One of the most ever-present devices in modern times is the navigation system in everything from cell phones and wrist watches to in-dash car displays. All of them are made possible with just a few constellations of satellites, most of them launched by the U.S.
But the systems use the satellite signals for free despite a cost in the billions to create and launch the satellites, and even as far back as 2012, $2 million was spent daily to maintain the U.S. system. So why are civilians across the world allowed to use them for free?
The big turning point was in 1983 when a Korean Air passenger jet flying near the Soviet border accidentally crossed into Russian territory in the Kamchatka Peninsula.
The Russians were worried that the plane was a U.S. bomber or spy plane, and made the catastrophic decision to attack the jet, downing it and killing all 269 passengers and crew members on board.
President Ronald Reagan publicly condemned the attacks and turned to his advisors to find a way to prevent other mix-ups in the future. He opened the GPS signals to public use with an executive order — but added scrambling to reduce accuracy.
This made the signals less valuable to rival militaries.
Civilian companies sprang up around GPS and worked to create devices that were perfectly accurate despite the scrambling. After almost a decade of the military increasing scrambling to foil technological workarounds, President Bill Clinton ordered that the scrambling come to an end.
Instead, the U.S. jams GPS signals locally when they’re in combat with a force that uses them.
This jamming works by interrupting the signals, allowing the U.S. to scramble signals from its own satellites as well as those launched in more recent years by Russia, China, India, and Japan.
War is just as much a psychological battle as it is physical. If you’re able to convince your enemy that they have no chance of surviving before the first drop of blood is spilled, you’ve already won. No warriors in history have embodied this concept better than the Anausa or, as they’re more commonly known, the Persian Immortals.
Even their very name, “Immortal,” is a part of the mind tricks they played on their enemies. In order to keep up the image of being unkillable, they wore matching uniforms and hastily recovered their dead or wounded, fueling the illusion that none fell in battle. But that barely even scratches the surface of the psychological warfare the Persians employed to conquer 44 percent of all humanity at the height of their power in 480 B.C.
As with many early civilizations, much of the history of Achaemenid Empire (to Empire for which the Immortals fought) has been lost to time. The history we do have comes from the Greek scholar, Herodotus. Though he opposed Persia, he kept detailed battle plans of the Immortals and those that faced them.
One such example happened to make its way into the 2006 film, “300.” A Spartan at Thermopylae scoffed at a Persian envoy who said their arrows could “black out the sky” by replying, “then we’ll fight in the shade.” That wasn’t just a boast — that actually happened.
The Immortals were well aware that their arrows were inferior to Spartan steel. So, instead of making them stronger, they made more of them so that every archer could unleash them in one, rapid moment, literally blacking out the sky with arrows.
Another example of the ferocity of the Immortals was when the Persians defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Pelusium. The Persians knew that the Egyptians were faithful to the Egyptian Goddess of Cats, Bastet. To the Egyptians, any harm done to a cat was considered great sacrilege.
Knowing this, the Persians simply drew cats on their shields and let loose a bunch of cats onto the battlefield. This alone was enough to make many Egyptians immediately surrender. When the other Egyptians manned their catapults, the Persians would let them know that they had cats with them — and that unleashed the artillery could mean killing a few felines.
If the Immortals didn’t have enough time to prepare for an individual opponent, they’d resort to their shock-and-awe cavalry, armed with sagaris, or long axes. The lightweight ax made it easy for Immortals to twirl them over their heads and swing fast enough to make an enemy’s blood splash far enough back to intimidate their foes.
At the Battle of the Granicus in 334 B.C., Alexander II of Macedon was nearly scalped by an Immortal cavalryman named Spithridates. His ax sliced clean straight through Alexander’s helmet and was just millimeters away from being a fatal blow.
After that moment, Alexander swore to the destruction of Persia. He studied their tactics and instructed his men on how to counter their advances. This took away the Persian’s edge in battle, and Alexander, from then on, took on the moniker of “the Great.”
In September 1961, the Irish Army under the United Nations flag was engaged in operations against Katanga, a breakaway region in Congo. Some 155 Irish troops were stationed at a little base near Jadotville in order to protect the citizens of the small mining town. But the locals in Jadotville wanted nothing to do with the Irish, believing the U.N. had taken sides in the conflict between the Congolese government and Katanga.
For five days, the 155 Irish fought for their lives against as many as 4,000 mercenaries and rebels who tried to take them captive.
The enemy came at the Irish in the middle of a Catholic Mass. Luckily for the Irish, one of their sentries, Pvt. Billy Ready (seriously, his name was “Ready”), fired the shots that alerted the Irishmen to their enemy. What they saw when they went to their posts was 3,000-5,000 hired guns ready to take down their position – the Irish numbered just 155. The mercs brought with them not only heavy machine guns, but also artillery and heavy mortars. They also had air cover in the form of an armed trainer aircraft. It didn’t rattle the Irish one bit, as they later radioed U.N. headquarters:
“We will hold out until our last bullet is spent. Could do with some whiskey.”
As far as weapons go, the Irish had only light machine guns and 60 mm mortars to defend their position. But in a testament to warfighting fundamentals, the Irishmen were able to shut down their enemy’s mortar and artillery capabilities using just accurate mortars and small arms. It was the pinpoint accuracy of the U.N. troops that would sufficiently level the playing field. This exchange lasted four days. Now, down to 2,000 men, the Katangese asked the Irish for a cease-fire.
Meanwhile, a U.N. relief force of Swedes and Indian Army Gurkhas were making a move on the Katangese positions from the other side. They were held down at a bridgehead on the road from the main U.N. base at Elisabethville and despite inflicting heavy losses on the defending Katanga fighters, they could not breakthrough. Meanwhile, the Irishmen could not break out. They were running out of water and ammunition. With no help forthcoming, they were forced to surrender.
Luckily, the mercenaries didn’t slaughter the Irishmen, despite the brutality of the fighting. They were taken prisoner and held captive to extort the United Nations for favorable cease-fire terms. They were released after a month and returned to their Elisabethville base and eventually sent home. The Irish surrender was considered a black eye to the Irish Defence Forces, despite Commandant Pat Quinlan’s brilliant defensive perimeter tactics, which are now taught in military textbooks worldwide. Quinlan also ensured each of his men survived and came home.
The Vikings of old traveled far and wide. Their settlements ranged from Scandinavia to Italy to Canada and everyone, from the Byzantines to the Kievan Rus to the Iberians, feared them. Their blood runs deep inside Ivor Thord-Gray. Within the span of 31 years, he would wear nine different uniforms to fight in thirteen wars across five continents.
He was born Thord Ivar Hallstrom in the Sodermalm district of Stockholm, Sweden in 1878. Unlike much of his family, his Viking heritage inspired his entire future. While his older brother became an artist and his younger brother an archaeologist, Thord set off to become an adventurer. He first joined the Merchant Marines at age 15 where he first settled in Cape Town, South Africa.
This led him to join the Cape Mounted Rifles in 1897, just before the Second Boer War. After a British victory over South Africa, he enlisted in the South African Constabulary and was back to the Armed Forces within the Transvaal Regiment, where he first became an officer. He was transferred to the Royston’s Horse and fought in the Bambatha Rebellion. After the rebellion, he moved up to Kenya to join the Nairobi Mounted Police.
Then, he traveled to Germany where he wanted to fight in the First Moroccan Crisis but was told they didn’t need him. So, he went to the Philippines to join the U.S. Foreign Legion under the Philippine Constabulary.
He took a quick break from his life as a badass to become a rubber planter in Malaya (modern-day Malaysia), but true to his Viking nature, he couldn’t stay away from battle for long. He took up arms again during the Chinese Revolution and rediscovered his love of fighting by joining the French Foreign Legion in Tonkin (Modern-day Vietnam).
He hopped between the Italian Army in the Italian-Turkish War and then again to China directly under Sun Yat Sen, founding father of the Republic of China (also known as Taiwan). This lead him to his first high command position during the Mexican Revolution, where he served as the Commander of the Artillery and, eventually, the Chief of Staff of the First Mexican Army for Pancho Villa.
He wrote about his time in Mexico in his autobiography, Gringo Rebel. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Then, the Great War broke out. He rejoined the British Army as a Major, commanding the 11th Northumberland Fusiliers until his battalion was disbanded. After his mercenary status forced his resignation, he joined the American Expeditionary Forces and became the Commander of the Theodore Roosevelt Division. After that unit was also disbanded, he moved to the Canadian Expeditionary Forces to finish World War I.
Thord-Gray, still with the Canadians this time, was sent as part of the Allied Expeditionary Corps to assist and was eventually transferred to the Russian White Army (anti-Communist forces). He finally attained the rank of General, commanding the 1st Siberian Assault Division. He was selected as the Representative to the Provisional Siberian Government until the Bolsheviks seized complete control of Russia.
His last official act of military service was as a Lieutenant-General in the Revolutionary Army of Venezuela in 1928. After all this, he finally returned to Sweden to write about his travels and archeological discoveries. Ivar Thord-Gray finally settled down in America until his passing at age 86. Like the Viking he was, he spent the majority of his adult life taking on his enemies.
The history of WWII is brimming with legends of incredible heroism, death-defying bravery and sometimes, stories that are just too ridiculous to be true.
The tale of Jasper Maskelyne, the British magician who joined the Royal Engineers once the King declared war on Germany, dances on the line of the third category.
Many people believe that Maskelyne’s “war contributions” are mostly tall tales that have grown more and more fantastical over time, while others contest that his feats of deception are completely factual and actually happened. We may never know for sure how much of history’s account of Maskelyne’s contributions are folklore because there are very few pictures detailing his accomplishments, which is exactly why so many people are skeptical.
Whether or not the illusionist was the real deal or just smoke and mirrors, the story of his contributions to the Allied war effort are too incredible to ignore.
Maskelyne had magic in his blood — he was a third-generation illusionist, so you could say that being awesome ran in his family. He also really, really hated Hitler. Because of this, rather than enlist as a common foot soldier or sailor when Britain began to gear up for WWII, he wanted to offer a flashier form of service: military magician. For whatever reason, the Allies thought that they could actually benefit from having a magic man amongst their ranks, and promoted Maskelyne to major.
But they didn’t stop there — Maskelyne was allowed to assemble a team of the best artists, tricksters, engineers and illusionists around to help him pull off his stunts. The team’s official title was the A-Force, nicknamed “The Magic Gang,” as if The A-Force wasn’t cool enough.
The one and only objective of the A-Force was simple: take down Hitler and the Axis powers in the coolest way possible. Or, to put it simply, to win the war with magic.
And we’re not talking the lame sleight-of-hand card trick stuff you saw on a cruise that one time with your mom. Though, that is apparently what British command was expecting when they brought him on the team. At first Maskelyne was merely used as a troop entertainer, a cheap way to boost morale between training sessions and military operations.
Maskelyne was not down with this. And here is where the first instance of did-he-or-didn’t-he history comes into play. According to history, Maskelyne convinced the Allies to use him for bigger and better things by creating a fake version of the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee and floating it down the river Thames for everyone to see.
How did he do it? Reportedly with an inflatable model and mirrors situated to enlarge the fake ship, making it appear as if it were really as big as the German watercraft. The Allies were apparently impressed, and decided to actually let Maskelyne do what they had promised him in the first place. This piece of history is particularly questionable because there are no photos of the model, but is one of the more entertaining pieces of Maskelyne’s repertoire.
Once he was formally accepted by his higher-ups, it was time to dazzle them with his first and arguably biggest trick for the Allied war effort: hiding the Suez Canal.
If you think this sounds impossible then you’re pretty much correct — the landmark is so recognizable and large that it wouldn’t be possible to actually hide the canal with tarps or create a faux canal as a decoy.
In order to protect this vital body of water from German bombers, they would need a much flashier strategy — literally. Knowing that the Germans carried out their air raids at night, Maskelyne decided that the best means of distracting the bombers would be to try and blind them, or, more realistically, at least make it more difficult for them to find their target.
The Magic Gang supposedly built a system of rotating searchlights and mirrors that created beams of light that were nearly ten miles across, washing whatever came into its path with blinding white light. However, many still debate whether or not this event was actually carried out, or if Maskelyne was even directly involved with the project itself.
Still, the story is pretty dang awesome, and there are several other accounts of Maskelyne’s hijinks during the war that have been recorded.
The IRB is a pontoon bridge that is put in place by multirole bridge companies. The MRBCs use small bridge erection boats to navigate the rivers and position the structure.
Once the engineers and their boats are in the water, the bridge bays are launched. These are floating sections that are unfolded and propelled into position. Each MRBC is equipped with 42 of the bays and can build up to 210 meters of span.
The bridge bays can be launched by truck or helicopter. The MRBCs have their own trucks, but require support from aviation units to launch by helicopter.
If there aren’t enough bays to bridge the entire river, the MRBC can use them as rafts. They position the bay on one side of the river and drop the ramp onto the bank. After the vehicles drive on, engineers lift the ramp and begin crossing the river.
Once near the opposite shore, the engineers drop down a ramp against the bank and the vehicles can drive off.
Of course, vehicles can cross much faster if the engineers are able to complete and position one unbroken span. In that case, tanks, fighting vehicles, and humvees can simply drive across. Humvee traffic can pass in two directions at once, but tanks and most fighting vehicles have to cross near the center, making it a one-way bridge.
Watch engineers deploy the bridge and wave tanks across in the video below.
The Empire of Japan was in dire straits by 1945. Between the terribly bloody Pacific island-hopping campaign by the United States and its allies and the firebombing against Japanese cities, Japan was looking for anything it could use to hold back the enemy tide. One plan that was almost brought into fruition was the mass use of bubonic plague against the U.S. mainland, meant to terrify the civilian population and disrupt the war effort off the West coast.
The plan was named Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night, and was the brainchild of Lt. General Shiro Ishii, the commander of Japan’s infamous biological warfare program. Unit 731, as the program was known, had been developing and testing biological weapons since 1932 under the perversely named Army Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory.
Using special float-planes deployed from five of the huge Japanese I-400 class submarines, which had been designed to launch airstrikes against the United States West coast, the plan was to use either biological bombs or Kamikaze attacks to spread bubonic plague across San Diego. The mission was expected to be a one-way suicide mission for all pilots and submariners involved.
To develop these weapons and others, Unit 731 had been using human experimentation on a vast and horrifying scale, testing everything from germs and chemical toxins to flame throwers on live subjects. Most of the experimentation took place on civilians from occupied territories, mainly China, but some Allied prisoners of war were also included in the experiments.
But it was by far the aerial biological bombing in mainland China that took the largest toll. Unit 731 used low-flying aircraft to infect Chinese coastal cities with bubonic plague infected fleas, and also experimented with air-dropped cholera, anthrax, and tularemia. The resulting outbreaks are estimated to have killed as many as 400,000 to 600,000 Chinese, mainly civilians.
These sort of results made the weapons seem ideal for a strike on the U.S. west coast. They hoped that the resulting epidemic would spread and disrupt the huge logistical operations supplying the U.S. armies and fleets bearing down on the Japanese Home Islands.
It was not the first plan by the Japanese to attack the U.S. mainland. Several Japanese submarines had shelled targets targets on the west coast, with minimal results. Operation Fu-Go launched over 9,300 hydrogen balloons loaded with explosives into the Pacific jet stream, where they would be propelled towards North America.
The plan was that the explosives would start forest fires, burn cropland and spread fear among the civilian population. Despite Japanese propaganda that claimed American deaths in the thousands and widespread panic, the program was an almost complete failure. It was clear that something more destructive was needed for such piecemeal attacks, and biological weapons seemed a natural solution.
In the end, after a lot of careful planning, the operation never happened. Only 3 out a projected 18 I-400 submarines could built, and the Japanese high command wanted those held back to defend the Home Islands. The operation was not slated to begin until Sept. 22, 1945, and the August atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent surrender rendered the operation moot. No biological weapons were ever dropped onto to U.S. soil.
After the war, despite the horrific atrocities committed against civilians and Allied POW’s, many of the doctors of Unit 731, including Shiro Ishii, were granted immunity from war crimes prosecution in exchange for their knowledge of biological warfare and human experimentation. Part of Operation Paperclip, which also gave immunity to hundreds of German rocket scientists and other scientific personnel, the US government had decided their expertise was too valuable to lose.
It is unlikely that Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night could have had any real effect on the outcome of the war, given that victory over Japan by the U.S. in 1945 was a foregone conclusion. Japan was essentially blockaded, its remaining forces were hopelessly outgunned, and the U.S. atomic bombings and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria showed that no last ditch plan could save them.
Unit 731 was the first to use modern biological weapons on a large scale, and the terrible toll they took in China showed how ruthlessly effective such munitions could be. If the war had not ended when it did, San Diego and southern California might have faced what China had already suffered, with terrible consequences.
The days after the September 11th attacks were very different from the United States’ “business as usual” of post-Cold War days gone by. As the days stretched into weeks, the culture of the U.S. changed a little bit, and you could see it everywhere, from entertainment media to individuals across the country. The mood suddenly shifted.
For retired four-star general Wesley Clark, the mood shift was an entirely different level when he met old friends at the Pentagon.
Clark was a Presidential candidate in 2004.
In a 2007 interview, Clark tells Democracy Now that life at the Pentagon was markedly different from the military world he knew after 34 years in the Army. The former NATO Supreme Allied Commander got a little insight from his old friends about how the United States was preparing to respond to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
Some ten days after the attacks, Clark says he was in the Pentagon visiting friends at the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he was called into a former colleague’s office. Without divulging which colleague, Clark tells Democracy Now that the general told him they were preparing for a war with Iraq. This was just ten days after Sept. 11, 2001. Clark confirmed that there was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but the general was firm on the decision to invade.
“I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail,” Clark remembered the general saying.
Clark returned to the Pentagon a few weeks later. By this time, the United States was conducting bombing operations in Afghanistan. He poked his head into the same four-star colleague’s office and asked if the war was still on – it was. Not only was the war with Iraq still going on as planned, but the plan had since been expanded to also include other countries that were traditionally hostile to the efforts of the United States.
The general showed Clark a classified memo from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that listed seven countries that were to be toppled by the U.S. military in the coming five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. In that order.
Clark believes Iran needed the US to oust Saddam Hussein, something it could never do.
Clark believed that by that time, Iran already saw itself at war with the U.S., considering the calls for regime change and the ongoing proxy war in neighboring Iraq. In 2007, the United States military was implementing the famous “surge” strategy for defeating the insurgency in Iraq, a strategy that had not yet reaped benefits by the time of Clark’s interview. Clark was trying to stop the momentum for war with Iran.
Of course, the list of countries mentioned by Gen. Clark’s friend in the Pentagon have their own set of issues or were later beset with them. Libya and Syria fell victim to the Arab Spring five years later. The government of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya eventually fell, which led to his death. The government of Bashar al-Asad in Syria was rescued from collapse by Russian intervention in the country’s ongoing civil war. Lebanon was wrecked by an Israeli invasion in 2006. Sudan has since split into two countries as a result of civil strife, and Iraq would infamously suffer at the hands of ISIS after the U.S. withdrawal.
What might surprise you is that both my father and brother also served. Military life and service for our country runs deep in my family, and those values have carried me through my career at Easterseals. My father was one of the first Black chaplains for the U.S. Navy. It is an enormous responsibility to be at the helm of the religious ministry, the spiritual compass if you will, of the U.S. Navy. My dad is a proud but humble man. By his example, fierce dedication, and commitment to serve others, he has positively impacted the lives of countless of men and women who have risked their lives for our freedom.
When it came time for college, my parents encouraged me to enroll in one of the service academies, such as the U.S. Naval Academy. Instead, I was awarded a 4-year Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship and attended the University of Virginia.I went on to become a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) following my graduation from the University of Texas School of Law. During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, I was stationed in South Korea while my father was on active duty in the Mediterranean, and my brother was a U.S. Marine Corps officer in Kuwait.It goes without saying that military service comes with sacrifice. Not only to the individual, but to their family and loved ones. Looking back on this time, I say to myself, ‘God bless my mother.’ What a difficult time it must have been for her to consider that her husband and two children could be placed in harm’s way at any given moment.
My experience as a JAG officer reinforced what my parents taught: commit to service and believe in equity and inclusion for all Americans. It is what has led me to Easterseals, an organization making a profound and positive difference in people’s lives every day through its life-changing services and powerful advocacy.Our commitment to reaching out to the military community goes back to World War II. I am proud to say that Easterseals, with a nationwide network of 67 affiliates, is here to support veterans as they navigate the often-difficult journey of transitioning to civilian life. While most of us are strong and resilient, we can still draw strength and support from a caring community. That is why Easterseals’ Veterans Services are so important. This Military Appreciation Month, and in response to the millions of young veterans who are now returning from recent wars, we renew our pledge to make supporting our veterans, military families, and caregivers an organization-wide priority. We are proud to serve.
Today and every day, Easterseals offers indispensable resources to more than a million people and families living with a disability annually. Our best in class, inclusive services are provided through a network of local Easterseals facilities in communities nationwide. Easterseals offers hundreds of home and community based services and supports—categorized into five distinct support areas: Live, Learn, Work, Play and Act.
LIVE: Hands on comprehensive, vital programs and support to help people reach their full potential: • Adult and senior services • Autism services • Medical rehabilitation and health services • Mental health services • Residential and housing services
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The next 100 years
In 2019, Easterseals celebrated 100 years of impact in the lives of individuals with disabilities or other special needs, their families and communities throughout America as a powerful advocate and leading provider of innovative services. In marking this milestone, Easterseals reflected on its legacy of delivering equality, dignity and independence to people with disabilities while embracing a future where every one of us is 100% included and 100% empowered.
Since its founding in 1919, Easterseals has remained committed to ensuring that the needs of children and adults with disabilities, veterans and older adults are met with services and supports to help them live, learn, work and play in their communities. By combining on-the-ground presence, deep expertise and diverse programs, Easterseals affiliates nationwide are advancing change to assure that people with disabilities and other special needs can thrive in their communities.
Angela F. Williams is president and CEO of Easterseals, the nation’s leading nonprofit provider of life-changing services and powerful advocacy for people with disabilities of all ages, including veterans and seniors. She is the first Black woman to hold this post and was hired in 2018 as a change agent in anticipation of Easterseals’ 100th anniversary in 2019.She brings a long history of purpose-driven work to Easterseals and has personally witnessed the pain veterans go through daily.
How much could a Marine Corps fighter cost? That was probably one of the questions running through 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Howard Foote’s mind as the enlisted flight mechanic climbed into an unarmed A4M Skyhawk in the middle of a July night.
In case you were wondering, the cost is roughly $18 million. Rather, that was the cost back in 1984, when Foote stole one of them from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. Today, that would be the equivalent of $41 million, adjusted for inflation.
Sentries tried to stop Foote as he taxied the aircraft for takeoff, but they just couldn’t get his attention.
“Foote joined the Marines to go the Corps’ Enlisted Commissioning Program, hoping to attend flight school,” Lt. Tim Hoyle, an El Toro public affairs officer, told the Los Angeles Times. “However, while flying at 42,500 feet in a glider he suffered an aerial embolism similar to the bends suffered by divers.”
The bends is the divers’ term for decompression sickness, where gasses in the body (like nitrogen in the compressed oxygen tanks used by divers) come out of the blood in bubbles because the body doesn’t have time to adjust to the pressure around it.
Flight school was not going to happen. Foote became a mechanic instead. Still, he had to realize his dream of going up at the helm of a fighter.
The young Marine drove up to the plane in a vehicle used to take pilots to their aircraft. He even wore a flight suit to dress the part.
He flew the fighter for 50 miles, roughly a half hour, doing loops and barrel rolls over the Pacific Ocean. He then landed it after making five passes of the runway.
No one tracked the plane. They didn’t send any other fighters to intercept it. Foote brought it back all on his own.
Foote was sent to the stockade at Camp Pendleton. He served four and a half months of confinement and was served an other-than-honorable discharge.
He tried to fly for Israel and for Honduras after his discharge. Foote later qualified as a test pilot in more than 20 different military and civilian aircraft, and became a contractor to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He holds patents in aviation design and engineering technology.
The Aletti Hotel bar was reserved for field-grade officers. The bartender served drinks to an out-of-place group of muscular soldiers; one had a pair of jump boots slung over his shoulder by the laces. Their antics over the next hour grew too much for the other bar patrons to handle, and they were asked to leave, not the proper send-off for their last Saturday in Algiers before they would receive new assignments in war-torn Europe.
Jim Russell — an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Jedburgh who had three combat jumps into North Africa, Italy, and Sardinia to his name — hopped into the driver’s seat of their three-quarter-ton truck. A pair of jump boots sat next to his leg. John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway had purchased them earlier in the evening at the Allied Forces Headquarters PX. Hemingway, simply known as “Jack,” was the eldest son of Ernest Hemingway, widely proclaimed as one of the greatest American literary figures of the 20th century. He was leaving for jump school in the coming days and had managed to convince Russell to grab a nightcap at a civilian sidewalk cafe located on the outskirts of town.
The rumbustious group of OSS commandos funneled into the cafe. Hemingway would bring his jump boots with him everywhere but decided to leave them within his view on the truck’s dashboard. The commandos were soon engulfed by curious “threadbare urchins” who begged to shine and polish their footwear, in a clever diversion. Hemingway’s prized jump boots were snatched from his sight, and the thief disappeared around the corner of a back alley. Hemingway, Russell, and the others gave chase and watched as the Arab thief threw the jump boots over a wall and into a courtyard.
Now the commandos were furious, as their drunken night turned from a celebration into a violent encounter. Three of the thief’s friends arrived holding knives. In an instant, all of the thieves were disarmed, sprawled flat on their backs, and on the receiving end of a well-choreographed lesson in hand-to-hand combat. The thieves had picked the wrong set of American soldiers that night because despite their heavy drinking, all were unarmed combat instructors for the OSS.
Hemingway never found his beloved jump boots, and he ended his night with a court-martial. An Arab workman threw a rock at their truck while they were returning to the OSS training base in Chréa. The commandos jumped out and beat the man senseless. The man reported the incident, and although Hemingway and Russell didn’t take part, they were threatened with being thrown out of the OSS.
An upcoming airborne operation was their saving grace because the planning stages were moving forward and they couldn’t be replaced. Hemingway’s orders to jump school were canceled, and he reported to a colonel leading a Jedburgh mission.
The Fly-Fishing Commando
Jim Russell had experience as a seasoned radio operator. Hemingway described Russell as “the complete antithesis of an OSS staff person.” The OSS had gained two reputations since its inception in 1942, one as an extremely competent paramilitary force and another as “Oh So Social” for its staff officers’ participation in diplomatic cocktail outings.
“Part of our OSS team at Le Bousquet, with a downed U.S. flier, seated left. I am in the center, Jim Russell, right, and two French ‘Joes.'” Photo courtesy of The Hemingway Project.
Russell and Hemingway, however, wouldn’t be handling the radios on this mission. Two French noncommissioned officers named Julien and Henri were tasked with the job. Their mission was to parachute into occupied France, take over existing information networks, and support the local resistance forces in their insurgency against the Germans.
France wasn’t some foreign land to Hemingway. His boyhood infatuation with fly-fishing materialized as he explored the rivers and streams around Paris with his father. His childhood was spent surrounded by his famous father’s friends: Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. His first words were spoken in French, then English, Austrian, and German. The joys of running through the French countryside as a boy and fighting imaginary battles had become a devastating reality.
Their four-man team spent hours in their safe house studying maps, memorizing drop zones and names of contacts, and identifying intelligence on German troop movements. Hemingway had also assisted in previous planning phases to become familiarized with the process of how agents, including a woman and a one-armed man, were dropped into occupied France.
On the airfield’s tarmac, a British officer approached Hemingway before their jump and said, “You can’t take THAT with you, you know?” He was referring to Hemingway’s fly rod, which he deliberately packed in his gear wherever he went. “Oh, it’s only a special antenna,” he lied. “Just looks like a fly rod.”
Two B-17s took to the air. They were loaded with containers filled with weapons, ammunition, explosives, and radio equipment. One B-17’s belly gun turret had been removed, and the commandos used the hole in the floor to parachute safely to the ground. Hemingway’s first jump from a perfectly good airplane was during a real-world Jedburgh mission over France with zero training, and towing along his fly-fishing rod.
Capt. J.H.N. Hemingway, far right, training officer with the 10th Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Screenshot from Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
On the ground they linked up with the French resistance. While Russell and the French commandos were preoccupied with jury-rigging a radio transmitter, Hemingway ventured to a nearby water hole. “Limestone means rich aquatic life and healthy, well-fed trout,” Hemingway wrote in his autobiography. “I was in khaki, civilian garb not uncommon at the time, but wore no cap and there was a U.S. flag sewn to my right shoulder, but no insignia on the left.”
An overwhelming emotion of glee swept over him as he skipped down the mountainside with his fly rod, reel, and box of flies. As he entered the water, he didn’t study the flow of the stream as he normally would have and was oblivious of the world around him. A German patrol with their rifles and machine pistols marched toward him.
“They were all looking toward me and making what sounded like derisive, joking comments as they went along,” Hemingway wrote. “For the first time in my life I made a silent wish that came as close to a real prayer as I had ever come.”
He wished to not catch a fish because if he had, the German patrol would have stopped to watch and, under closer inspection, realized the fisherman had a US flag on his arm. They had mistakenly assumed he was the professional fly fisherman who fished for the local inn at Avesnes and continued their patrol.
This close call wasn’t the fly-fishing commando’s only brush with potential violence.
Escaping a German POW Camp
In October 1944, Hemingway took another assignment to recruit, infiltrate, and train allied resistance forces. While he traveled to his safe house with Capt. Justin Greene, who commanded the OSS team with the 36th Infantry Division, they stepped past a dead tank and into a German hornet’s nest. Greene walked up the slope and then immediately turned around and dove for cover, as if he had seen a ghost. Small arms fire and explosions followed close behind, and two German alpine soldiers appeared in Hemingway’s field of fire.
“After a hectic courtship, I finally got Puck to the altar in Paris, 1949.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
Another German opened fire from above Hemingway’s position, and he was hit with a single round. He dropped to the ground and tried to hide in a ditch as two more bullets ripped through his right arm and shoulder; grenade fragments peppered his side. He called out in German, surrendered, and immediately told them his cover story while they attended to his wounds. A German surgeon later threatened to amputate his arm, but he refused because, he reasoned, it was his casting arm.
Hemingway and Greene boarded the Luft Bandit en route for a German hospital prisoner of war (POW) camp. German civilians called their passenger train the Luft Bandit because it stopped often in tunnels and dense forests to escape American planes.
While in the POW camp, the commandos prepared for their escape. On March 29, 1945, US Army tank divisions broke 50 miles behind enemy lines to free US officers held in POW camps. Their intelligence, however, anticipated only 300 soldiers were being held in these camps — instead, the number averaged close to 3,000. Hemingway hitched a ride on one of these tanks as they rolled through an area the Germans used for army maneuvers and artillery practice.
“Preparing to net the catch on England’s Itchen River.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
From a distance of no farther than 3 yards, Hemingway was knocked off the tank’s turret by a Panzerschreck bazooka. He jumped onto another tank as American infantrymen decimated the hedgerow with their rifles and automatic weapons. Instead of staying with his rescuers, Hemingway decided to leave the tanks and travel on foot with another soldier. The next morning, six German Tiger tanks surprised and destroyed all 57 armored vehicles of the American tank division with overwhelming firepower.
Hemingway evaded German patrols for two days, surviving off raw rabbit and gardens of abandoned homes. He was nearly shot by a patrol of German teenagers who nervously trained their weapons on the unknown Americans. Hemingway spoke slowly in lousy German and was captured unharmed. For 10 more arduous days he and other prisoners death marched away from the evacuated Nürnberg POW camp to Bavaria. After a P-51 Mustang mistakenly strafed their position, they were forced to spell “US POW” on the ground. Once they arrived at their new home, which Hemingway called the biggest POW camp he had ever seen, they spent the next six months as POWs before being liberated on April 29, 1945. His once fit and healthy 210-pound body at the beginning of the war was a gaunt 140 pounds by war’s end.
Field & Stream
After World War II, Hemingway debriefed with X2, the OSS counterintelligence section, and took a commanding officer position at a German POW camp in Camp Pickett, Virginia. Hemingway kept alive his passion for fly-fishing after his service. He wrote for National Wildlife Magazine, describing his adventures hunting in Africa and trolling a fly behind a deep-sea fishing boat off the coast of Tanzania.
Screenshot from Jack Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
“All together, while trolling and casting from shore and around a small atoll on the edge of the Pemba Channel, I caught twenty-seven different species of fish on the fly, including everything from small, brightly-colored reef species to dolphin in the blue water, and I had one big shark for a short while which had swallowed a tuna I was fighting,” he wrote in his autobiography.
In his 40s, Hemingway became the Northwest field editor for Field Stream, “which meant contributing an annual roundup of fishing prospects in my region and any other pieces I could produce that might fit,” he wrote in his autobiography. Hemingway also influenced decision making through the Federation of Fly Fishermen. As the commissioner of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, he successfully swayed the state to adopt a catch-and-release fishing law.
Jack Hemingway was the son of a famous writer and the father to famous children, but he was also a legend in his own right. The former OSS commando, American POW, fly fisherman, conservationist, editor, author, husband, and father died of heart complications in 2000 at age 77.
Shortly after the end of World War II, the scientists who developed the atomic bombs dropped on Japan tried to envision the kind of nuclear event that could lead to the destruction of not just cities, but the entire world.
A declassified document shared by nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein gives the verdict that scientists at the Los Alamos laboratory and test site reached in 1945. They found that “it would require only in the neighborhood of 10 to 100 Supers of this type” to put the human race in peril.
In 1945, the Los Alamos scientists concluded it would only take between 10 and 100 “Super” bombs to end the world. pic.twitter.com/01I8ypmIP0
They reached this conclusion at a very early point in the development of nuclear weapons, before highly destructive multi-stage or thermonuclear devices had been built. But the scientists had an idea of the technology’s grim potential. “The ‘Super’ they had in mind was what we would now call a hydrogen bomb,” Wellerstein wrote in an email to Business Insider.
At the time, the scientists speculated they could make a bomb with as much deuterium — a nuclear variant of hydrogen — as they liked to give the weapon an explosive yield between 10 and 100 megatons (or millions of tons’ worth of TNT).
For perspective, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a yield of around 15 kilotons, or 0.015 megatons. These theorized bombs were several orders of magnitude more powerful than those that wrought destruction on Japan earlier that year.
The apocalypse brought on by these 10-100 super bombs wouldn’t be all fire and brimstone. The scientists posited that “the most world-wide destruction could come from radioactive poisons” unleashed on the Earth’s atmosphere by the bombs’ weaponized uranium. Radiation exposure leads to skyrocketing rates of cancer, birth defects, and genetic anomalies.
The Los Alamos scientists understood the threat that airborne radiation would pose in the event of nuclear war. “Atmospheric poisoning is basically making it so that the background level of radioactivity would be greatly increased, to the point that it would interfere with human life (e.g. cancers and birth defects) and reproduction (e.g. genetic anomalies),” says Wellerstein. “So they are imagining a scenario in which radioactive byproducts have gotten into the atmosphere and are spreading everywhere.”
Wellerstein says that this fear of widespread nuclear fallout was hardly irrational and that concerns over the atmospheric effects of nuclear detonations were “one of the reasons that we stopped testing nuclear weapons aboveground in 1963, as part of the Limited Test Ban Treaty.”
Taking both of the estimated scales to the extreme — 100 superbombs yielding 100 megatons of fission each — would result in a total yield of 10,000 megatons. As Wellerstein notes, that’s the same amount of fission that Project SUNSHINE determined was enough to “raise the background radioactivity to highly dangerous levels” in a 1953 study.
That degree of nuclear power — though not necessarily accompanied by the radioactive component critical to meeting the fears documented here — rested in the hands of both the U.S. and Russia during the Cold War.
A deactivated Soviet-era SS-4 medium range nuclear capable ballistic missile displayed at La Cabana fortress in Havana, on Oct. 13, 2012. (Photo: Desmond Boylan/Reuters)
In recent decades the total yield of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons has fallen, such that “the threat of over-irradiating the planet is probably not a real one, even with a full nuclear exchange,” Wellerstein wrote. “A bigger concern is the amount of carbon that would be thrown up in even a limited nuclear exchange (say, between India and Pakistan), which could have detrimental global effects on the climate.”
Back in 1945 the Pentagon had speculated that it would take a few hundred atomic bombs to subdue Russia.
That thought experiment had a strategic bent. But the 1945 estimate seems to have advised caution in the new, uncertain nuclear age.
The scientific push to learn more about the destructive weapons that were so hastily researched and used in the 1940s resulted in important insights as to the consequence of their use. Nuclear weapons aren’t just horrific on the intended, local scale. They can carry consequences on the planet’s ability to foster human life, whether that’s by contributing to the greenhouse effect or irradiating it beyond habitability.
The U.S. military does a lot of good around the world, but it also maintains a few quirks. Usually stemming from the mindset of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” some items common to the military experience don’t make much sense. These are those items.
Here is how this went down: The Navy was wearing its completely blue working uniform, and then the Marine Corps and Army went to new and improved digital patterns. The admirals got together and thought of how to best to spend the budget.
They got into a big room with presentations about cool laser beams that can destroy an entire terrorist compound, missiles for fighter jets that can travel 300 miles, and new GPS navigation systems that can tell you where you are with pinpoint accuracy and you can hit one button to call in naval gunfire. And then they decided to spend a bunch of money on uniforms that make no sense.
2. Wearing reflective belts everywhere
Yeah, we know. They reflect light from car headlights so that you don’t get flattened like a pancake when you’re on your run. So maybe that makes sense. But they are overused to the point of absurdity. You need to wrap a reflective belt around your pack on this hike, because drivers may not notice the 900+ people around you with flashlights and making lots of noise.
Make sure you also wear your reflective belt around your forward operating base so that Johnny Taliban can make that mortar fire more effective.
3. Those brown dive shorts that only Navy SEALs wear
The UDT SEAL swim shorts come in khaki, have an included belt, and are short enough to show how terribly untanned your legs are. According to NavySEALs.com, the shorts were issued to the original frogmen of World War II, and now all SEALs are issued them as part of that tradition.
Holding to traditions is important, but we’re talking 1940s-era fashion here. SEALs aren’t shooting at Taliban fighters with M1 Garands, because times, trends, and technology has changed. Which leads us to …
4. Marine Corps “silkies” physical training shorts
We can officially conclude that the military has a serious problem with short shorts. The worst offender is the U.S. Marine Corps, with their “silkies.” While Marines have been issued updated physical training uniforms, the silkie shorts that looked like they were stolen from Larry Bird’s locker room still prevail. And sadly, there’s always at least one weird guy in your platoon who actually enjoys wearing them.
There’s a reason Gen. Mattis banned the use of Powerpoint briefings when he was in charge at CENTCOM. Creating slideshows are boring, huge wastes of time, and as he so famously said, they “make you stupid.”
We’re absolutely certain there are other things out there. What can you think of? Add it to the comments.