In the military, everyone loves to compare their job with others as part of a pissing contest to see who has it worst. Some cite their terrible living conditions, others tell horror stories of intense training, and the rest point to the awful, boring tasks handed to them. But there’s only one clear winner of the Absolute Worst Job contest — and that goes to the U.S. Navy’s loblolly boy.
Now, we’re not saying this to discredit your terrible MOS or rating — we’re sure yours is perfectly horrible — but unless your job is centered almost entirely around handling the medical waste that accumulated out at sea in the 1700s, then you probably can’t compete.
If reading about medical waste makes you a bit squeamish, we wouldn’t blame you if you’d instead like to check out our article about cute animals greeting returning troops. No? Alright, weirdo — but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Which also involved a lot of cleaning. Pre-Industrial Era medicine wasn’t known for its cleanliness.
The loblolly boy was the junior-most enlisted surgeon’s assistant back in the day. While the average operating table on a vessel consisted of the surgeon and a surgeon’s mate or two, all of the work that was deemed “below the officer” was shoveled directly onto the loblolly boy.
The name comes directly from the English slang term ‘lob,’ which meant ‘bubbling’ or ‘boiling,’ and ‘lolly,’ which was a soup or broth. This is in regards to one of the more lighthearted tasks assigned to these troops: to feed soup or stew to the injured sailors and Marines.
But since they were the lowest-ranking member of the medical team, they also had to handle the other tasks associated with nursing the wounded, like cleaning chamber pots, organizing medical supplies, cleaning medical instruments, and, of course, assisting in surgery.
We’re not talking the cleanest of working environments here, but at least they tried their best.
Back in the 18th century, amputation was a go-to answer for a lot of dire medical situations. Wound too bad? Amputation. Infection looks like it’s spreading? Amputation. Bone shattered too much? Amputation. Skin starting to turn green after you ignored a simple scrape? Amputation. It’s a pretty grim solution, but there’s no denying its effectiveness when the alternative was often death.
This was also long before anesthetics or analgesics, so the operations had to be done quickly — because, you know, that was the most “humane” way to cut someone’s leg off. They’d have the loblolly boy hold them down while Doc sawed it off. Problem is, the loblolly boy was often just a kid or young adult, which made restraining a fully grown Marine who’s getting parts cut off a significant challenge.
Old Victorian English surgeons in a hospital got the process down to 30 seconds flat. Civil War surgeons in the midst of a battle would clock in at around the same time, but the process was a whole lot messier. The loblolly boy, of course, had to clean up the inevitable splatters before the next patient came in. Disposing of amputated limbs was one of the primary duties of the loblolly boy.
If you’re a corpsman, now you know you can always win the debate of how’s job has been historically worse.
(U.S. Navy photo)
The job wasn’t the most glamorous, but it did open the doors for loblolly boys to work their way up in the medical field. This gave an opportunity to those who would otherwise not have it — for social, economical, or racial reasons. Many of the first African American surgeons got their start in the military as loblolly boys.
Ann Bradford Stokes, an escaped slave, was taken aboard the USS Red Rover during the Civil War and became both one of the first women to enlist and one of the first African Americans to enlist in the United States Navy. Though she could not read or write during her time of service, she did her job dutifully for years and became the very first woman in U.S. history to receive a military pension.
This terrible job evolved throughout the years, later known as surgeon’s steward, apothecary, and bayman, before becoming what we today know: the hospital corpsmen.
During World War II, 22 Asian Americans earned Medals of Honor, but, due to prejudices that lasted until decades after the fighting, only one received the award during the war: a young infantryman who fought in Italy and France before giving his life to save his comrades by eliminating machine gun nests and then throwing his body on an enemy grenade.
100th Infantry Battalion soldiers receive grenade training in 1943.
Pfc. Sadao Munemori trained in civilian life as a mechanic but, unable to find work, ended up joining the Army instead in February, 1942, just a couple of months after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Like most Asian Americans at the time — and nearly all Japanese Americans — he was sent to noncombat units to conduct menial duties.
But patriotic Japanese Americans like Munemori got a new chance in early 1943 when the Army formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated combat unit for Asian Americans. Munemori was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion and shipped to Europe in April, 1944.
Munemori first saw combat in Italy, but he was then sent to France, where he took part in the historic rescue of the Lost Battalion. The 100th Battalion had already distinguished itself multiple times when the 1st Battalion, 141st Texas Regiment, found itself cut off with limited food and water.
A painting illustrates the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Combat Team, breaking through the German lines to rescue the 1st Battalion, 141st Texas Regiment.
The 100th was sent to rescue it, an order that remains controversial as it’s unclear whether the 100th was sent because of its already-impressive combat record or because the Japanese soldiers were considered expendable next to their white counterparts.
The 141st, who already knew about the 442nd’s combat prowess, was overjoyed to see the Japanese Americans attacking the German troops.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team stands in the snow while their citations for rescuing the “Lost Battalion” are read out.
“To our great pleasure it was members of the 442nd Combat Team,” said Major Claude D. Roscoe of the 141st Regiment. “We were overjoyed to see these people for we knew them as the best fighting men in the ETO.”
In early 1945, the 442nd was sent back to Italy, where Munemori would make his last heroic sacrifice. On April 5, Munemori was part of an attack on mountain positions near Seravezza, Italy. German machine gun fire from higher altitude pinned down members of his unit and wounded his squad leader.
Pfc. Sadao Munemori was the only Japanese recipient of the Medal of Honor whose wartime recommendation for the Medal of Honor was originally approved. An additional 22 Asian Americans would be awarded the top medal in 1995 after a review of their actions.
Munemori took over as squad leader, but twice ran through enemy fire on his own to get close to machine gun nests and destroy them with grenades. While making his way back from the second nest, enemy machine gun fire and grenades rained down around him.
He was still uninjured as he approached the shell crater that he and his men were using as cover, but an enemy grenade bounced off of his helmet and into the hole. Munemori dove onto the grenade and his body absorbed the blast. The other soldiers in the crater were still injured, but survived thanks to Munemori’s sacrifice.
He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in early 1946, and was the only recipient whose recommendation during the war was approved. During a review of Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross awards in 1995, 22 other Asian Americans medal recipients were recommended for an upgrade to the Medal of Honor for actions in world War II. Three of these upgrades were awarded to members of the 100th Battalion for their role in rescuing the “Lost Battalion” in France.
When we think of Yemen, the images that come to mind may be crude, even gruesome: bombings, dilapidated buildings, drying desserts, and bleeding citizens. It’s easy to forget that this war-torn country used to produce the vast majority of the world’s coffee. While today Brazil and Vietnam top that list — Yemen doesn’t even make the top 10 — Yemen still produces some of the world’s most expensive beans.
The small Middle Eastern nation is often cited as one of the primary examples of conflict coffee. We need not look any further than aptly named port city of Mocha, or Al Makha, along the Red Sea to find proof of this. The city once served as a center for intertribal trade and excursion in the Ottoman Empire during the 1800s — their chief commodity being Yemeni coffee beans. With the British eventually taking over the country in 1839 and Dutch traders smuggling coffee out of Yemen, the country’s coffee monopoly was effectively ended. As a result, Mocha faded into the arcane. This, however, had no impact on the ensuing bean or the crisis that would strike the city.
1850: A servant serves coffee to a group of Yemeni coffee merchants who have set up camp in the desert on their way to Mocha.
(Photo by Hulton Archive)
With Mocha’s ease of geographical access, it served as the perfect access point for Houthi rebels seeking to overtake the government. This particular insurgency was known for grooming youths to fight primary Yemeni military under powerful backing from Iran as well as a Saudi Coalition. What ensued was a swath of violence that eventually escalated into civil war among the Yemeni citizens.
Because of the ongoing mobilization efforts, Mocha has suffered stagnation — both physically and financially. With exports limited and war crippling internal trade, many of the port cities were unable to thrive. This all changed for Mocha in the mid-2010s when Mocha’s coffee industry was revitalized.
During the first wave of coffee culture, a heavy emphasis was placed on low-quality beans globally. These beans were cheap, easy to produce, and easy to sell in large batches. Yemen’s land, however, didn’t bode well for that type of farming. The coffee Yemen was able to grow was in small, flavorful quantities. With the third-wave of coffee and the boom of specialty beans, entrepreneurs in Yemen and abroad saw the chance to help their motherland thrive.
Fresh coffee harvested by Yemeni farmer.
(Adobe Stock photo.)
In 2015, Mokhtar Alkhanshali journeyed to Yemen in hopes of sourcing Yemeni beans. While the drink has its roots in Yemen, finding coffee produced in its homeland was a difficult feat. While he was eventually successful, his return journey was delayed when the airport was bombed just a day before his flight. This marked the beginnings of Yemen’s civil war.
Alkhanshali was due to arrive in Seattle for a coffee-tasting contest, so he used a rowboat to get to Africa to make it to the U.S. on time — an effort that bore success at the contest. He attracted the attention of Blue Bottle, who would spend over 0 per pound for coffee imported from Yemen, attracting other buyers in the process. Alkhanshali went on to found Port of Mokha, one of the most successful sourcing companies to date.
To this day, Mocha is known for producing one of the finest coffees on the planet, and in spite of war, they’re still able to thrive because of their revitalized economy. The country faces other problems, such as low farming space and a shortage of water; however, coffee from Yemen is still of the utmost quality. By sourcing responsibly, we’re able to help communities endure conflict.
11 Questions & A Cup of Coffee: Fox News Correspondent Katie Pavlich
In a recent, article discussing the Three Phases of Tactical Fitness, many recruits find themselves stuck in phase 1 of tactical fitness (Testing Phase) for far too long. To achieve exceptional PT scores, it may take a recruit 6-12 months or more depending upon your athletic background and training history. Typically, if you join the military unprepared for this test, this period of time has the added pressure of Spec Ops Mentors and Recruiters with the time crunch of the Delayed Entry Program (DEP).
Here are two scenarios the recruit can choose to be a part of:
1. Turned 18 – time to enlist
If your goal is to turn 18 and enlist, great! Thanks for considering military service for a future career – we need more Americans like you. However, are you “really ready” to go from high school kid to special ops recruit / candidate? If you have not taken the physical screen test (PST) yet (on your own) and are crushing the events, then NO you are not ready to start this process. If you continue on this journey you will likely either not ever pass the PST prior to your ship date or just barely pass the competitive standards, get selected for Special Ops (SO rating in the Navy), and soon ship to boot camp. Great right? Well, you prepared well enough to get TO BUD/S but have you prepared at all to get THROUGH BUD/S? Have you turned 1.5 mile runs into fast 4 mile timed runs? Have you turned 500yd swims without fins into 2 mile swims with fins? Have you continued your PT but added strength workouts to prepare for log PT, boat carries,rucking, and other load bearing events? If you have not spent a significant amount of your time in this THROUGH cycle (Phase 2 Tactical Fitness), then you will likely successfully make it into BUD/S for about two weeks on average. Quitting and injury typically follow – statistically speaking.
2. Crushed PST many times — ready to enlist
If you have taken the PST countless amount of times, have worked on a strategy for optimal performance and are hitting the advanced competitive scores, it is time. Take the PST and crush it the first time. Now you have a standard of above average passing standard that you can maintain while you focus more on getting THROUGH BUD/S with faster / longer runs, longer swims, rucking, strength training for the load bearing activities at BUDS. You may even have time to practice some land navigation, knot tying, water confidence, or even take a SCUBA course. The goal of the time you have in DEP now is to focus on your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. And when you start to enjoy your prior weaknesses, you are ready. You will still have to ace the PST regularly so make your warmups be calisthenics / testing focused and the added longer runs / swims / rucks and lifts to follow. See Tactical Fitness or Tactical Strength for ideas.
To ALL recruits: exercise patience
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by George Melendez)
If a recruit would take 6-12 months before talking to a recruiter and joining the DEP, the recruit could be fully prepared to crush the PST on day one. Because if you do not get competitive PST scores to be put into the system, you will be in test taking mode until you pass. When you pass the first time, you can start preparing for phase 2 of tactical fitness (getting THROUGH the training). However, making sure you can crush the PST even on a bad day is a requirement as you will be taking the test at both boot camp and Pre-BUD/S, and BUD/S Orientation. If you fail the PST at Boot camp, Pre-BUDS, or BUD/S Orientation, you go home.
Tactical Fitness Phase 2 requires you to focus on the specifics of your future spec ops selection. This is what you need to be spending most of your time prior to boot camp doing. Longer runs, rucks, longer swims with fins, and high rep PT, weight training to prepare for the load bearing of boat carries and log PT and grinder PT.
When you think about tactical fitness you cannot confuse the three phases of the journey (To, Through, and Active Duty Operator).
Phase 1: recruit
Focus your training on testing to get into the training program you seek but also worked on any weaknesses you may have (strength, endurance, stamina, run, swim, ruck, etc…). This may take 6-12 months at least, make sure you place this phase in front of your recruiter visit.Tactical Fitness Phase 2 requires you to focus on the specifics of your future spec ops selection. This is what you need to be spending most of your time prior to boot camp doing. Longer runs, rucks, longer swims with fins, and high rep PT, weight training to prepare for the load bearing of boat carries and log PT and grinder PT.
When you think about tactical fitness you cannot confuse the three phases of the journey (To, Through, and Active Duty Operator).
Phase 2: student
Preparing to become a student in a challenging selection, Boot Camp, academy type program requires specific training for those challenges. Focus on weaknesses as a week within your selection training will expose them.
Phase 3: operator
You will not even get here if you are not adequately prepared for Phases 1 and 2. Do not rush it – get ready first THEN charge forward fully prepared.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Samuel Woodfill already had a lengthy career in the U.S. Army by the time the United States declared war on Germany in 1917. The son of a Mexican-American War and Civil War veteran, he enlisted in 1901 at the age of 18 and left his native Indiana.
After basic training, Pvt. Woodfill found himself assigned to the 11th Infantry Regiment stationed in the Philippines. He saw action in various campaigns against the rebellious Moros and earned accolades as a crack shot and for his “honest and faithful service.” In 1910, Woodfill left the Philippines for a number of duty stations. Over the next seven years, he would see service in Alaska, Kentucky, and on the Mexican border. But he would not see any more combat in that time.
Then, everything changed. America declared war on Germany. Woodfill, then a sergeant, attended an officer training course and received a temporary wartime rank of 2nd lieutenant. Soon after, he was given command of a machine gun company of the 60th Infantry Regiment, 5th Division. Finally, in April 1918 his unit sailed for France.
However, the 5th Division stayed in the rear until October 1918 when they were sent to the front to take part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Woodfill was leading his company in an attack near the village of Cunel when they came under heavy German machine gun fire from multiple positons. He ordered his company to take cover while he moved forward alone to scope out the situation.
The three German positions were well concealed in some bushes, an old barn, and a derelict church, respectively. Woodfill took aim at the machine gunner firing on his men in the church tower about 300 yards away. Unable to make out the gunner, he simply took aim at a position behind the muzzle flash and pulled the trigger. The gun fell silent. This was repeated four more times, as each German crewmember stepped forward to take their place on the gun.
Woodfill dropped another five-round clip in his Springfield and moved on to the next target. A single shot at the German in the barn put an end to the firing from that position.
He next maneuvered on a third machine gun position. In doing so, he took cover in a shell hole filled with lingering mustard gas. He approached to within ten yards of the position. Then, in rapid succession, he dispatched three of the crew members with his rifle. A fourth, a German officer, charged Woodfill and engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. He overcame the officer and killed him with a M1911 pistol.
With this line of machine guns silenced, Lt. Woodfill’s company continued their advance until they were again held up by a German machine gun nest. The officer once again raced forward to single-handedly attack the position. He killed the entire machine gun crew with his rifle before capturing three ammunition carriers from the position.
As the advance continued, Woodfill’s men again ran into murderous German machine gun fire. And once again their leader charged forward to handle the situation. Woodfill dispatched this crew with five shots from his rifle before drawing his pistol and charging the position to take on the remaining men. He killed one man with his pistol before grabbing a nearby pick axe and bludgeoning the other to death.
By this time, Woodfill was suffering heavily from exposure to mustard gas and was limping from a shrapnel wound. He was evacuated from the front lines and sent to Bordeaux to recover.
On Jan. 22, 1919, Woodfill was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions the previous fall. The next month, Gen. John Pershing personally presented the award to the young lieutenant.
In 1921, Gen. Pershing bestowed two more honors on Woodfill. When asked that year to name the outstanding American soldier of the Great War, Pershing surprised everyone by naming Lt. Samuel Woodfill, claiming he had always considered him “America’s Greatest Doughboy,” over the likes of Alvin York, Charles Wittlesey of the Lost Battalion, and even Eddie Rickenbacker.
Pershing then named Woodfill as a pallbearer, this time along with Alvin York, for the internment of the first Unknown Soldier.
The legendary soldier, having reverted to his pre-war enlisted status, retired from the Army as a Master Sergeant in 1923. However, he served his country again during World War II. Then commissioned a Major, he trained and inspired young officers as they prepared for the great challenges ahead.
Woodfill’s final service to his country was to once again act as a pallbearer, this time for his former commanding officer and supporter, Gen. Pershing. Woodfill himself passed away at the age of 68 in August 1951.
The horrifying events of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster have once again caught the world’s attention thanks to the recent HBO miniseries and subsequent Russian propaganda campaign, but films aren’t the only thing creeping out of what locals call the “exclusion zone” these days.
Now, thanks to one unusual group of scientists and researchers with priorities a guy like me can respect, there’s also Atomik Vodka: an artisanal booze concocted using ingredients harvested from inside the radioactive fallout-ridden territory surrounding Chernobyl.
Hopefully that burning in your throat isn’t cancer.
(Chernobyl Spirit Company)
After studying the amount of radiation that transfers from soil to crops within the Chernobyl exclusion zone, the team from the Chernobyl Spirit Company set about planting their own rye crops in the vast abandoned fields near the city of Pripyat, Ukraine (close to where the Chernobyl plant was located). They then watered their crops with irradiated water sourced from an aquifer that is also within the radiation exclusion zone.
Once the crops were ready for harvest, the team used the rye to make their new vodka, and even doubled down on its radioactive reputation by using pure water sourced from “below the town of Chernobyl about 10 km south of the nuclear power station” to dilute the vodka down to 40% alcohol, according to their website.
Once finished, the vodka is reportedly no more radioactive than the plastic bottle of Military Special we all acted like we weren’t taking swigs out of in the barracks when the First Sergeant came strolling around.
The boar depicted on the label was actually spotted living in the exclusion zone.
(Chernobyl Spirit Company)
“The laboratories of The Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute and the University of Southampton GAU-Radioanalytical could find no trace of Chernobyl radioactivity in ATOMIK grain spirit,” their website claims.
Just to be safe, they also went ahead and sent their new booze to the Southhampton University in the U.K. for further testing. They also confirmed that radiation levels were well below safety limits (as even the Chernobyl Spirit Company acknowledges that tiny levels of radioactivity can be found in many common products).
The novelty of this vodka also comes with some good intentions. Part of the idea behind Atomik Vodka is finding new ways to invigorate the economy in the communities that surround Chernobyl. Of the many concerns facing these communities, radiation isn’t really among them.
The Chernobyl Spirit Company includes this image of a “self settler” in her home in the Chernobyl area on their website explaining their process.
(Chernobyl Spirit Company)
“There are radiation hotspots [in the exclusion zone] but for the most part contamination is lower than you’d find in other parts of the world with relatively high natural background radiation,” Explains James Smith, a University of Portsmouth environmental scientist and founding member of the Chernobyl Spirit Company.
“The problem for most people who live there is they don’t have the proper diet, good health services, jobs or investment.”
Smith and his colleagues don’t imagine that the novelty of their vodka will make them rich. In fact, with plans to produce just 500 bottles per year, Smith says that he’s hoping the company pays well enough to make the business into a healthy “part-time job,” with an emphasis remaining on finding ways to bolster the standard of living for those residing in the region surrounding Chernobyl.
“Because now,” Prof Smith adds, “after 30 years, I think the most important thing in the area is actually economic development, not the radioactivity.”
According to Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, deputy commandant for aviation, the U.S. Marine Corps have achieved a milestone when a target was destroyed by connecting an F-35B Lightning II aircraft with a HiMARS rocket shot for the first time.
“We were able to connect the F-35 to a HIMARS, to a rocket shot … and we were able to target a particular conex box,” Rudder told audience members on Oct. 8, 2018, at an aviation readiness discussion at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, or CSIS, Marine Corps Times reported.
The integration occurred during Marines’ latest weapons and tactics course at Yuma, Arizona: the F-35 gathered the target location using its high-end onboard sensors and shared the coordinates of the target to the HIMARS system via datalink in a “sensor to shooter” scenario. The HIMARS unit then destroyed the target.
The HIMARS is a movable system that can be rapidly deployed by air, using a C-130 Hercules. It carries six rockets or one MGM-140 ATACMS missile on the U.S. Army’s new Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) five-ton truck, and can launch the entire Multiple Launch Rocket System Family of Munitions (MFOM). In a typical scenario, a command and control post, a ship or an aircraft (in the latest test, an F-35B – the type that has just had its baptism of fire in Afghanistan) transmits the target data via a secure datalink to the HIMARS on-board launch computer. The computer then aims the launcher and provides prompt signals to the crew to arm and fire a pre-selected number of rounds. The launcher can aim at a target in just 16 seconds.
The Corps has been testing new ways to use its HIMARS lately. For instance, in 2017, the Corps successfully fired and destroyed a target 70 km out on land from the deck of the amphibious transport dock Anchorage. Considered the threat posed to maritime traffic by cruise missiles fired by coastal batteries in the hands of terrorist groups and militias, the amphibious group’s ability suppress coastal defenses from long-range using artillery is important to allow Marines to come ashore.
Two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II’s assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fly a combat mission over Afghanistan, Sept. 27, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)
The aim is clearly to shorten what is known as the sensor-to-shooter cycle – the amount of time it takes from when an enemy target is detected by a sensor – either human or electronic – and when it is attacked. Shortening the time is paramount in highly dynamic battlefield.
In September 2016, a live test fire demonstration involved the integration of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B from the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX 1), based in Edwards Air Force Base, with existing Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture. The test was aimed at assessing the ability to shoot down incoming cruise missiles.
The F-35B acted as an elevated sensor (to detect an over-the-horizon threat as envisaged for the F-22) that sent data through its Multi-Function Advanced Data Link to a ground station connected to USS Desert Ship (LLS-1), a land-based launch facility designed to simulate a ship at sea. Using the latest Aegis Weapon System Baseline 9.C1 and a Standard Missile 6, the system successfully detected and engaged the target. Indeed, increasingly, 5th generation aircraft are seen as tools to provide forward target identification for both defensive and offensive systems (such as strike missiles launched from surface warships or submerged submarines). Back in 2013, PACAF commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle described the ability of advanced aircraft, at the time the F-22, to provide forward targeting through its sensors for submarine based TLAMs (Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles).
In the following years, the stealthy F-22s, considered “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft”, saw their main role in the war on Daesh evolving into something called “kinetic situational awareness”: in Syria and Iraq, the Raptors escorted the strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness. To make it simple, during Operation Inherent Resolve, the 5th generation aircraft’s pilot leverages advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy Order of Battle, then shares the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft, while escorting other manned or unmanned aircraft towards the targets. Something the F-35 will also have to do in the near future.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Early on the morning of Jan. 16, 1966, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber took off from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.
The bomber headed toward Europe, where it would patrol near the borders of the Soviet Union with four nuclear weapons, part of Operation Chrome Dome, a Cold War program to provide 24-hour rapid-response capabilities in case of war.
During its return to the U.S. the next day, the B-52 was to rendezvous with a KC-135 tanker for refueling over Spain. Capt. Charles Wendorf, the 29-year-old Air Force pilot at the controls of the bomber, asked his staff pilot, Maj. Larry Messinger, to take over as they approached the refueling point.
Just after 10 a.m. on Jan. 17, the planes began their approach at 31,000ft over eastern Spain. Messinger sensed something was amiss.
“We came in behind the tanker, and we were a little bit fast, and we started to overrun him a little bit,” Messinger recalled, according to American Heritage magazine.
“There is a procedure they have in refueling where, if the boom operator feels that you’re getting too close and it’s a dangerous situation, he will call, ‘ breakaway, breakaway, breakaway,'” Messinger said. “There was no call for a breakaway, so we didn’t see anything dangerous about the situation, but all of a sudden, all hell seemed to break loose.”
The B-52 collided with the tanker. The belly of the KC-135 was torn open, and jet fuel spilled into the tanker and onto the bomber. Explosions ripped through both planes, consuming the tanker and killing all four men aboard. Three men in the tail of the bomber were killed, and the four other crew members ejected.
Capt. Ivens Buchanan, strapped into his ejection seat, was caught in the fireball and burned. He crashed to the ground, but survived. Wendorf’s and Lt. Richard Rooney’s parachutes opened at 14,000 feet, and they drifted out to sea where fishermen rescued them.
Messinger hit his head during ejection. “I opened my parachute. Well, I shouldn’t have done that. I should have freefalled and the parachute would open automatically at 14,000 feet,” he said. “But I opened mine anyway, because of the fact that I got hit in the head, I imagine.” He drifted eight miles out to sea, where he was also picked up by fishermen.
A Spanish fisherman 5 miles offshore at the time reported seeing the explosion and the rain of debris. He then saw five parachutes — three with surviving crew members from the bomber; two others carrying “half a man, with his guts trailing,” and a “dead man.”
Soon after, on the ground in Spain, officers at Air Force bases scrambled to pack the troops they could find — cooks, clerks, and musicians — into buses to head toward Palomares, a coastal farming village in southeast Spain.
“It was just chaos,” John Garman, then a military police officer, told The New York Times in 2016. “Wreckage was all over the village. A big part of the bomber had crashed down in the yard of the school.”
By the evening of Jan. 17, all the airmen had been accounted for and no villagers were hurt. But U.S. personnel continued their search for the four nuclear bombs the B-52 had been carrying.
Days of searching
The bombs — each carrying 1.45 megatons of explosive power, about 100 times as much as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — were not armed, meaning there was no chance of a nuclear detonation.
One was recovered intact, but the high-explosives in two of them, designed to detonate and trigger a nuclear blast, did explode. The blasts left house-size craters on either side of the village, scattering plutonium and contaminating crops and farmland.
“There was no talk about radiation or plutonium or anything else,” Frank B. Thompson, then a 22-year-old trombone player, told The New York Times in 2016.
Thompson and others spent days searching contaminated fields without protective equipment or even a change of clothes. “They told us it was safe, and we were dumb enough, I guess, to believe them,” he said.
The fourth bomb remained missing after days of searching, its absence embarrassing for the U.S. and potentially deadly for people in the area.
The Pentagon called on engineers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, who crunched the available numbers in order to determine where the missing bomb may have landed. The circumstances of the crash and the multitude of variables made such an estimate difficult.
Clues pointed to a sea landing for the fourth bomb, but there was little hard data to indicate where.
An interview with the fisherman who watched five members of the bomber’s crew land at sea yielded a breakthrough.
The “dead man” was, in fact, the bomb attached to its parachute, and the “half man, with his guts trailing” was the empty parachute bag with its packing lines trailing in the air.
That information led the engineers assisting the search to recommend a new search area, bringing the total area being scoured to 27 square miles — with visibility of only 20 feet in some spots.
On Feb. 11, the Navy called in Alvin, a 22-foot-long, 8-foot-wide submersible weighting 13 tons. It had room for a pilot and two observers, carried several cameras and a grappling arm, and could dive to 6,000 feet.
Alvin‘s primitive technology made the search a slog. There was no progress until March 1, when they spotted a track on the seabed.
Two more weeks of searching went by before they spotted the bomb — 2,550 feet below the surface, almost exactly in the spot where the fisherman had seen it enter the water. On March 24, divers in Alvin managed to attach a line to the bomb’s parachute. Just after 8 p.m., a winch on a Navy ship began to reel in the line. About an hour later, the line broke, sending the bomb back to the ocean floor.
They found it again on April 2, resting about 350 feet deeper in the same area. The Navy rigged up another retrieval plan using an unmanned recovery vehicle, but it got caught in the bomb’s parachute. On April 7, the admiral leading the search ordered his crew to lift the whole thing.
The laborious process that followed, assisted by Navy frogmen, lifted the missing nuclear bomb to the surface, bringing the 81-day saga to a close.
Alvin‘s pilots became international heroes, but little else about the incident ended so well.
‘They told us everything was safe’
U.S. soldiers plowed up 600 acres of crops in Palomares, sending it to the Savannah River nuclear complex in South Carolina for disposal.
The U.S. government paid $710,914 to settle 536 Spanish claims. The fisherman, who wanted his claim for finding the bomb, sued for $5 million and eventually won $14,566. Madrid, where protesters had chanted “Yankee assassins!” during the search, asked U.S. Strategic Air Command to stop its flights over Spain. The airborne-alert program of which Operation Chrome Dome was a part was curtailed and then ended for good in 1992.
The U.S. personnel involved in the search and Spaniards in the area have lived with the legacy of the accident in the half-century since it happened.
Despite removing soil in the immediate aftermath, tests in the 1990s revealed high levels of Americium, a product of decaying plutonium, in the village. More tests showed that 50,000 cubic meters of the soil remained radioactive. The U.S. agreed to clean up the contamination remaining in the village in 2015.
Many of the U.S. veterans who assisted the search have said they are dealing with the effects of plutonium poisoning. Linking cancers to a single exposure to radiation is impossible, and there hasn’t been any study to assess whether they have an elevated incidence of illness, but in the years since, some have been ravaged by disease.
Of the 40 veterans involved in the search who were identified by The Times in 2016, 21 had cancer — nine had died from it.
Many of the men have blamed the Air Force, which sent them to clean the scene with little protective gear and later fed troops the contaminated crops that Spaniards refused to eat. One military-police officer was given a plastic bag and told to pick up radioactive fragments by hand.
The Air Force also dismissed tests done at the time showing the men had high levels of plutonium contamination.
“It took me a long time to start to realize this maybe had to do with cleaning up the bombs,” said Arthur Kindler, who was a grocery supply clerk at the time of the incident.
He was so covered in plutonium during the cleanup that the Air Force made him wash off in the ocean and took his clothes. Four years later, he developed testicular cancer and a rare lung infection; he has had cancer in his lymph nodes three times since then.
“You have to understand, they told us everything was safe,” Kindler said. “We were young. We trusted them. Why would they lie?”
In the 1965 film The Sound of Music, Captain von Trapp ran a tight ship at home. He also ran a tight ship at sea, commanding two U-Boats for the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I. By the war’s end, he was the most decorated naval officer in Austria-Hungary.
Looking at the life and family of Captain Baron Georg Johannes Ritter von Trapp through the lens of the Sound of Music alone, you’d never know this man spent WWI on a u-boat that spewed poisonous fumes to its crew or that he sank tons of allied shipping in the Mediterranean — killed hundreds of enemy sailors — and was basically the best thing Austria-Hungary had going for it.
Aside from the 14 ships sank and one captured during his World War I service, he led Austria’s troops during the Boxer Rebellion in China, circumnavigated the globe twice, and saw his navy switch from sails to steam to diesel engines over the course of his career. At the war’s end in 1918, von Trapp’s record stood at 19 war patrols taking 11 cargo vessels totaling 45,669 tons sunk, two enemy warships sunk, and one captured.
U-5 was just 100 feet long but packed a terrible punch, with just a crew of 19 and four torpedoes.
Command of U-5
Captain von Trapp conducted nine combat patrols in the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas, and most of them were full of action. He got his first kill just two weeks after taking command of U-5, sinking the French cruiser Leon Gambetta off the coast of Italy. 12,000 tons and 684 sailors went to the bottom. Four months later, he sank the Italian submarine Nereide.
For his command during the sinking of the Leon Gambetta, von Trapp was awarded the Military Order of Maria Theresa, Austria’s highest military award.
U-14 in the Adriatic.
Command of U-14
His next command was a reclaimed French submarine that was upgraded and modernized. He was the bane of British and Italian shipping in the Mediterranean, sinking 11 more enemy vessels. He earned a knighthood and then became a Baron for his service in Austria’s navy for his actions in World War I.
That’s one helluva way to start a naval career.
Training, Circumnavigation, and China service
He trained in the Officer Training School of the Austrian-Hungarian Imperial Navy through the Maritime-Academy at Fiume in what is today Croatia, starting his career on sailing ships, going around the earth on the corvette SMS Saida II. He returned to Austria and joined the crew of the SMS Zenta, an iron steamship, in 1897. By 1899, the crew of the Zenta was fully engaged in China, part of the eight-nation alliance sent to relieve the foreign legation in Peking from the siege of the Chinese Boxers.
Georg was one of the seamen detached to the alliance to take one of the Taku Forts. The Austrian helped assault Fort Pei Tang with 8500 others in the multinational force. Many were killed in the bloody fighting but the allies took the fort and went on to relieve the legation in Peking.
Unfortunately for Capt. von Trapp, World War I did not end well for Austria-Hungary and he soon found himself out of a job, seeing as how the new Austria was landlocked and had no use for a Navy – and he was no about to become a Nazi just to command a ship. So he trained his children to perform and took them on tour, eventually settling down and starting the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont.
After World War II, he founded Trapp Family Austrian Relief, Inc. to help aid the recovery of Austria and Austrians from the war’s devastation.
It could be argued that the history of aviation spans thousands of years, but in the last generation alone, mankind has developed technology that has allowed humanity to not only take flight, but to accomplish powerful feats of aerodynamic speed, distance, and heights. We’ve also built advanced weapons — both manned and unmanned — that have changed the scope of warfare forever.
This is a list of the top 10 fighters to transform the aerial battlespace for better… or for worse:
(Photo by Dimitri Tarakhov)
10. Su-27 Flanker
The Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker introduced a true modern fighter for the Soviet Union. It was developed in response to the F-15 Eagle during the Cold War and would become one of the most impressive fighter jets of the 20th century. The combination of AA-11 Archer missiles and Helmet Mounted Sight system introduced a true close-in threat to western fighters. The Su-27 might even have an edge over the F-15 in a dogfight — if the Eagle’s superior avionics let it get that close, but I’ll let you guys debate that in the comments.
Built for air superiority, the Su-27 has the flexibility for interceptor and ground attack missions and it remains in service as a multi-role fighter to this day.
The F-86 Sabre was the first swept-wing airplane in the U.S. fighter inventory. It scored countless air-to-air kills against Soviet-built aircraft during the Korean War, namely the MiG-15 Fagot. In 1948, an F-86A set a world speed record of 570 mph; model upgrades would go on to beat that record when an F-86D flew 698 mph in 1952 and then hit 715 mph in 1953.
While the United States would discontinue production of the F-86 in 1956, it still boasts the legacy of defeating its enemy with a victory ratio of 10-to-1 over the Korean Peninsula, where nearly 800 MiG-15s were destroyed at the cost of fewer than eighty Sabres.
(Photo by Stefan Krause)
8. Fokker Dr 1
The Fokker Dr 1 is infamous for its missions at the hands of German World War 1 ace Baron Manfred von Richtofen — otherwise known as the Red Baron. In fact, it is the very plane he was killed in after his 80th and final victory. The triplane was built to outmaneuver Great Britain’s Sopwith Triplane — and it did. While relatively slow with a maximum speed of 115 mph at sea level, it could, according to the Red Baron himself, “maneuver like a devil.”
More impressive, perhaps, were its thick cantilever wings, which needed no struts or bracing wires, unlike most other planes during the war. While later variants of the Fokker would surpass the Red Baron’s driedecker (translation: triplane), the Fokker Dr 1 earned its reputation paving the way for aerial dogfights.
The F-4 Phantom made this list not only because it was one of the most versatile fighters ever built, but also because of its bad a** Wild Weasel role during the Vietnam War. The Phantom was specifically designed to go looking for trouble, flying low and slow to light up enemy SAMs (surface-to-air missile sites).
Early models of the F-4 didn’t even have an internal gun — it was built for beyond visual range weapons. Carrying everything from the AIM-9 Sidewinder to nuclear weapons, the Phantom ushered in modern air combat as a true multi-role fighter.
With the Bf-109, the P-51 Mustang, and P-38 Lightning in the skies, it can be hard to choose a favorite plane from World War II, but we’re giving the glory to the Supermarine Spitfire. The British icon was built with an advanced all-metal airframe, making it fast and maneuverable. It was also full of firepower, and its role in the Battle of Britain against the German Luftwaffe gave the Allies a crucial victory when they needed it the most.
During the D-Day invasion, the Spitfire Mark IX carried 20mm cannons and .50 calibre machine guns, carrying out critical ground-attack missions — and even injuring General Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, himself.
(U.S. Dept. of Defense photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon II)
5. F-117 Nighthawk
While stealth technology had been explored since World War II, the F-117 Nighthawk gets credit for bringing true stealth capabilities to combat. Shrouded in secrecy during its development, the F-117 was designed to attack high-value targets without being detected by enemy radar. In 1981, it became the world’s first operational stealth aircraft.
In 1999, the U.S. lost its edge when an F-117 was shot down in Yugoslavia. The details about the event are still classified, but it’s known that the aircraft landed relatively intact, potentially allowing Russia and China to enter the stealth technology game.
The F-117 saw combat during multiple operations over two decades and it paved the way for the 5th generation stealth fighters we fly today.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Rob Tabor)
4. F/A-18 Hornet
The F/A-18 Hornet was the first tactical aircraft designed to carry out both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, making it a versatile fighter for both Naval aircraft carrier duty and Marine Corps combat operations. The Hornet could switch roles easily, a feat it performed successfully during the Persian Gulf War when it shot down two Iraqi MiG-21s in fighter mode and then took out a ground target in attack mode during a mission.
The Hornet is not only the nation’s first official strike-fighter, it’s proven to be one of the most reliable as well, operating as a fighter escort, fleet air defense, and providing both close and deep air support.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)
3. MQ-1 Predator
The MQ-1 Predator brought true combat drones to reality and marked the beginning of the end of man-powered aerial combat. Yeah I said it. Come at me, flyboys. With its first Hellfire kill in November, 2002, the Predator changed warfighting forever.
The Predator was operated remotely by a pilot and one or two sensor operators. It was a multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance asset that primarily operated as an ISR platform, but its armament capabilities offered it the ability to strike targets as needed.
The U.S. Air Force officially retired the Predator on March 9, 2018, to give way to its super-sized follow-up, the MQ-9 Reaper, which saw the Hellfire missiles of the MQ-1 and raised it some JDAMs and the GBU-12.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Ammons)
2. F-15 Eagle
The F-15 Eagle boasts an undefeated record in air-to-air combat, with models still in use today despite the design being from the 1970s. Its longevity can be attributed to its unprecedented acceleration, groundbreaking maneuverability, and impressive weapons capabilities. It’s high thrust-to-weight ratio and low wing-loading allow the Eagle to turn tightly without losing airspeed while its top speed above Mach 2.5 made it the first U.S. fighter capable of vertical acceleration.
It’s avionics package and armament specs — notably including the AIM 120-D AMRAAM radar-guided missile — combined with flight performance defined air superiority and it has yet to meet an enemy capable of bringing it down.
The F-22 Raptor is the most powerful air dominance fighter in the world — no, in the universe. Considered the first 5th generation fighter in the U.S. inventory, the Raptor boasts unprecedented attack capabilities, integrated avionics, and battlespace awareness, as well as stealth technologies that allow it to protect not only itself but other assets.
In air-to-air configuration, the Raptor carries six AIM 120 AMRAAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinders, while in air-to-ground mode it can carry two GBU-32 JDAMs (while bringing along two AMRAAMs and two Sidewinders just for kicks).
The F-22’s powerful engine and sleek aerodynamic design allow it to cruise at supersonic speeds without using afterburner and its flight controls and maneuverability are unmatched by any other aircraft. Ever.
If that list doesn’t make you want to cross into the wild blue yonder, then dammit, I don’t know what will. Leave a comment and let me know.
A significant reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan won’t impact upon the security of the war-torn country, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said on Dec. 21, 2018.
It was the first official Afghan reaction to reports in the U.S. media that President Donald Trump is considering a “significant” withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, with some quoting unnamed officials as saying the decision has already been made.
“If they withdraw from Afghanistan it will not have a security impact because in the last 4 1/2 years the Afghans have been in full control,” Ghani’s spokesman, Haroon Chakhansuri, said via social media.
The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official on Dec. 20, 2018, as saying that Trump “wants to see viable options about how to bring conflicts to a close.”
The AFP news agency quoted a U.S. official as saying the decision has already been made for a “significant” U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“That decision has been made. There will be a significant withdrawal,” AFP quoted the official as saying.
CNN also reported that Trump has already ordered the military to make plans for a withdrawal of perhaps half of the current 14,000-strong force.
NATO has so far declined to comment on the reports, saying only that is aware of the reports.
In response to an RFE/RL question, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said, “The Afghan Army and police have been fully in charge of the security of Afghanistan for over four years. They are a brave, committed, and increasingly capable force, who have ensured the security of the parliamentary elections earlier this year.”
“Earlier this month, NATO foreign ministers expressed steadfast commitment to ensuring long-term security and stability in Afghanistan,” Lungescu said.
“Our engagement is important to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists who could threaten us at home.”
However, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, whose NATO-member country is a contributor to Resolute Support, voiced skepticism that even a partial U.S. withdrawal could be supplanted by the remaining members.
“Frankly, I do not believe that we can split forces and rely that something can be done in the absence of an important player. It’s difficult really to say,” Linkevicius told RFE/RL.
The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to counter attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
U.S. officials have been attempting to push the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government in Kabul. Many Taliban leaders insist that U.S. forces depart before substantial peace talks can take place.
The reports came a day after Trump surprised and angered many U.S. lawmakers, administration officials, and international allies by saying he was pulling “all” U.S. troops out of Syria, where they are leading a multinational coalition backing local forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants.
It also came shortly before Trump announced that his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, would be leaving his post at the end of February 2019.
U.S. media are reporting that Mattis opposed Trump’s move to withdraw from Syria. In his resignation letter, Mattis said his views were not fully “aligned” with those of the president.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
A U.S.-led coalition has been in Afghanistan since 2001, when it drove the Taliban from power after Al-Qaeda militants — whose leaders were being sheltered in Afghanistan — carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
However, the Western-backed government in Kabul has struggled to counter attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
U.S. officials have been attempting to push the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government in Kabul. Many Taliban leaders insist that U.S. forces depart before substantial peace talks can take place.
Mohammad Taqi, a Florida-based political analyst, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that a rapid U.S. withdrawal would be “a huge mistake.”
“If we look at it in context of talks with the Taliban, then it seems [the] Taliban have already strengthened their position,” he said. “Now the reports of [a U.S. withdrawal] show a weakening stance by the U.S., which could subsequently undermine [the] Afghan government’s position.”
On Dec. 20, 2018, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, questioned the Taliban’s determination to end the 17-year war after the group’s representatives refused to meet with an Afghan government-backed negotiating team.
Khalilzad said that, while he was certain the Afghan government wanted to end the conflict, it was unclear whether the Taliban were “genuinely seeking peace.”
Khalilzad’s remarks came following his latest face-to-face meeting in December 2018 with the Taliban, which was held in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and was also attended by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The U.A.E. hailed the talks as “positive for all parties concerned,” while the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman, claimed the meetings will produce “very positive results by the beginning of next year.”
Earlier this year, a French publisher had to issue an apology after a huge social media backlash emerged against their undergraduate-level history textbook which claimed that the attacks on 9/11 were “orchestrated by the CIA.” “This phrase which echoes conspiracy theories devoid of any factual basis should never have been used in this work,” the publisher said. “It doesn’t reflect the editorial position either of Ellipses publications or the author.”
Despite the incredible oversight of the publisher, it’s worth noting that the French have stood in solidarity with the United States in remembering 9/11 with a temporary memorial on its 10th anniversary. However, other nations across the free world have erected permanent memorials. After all, 9/11 began the War on Terror that freedom-loving countries have been fighting for 19 years. Here are some memorials that stand out.
(Dr. Avishai Teicher—Public Domain)
1. 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza—Jerusalem, Israel
Opened in 2009, the 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza is a cenotaph remembering and honoring the victims of the attacks. It measures 30 feet tall and is made of granite, bronze, and aluminum. A piece of melted steel from Ground Zero forms part of the base on which the monument rests. The names of all the victims, including five Israeli citizens, are embedded on metal plates and placed on the circular wall. It is also the first and only monument outside of the United States to list all the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks.
(Memoria e Luce)
2. Memory and Light—Padua, Italy
Inaugurated on the 4th anniversary of the attacks, Memoria e Luce, as it’s known in Italian, was a gift from the United States to the Italian city of Padua. It features a six meter long, twisted steel beam recovered from Ground Zero. The structure in which it is housed mimics an open book and is reminiscent of the facades of the Twin Towers. The book is also open in the direction of the Statue of Liberty, further cementing the relationship between our two nations.
(SINCE 9/11 Charity)
3. Since 9/11—London, England
Throughout the War on Terror, Britain has been one of our strongest allies in combating those who wish harm on the West and the free world. Located at the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park, the memorial sculpture was a gift from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to the United Kingdom. It is made entirely out of steel recovered from Ground Zero. The memorial is cared for by the SINCE 9/11 charity. Founded on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the charity’s focus is educating British students on 9/11 to “ensure that the legacy of 9/11 is one that builds hope from tragedy.”
4. Twin Towers and Lost Dogs Monument—Ontario, Canada
Located in the Beautiful Joe Heritage Society Park, this stone sculpture represents the Twin Towers. The towers rest on a pentagonal base and honors both the human and canine rescuers who took part in the search and rescue effort following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The memorial is particularly dedicated to a Yellow Labrador police canine named Sirius who died in the collapse of the South Tower. The plaque on the memorial reads, “This plaque honors the devotion and bravery shown by the many K-9 police units during the search, rescue, and recovery of victims of these attacks. Their heroic deeds will not be forgotten.”
5. Donadea 9/11 Memorial—Donadea, Ireland
Dedicated in 2003, the Donadea 9/11 Memorial was crafted by a local stonemason and sculptor. The structural representation of the Twin Towers features the names of victims inscribed on the stone. Though it serves as a memorial to all 9/11 victims, it is dedicated to Irish American firefighter Sean Tallon, whose father was born in Donadea. Tallon was a Corporal in the USMC Reserves and probationary firefighter at Ladder 10, the fire station directly across from the World Trade Center. He was one of the first people on scene when the first plane hit and was killed when the towers fell.
After 9/11, Americans swore that we would never forget. The beautiful and touching memorials listed here show that good people around the world won’t forget either.
Among the first Americans to enter Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks were members of the Central Intelligence Agency’s shadowy Special Activities Division, along with elite special operations personnel from the US military’s various branches.
Tragically, it would be one of the CIA’s Special Operations Group – the armed paramilitary branch of the SAD – who would be the first to lay down his life in the War on Terror, becoming the first American casualty in Afghanistan.
In November 2001, Johnny “Mike” Spann, an SOG operative, found himself at Qala-i-Jangi, a century-old fortress positioned near Mazar-i-Sharif, where hundreds of Taliban fighters were held prisoner by Afghan Northern Alliance militia, having been captured during the Siege of Kunduz that same month.
Spann was a graduate of Auburn University and a former Marine, having served six years as an artillery officer before being recruited to the CIA in 1999. He later went on to join the SAD’s SOG soon afterwards, delving deeper into the world of black operations.
The CIA tasked Spann and another officer – an Uzbek language specialist – with interrogating the captives to glean intelligence on Taliban and Al Qaeda activity. The prisoners, as one might expect, were extremely uncooperative, and were additionally very poorly screened by their Afghan captors.
In a matter of minutes, the situation devolved into chaos.
A number of the prisoners rebelled against their captors, pulling out hidden hand grenades and detonating them in suicide attacks. Prisoners crowded around Spann during his questioning session began lunging at the SOG officer.
Spann and a fellow CIA operative immediately brought their guns to bear – the former pulling a pistol, and the latter grabbing an AK-47 from a Northern Alliance guard. In the blink of an eye, Spann was mobbed from all sides and disappeared under a mass of Taliban fighters, while his colleague attempted to make his way to his fallen comrade.
Reports estimate that Spann put down anywhere between three to seven enemy fighters with his pistol, before succumbing to the onslaught. The remaining CIA officer systematically dropped more Taliban fighters who had, by now, killed a number of Northern Alliance troops and took possession of their weapons, before running over to warn Red Cross and other civilian workers in the area to escape.
After contacting US diplomatic services in Uzbekistan, a quick reaction force consisting of American and British special forces hailing from Task Force Dagger was assembled and deployed to the area. The QRF established contact with the sole remaining CIA agent, while digging in for a long fight.
American fighter aircraft were directed to drop smart bombs on the fortress, while a pair of AC-130 Spectre gunships, operating under the cover of night, arrived on station, pounding the resistance into submission with concentrated fire.
After a two-day siege, the fort was retaken and most of rebels had escaped to the fort’s main dungeon.
The prisoners holed up in the dungeon finally surrendered after it was flooded with cold dirty irrigation water from nearby fields. Spann’s body was recovered with care in the aftermath of the battle, having found to be booby trapped by Taliban fighters. Of the 300-500 Taliban prisoners taken captive at the fortress, only 86 were recaptured alive.
Spann’s remains were repatriated to the US , and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star – equivalent to a Silver Star – and the Exceptional Service Medallion.
Today, a memorial still stands today at Qala-i-Jangi, commemorating Spann – the first American casualty in Afghanistan post-9/11.