Bodinger, Major John Hughes, and Colonel Donald Lutrell. The sixth individual was a cameraman named Akira “George” Yoshitake — simultaneously the only one who did not volunteer for the gig and the only one who had a job to do during the blast. His job, of course, was to capture the entire event for a nice little propaganda film to demonstrate that these nuclear tipped rockets were perfectly safe to use in air combat scenarios above populated regions.

And so it was that on July 19, 1957, the five exceptionally brave men and one cameraman, no doubt re-evaluating his career choices and decision making paradigm, found themselves standing around 70 miles northwest of Las Vegas as the crow flies, or about 100 miles by road, in the Yucca Flats in the Area 10 Test Site. Next to them was a sign that read “Ground Zero. Population 5”, casually disregarding the key contributions of Yoshitake, which has been a theme for the few hundred filmmakers who were so critical to these nuclear tests and data gathering, yet have been largely ignored by history.

Genie Missile Test

www.youtube.com

Soon enough an F-28 jet flew overhead, shooting a Genie rocket equipped with a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead. This was actually the first test of a live nuclear tipped Genie rocket, but, thankfully for the men, the unguided rocket did not malfunction and instead flew straight for about two and a half miles at a height of around Flight Level 180 (about 18,000 feet or about 5.5 km). It then detonated almost directly above them.

Said Major Bodey as it happened, “We felt a heat pulse. A very bright light. A fireball it is red. The sky looks black about it. It is boiling above us. It is rapidly losing its color…”

Then a massive blast sound could be heard, at which point Bodey stated, “There is the ground wave! It is over folks, It happened! The mounds are vibrating. It is tremendous! Directly above our heads! It is a huge fireball. … Wasn’t that a perfect, perfect shot.”

Seemingly remembering the whole thing was to be a propaganda film showing it was just good family fun to stand under a nuclear blast, Colonel Bruce then stated, “My only regrets right now are that everyone couldn’t have been out here at ground zero with us.” Shortly thereafter he no doubt thanked the Academy and noted he felt humbled to be there.

You might at this point be thinking that while the blast itself didn’t do them any harm, other than maybe a stubborn case of tinnitus — the little talked about silent killer associated with nuclear blasts — surely these men must have been exposed to copious amounts of ionizing radiation. But this turns out not to have been the case. It was later determined they were exposed to negligible amounts of such radiation. In fact, less than the pilot of the F-89 jet and significantly less than the pilots ordered to fly through the region of atmosphere the blast occurred at a mere ten minutes later.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

A formation of three F-89Ds.

(US Air Force photo)

The blast occurring reasonably high in the atmosphere also ensured that no ground materials were sucked up, thus no large cloud of radioactive particles was present. And as for the radioactive materials from the bomb and any dust already in the atmosphere nearby, these would have spread out quite widely before coming down.

Ironically, however, while the whole thing was meant to show the safety of such nuclear rockets detonating high over head, radioactive particles from these tests frequently settled on nearby towns, even as far away as Utah. As you might expect from this, the U.S. government has paid a pretty penny, to the tune of around a billion dollars to date, to the inhabitants of these regions who later had health problems possibly related to being exposed to high amounts of ionizing radiation during the tests.

All this said, it is noted that every one of these six brave men did later in life get cancer at one point or another. However, it’s not thought this test in particularly probably contributed much to that. All of them were involved in a number of nuclear tests, many of which saw them exposed to far more ionizing radiation, with the cumulative effect of it all probably also not helping matters.

In the end, Major Hughes lived to the age of 71, dying of cancer in 1990. Lt. Col. Ball lived until 2003, dying at the ripe old age of 83 of cancer. Colonel Bruce actually made it to 86, dying in 2005 of, you guessed it, cancer. Major Bodinger also died of cancer, we believe in February of 1997, though it’s not clear here as his grave is not listed in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs grave site locator. But we found a grave in Oklahoma for someone that appears to match up with what we know about Bodie. Next up, Colonel Lutrell at one point got colon cancer, though it isn’t clear whether this is what he died of. Whatever the case, he seems to have shuffled off this mortal coil in 2014 at the age of 91. As for the cameraman George Yoshitake, while he did have to battle stomach cancer to do it, he lived to 84, dying in 2013 of a stroke.

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

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

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This is what made ancient Roman gladiators so fierce

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  The sport of gladiator fighting in the arenas of ancient Rome was just as popular as boxing and MMA are today. Gladiator combat was slightly more gangsta, though, seeing as how those warriors fought to the death during brutal tournaments.

Some historians believe the gladiator games started as ceremonial offerings for the funerals of wealthy aristocrats. At the height of the sport, the fighters were mostly made up of prisoners of war, slaves, and sentenced criminals, but they could even be pitted against animals like tigers or crocodiles.

The Coliseum in Rome was even home to aquatic battles, when the arena was flooded and fighters attacked from boats.

They lived in privately-owned schools that doubled as their training and prison grounds. Reportedly, after Spartacus led an uprising in 73 B.C., the empire began to regulate the gladiator schools to prevent further rebellions.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic.

During the games, each gladiator fought with various weapons and levels of armor.

A “Secutor” was a heavily armored fighter who competed using a short sword. A “Retiarius” battled his foes wearing light armor, a trident, and occasionally a weighted net. The “Vremea” wore a helmet with a stylized fish on the crest.

The gladiators ate a high energy diet consisting of barley, beans, oatmeal, dry fruit, and ash, which was believed to fortify the body. Very few of them fought in more than 10 battles or made it past the age of 30 before getting killed.

The Roman empire housed more than 400-arenas and displayed over 8,000 gladiator deaths per year. Learn more about their fighting in the video at the top.

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This is the legend of the Knights of the Round Table

MIGHTY HISTORY

Check out this tracked, vintage 1950s six-shooter

When you think of six-shooters, the classic .38 Smith & Wesson Special revolver comes to mind, as made famous by classic cop shows, like Adam-12, Dragnet, and CHiPs, and countless Westerns. But there was one six-shooter that packed a lot more punch than the cowboys’ gun of choice.


The six-shooter in question was the M50 Ontos — and it certainly wasn’t a revolver. This tracked vehicle packed six M40 106mm recoilless rifles. It was intended to serve a tank-killer for use by light infantry and airborne units when it entered service in 1955, facing off against the then-new Soviet T-55 main battle tank. Like a revolver, it was meant to quickly end a fight.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

Six M40 106mm recoilless rifles gave the Ontos one heck of a first salvo,

(US Army)

The Ontos had a crew of three — a driver, gunner, and commander. It held a total of 24 rounds, 6 loaded and 18 in reserve, for its massive guns. The vehicle ended up being used primarily by the Marine Corps — not the Army airborne units for which it was originally intended.

This system proved very potent in Vietnam. Its six recoilless rifles could do a lot to knock infantry back — and the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong found that out the hard way. The Ontos also carried a pair of .50-caliber spotting rifles to improve accuracy and had a World War II-era .30-caliber M1919 machine gun attached (the same used by grunts in WWII).

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

A Marine escapes the cramped confines of his M50 Ontos to catch a break.

(USMC)

The Ontos was retired in 1970, largely because while it looked mean as hell and packed a punch, it had a few severe drawbacks. One of the biggest being that the crew had to exit the vehicle in order to reload the big guns — which sounds like a quick way to shorten your life expectancy. Then again, if you’ve tried to reload a revolver, you know that process can take a while. In that sense, the Ontos was very much a true six-shooter.

Learn more about this unique powerhouse in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KImM4zesVlo

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

This historic film shows the Lone Survivor raid of World War II

If you’ve read the book Lone Survivor, written by former SEAL Marcus Luttrell, or seen the 2014 movie adaptation of the same name, then you’re very familiar with the incredible tale of survival and valor. But prior to Luttrell’s involvement to that 2005 operation, there was another well-known “love survivor” raid.

The tale of Torpedo Squadron Eight at the Battle of Midway has since become legend. All 15 of the squadron’s Douglas TBD Devastators that were sent out that day were shot down. Of the 30 crew aboard those planes, the only survivor was Ensign George Gay. The others were all killed in action.


Some people believe that this squadron’s sacrifice is what pulled down the Mitsubishi A6M Zeros that were providing combat air patrol for the Japanese carrier force, known as Kido Butai, thus opening the way for Douglass SBD Dauntless dive-bombers to deliver the bombs that left three Japanese carriers fatally damaged in the span of five minutes. This is, however, an over-simplified view.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

Ensign George Gay (right) with a gunner from Torpedo Squadron Eight.

(US Navy )

It should be clear, though, that Torpedo Eight’s attack was the first in a chain of events that culminating in a Japanese loss so devastating the force could never recover. According to the book Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway, written by Anthony P. Tully and Jonathan B. Parshall, the attack by Torpedo Squadron Eight came in almost an hour before the dive-bombers arrived — around 9:18 AM. Their attack took no more than 17 minutes. Gay was perhaps the only pilot to get close enough to drop a torpedo against a Japanese carrier before he ditched his plane. He attempted to rescue his gunner, Robert K. Huntington, but was unsuccessful.

The reason Torpedo Squadron 8 attacked alone was because Hornet’s air group commander, Stanhope Ring, made an incorrect guess. Waldron, commander of Torpedo Squadron 8, and Ring had often disagreed on where the Japanese carriers might have gone. This time, Ring ended up missing the Japanese carriers — flying too far to the north. Waldron was dead on target, though.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

World War II’s answer to Michael Murphy is Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, who received a posthumous Navy Cross for Torpedo Eight’s attack.

(US Navy)

At 9:38am, Torpedo Squadron Six began their attack, launched from the USS Enterprise. This lasted until about 10:00. Torpedo Squadron Six’s attack came from a different angle than Torpedo Eight’s — four of that squadron’s planes returned to the Enterprise.

It was during Torpedo Six’s attack that Wade McCluskey, leading the Dauntless dive bombers from the Enterprise, would sight a Japanese destroyer trying to catch up with the rest of Kido Butai after trying to chase off the submarine USS Nautilus (SS 168). As McCluskey’s Dauntlesses arrived over Kido Butai, so did the Yorktown’s strike of 12 Devastators and 17 Dauntlesses, escorted by six F4F Wildcats.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

Of the fifteen pilots in this photo, only one lived.

(US Navy)

The Devastators of Torpedo Three would be savaged by the Zeros, but the Dauntless dive-bombers would turn the tide of war in five minutes, largely because the torpedo squadrons had not only drawn fighters down, but their attacks forced the Japanese carriers to maneuver in ways that precluded the launching of their own planes.

Torpedo Eight’s attack, the first in this deadly series, had set the entire sequence in motion — a sequence that would forever cripple the Japanese Navy, leading to victory for the Allies at Midway.

Learn more about Torpedo Eight in the film below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyrawK_MUF8

www.youtube.com

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Young Chesty Puller dreamed of being a soldier

That’s right, Marine Corps legend and one of America’s greatest fighters from any branch Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, a true American Iron Man, spent his childhood dreaming of being a soldier.


6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Yeah, this guy was almost a soldier. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Army guys, before you go too nuts with this information, keep in mind that Puller ended up joining the Marine Corps because he was inspired by the Marines’ legendary performance at the Battle of Belleau Wood and because the Corps gave him a chance at leading troops in World War I before it was over.

Yeah, Chesty changed his service branch preferences for the most Puller reason ever: he thought the Marines would let him draw more blood, sooner.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
There was a lot of blood to be had in Belleau Wood. (U.S. Marine Corps museum)

Puller grew up as a tough kid and the descendant of soldiers who fought in the Civil War. His grandfather and many other relatives fought for the Confederacy while a great uncle commanded a Union division.

His grandfather was a major who had died riding with Jeb Stuart at Kelly’s Ford. Confederate Maj. John W. Puller had been riding with Maj. Gen. Tomas Rosser when a cannon ball took much of his abdomen out. He continued riding a short distance despite his wounds but died on the battlefield.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
A Harper’s Weekly illustration of the Battle of Kelly’s Ford where Maj. John Puller was killed by cannon fire. (Illustration: Public Domain)

The young Lewis Puller grew up on the stories of his grandfather and other prominent Confederate soldiers in the town, and it fueled a deep interest in the military for him. At the time, the Marine Corps was a smaller branch that had fulfilled mostly minor roles on both sides of the Civil War, meaning that there were few war stories from them for Puller to hear.

He even tried to join the Richmond Blues, a light infantry militia, during the U.S. expedition to capture Pancho Villa, but was turned away due to his age.

Those stories and Puller’s love of the outdoors naturally led him to the Virginia Military Institute, a college which, at the time, sent most of its candidates to Army service (now, cadets can choose from any of the four Department of Defense branches).

At the institute, Puller was disappointed by the nature of training. He wanted more time in the woods and working with weapons, but the school’s rifles had been taken by the Army for use in World War I. After only a year of training, Puller told his cousin Col. George Derbyshire, the commandant of cadets of the school, that he would not be returning to VMI the following year.

As Burke Davis relates in his book Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller, Derbyshire tried to get Puller to stay but Puller was thirsty for combat:

“I hope you’re coming back next year, Lewis.”

“No, sir. I’m going to enlist in the Marines.”

“Why?”

“Well, I’m not old enough to get a commission in the Army, and I can get one in the Marines right away. I don’t want the war to end without me. I’m going with the rifles. If they need them, they need me, too.”

His decision came as the Battle of Belleau Wood was wrapping up, a fight which greatly enhanced the Marine Corps’ reputation in the military world. Puller went to Richmond, Virginia, and enlisted in the Marine Corps on June 27, 1918, the day after his 20th birthday and the end of the Battle of Belleau Wood.

Unfortunately for him, he wouldn’t make it to Europe in time for World War I. Instead, he was assigned to train other Marines and achieved his commission as a second lieutenant just before the Marine Corps drew down to a peacetime force, putting many commissioned officers on the inactive list, including Puller.

6 well-known ways the White House stays secure
Puller being award a Navy Cross by Gen. Oliver PP. Smith in Nicaragua, ca. 1931. (Photo: Public Domain)

But Puller resigned his commission to return to active service and went to Haiti and Nicaragua where he performed well enough to regain his butterbar and claw his way up the ranks, allowing him to make his outsized impact on World War II and the Korean War.

Many of the details from this story come from Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller by Burke Davis. It’s available in print or as an ebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Nope, ‘God & The 3 Mistakes’ is not what happened after Pearl Harbor

I’m known among my friends as a bit of a heartless cynic (#NotPopularAtParties #PleaseStopInvitingMe #HowManyOfTheseDoIHaveToRuinToBeLeftAlone). Maybe that’s why We Are The Mighty’s president and CMO, U.S. Air Force veteran Mark Harper, sent me this heartwarming story about Admiral Nimitz arriving at Pearl Harbor after the attack.

But then, I ruined it.


6 well-known ways the White House stays secure

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, a bold and brave man too busy being optimistic for your “history facts” or his own notes.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The story is entitled God and the 3 Mistakes, and it makes the rounds on the internet every once in a while. Here’s a version of it from armchairgeneral.com:

Tour boats ferry people out to the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii every thirty minutes. We just missed a ferry and had to wait thirty minutes. I went into a small gift shop to kill time. In the gift shop, I purchased a small book entitled, “Reflections on Pearl Harbor” by Admiral Chester Nimitz.

Sunday, December 7th, 1941 — Admiral Chester Nimitz was attending a concert in Washington D.C. He was paged and told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the phone. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Admiral Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume command of the Pacific Fleet. He landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941. There was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat–you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war. On Christmas Day, 1941, Adm. Nimitz was given a boat tour of the destruction wrought on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Big sunken battleships and navy vessels cluttered the waters every where you looked.

As the tour boat returned to dock, the young helmsman of the boat asked, “Well Admiral, what do you think after seeing all this destruction?” Admiral Nimitz’s reply shocked everyone within the sound of his voice. Admiral Nimitz said, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make, or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?”

Shocked and surprised, the young helmsman asked, “What do mean by saying the Japanese made the three biggest mistakes an attack force ever made?” Nimitz explained:

Mistake number one: the Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk–we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

Mistake number two: when the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed our dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow every one of those ships to America to be repaired. As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks, and we can have them repaired and at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.

Mistake number three: every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is in top of the ground storage tanks five miles away over that hill. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply. That’s why I say the Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make or God was taking care of America.

I’ve never forgotten what I read in that little book. It is still an inspiration as I reflect upon it. In jest, I might suggest that because Admiral Nimitz was a Texan, born and raised in Fredricksburg, Texas –he was a born optimist. But anyway you look at it–Admiral Nimitz was able to see a silver lining in a situation and circumstance where everyone else saw only despair and defeatism.

President Roosevelt had chosen the right man for the right job. We desperately needed a leader that could see silver linings in the midst of the clouds of dejection, despair and defeat.

There is a reason that our national motto is, IN GOD WE TRUST.
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Look, an optimistic photo of a re-floated battleship. Let’s all go get coffee and not read the rest of this.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Stop here to remain happy. No? Alrighty, then.

Was that heartwarming and satisfying for you? Good. Stop reading. Go away. Be happy. Don’t let my factual poison into your soul. Ignore the holes and historical discrepancies and return to the world as a satisfied human being.

Or, let’s go through this together and destroy joy.

(Author’s note: For some of the debunking done here, we’re turning directly to Adm. Nimitz’ notes from December, 1941, compiled in his “gray book,” which the Navy put on the internet in 2014. Citations to that document will be made with a parenthetical hyperlink that will give the PDF page, not the printed page number. So, “(p. 71)” refers to his December 17 “Running Summary of Situation” that is page 71 of the PDF, but has the page numbers 9 and 67 printed on the bottom.)

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Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Navy Adm. Chester W. Nimitz.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

That phone call on December 7 didn’t happen

First: “Sunday, December 7th, 1941 — Admiral Chester Nimitz was … told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Nope. At the time, no one knew exactly what had happened or who to blame, and Adm. Husband E. Kimmel was still very much in charge. How screwed up would it have been if Roosevelt’s first action, while the fuel dumps were still burning and sailors were still choking to death on oil, was to fire the guy in command on the ground rather than shifting supplies and men to the problem or, you know, investigating what happened?

The bulk of the losses at Pearl weren’t even announced until December 15 (p. 51) because no one, even at Pearl, could be sure of the extent of the damage while the attack was ongoing.

In reality, Nimitz wasn’t ordered to Hawaii until December 17, the same day that Kimmel was told he would be relieved (p. 71).

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National ensign flies from the USS West Virginia during the Pearl Harbor attack.

(U.S. Navy)

No, it wouldn’t have been worse if the Japanese had lured the ships to sea

The single most non-sensical claim in this story is that Nimitz was glad Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack.

Mistake number one: the Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk–we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

What? Nimitz thought he would’ve lost more men if the Japanese had lured them into a fight near the island? Does anyone believe that he had that little belief in the skills of his men?

If the Japanese had tried to lure the American ships to sea, we would’ve only sent the ones ready to fight, with full ammo loads and readied guns with crews. We would’ve tried to recall the carriers conducting exercises at sea. Yes, losing 38,000 sailors is worse than 3,800, but we’ve never lost 3,800 in a fair fight.

At the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the U.S. took combined losses of about 1,000 killed while inflicting losses against Japan of about 4,000. At the Battle of Savo Island, “the worst defeat ever inflicted on the United States Navy in a fair fight,” according to Samuel Morison, the U.S. lost 1,100 sailors.

Meanwhile, at Pearl, the U.S. lost over 2,000 killed while inflicting less than 100 enemy deaths. Who the hell would be glad it was a surprise attack?

In his notes on Samoa dated December 17, Nimitz specifically cites Japan’s use of surprise as to why it had been so successful (p. 64).

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The largest fuel dumps at Pearl Harbor did survive the attack, but they weren’t enough.

(U.S. Navy)

Yes, Japan did ravage America’s fuel dumps and hit drydocks

Nimitz, when he got the actual call on December 17, quickly tied up his duties in Washington, D.C., and reported to Pearl Harbor. (He arrived Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve.)

There, he found an island still burning and heavily damaged. The Japanese planes absolutely did hit fuel dumps at Pearl Harbor. They hit drydocks as well, heavily damaging three destroyers that were in the docks at the time.

Luckily, Pearl Harbor didn’t have “every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war” in December 1941 as the story says, but the other dumps were under attack as Nimitz was supposedly giving this pep talk. Fuel dumps on the Philippines and Wake Island were destroyed or isolated by the Japanese attack in the days and weeks following December 7.

(Seriously, how would you even run a Pacific fleet if your only gas station was in Hawaii? That would mean ships patrolling around the Philippines and Australia would need to travel 10,000 miles and over three weeks out of their way every time they needed to refuel.)

It is true, though, that Japan failed to hit the largest and most important fuel tank farms on Pearl and didn’t destroy the doors to the drydocks. That was a major strategic error on the part of the Japanese.

But, what damage was done to these facilities was important, changing the strategic calculation for America at every turn.

On December 17, Nimitz wrote a plan to reinforce Samoa that specifically cited the lack of appropriate fuel dumps being ready or filled at Pearl or Samoa (p. 63 and 70). It even mentioned how bad it was to shift a single oiler from replenishing Pearl to getting ships to Samoa. The fuel situation was dire, and Nimitz knew it.

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Two heavily damaged U.S. destroyers sit in a flooded drydock. Both destroyers were scrapped and the drydock was damaged, but it did return to service by February 1942.

(U.S. Navy)

The ship repair situation was worse

If the fuel situation was bad, the repair situation was worse. Drydocks were attacked during the battle. Two ships were destroyed in Drydock number one, and Floating Drydock number 2 was sunk after sustaining damage. Both were back in operation by February 1942.

Other drydocks were safe or only lightly damaged and were up and running by the time Nimitz arrived at Pearl. Yes, that’s a big deal logistically. But that still left too few drydocks for the sheer number of ships heavily damaged in the attack.

But the number of drydocks wasn’t the biggest factor in whether a ship could be repaired at Pearl, because there weren’t nearly enough supplies and skilled laborers in and around the harbor, anyways. Capt. Homer N. Wallin, the head of the salvage effort from January 1942 onward, lamented shortages of firefighting equipment, lumber, fastenings, welders, carpenters, mechanics, engineers, and pumps for the duration of salvage.

That’s why three battleships left Pearl Harbor for repairs on the West Coast on December 20, and ships were heading back to the continent for repairs as late as the end of 1942, nearly a year after the attack, because drydocks had insufficient space or supplies to repair them on site.

In fact, in his history written in 1968, Wallin specifically remembers Nimitz touring the wrecks on Dec. 31, 1941, and being pessimistic about repairs, especially the viability of the USS Nevada. The Nevada was back in combat less than a year later, despite Nimitz’ pessimism.

But the worst problem facing Pearl Harbor was invasion

But the most naive claim of this entire story is that Nimitz was optimistic as to the situation in December 1941. His actual notes from the period paint a much grimmer picture of his mind.

In the wee hours of December 17, hours before Nimitz was ordered to replace Kimmel, Nimitz sent Kimmel a message on behalf of himself and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. Kimmel was ordered to “reconsider” his beliefs that Pearl Harbor was safe from further attack (p. 74).

Knox and Nimitz wanted Kimmel to keep ships out of the harbor as much as possible, to reinforce defensive positions. Most importantly:

Every possible means should be devised and executed which will contribute to security against aircraft or torpedo or gun attack of ships, aircraft and shore facilities [on Hawaii];

Given that Nimitz was actively cautioning about how vulnerable Pearl Harbor was on December 17, it would be odd for him to feel cocky and optimistic on December 25 (the earliest he could have actually taken this supposed boat tour).

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Adm. Chester W. Nimitz pins the Navy Cross on Doris Miller at Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942.

(Library of Congress)

But he was still a great leader

The fact is, Nimitz was not some famed optimist. He was a realist. And he was in command of a fleet crippled by a sneak attack but backed by the most industrialized nation in the world in the 1940s. American industrial might was so strong that, by the end of the war, the U.S. was producing half of all industrial goods and weapons in the world. And the Japanese had failed to hit the submarines, something that did give Nimitz hope.

While it took most of 1942 and 1943 to fully ramp up America’s wartime production, the seeds were all in place in 1941 thanks to Roosevelt’s Cash-and-Carry and Lend-Lease policies. Nimitz was no fool. He knew he could win, even though the challenge facing him on Christmas 1941 was still daunting.

We can honor him, the sailors lost at Pearl Harbor, and the stunning achievements of the greatest generation without sharing suspect anecdotes about a Christmas Eve boat ride.

(As an added side note: The book this story supposedly came from wasn’t actually by Nimitz, it’s an “oral history” by William H. Ewing. And it was published five years after Nimitz died. Maybe it is a faithful account of Nimitz’ words at some point, but it doesn’t match his notes or the tactical situation in 1941.)

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This deadly resistance fighter was the Wonder Woman of WWII

One of the leaders of the attack was an Australian woman that Resistance Capt. Henri Tardivat called “the most feminine woman I know.” Her name was Nancy Wake. But as she and her men approached the factory that night, there was a problem. A sentry spotted them. Wake sprang at him just as he was about to shout a warning, clamped a forearm beneath his jaw, and snapped his head back.


The man’s body slipped quietly to the ground.

“She is the most feminine woman I know,” Tardivat added, “but when the fighting starts, “then she is like five men.”

 

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Wake had a bounty of 5 million Francs on her head. (Auckland Museum)

From April 1944 until the liberation of Paris the following August, Wake served as a top British agent in German-occupied France. She personally led attacks on German installations, including the local Gestapo headquarters in Montluçon, sabotaged bridges and trains, and once during a German attack took command of a section whose leader had been killed and directed suppressive fire as the group withdrew.

Her courage was never questioned, and “her brain worked with the speed and smoothness of skates on ice,” as Australian Russell Braddon wrote about her.

Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, when the war broke out in 1939, Wake found herself in Marseille married to French industrialist Henri Fiocca, a wealthy, fashionable, and one account says “frivolous” Society woman. But the frivolity ended when she met and befriended captured British officers kept prisoner in the city and eventually began helping them escape to Spain. She also began working as a courier for the Resistance.

The Gestapo, aware of her presence but not her identity, dubbed her the “White Mouse” for her ability to slip away and avoid detection.

In 1943, her luck ran out.

[She was arrested in a street sweep in Toulouse, interrogated, and beaten but not identified, and the Resistance was able to free her after four days. She escaped France, leaving Henri behind, first by leaping from the windows of a train, then hiding among bags of coal in the back of a truck, and finally in a forty-seven-hour trek through the mountains.

She made it to England where she volunteered for the Special Operations Executive. In April 1944, after training, she parachuted back into occupied France to serve with the Resistance fighters in the Auverge region of southcentral France, where a force of almost 8,000 men headed by Tardivat was hiding in the forests and raiding German facilities. On her person were a million francs for the Resistance groups and plans for their part in the upcoming D-Day invasion.

For the jump, she wore silk stockings beneath her coveralls.

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Wake before the Second World War.

 

Wake lived and worked with the Resistance group for the next seventeen months, overseeing all British parachute drops, channeling Allied funds to the Resistance, and battling the 22,000 German fighting men in the area. She also served a command function with the Resistance and took part in raids, at one point just escaping death when the car she was riding in was strafed by a German fighter. At another, she travelled 500 km, through mountainous terrain and German-held territory, to report a destroyed radio and code books.

“When I got off that damned bike… I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t sit down, I couldn’t walk. When I’m asked what I’m most proud of doing during the war, I say: ‘The bike ride’,” she later said.

When France was finally liberated, Wake learned her husband Henri had been captured, tortured, and killed by the Gestapo and that his (and her) wealth was gone. In the years after the war, she held several British intelligence positions, got remarried, and lived to age 98. She died in 2011 requesting that her ashes be spread over the mountains where she had fought.

“That will be good enough for me,” she said.

 

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Nancy Wake survived the war and lived until 2011.

Among the decorations Wake received for were the George Medal, 1939–45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defense Medal, British War Medal 1939–45, French Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, French Croix de Guerre with Star and two Palms, the US Medal for Freedom with Palm, and the French Medaille de la Resistance.

She was very likely the most decorated woman of the war.

MIGHTY TRENDING

There was a special word for Confederates who joined the US Army

Being a POW was not a great way to spend your enlistment in the Civil War, no matter which side you fought on. Depending on which POW camp you ended up locked into, your chances of survival were only slightly better. And if you did die, you probably died of some terrible disease.

So it makes a little sense why some Confederate troops had no problem turning around and joining the U.S. Army. They were called “Galvanized Yankees.”


By 1863, Union lines were becoming stricken by desertions. Coupled with the death rate and the number of wounded and missing men, the U.S. Army in 1863 needed a solution for this coming manpower shortage in a hurry. But with draft riots already happening and enlistments drying up, where could the Union Army find a source of able-bodied men who could fight but were just sitting around, waiting? In the POW camps. And it wasn’t just the Army fighting the Civil War who needed the help. Troops fighting Indian bands in the West needed augmentees as well.

So the Union formed the 1st Volunteer Infantry Regiment; former Confederate soldiers who had been captured, taken the oath of loyalty to the United States, and enlisted in the U.S. Army. It sure beat dying of dysentery or exposure at Camp Douglas.

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Camp Douglas, Ill. where 17 % of inmates never returned. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Starting in 1863, the former Confederates stared down the Sioux tribe in Missouri while the war back home raged on. But they weren’t the only ones who were needed. Ultimately four regiments of Confederate volunteers were formed for the Union. When the Confederates heard of this, they dubbed the POWs who took the deal “Galvanized Yankees,” covering themselves and their deeds in the blue of the Union, the way a metal object is galvanized with a coating of zinc.

For most Southern troops, the choice wasn’t all that hard – and it wasn’t just about the conditions in POW camps. Many average Southern men weren’t too keen on the strict Confederate class distinctions in the South, where poor whites were little more regarded than slaves. Add on the desire for the war to end, and the terrible conditions for Confederate troops, and the choice becomes more and more clear.

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Gen. Benjamin Butler raised two regiments of Confederate POWs to invade Bermuda, but it never came to be. (National Archives and Records)

 

The Galvanized Yankees were sent to the American Plains, the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Missouri. The winters were not kind to the Southerners, who suffered from frostbite, scurvy, and other forms of malnutrition. To make matters worse, on top of enduring temperatures as cold a minus 29 degrees, the Lakota suddenly attacked on Nov. 27, 1863. The natives killed and wounded the new Army members throughout the winter and into the Spring of 1864. They would be able to hold out until the war’s end, however.

In 1865, the men had held their soldiers’ discipline, followed orders, and remained true to their oaths. Even after constant Indian attacks, brutal winters, and poor food, the Galvanized Yankees stayed at their posts. After two years, however, they were at their wits’ end. The war was over, and so was their enlistment. They demanded to be mustered out. Two years after arriving in the Missouri region, they finally were.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch this WW2 pilot take to the skies in his old trainer aircraft

WWII pilot Capt. Jerry Yellin decided to join the military after the attack against Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.


I decided at that moment that I was going to fly fighter planes against the Japanese.

And he did. A P-51 driver, he flew 19 missions in total — including the very last combat mission over Japan on Aug. 14, 1945. After the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Yellin said he didn’t think they’d ever have to fly again, but when Japan refused to surrender, he and his wingmen took to the skies.

On Aug. 13, four days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Yellin was ordered to fly a mission over Nagoya, a hub for Japanese aircraft manufacturing and war equipment production. Before takeoff, his wingman, Phil Schlamberg, told Yellin, “If we go on this mission, I’m not coming back.”

 

(American Veterans Center | YouTube)

 

Yellin told his wingman to stay on his wing. They exchanged a thumbs up from their cockpits, but Schlamberg’s feeling proved to be true — he went missing during the mission.

It was the last combat mission of World War II, and according to Yellin, Schlamberg was the last casualty. To his dismay, Yellin learned that the Japanese had surrendered three hours before, but the pilots didn’t receive the message in time.

Also read: This WW2 veteran recalls guarding Nazi POWs and the Dachau concentration camp

This year, Yellin took to the skies again in a Stearman PT-17, just like the one he trained in during the war at the once-called Thunderbird Field II at the Scottsdale Airport. His flight was part of a Veterans Day event to build a memorial to honor early aviation pioneers and veterans.

Having a museum to remind people of who we were then and what we are now is extremely, extremely important.

Check out Capt. Yellin’s flight and hear the inspiring vet talk about what it meant to serve during World War II right here:

 

(Sequence Media Group | YouTube)
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That time the entire Dutch naval fleet was captured by French dudes on horses

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In the winter of 1795, a French cavalry regiment captured 14 Dutch ships and 850 guns without a fight. How’d they do it? They simply trotted across the ice. Universally regarded as one of the strangest victories in the history of warfare, the Battle of Texel is the only documented occurrence of a “naval” skirmish between warships and cavalry.

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Capture of the Dutch fleet by the French hussars, Léon Morel-Fatio | Public Domain

Why were the French at war with the Dutch?

By 1792, Revolutionary France was looking to pick a fight with Europe’s monarchist powers. On 20 April, the Legislative Assembly declared war against the King of Bohemia and Hungary (meaning the Hapsburg Empire). Their plan worked. They ignited a twenty-three year conflict between France and the rest of the continent. In January 1795, the French Revolutionary Army invaded the Dutch Republic. They were met with little resistance.

What went down during the battle?

The winter of 1794-5 was particularly brutal. Stationed near the village of den Helder, the Dutch fleet was immobilized when the Zuiderzee bay froze overnight. It didn’t take long for the French commander to take stock of the situation—all the calvary had to do was gallop across the ice. The Dutch admiral was left with the embarrassing task of surrendering his ships to a handful of soldiers on horseback. A.G.M. Macdonell describes the French advance in his book Napoleon and his Marshals:

The ragged men carried the Three Colours and sang the terrible song of Marseilles from Fleurus to the Rhine, and captured the fortresses of Flanders and the fortresses of Holland and Brabant…and entered Antwerp and Rotterdam and the Hague, and thundered on their horses across the ice to capture with naked swords the battlefleet of Holland.”

What happened afterwards?

The United Provinces of the Netherlands became the Batavian Republic. The French puppet state lasted until 1806, when it was replaced by the Kingdom of Holland after Napoleon decided to put his brother Louis on the throne.

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The US Army’s plan to win the Plains Wars was to kill every American Bison

One of the reasons the U.S. Army is so capable and successful is its ability to think outside the box to achieve its major objective. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean it includes unintended consequences into its calculations.

One of the major examples of this include using Agent Orange to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam. The United States could see the enemy on the ground after using Agent Orange, but it also gave everyone cancer, from the soldiers and airmen who used it to generations of Vietnamese people, decades after the war ended.

The Army’s disregard of the laws of unintended consequences isn’t strictly a 20th Century occurrence (it’s also not limited to the Army, or to the United States). In the drive to push Indian Tribes onto reservations during the last part of the 1800s, the Army’s plan to subdue the hunter-gatherer tribes of the American West involved an unorthodox, but not well thought-out idea: destroy their resources. 

At the time the frontier was disappearing, the U.S. government and U.S. Army was full of Civil War veterans, who saw victory on the battlefields through destroying the meager resources of the Confederacy. The trio that managed the final destruction of the Confederate Armies, President Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. Philip Sheridan, and Gen. William Techumseh Sherman devised a plan to do the same to the Indian tribes in the West. 

The Indians didn’t have farms, factories, or shipping ports, though. If they did, the U.S. Army would have been less inclined to engineer the tribes’ destruction. Their goal was to get the roving bands of Native tribesmen off the plains and onto plows, where they would stop harassing settlers, destroying rail and telegraph lines, and stop killing soldiers.  

In 1868, the massive buffalo herds that once roamed North America had dwindled into two giant herds, but the tribes still relied on them for everything from clothing and shelter to food. Army leadership recognized that destruction of the herds was the only means of controlling the native population. While the Army never officially adopted a policy of slaughtering buffalo, they helped it along. 

“Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone,” Col. Richard Dodge said of the slaughter.  “Kill every buffalo you can.”

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Col. Richard Dodge/Wikipedia Commons

So they made a most uniquely American solution, promoting a market-based solution to the destruction of the herds. A 2016 article from the Atlantic notes that buffalo hides in 1868 fetched $3.50 each, nearly $70 today. Cartridges for the popular hunting rifles of the time cost just under $5 each in 2021 dollars. It could be a big business, and it was. Killing bison was a cheaper alternative to cattle ranching.

Businessmen hunting hides decimated what was left of the herds, taking what would sell and leaving the meat to rot in the plains of the frontier. In just a few short years, the American Bison was facing extinction and the Grant Administration would do nothing to protect them. By the turn of the 20th century, there were just 300 left. 

In the end, the plan worked. Tribes who were most affected by Sheridan’s plan, the Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne and Arapaho were eventually forced onto their reservations as their food sources dwindled away. Since the buffalo was so important to their society, the tribes also became heavily dependent on the U.S. government for food and other supplies.

The bison survived by migrating to the protected lands on Yellowstone National Park. Today the American Bison is making a comeback, with more than 500,000 in public and private herds, including the herds Native tribes have also reintroduced onto their lands.

Featured image: Left: Screenshot – Red Cry, YouTube; Right: stock image

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