The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, there were less than 1,000 women in the Army Nurse Corps. Eighty two of those women were stationed at Pearl Harbor. What was supposed to be an easy assignment turned into the surprise attack that arose a sleeping giant into World War II… and the role and number of women had just begun on that fateful day in December.

  1. Betty McIntosh

One woman who unexpectedly found herself on the front lines of war was a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. A week after the bombing, Betty McIntosh wrote her account of the attack of Pearl Harbor. But, because of its graphic nature, it went unpublished for 71 years. The article was directed at Hawaiian women and McIntosh solely wanted to share what she had seen on December 7. The days following the attack changed everything about their lives and she hoped her words would help them prepare for what lay ahead. But it wasn’t to be.

In her article, she talked of the fear that gripped her and diving for cover hoping to survive, and then being assigned to cover the emergency room of the hospital. She talked of death. The fear in the faces, and the blood. She said the doctors continued to work calmly in the chaos. She then called for the women of Hawaii to step up and help.

Alongside those doctors, she mentioned there were nurses aiding in the trauma of the makeshift emergency rooms. The stories of these women are sometimes forgotten. But they should be remembered as they were the catalyst that inspired women to serve.

  1. Annie Fox
Photo: Pearl Harbor Warbirds

1st Lt Annie Fox, a 47-year-old woman and 23 year veteran of the Army was the first woman to be awarded a Purple Heart (changed to a Bronze Star in 1944 as the requirement for sustaining injuries changed). Fox was the head nurse of the Station Hospital. In addition, she administered anesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment, assisted with dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressing and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency. 

Four other women were also recognized for their performance during the attack. Captain Helena Clearwater, First Lieutenant Elizabeth A. Pesut, Second Lieutenant Elma L. Asson and Second Lieutenant Rosalie L Swenson. Each received the Legion of Merit “for extraordinary fidelity and essential service.”

  1. Helena Clearwater

Captain Helena Clearwater spoke of her Pearl Harbor experience in a newspaper clipping. In her recollection, she talked about being on duty when the first bomb dropped. She heard the noise but didn’t realize what was happening until she saw the planes flying low with the golden sun. She then knew they were under attack and soon enough the dead and injured started to arrive at the hospital. They worked through the night without relief. Hawaii immediately became “a total blackout from sunset to sundown.” And it was a good thing, because at 9:30 PM the Japanese planes flew over Honolulu again.

  1. Ann Danyo Willgrube
Photo: Pearl Harbor Warbirds

Ann Danyo Willgrube joined the Navy Nurse Corps in 1940 and was so excited to have landed a dream assignment at Pearl Harbor, arriving in October of 1941. She was awoken at 7:55 am when she thought a boiler had exploded. She looked out her porthole in her room and saw smoke pouring out of the USS Arizona. The next minute the chief nurse burst into the room and told her to get dressed and report to the quarter deck for duty; they were under attack from Japan.

The nurses worked round the clock to care for the wounded patients, mostly burn victims. They were too busy to worry about the war going around them. The roar of the guns, the shaking ship, they had too much to do to stop and pay attention. She said, “We were so thankful the Japanese did not realize how they crippled us, because they could have taken over the island had they known the truth.” 

  1. Harriet Moore
Photo: Pearl Harbor Warbirds

2nd Lieutenant Harriet Moore stayed out late Saturday night dancing and was woken by her supervisor just after 7:55 am. He told her that the base was under attack. She thought he was kidding. But after quickly getting dressed and running outside, she could see the smoke from Pearl Harbor. A Japanese pilot flew by and waved. They were so thankful he wasn’t going to bomb the hospital. The first few patients she saw were all burn victims and quickly died after they arrived. She continued to work and do what she could to save as many lives as she could.

  1. Marguerite Oberson

Her friend and roommate, Marguerite Oberson was engaged to a pilot. Sometime during the day, she was informed his plane had been shot down and he was killed. Moore recalled her friend being clearly shaken by the news, but continued to work to help the patients as they continued to arrive.

These are a few of the stories of the women of Pearl Harbor. Their courage and commitment changed how women were viewed and their role in war. Before Pearl Harbor, there was great pushback for women to serve in the military. But four days after the attack, the Bureau of Budget stopped objecting to the expansion of the female military division and began plans to create a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps picked up speed. In the end, over 350,00 women served in uniform in World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 battles brought to you by booze

Alcohol is, like, super awesome. All the cool kids are drinking (unless you’re underage, then none of the cool kids are drinking it, you delinquent), it can lower peoples’ inhibitions, and it’s actually super easy to make and distribute.

So, it’s probably no surprise that the military likes alcohol or that many warriors throughout time have loved the sauce. Here are four times that drinking (or even the rumor of drinking, in one case) helped lead to a battle:


The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

The Schloss Itter Castle was the site of one of history’s strangest battles, in which American and German troops teamed up to protect political prisoners from other German troops.

(Steve J. Morgan, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Waffen SS soldiers got drunk to attack a Nazi-American super team defending POWs

It’s been dubbed World War II’s “strangest battle,” that time German and American soldiers teamed up to defend political prisoners from an attacking SS battalion at Castle Itter. If you haven’t heard about it, this article from Paul Szoldra is worth a read.

What he doesn’t mention is that the Waffen SS soldiers attacking the castle in an attempt to kill the political prisoners had to stockpile some courage first, and they decided to steal the castle’s booze, drink it up, and finally kill the prisoners. Unfortunately for them, they took too long, giving the American and Wehrmacht defenders time to team up and occupy the castle. The attack failed, the prisoners survived, and 100 SS members were captured.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

Washington inspecting the captured colors after the Battle of Trenton.

(Library of Congress)

Rumored Hessian partying paved the way for Washington’s post-Christmas victory

Gen. George Washington’s Christmas Day victory over the Hessians is an example of tactical surprise and mobility. It was a daring raid against a superior force that resulted in a strategic coup for the Colonialists, finally convincing France to formally enter the war on the side of independence.

And it never would’ve happened if Washington’s staff officers hadn’t known that Hessians liked to get drunk on Christmas and that they would (hopefully) still be buzzed or hungover the following morning. Surprisingly though, none of the Hessians captured were found to be drunk after the battle. Alcohol gave Washington’s men the courage to get the job done, but it turns out the chance for victory was inside them all along.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

Viking ships attack and besiege Paris in 845.

Nearly all Viking raids were preceded by drunken debates

When Vikings needed to make major decisions, like about whether to launch new raids or engage in a new war, they did it in a stereotypically Norse way: By getting drunk and debating the decision with no emotional walls between them. Then, they sobered up to finish the debate.

But, once they decided to do battle, they were much more likely to be sober. The Vikings were professional warriors who left the village for the sole purpose of raiding, and they took their work seriously. So, the decision to do battle was aided by alcohol, but the actual fighting succeeded thanks to discipline.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

Celts fought the British at the Battle of Culloden, probably mostly sober. But the Celts, historically, liked to imbibe before a fight.

The Celts would get plastered before battles on beer or imported Roman wines

Celts loved their alcohol, and anyone with the money went for jar after jar of red wine from Italy. For warriors heading into battle the next day, the drinking was a way to mentally prepare, to bond, and to get one last night of partying on the books in case you didn’t make it through.

Of course, most Celtic warriors weren’t financial elites, so they were much more likely to be berserking their way through battle drunk on beer and mead than on imported wines.

Want more cases of alcohol playing a role in war? Check out 7 times drunks decided the course of battle.

MIGHTY CULTURE

What does the World Health Organization actually do?

World War II changed everything. The need for unity against evil and international peace was a concept the world was craving, even with the failing of the League of Nations to prevent World War II. President Franklin D Roosevelt saw the extreme need for the leadership of the United States and created the concept of the United Nations. Although he died before their first meeting, it would come to pass in 1945. At the first meeting, diplomats recognized the need for a global health initiative.

The World Health Organization was born.


The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

World Health Day is celebrated every year as the anniversary that the WHO came into existence, which was April 7th, 1948. The WHO was formed with the firm belief that every human being deserves high standards of health and that it is an inherent right. The original constitution gave them the responsibility of tackling international diseases, like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The history of the WHO’s service to the human race is rich. Since its creation, the world has changed and evolved. The WHO’s constitution has been amended forty-nine times to adapt these changes. The WHO has guided the world through things like discovery of antibiotics and life saving vaccines for polio and the measles. They would go on to develop the Expanded Programme on Immunizations to bring vaccines to children worldwide and save countless lives.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

Their smallpox vaccine campaign eliminated the deadly virus from this earth. They were also behind the saving of 37 million lives with their initiative on the detection and treatment of tuberculosis. In 2003 they developed the global treaty to tackle tobacco, which according to the WHO website, has killed 7.2 million. This is more people than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. In 2012 the WHO developed a plan to target things like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They would continue to focus on overall health, eventually outlaying their recommendation for global health coverage in 2018.

The impact that the WHO has on the world is unmeasurable. They remain committed to responding to health emergencies, elimination of communicable diseases, making medication accessible, training health care professionals, and prioritizing the health of everyone.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This may be the origin of the ‘Dear John’ letter

No two innocent-sounding words can crush a troop’s morale quite like “Dear John.” In the military lexicon, a “Dear John” letter is a cute letter sent by a troop’s lady back home that lets him know she’s gone. These letters typical start with incoherent ramblings about how they miss their “John” before ultimately saying they’re moving on.


The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor
Seriously, didn’t they read the poster? (Image via Smithsonian)

To the deployed John, time stands still, but the Earth still rotates. Even if a troop finds a good one that’s willing to wait, everyone knows someone who got a “Dear John.”

Despite the fact that these heartbreaking letters were undoubtedly sent with the near-12 million letters delivered per week during WWI, the phrase wasn’t popularized until WWII, when American GIs sent and received over one billion pieces of mail throughout the war.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor
This is just one day’s worth of mail for reference. (Image via Australian War Memorial)

When, exactly, troops started using it to refer to an actual letter is lost to time, but it’s been used as a popular saying as far back as 1944 in the St. Petersburg Times. However, the phrase originated many years prior, and was used extensively in Anthony Trollope’s 1864 novel, Can You Forgive Her? The immensely popular Victorian English novel that, honestly, does not hold up to the modern standards of bearable.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor
You can seriously skip this book. Even Stephen King mocked it in his memoir. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

A CliffsNotes of the CliffsNotes is that the story centers around a woman named Alice who has two suitors. One is wild and exciting, but evil: George. The other is honest and a war hero, but boring: John. As it turns out, George is a psychopathic politician who tries to murder everyone and Alice’s cousin. Just throwing that out there. But, in the end, John finds out Alice is leaving him through a letter that starts with a phase repeated throughout the novel, “Dear John.”

Although we don’t know the exact origins of the phrase, as John was the most popular boys name of the time (see: John Doe), this our best guess. Either way, the phrase has had an undeniable impact — it’s since been referenced by Hank Williams Sr., Taylor Swift, a Nicholas Sparks novel that became a film, and television.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The chemical weapon so deadly even the Nazis couldn’t use it

In World War II, every country was looking for an edge, so it’s pretty amazing that the Nazis found one and then decided against it – and rightly so. Chlorine trifluoride ignites on contact with almost any substance, burns at over 2000°C, and will melt tanks, bunkers, schools, and pretty much anything it comes into contact with.

Some things are better left alone.


The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

It must have been one helluva weapon if even Hitler didn’t use it (Spoiler Alert: It was).

In 1930, German scientists came across a volatile new discovery. Dubbed “Substance N,” the concoction boiled at room temperature and produced a toxic gas. When ignited, this toxic gas also burned at thousands of degrees Celsius. After decomposing, it turned into the slightly-less-dangerous-hydrochloric acid (that was actually more dangerous because it occurred as steam). It was also corrosive and exploded on contact with water. Or carbon, which is everywhere. This stuff set fire to asbestos.

At first glance, it might seem like an ideal weapon of war, one that keeps killing in many, many forms and doesn’t stop. And the Nazis thought so too. For years they tried to produce enough of the material to effectively weaponize it. The stuff ate through everything, and what it didn’t eat through, it burned.

It burns concrete. No joke.

Nazi Germany would have totally used this weapon if they could have produced and stored enough of it to actually convert to weapons. If they could have safely transported those weapons and used them before the chemical violently exploded, burned, or otherwise ate through whatever it was in.

Turns out the only safe way to store it is to seal it in containers made of steel, iron, nickel, or copper after they’ve been treated with fluorine gas. The fluorine protects the other substances from the Chlorine Trifluoride. The stuff is so unstable, Chemist John D. Clark once said the best way to deal with a failure to contain the resulting fire from a chlorine trifluoride storage failure is “a good pair of running shoes.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The man who set himself on fire to stop Russian tanks

In 1969, during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, a student protester set himself on fire and triggered mass protests across the country, slowing Russian consolidation and setting off a slow burn that would eventually consume the occupying forces.


The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

Soviet tanks roll into Czechoslovakia in 1968.

(U.S. National Archives)

Czechoslovakia was firmly democratic for decades before World War II, but German forces partially occupied it during World War II and, in 1948, it was conquered by the Soviets. The Communists had supporters in the working class and a stranglehold of government leadership, but students and academics kept fomenting the seeds of unrest.

Even when most of the Soviet-aligned countries went through soul searching in 1953 after the death of Stalin, Czechoslovakia basically just marched on. But in the 1960s, leadership changes and an economic slowdown led to a series of reforms that softened the worst repressions of the communist regime.

The leader, Antonin Novotny, was eventually ousted in 1968 and replaced by Alexander Dubcek who then ended censorship, encouraging reform and the debate of government policies. By April, 1968, the government released an official plan for further reforms. The Soviet government was not into this, obviously.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

Czechoslovaks carry a national flag past a burning soviet tank in Prague.

(CIA.gov)

The biggest problem for the Soviets was the lack of censorship. They were worried that ideas debated in Czechoslovakia would trigger revolutions across the Soviet Bloc. So, in August, 1968, they announced a series of war games and then used the assembled forces to invade Czechoslovakia instead. The tanks crossed the line on August 20, and the capital was captured by the following day.

Initially, the citizens of Prague and the rest of Czechoslovakia were angry and energized, but they eventually lost their drive. But one 20-year-old student, Jan Palach, wanted to revitalize the resistance. And so he penned a note calling for an end to censorship, the cessation of a Soviet propaganda newspaper, and new debates. If the demands weren’t met, he said, a series of students would burn themselves to death. He signed the note “Torch Number One.”

The Soviet leadership, of course, ignored it, but on Jan. 19, 1969, he marched up the stairs at the National Museum in central Prague, poured gasoline over his body, and lit his match.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

Jan Palach

Bystanders quickly put him out, but he had already suffered burns over 85 percent of his body. He died within days. He was not the first man to burn himself in protest of the Soviet invasion, but his death was widely reported while earlier protests had been successfully suppressed by the Soviets.

Other students began a hunger strike at the location of Palach’s death, and student leaders were able to force the Soviets to hold a large funeral for Palach. Over 40,000 mourners marched past his coffin.

While the Soviets were able to claw back power through deportations and police actions, the whispers of Palach’s sacrifice continued for a generation.

On the 20th anniversary of his protest, mass demonstrations broke out once again in Czechoslovakia, and the weakened Soviet Union could not contain them. By February, 1990, the Soviets were marching out of the country, a process which was completed amicably in June, 1991.

Palach’s protest had taken decades to finally work, but in the end, Czechoslovakia was freed of the tanks Palach and others resented so much.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 times Russian psychics got war and combat predictions right

Russians love psychics. They love mysticism. Even the Russian military is claiming to have received psychic technology from dolphins – in an official Russian Army publication, written by a Russian military officer that the Russian military not only isn’t disavowing but is actually doubling down on.


Also read: Um, Russian ministry report claims soldiers have dolphin-derived telepathy?

But whether the Russian military and Russian people believe it or not, Russians have a long history of loving their gifted predictions and the people who make those predictions. Even the Tsar’s wife had Rasputin around to make sure the future was going to be okay.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

Spoiler: It was not okay.

One of Russia’s most popular TV shows is a reality show called Battle of the Psychics. One-fifth of all Russians have visited a psychic, and 63 percent of Russians believe in astrology, fortune telling, or the evil eye. Russians have never lost their love for the metaphysical, even throughout the Soviet years. Superstitions die hard, and mystics are still popular.

One such mystic was Baba Vanga, a Bulgarian clairvoyant who lived in a rural mountainous area, who died in 1996. But Eastern Europeans still make pilgrimages to her gravesite. She made a number of seemingly insane predictions about war and geopolitical affairs that seem to have come true.

So maybe the dolphins aren’t that crazy after all.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

1. The fall of the Soviet Union

Long before the USSR’s fate was sealed, Baba Vanga predicted the fall of the Evil Empire. This was a particularly bold move, considering it could have put her in a gulag and/or put a bullet in her. She also predicted the death of Joseph Stalin, which is probably why Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev once personally came to visit her.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

2. The 9/11 attacks

In 1989, Baba Vanga predicted the attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001:

Horror, horror! The American brethren (the two ‘brother’ towers) will fall after being attacked by the steel birds. “The wolves will be howling in a bush and innocent blood will gush.”
The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

3. The sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk

A full two decades before the fateful event, the old Bulgarian woman predicted the sinking of a submarine that didn’t yet exist in an accident she couldn’t possibly understand.

“At the turn of the century, in August of 1999 or 2000, Kursk will be covered with water, and the whole world will be weeping over it.”
The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

4. President Barack Obama

Baba Vanga predicted that the 44th President would be an African-American, but she also predicted that he would be the last president. Some sources believe she predicted the next president (that would be Trump) would fall ill with brain problems and tinnitus and that Russian President Vladimir Putin would face an assassination attempt.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the first helicopter pilot Medal of Honor was earned

While it might seem a little odd at first glance, it turns out the first helicopter pilot ever to receive the United States’ prestigious Medal of Honor, John Kelvin Koelsch, was born and and mostly raised in London, England. Considered an American citizen thanks to his parentage, Koelsch moved back to the US with his family in his teens, and soon after studied English at Princeton.

Described by his peers as “a man men admired and followed” Koelsch was a physically imposing individual who excelled at athletics and reportedly possessed a daunting intellect and a keen wit. Seemingly destined for intellectual greatness, Koelsch’s original plan was to become a lawyer, but he ultimately decided to join the war effort during WWII, enlisting with the U.S. Naval reserve as an aviation cadet on Sept. 14, 1942. He quickly rose through the ranks and was noted as being a terrifyingly effective torpedo bomber pilot.


Following WW2, Koelsch continued to serve with the Navy, though not before returning to Princeton to complete his degree.

At the start of the Korean War, Koelsch retrained as a helicopter pilot and ended up serving aboard, somewhat ironically, the USS Princeton.

Specializing in helicopter rescue, after what has been described as a “long tour of duty” aboard the USS Princeton, Koelsch turned down an offer to return to the United States with the rest of his squadron, simply telling his superiors that he wanted to remain until the job was done.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

Two U.S. Navy Grumman F9F-2 Panthers dump fuel as they fly past the aircraft carrier USS Princeton during Korean War operations.

His request granted and with the rest of his squadron back in the United States, Koelsch was transferred to the Helicopter Utility Squadron Two, a detachment of which he was put in charge of.

Not just a great pilot, Koelsch also tinkered extensively with his own helicopter, customizing it to handle the Korean weather better, as well as perform better at extremely low altitudes so as to make spotting injured comrades easier during rescue missions.

In addition, Koelsch had a hand in inventing a number of devices to make rescuing people caught in specific circumstances via helicopter easier, such as the so-called “horse collar” hoist and a floating sling for water-based rescues.

This all brings us around to July 3, 1951. The ship Koelsch was stationed on received a distress call from a downed Marine Captain called James Wilkins. According to reports, Wilkins’ Corsair had been downed during a routine reconnaissance mission and he had been badly injured, suffering a twisted knee and severe burns over the lower half of his body.

Unsurprisingly for a man who once stated “Rescuing downed pilots is my mission” in response to a question about why he took so many risky rescue missions, Koelsch immediately volunteered to attempt to go after Wilkins. His superiors, on the other hand, noted, amongst other things, that rescuing Wilkins would be near impossible due to the heavy ground resistance expected, Wilkins being deep in enemy territory, and the rapidly approaching night and thick fog making it unlikely he’d spot Wilkins even if flying right over him.

Despite all this, Koelsch loaded up his Sikorsky HO3S-1 and set off with his co-pilot, enlisted airman George Neal to at least make the attempt.

Described diplomatically as “slow moving”, Koelsch’s helicopter was both unarmed and travelled to Wilkins’ location without a fighter escort due to the aforementioned heavy fog that day making such an escort impossible. On that note, even without enemy fire, this combination of fog, approaching night, and mountainous terrain also made flying in those conditions exceedingly dangerous.

Nevertheless, flying as low as 50 feet above the ground at some points so as to make spotting Wilkins’ downed Corsair easier through the mist, the sound and sight of Koelsch’s helicopter lazily buzzing through the air caught the attention of Wilkins (who’d been hiding in the woods from North Korean forces), prompting him to return to the parachute — his reasoning being that this would be the easiest thing for his rescuer to see.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

John Kelvin Koelsch.

However, Koelsch brazen flying not far above the heads of nearby enemy forces saw them almost immediately begin firing at him as he came close to the region where Wilkins had been downed. Instead of, you know, getting out of range or doing anything whatsoever to protect his own life, when Koelsch located Wilkins, he simply hovered above him, weathering the hailstorm of bullets directed at himself and his chopper, and signaled for Wilkins to grab the hoist which had been lowered by Neal. As Wilkins would later note — “It was the greatest display of guts I ever saw.”

Unfortunately, it turns out helicopters don’t fly very well when the engine is riddled with bullet holes, and as Neal was winching Wilkins up, this is exactly what happened, causing the helicopter to crash.

Perhaps a problem for mere mortals, Koelsch was able to make something of a controlled crash into a mountainside, with himself and Neal avoiding any significant injuries, and Wilkins not suffering any further injuries as the chopper smashed into the ground.

Following the crash, Koelsch took charge of the situation and the trio fled the enemy forces, all the while taking special care to ensure Wilkins didn’t over exert himself. Koelsch and his cohorts managed to avoid capture for 9 days, eventually making their way to a small Korean fishing village. However, this is where the groups luck ran out and all three men were found hiding in a hut by North Korean forces.

During their march to a POW camp, Koelsch had the audacity to demand their captors provide Wilkins with immediate medical attention. After enough angry shouts from Koelsch, the North Korean soldiers eventually did just this; Wilkins would later credit Koelsch’s insensate and vehement pestering of their captors to give medical aid as something that ended up saving his life.

When the group reached the POW camp, Koelsch, despite being malnourished from his 9 days on the run with few supplies, shared his prisoner rations with the injured and sick, reportedly stating simply that they needed the food more than he did.

We should note at this point that Koelsch continued to do this while being periodically tortured by his captors for his refusal to cooperate in any way with them. When he wasn’t being tortured, Koelsch also continually argued with said captors about their mistreatment of his comrades, citing the Geneva Conventions. His refusal to shut up about this reportedly earned him a number of extra beatings.

Unfortunately, it all ended up being too much and Koelsch succumbed to a combination of malnutrition and dysentery, dying in October of 1951, about three months after his capture.

As for his companions, Neal and Wilkins ended up surviving the war.

In 1955, when the full extent of Koelsch’s actions and exemplary conduct while a prisoner became known, the decision was made to posthumously award him the Medal of Honor, with it noted that, beyond the selfless heroism displayed in the rescue attempt, “Koelsch steadfastly refused to aid his captors in any manner and served to inspire his fellow prisoners by his fortitude and consideration for others. His great personal valor and heroic spirit of self — sacrifice throughout sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the United States naval service.”

Koelsch’s remains were returned to the United States in 1955 by the Koreans and were interred at Arlington Cemetery, an honor reserved for all Medal of Honor awardees.

Further honors bestowed upon Koelesh include a Navy destroyer escort being named after him, as well as a flight simulator building in Hawaii.

Perhaps the most fitting honor though is that Koelsch display of stoic resilience in the face of unthinkable abuse, as well as his general conduct while a prisoner, served as one of the inspirations for the content of the 1955 Code of Conduct for American POWs which, among other things states:

If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
… If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way…. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause…. I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the greatest artillery exchange of the Civil War

The Civil War was a revolutionary conflict for the planet with steam power, repeating rifles, and improved cannons all changing the face of warfare. European powers sent observers to see how battles were fought, and how the rules of combat evolved as the conflict wore on.


The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

A cannon sits on Powers Hill at Gettysburg National Military Park.

(National Park Service)

This changing industrial warfare led to butchery on a grand scale. There are a lot of ways to measure the war, but one of the greatest artillery exchanges of the war was an almost two-hour duel at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that, tragically for the Confederate infantrymen, immediately preceded Pickett’s Charge but failed to dislodge the Union guns.

The exchange came on the morning of July 3, 1863. Two days earlier, on July 1, Confederate scouts had pushed against Union forces near the crossroads at the center of the small town of Gettysburg. Neither side’s generals had chosen the ground, but they both reinforced their men in contact and stumbled into one of the most iconic and deadly battles of the war.

On July 2, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee attacked Union positions on hilltops near the city, attempting to push them off the high ground before more Union reinforcements arrived. Confederate troops were in Union territory, and the balance of power would shift against them more and more the longer the battle wore on.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

Civil War reenactors play as Confederate artillery crews in 2008.

(Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The July 2 attacks were fierce, and Union forces suffered heavy losses and ran low on ammo in some positions. On Little Round Top, for example, Union forces barely survived by launching a bayonet charge down the hill after most of the men ran out of shot, leaving them vulnerable to a Confederate assault.

By July 3, it was clear that Lee’s invasion of the north would have to either succeed on this day or likely fail altogether. The Union troops, on the other hand, despite some missteps, had improved their positions, and it would take great skill and a bit of luck to dislodge them.

Union forces under Maj. Gen. George Meade were arrayed on a series of ridges, and attackers were able to push Confederate troops out of a nearby field in the early hours of the morning. In a bid to re-seize the initiative and soften Union defenses in the early afternoon, Lee ordered a massive artillery bombardment of the Union troops, focused on Seminary and Cemetery ridges where he hoped to attack and pierce the lines.

Battle of Gettysburg – The Artillery Duel

www.youtube.com

The total number of guns on each side was similar. A Civil War Trust map of the artillery positions shows 126 Confederate guns and 128 Union guns covering the battlefield, with over 50 Union guns either on Cemetery Ridge or immediately adjacent to it. A HistoryNet count of the weapons engaged pegs it at 150 Confederate guns that took part against 75 Union guns.

When the afternoon artillery duel began, guns on each side began a disciplined but heavy bombardment of the opposing forces. For over 90 minutes, Confederate artillery tried to pick off Union guns and crews as the men ran back and forth from the caissons and ammo dumps to the guns to keep the rate of fire up. Good crews on either side could fire two rounds per minute. Thousands of rounds crisscrossed the field.

It’s the largest artillery barrage ever in the western hemisphere. The Union leaders ordered many of their crews to cease fire in an attempt to fool the Confederates into thinking the Union cannon crews were broken.

If the Confederate bombardment were successful, it would create a temporary gap in the Union defenses, an area where battered riflemen and depleted artillery crews would be hard-pressed to hold the line while reinforcements were moved in.

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

Union artillery holds its position at the Battle of Gettysburg.

(Alfred Waud)

Lee prepared a massive infantry column, the core of the assault coming from Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s 4,500-man division, with about 10,000 more men coming from other brigades, for an attack directly into the Union center. This would break the Army of the Potomac in half and force Union Maj. Gen. George C. Meade to withdraw or allow his men to be cut apart.

Despite the quiet Union guns, despite the massive infantry column, some of the Confederate generals still believed that the infantrymen could not possibly capture the hill. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was one of the top detractors of the plan, respectfully telling Lee that he didn’t think 15,000 men existed who could take the hill.

He would be proven right. The Union guns had been mostly sheltered by trees and fortifications during the exchange, and they survived the Confederate artillery attack in good order. Many of the guns on Cemetery Ridge were still in perfect order with ready crews manning them.

The 15,000 Confederate troops faced a march with .75 miles of open ground between the last spot of cover and the first Union defenses. For the entire distance, the Union cannon crews could hit them with balls and shot.

In what would become known as Pickett’s Charge, the Confederates came anyway. The artillery shredded their lines, but still, the Confederates advanced. Units faltered and were slaughtered wholesale on the open field, but the Confederates were undeterred. Fences at the start and end of the march had to be climbed or dismantled under fire, but the Confederates came anyway.

Union troops who had suffered devastating losses the year before at the Battle of Fredericksburg were merciless as the Confederate troops fell, yelling “Fredericksburg” at the fallen.

The Confederate troops did make it into infantry range, once charging at Union lines from only 80 yards away, but Union troops behind stone walls, fallen timbers, or raised terrain slaughtered even these attackers.

In total, Union forces lost 1,500 soldiers. The Confederate losses are estimated to have been over 6,000. The day featured what was, by some measurements, the greatest artillery exchange in Western Hemisphere history. It was an easy contender, by most measures, as the top exchange of the Civil War.

But it had failed to carry the day, failed to achieve its objective.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These cruisers were really a pair of mini-battleships

The Alaska-class cruisers are often seen as a waste of resources. At first glance, it is easy to see why. The United States only completed two out of the six planned vessels. One more was launched, but never finished. All three that managed to reach the water were quickly in reserve and then scrapped. But these ships were quite an achievement – a mini-battleship that gave good service during their brief careers.

Much of the issue was timing. According to data in Volume Fifteen of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, “Supplement and General Index,” the lead ship, USS Alaska (CB 1) was not commissioned until June 17, 1944, 11 days after the D-Day landings. The second ship, USS Guam (CB 2), was commissioned on Sept. 17, 1944. These ships didn’t have much left to fight by the time they got to the front lines.


Their primary purpose was to kill Japan’s heavy cruisers in a surface action. The Japanese had three classes of heavy cruiser intended for front-line service: The Myoko, Takao, and Mogami classes each packed ten eight-inch guns, and at least 12 610mm torpedo tubes for the Type 93 Long Lance torpedo.

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The large cruiser USS Alaska (CB 1) fighting off a Japanese air attack.

(US Navy photo)

According to Fleets of World War II, the Alaska-class cruisers were armed with nine 12-inch guns and 12 five-inch dual-purpose guns. NavWeaps.com notes that these guns, the 12″/50 Mark 8, had a maximum range of 38,573 yards. By comparison, the Long Lance torpedo had a maximum range of 32,800 yards.

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An Alaska-class large cruiser’s 12-inch guns could fire as many as three salvoes in a minute.

(US Navy photo)

That is a difference of three miles in favor of the Alaska-class cruisers. In essence, a Japanese heavy cruiser would be making a run of about three miles under fire before it could get within the maximum range of its torpedoes. In the roughly six minutes they would be making that run, an Alaska-class cruiser could get off anywhere from 15 to 18 salvoes.

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The incomplete large cruiser USS Hawaii (CB 3) being towed to the scrapyard.

(US Navy photo)

The Alaska-class cruisers ended up helping to defend the fleet against Japanese planes. Both vessels helped escort the stricken USS Franklin (CV 13) after she suffered horrific damage during the invasion of Okinawa, and later took part in Operation Magic Carpet, the return of American troops home after World War II. These ships were sold for scrap in the early 1960s, never carrying out their primary mission of killing enemy heavy cruisers, but these mini-battleships still did their share during the war.

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This is how the B-52 rained fire in Vietnam

When the B-52 was originally conceived, its express purpose was the delivery of nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union. However, America’s Cold War interventions had other plans for the venerable aircraft.


As America’s role expanded in Vietnam, so too did the B-52’s.

This came in the form of Operation Arc Light — the initial deployment of B-52’s from the United States to Guam to support missions in Vietnam. These bombers, in the B-52’s combat debut, first struck North Vietnamese targets in June 1965 using standard 750 and 1,000 pound bombs.

The B-52’s expanded role led the Air Force to modify numerous existing B-52D models under a program called Big Belly. This modification turned the B-52 into an absolutely devastating conventional bomber.

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A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52F Stratofortress drops bombs over Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo))

The improvements allowed the B-52 to carry 84 500-pound bombs internally as well as another 24 750-pound bombs mounted on wing pylons. This gave the bomber a total of 108 bombs or 60,000 pounds of bombs to drop on the enemy.

By comparison, the B-17G, America’s bombing workhorse of WWII, could only carry about 9,600 pounds of bombs on missions.

Also read: B-52s are blasting ISIS targets

When flown in a pair of cells — or a group of three B-52s in formation — the bombers could leave behind a swath of destruction a mile long and a half mile wide.

In addition to the B-52’s massive bomb load, it was especially effective for another reason: ground-directed bombing.

Air Force technology had come a long way since the days of carpet-bombing the Third Reich and Imperial Japan. This meant that the destruction the B-52s could be brought to bear was much more accurate than ever before.

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B-52D hailing 500-lb bombs. (Image: Wikimedia)

This was accomplished using Combat Sky Spot, an interlinked system of radar sites, utilizing the MSQ-77 radar/computer system, to accurately direct bombing missions.

These sites were manned by airmen of the Combat Evaluation Group. With numerous sites located throughout the region, they provided guidance across the entire battlefield.

The MSQ-77, or Miscue 77 as it was often referred to, was revolutionary because it used an algorithm to determine exact bomb impact points, rather than specific release points for aircraft as earlier versions had done.

This meant that bombers and fighter-bombers operating at night, in bad weather, or near friendly troops could be directed to where their bombs would land.

Related: How does the B-52 get more awesome? With lasers, that’s how

This level of accuracy meant that large scale bombing runs could safely be made within 1,000 meters of friendly forces, closer with the approval of a Forward Air Controller.

This ability would be used to devastating effect against the North Vietnamese in numerous battles.

During Operation Harvest Moon, the Marines used the giant B-52 bombers against stubborn Viet Cong resistance.

The B-52s also helped the 1st Cavalry Division troopers fighting in the Ia Drang.

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The B-52 and the 70,000 pounds of munitions it can carry. Photo: U.S. Air Force

By 1966, B-52 bombers flew over 5,000 missions against targets in Vietnam, accounting for more than 8,000 tons of bombs per month. Besides just supporting ground troops the bombers also flew interdiction missions against North Vietnamese convoys on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

By 1967, the number of Arc Light missions had nearly doubled with most missions being in direct support of troops in contact.

In 1968, Arc Light B-52s flew numerous close air support missions in support of the Marines under siege at Khe Sanh. Flying high above the monsoon rains that had grounded the fighters, and aided by the MSQ-77, the B-52s put 60,000 tons of the proverbial warheads on foreheads.

This round-the-clock punishment helped to break the siege.

Because the B-52s flew so high as to remain unseen and unheard by the enemy, they had to find other ways to counter. This meant the men of the Combat Evaluation Group at the Combat Sky Spot sites were the most likely target.

The North Vietnamese realized if they could take out the radar sites then they could impair American bombing efforts. This led to the largest loss of airmen on the ground when the North Vietnamese overran Lima Site 85 and took out its Combat Sky Spot.

Despite the dangers to all involved, the Arc Light missions were a great success and continued through the end of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 German designs used by Japan in WWII

Although the Japanese feudal period ended at the turn of the 17th century, isolationist policies delayed the country’s advancement compared to western nations. The shogunate and samurai culture persisted until the mid-19th century with the opening of Japanese ports and the restoration of the imperial family. While literacy and numeracy flourished under the shogunate, Japan was technologically inferior to the countries that it engaged with.

The country quickly transitioned to an industrial economy and adopted western technology and ideas. Following successful wars with China and Russia, Japan expanded its empire and validated its new industrial military. Moreover, Japan’s participation as an ally in WWI allowed it to seize former German colonies in the South Pacific. Leading up to WWII, Japan continued its military conquest in East Asia with a second war against China.

Japanese aggression in the Pacific prompted economic sanctions on the country by the United States. In response, Japan joined the Axis forces in 1940. Through the Tripartite Act, Nazi Germany gained an ally in the Pacific and access to crucial raw materials like rubber from Indonesia and Malaya. In turn, Japan gained access to much of Germany’s military technology. These are four German designs used by Japan in WWII.

1. Messerschmitt Me 262 — Nakajima Kikka

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The Kikka was smaller than the Me 262 and used straight wings


After the Japanese military attaché in Germany witnessed the Me 262 trials in 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy requested that Nakajima develop a similar aircraft, once again based on German designs. The new plane was intended to be used as a fighter-interceptor and fast-attack bomber. The Imperial Navy also required that the aircraft be able to be built largely by unskilled labor and possess foldable wings. These features were included in anticipation of the defense of the Japanese islands. Using German design photographs and cut-away drawings of the Me 262, Nakajima engineers built Japan’s first jet aircraft. Development took so long that the first flight didn’t take place until the day after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The prototype was damaged on its second test flight and was not repaired before the war ended.

2. Messerschmitt Me 163 — Mitsubishi Shūsui

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The Shūsui used German rocket propellants


Another aircraft borrowed from the Luftwaffe, the Shūsui was a rocket-powered interceptor built for both the Army and Navy. Based on one of the German designs, Komet, the Shūsui was designed to intercept high-altitude allied bombers. One Komet was disassembled and sent to Japan in 1944. All submarines carrying the aircraft’s components were sunk though. Instead, the Shūsui was reverse-engineered from a flight operations manual. Mitsubishi built seven operational variants of the Shūsui. Test flights were troubled, but the engineers persisted. The aircraft was close to full-scale production by the time Japan surrendered. No Shūsuis were flown operationally during the war.

3. Junkers G.38 — Mitsubishi Ki-20

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The Ki-20 had a wingspan of over 144 feet


The Ki-20 differs from the previous two aircraft. The heavy bomber was based, not on a WWII-era military aircraft, but a late-1920s airliner. When it was built, the Junkers G.38 was the largest land-based plane in the world. In 1932, Mitsubishi licensed the G.38 and redesigned it; instead of carrying passengers, the plane would carry bombs. Using Junkers-made parts, two Ki-20s were built and flown later that year. Four more aircraft were built from 1933 to 1935 using Mitsubishi-built parts. Capable of carrying 5,000 pounds of bombs, more than twice the bomb load of the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Ki-20 was the largest aircraft flown by the Japanese Army Air Service during WWII. Only one of the six aircraft survived the war.

4. Tiger I

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Japanese officers test their Tiger I in Germany


Yup, the Japanese had a Tiger tank…technically. Japanese tanks were inferior to the M4 Sherman and M3 Lee tanks that the allies fielded in the Pacific. Japan sought to even the odds by buying German panzers. In 1943, a delegate of Japanese officers was sent to Germany to make the purchase. A deal to acquire two Panzer III variants, one Panther, and one Tiger I was struck. The Japanese officers spent a month testing their new tanks in Germany. Afterwards, the Tiger was disassembled and prepared for shipment to Japan. However, Japan’s I-400 super submarine was not yet finished and the existing submarine fleet was not capable of transporting the heavy tank’s components. The Tiger was stored in Bordeaux until it could be shipped to Japan. However, following D-Day, Germany needed every available tank to repel the allied invasion. The Japanese Tiger was bought back and sent it into battle. Although the tank never made it to Japan, this German design helped to influence late-war Japanese tank development.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were Britain’s ‘manned torpedoes’ in World War II

You’ve probably heard about Japan’s Kamikaze tactics, and maybe you’ve even heard about Japan’s manned rockets and torpedoes. But, oddly enough, Japan wasn’t the only combatant in World War II that had manned torpedoes. Britain used manned torpedoes and did so years before Japan.


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A Kaiten Type 10 manned torpedo. Japanese manned torpedoes were a little more “terminal” than British ones.

(Kansai Man, CC BY-SA 2.0)

But there is an important distinction between the two programs. Britain’s manned torpedoes were designed with a focus on getting the pilots back safely after the mission, while Japan’s program was essentially Kamikaze tactics, but under the water.

For Britain, it all started in December 1941. Less than two weeks after Pearl Harbor, Britain suffered its own surprise naval raid on December 19. Two British battleships and a tanker suffered serious damage in the Port of Alexandria in Egypt when large explosions ripped through their hulls from outside.

But the captain of the HMS Valiant had captured two Italian divers just before the explosions, and one of them had asked to meet with him just before the blasts. Coincidentally, they had been detained in the room just above the damage to the hull. So he summoned those dudes again and asked what, exactly, had happened to his ship and the two others. (A fourth ship was damaged by the blasts, even though the Italian teams had only hit three targets.)

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Two British sailors on a manned torpedo, the Chariot Mk. I.

(Royal Navy Lt. S.J. Beadell)

Four other divers were captured by Egyptian police in the following days, and Britain pieced together how the attacks were carried out. The men had launched from an Italian submarine on a torpedo modified to propel the divers through the water. These torpedoes not only had warheads, but they also had two little seats for the divers.

Basically, imagine a two-person motorcycle, but shaped to fit in a large torpedo tube and propelled by a propeller instead of wheels. Now attach a mine to the front. Or you could’ve just looked at the picture above, but whatever. Let’s keep going.

Britain saw this and was all, “Hey, Brits can be strapped to metal tubes, too! We should strap dudes to metal tubes.” So they developed the Chariot starting in April 1942 and attempted the first manned torpedo mission that October.

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A British Chariot Mk. 1.

(Imperial War Museums)

The British Chariot Mk. I was about 22 feet long, 3 feet wide, and weighed over 1.75 tons and had a 600-pound Torpex warhead, equal to almost a 1,000 pounds of TNT. The plan was that divers would get onto the torpedo and steer it through the water to a target. Then the divers would remove the warhead from the torpedo and place it on the target ship’s hull with a timer, and then pilot the submersible away.

If all went to plan, the 600 pounds of high explosive would then blow a large hole in the target.

The first Chariot mission failed after the torpedoes were lost at sea as a ship delivered them into range of their target. Their target, by the way, was the German battleship Tirpitz, which would’ve made for an epic combat debut if it had succeeded.

But Britain modified submarines to carry the new torpedo and began sending the Chariot into combat.

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U.S. Navy SEALs prepare to fly through the water in a SEAL Delivery Vehicle.

(U.S. Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskle)

Chariot torpedoes were used against Italian ships, the beaches of Sicily, and Japanese ships in Phuket, Thailand. And, yeah, it turns out those massive warheads do work. Britain even made a new design of Chariot, the Mk. II Terry Chariot, that was faster, had a warhead twice the size, and a larger combat radius.

But if it was so good, why aren’t there a bunch of manned torpedoes zipping around today? Well, there are actually a few. The U.S. Navy has the SEAL Delivery vehicle which is, basically, a manned torpedo that SEALs use to get to targets, but the Navy is looking to can it and get mini-subs instead. These would perform the same mission, but SEALs wouldn’t need to be exposed to the outside water in the mini-subs.

But yeah, manned torpedoes have mostly given way to submersibles and mini-subs because manned torpedoes were really valuable for delivering divers. When it comes to delivering warheads, even during World War II, it made more sense to fire conventional torpedoes.

Today, guided torpedoes make the use of manned torpedoes for explosive delivery completely unnecessary.