This WWII fighter pilot 'piggy-backed' his wingman home after he was shot down - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

It’s not every day a commander is faced with the decision of whether to court-martial someone or to put them in for the Medal of Honor. Such was the situation of a daring pilot of the 354th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force after a harrowing, unprecedented rescue behind enemy lines on August 18, 1944.


The airman was Lt. Royce “Deacon” Priest, a newly-minted pilot who had just arrived at the 354th in early June. Prior to becoming a full-fledged pilot, Priest trained to fly gliders. He was sent to flight school when it was realized no more Airborne divisions were going to be created. He was also offered admission to West Point but he turned it down to realize his dream of being a fighter pilot.

The 354th was led by a daring but new-to-combat pilot, Maj. Bert Marshall. He just arrived in the squadron in early June after a long stint as a pilot trainer stateside. D-Day was his second mission ever. It was there Marshall scored his first aerial victory, but he would already be an ace by August of that year. He also gained a reputation, as Lt. Priest put it, “for not matching wheels down landings with take-offs.” His aggressive flying style earned him the respect of his men and a promotion to Operations Officer and then Squadron Commander in a very short time.

 

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
A P-51 like those flown by the 354th

On August 18th Maj. Marshall was leading a flight of four P-51 Mustangs on a bombing and strafing mission against German marshaling areas that supplied forces battling the Americans breaking out of Normandy. As they came upon their primary target, they noticed railway cars marked with red crosses and moved on to a better target. About twenty miles away, they found it.

As the fighters swept in to attack, their target of opportunity turned into an ambush. The sides of a rail car fell away exposing a German anti-aircraft battery hidden within. 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft rounds ripped through the formation. Maj. Marshall’s plane took the worst of it and pulled away smoking badly and fatally crippled. Lt. Priest, flying beside him, saw the whole thing and reported the damage to Marshall. While Marshall looked for a place to belly land his plane Priest pointed out a field nearby and suggested that he would land and pick up Marshall. Marshall was adamant that he take the rest of the flight and get out of there.

However, Priest idolized Marshall, having known of him from his high school and college football days. He couldn’t believe his luck when they were assigned to the same squadron. He wasn’t just going to let him fall into German hands. He radioed the others in his flight to let them know his intention of landing to rescue the commander. When Marshall heard the chatter over the radio he told Lt. Priest he was ordering him not to land and to return to base.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
A pilot ejects from a dogfight in the skies over Normandy.

Disobeying those orders, Lt. Priest spotted a wheat field nearby that would do nicely as an improvised landing strip. Just before landing, he spotted Marshall tossing a thermite grenade into his plane and then heading toward the field he was landing in.

Once Priest had landed and positioned his plane for a quick take-off he surveyed the area looking for his commander. Instead, he saw a truckload of German infantry approaching. He immediately called the remaining two airborne pilots. They responded that they were inbound and made quick work of the truck and its occupants with the Mustang’s four .50 caliber machine guns but also alerted Priest that more Germans were heading his way. He was running out of time and there was still no sign of his commander.

As he started to consider his options, he saw Marshall come into the field, visibly angry that Priest was even there. Marshall refused to get into the airplane and told Priest to get out of there. Not knowing what else to do, Priest exited the airplane and took off his chute and dinghy signaling that he was not leaving without his commander. Marshall climbed in first followed by Priest. There was barely enough room to close the canopy but the cramped couple managed to take off just in time to avoid the second German patrol.

Once they returned to England and Marshall was less angry, he expressed his thanks for the rescue. Priest told Marshall he was too important to the squadron to allow him to be lost to the Germans.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
Priest and Marshall

“I must admit I was very concerned regarding my own fate, having disobeyed a direct order, in combat – twice,” Priest wrote in a letter to Bert Marshall’s son. “I wondered if I would be transferred out, taken off combat operations, etc. I did not expect to be decorated.”

But that was what happened. Despite his seemingly reckless rescue of his commander, Lt. Priest was put in for the Medal of Honor. Gen. James Doolittle said he struggled with the decision and ultimately gave Priest the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions because he did not want to encourage other pilots to risk themselves and their aircraft in similar attempts. When presenting the award to Priest, Gen. Doolittle told him he “had never thought about issuing a regulation to ‘not land behind enemy lines to attempt a rescue,’ who would be that stupid? Because what you just did was just crazy to even think about!”

Both Priest and Marshall would finish the war and have long careers in what became the U.S. Air Force. Marshall was awarded the Silver Star for his leadership of the 354th Fighter Squadron in Europe. His son would later write two books about his father’s squadron during World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This heavy French tank could be pierced with a pistol

French tank designers had an ambitious idea before World War I: What if they could create a vehicle with the protection of an armored car but the firepower of an artillery gun?


This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
Saint Chamond tanks sit in a line in World War I.
(Public domain)

 

The design that eventually emerged packed a massive 75mm artillery gun into the nose of a tank named the Saint Chamond, but the offensive focus of the designers left glaring oversights in mobility and armor, allowing even pistol rounds through in some circumstances.

While French officers had considered designing an armored weapon platform before the war, the outbreak of hostilities put the effort on old. As Britain started building their first tanks, France got in on the action with two heavy tank designs of their own, the Schneider and the Saint Chamond.

The Saint Chamond was basically built around the French 75mm cannon, and this was significant firepower in World War I. Most Brtitish tanks had 57mm cannons, and the rest of of the world simply didn’t have tanks.

A Saint Chamond tank sits in a museum in western France.
(Fat Yankey, CC BY-SA 2.5)
 

But the design compromises needed to make space for the massive cannon were significant. The vehicle drove on relatively thin and short treads, and the weight of the vehicle pushed it hard against the soil, making it questionable whether the tank would be able to navigate the muddy craters of No Man’s Land.

Worse, the cannon needed to be mounted at the front, and it couldn’t fit properly between the treads while leaving room for the cannon’s crew. So, instead, the entire length of the cannon had to sit forward of the treads, causing the tank’s center of balance to be far forwards of the center of the vehicle. As the French would later learn, this made it nearly impossible to cross trenches in the St. Chamond. Instead, crews would tip into the trench and get their gun stuck in the dirt.

Thanks to the limited traction from the treads, the tank couldn’t even back away from the trench and get back into the fight. Once tipped forward, they usually needed towed out.

But, worst of all, in an attempt to keep the already-heavy vehicle from getting too much heavier, they opted for light armor on the sides of the tank. While the front was only a little thicker, it was, at least, sloped. Col. Jean Baptiste Eugene Estienne, a French artillery officer who is now known as the Father of French Tanks, saw the Saint Chamond and tested its armor by firing his pistol at it.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
The only surviving Saint Chamond heavy tank takes part in Tank Fest 2017, 100 years after the tank first entered service.
(Alan Wilson, CC BY-SA 2.0)
 

The pistol round passed through the quarter-inch armor.

In the designers’ defense, the St. Chamond’s armor was soon upgraded to 11mm at a minimum, a little under a half-inch. The front armor was up to 19mm, almost .75 inches.

But still, when the British and French tanks made their combat debuts, the shortcomings of early tank design were quickly made apparent. Crews from both countries complained of bullets punching through the sides or, nearly as bad, impacting the armor so hard that bits of metal exploded off from the hull and tore through the crew.

French tanks had even worse trouble crossing muddy sections than their British counterparts, getting bogged down quickly. And that was if the engines held up. Often, they would breakdown instead.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
The French Saint Chamond tank had a powerful, impressive gun, but it had weak armor and was front-heavy.
(Public domain)
 

As the war continued, though, France did find a successful design: the Renault FT, a light tank with a rotating turret, 37mm gun, and decent speed. It did have even lighter armor than the St, Chamond, but its configuration allowed the road wheels to help protect the crew from the sides, and the speed let them overwhelm German defenses before too many rounds could hit them.

Best, the Renault FT could be produced in much higher numbers, meaning that German defenders couldn’t often concentrate fire on any single target.

The design was so successful that it was one of the designs America licensed for its tank corps as it joined the war and stood up its armored forces. America ordered over 4,000 of the tank, known in American inventories as M1917s, but none of them reached the actual forces in France until after the armistice.

Still, the design was liked by U.S. Army Capts. Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton, officers who would create America’s armored strength and later rise to even greater fame in World War II.

Today, the closest modern equivalent to the St. Chamond isn’t even a tank. After all, the vehicle was created to carry a large cannon into battle, and, by the end of the war, it was used more as mobile artillery than to directly attack enemy trenches. As such, it’s more like the M109 Paladin than the M1 Abrams.

And, as artillery, the St. Chamond wasn’t bad. Its weak armor wasn’t a big deal when far from the front lines, and it wasn’t important that an armored artillery platform couldn’t quickly cross a trench.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This flight nurse was the first woman to receive the Air Medal

Women have played a part in war and the military ever since the birth of our nation, whether it be disguising themselves as men to secretly join the Army during the Civil War, tending to the wounded on the battlefield as nurses in WWII, or, more recently, taking up arms alongside their brothers in combat positions.

Elsie Ott, for example, made a name for herself in the world of flight nursing. Ott was born in 1913 in Smithtown, New York, and attended nursing school at Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing in New York City right after high school.

It was 1941 when Ott joined the Army Nurse Corps, and she became a true trailblazer for women in the military. She was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. and stationed in Louisiana and Virginia before flying on a mission that would make history.


Take Elsie Ott, for example, who was one such woman that made a name for herself in the world of flight nursing. Ott was born in 1913 in Smithtown, New York, and attended nursing school at Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing in New York City right after high school.

It was 1941 when Ott joined the Army Nurse Corps, and she became a true trailblazer for women in the military. She was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. and stationed in Louisiana and Virginia before flying on a mission that would make history.

During WWII air evacuation of casualties was in its infancy and procedures, as well as training of flight nurses, was not perfected. Before aeromedical evacuation, the injured would have to wait weeks and often months, to be sent back home to the U.S.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

The Army Air Corps started to spin up a program for flight nurses in 1941 in order to aeromedically evacuate patients from the field.

Ott had never even been on an airplane, nor had training on the aircraft when she was assigned to fly a week-long mission. On Jan. 17, 1943 the flight originated in Karachi, India, and was to fly to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Five patients were assigned to the flight and Ott was only given a simple first aid kit to care for all of them.

It was a week later when Ott reached Walter Reed with the patients, all of them alive and well. She made sure to take detailed notes throughout her journey to improve the procedures and training for future flight nurses. Some of the suggestions she noted included, oxygen bottles, blankets, more medical supplies, and a change of uniform from skirts to pants.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

Above, Army nurses tend to patients on aircraft.

Ott’s contributions didn’t go unnoticed and were used to improve aeromedical evacuation processes, to this day. Two months after her groundbreaking first flight she was awarded the U.S. Air Medal. She was the first woman in U.S. Army history to obtain such and honor.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

Brigadier General Fred Borum presents the Air Medal to 2nd Lieutenant Elsie Ott

(Photo by the U.S. Air Force).

Due to Elsie Ott’s unwavering persistence while caring for her patients and individual contributions, flight nurses today can give their patients the highest level of care in the air while returning them safely home.

MIGHTY TRENDING

4 ways armies have sent ‘FU’ messages to their enemies

As far back as documented history goes, war has crushed civilizations and built new empires. Regardless of era, military leaders and warlords have long sent visual (or “FU”) messages to their enemies in hopes that emotions, not tactics, take over the battlefield.


Related: 7 badass nicknames enemies have given the American military

With both sides desperate for a victory, the art of mind manipulation can trigger a response that just might reduce the enemy’s will to fight.

1. Tossed in a gutter

ISIS controls many areas in Iraq, but that doesn’t stop members of the Iraqi forces from showing their own progress. 

According to Fox News, Iraqis toss the dead bodies of ISIS members in the street gutters as a form of intimidation to ISIS sleeper cells and their supporters.

2. Drawn and Quartered

Most of us are familiar with William Wallace’s legacy, especially if you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. What the award-winning filmmaker didn’t show was what King Edward did after the end credits rolled.

According to duhaime.org, the King of England ordered his soldiers to cut Wallace’s body into four pieces and post them at the four corners of Britain. Wallace’s head was stabbed with a spike and set on London Bridge for an epic “screw you” message.

 

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
William Wallace statue stands tall in Scotland.

 

3. Capture the flag of your enemies

Those who have had the opportunity to fight in a Taliban-infected area probably noticed the white flags flapping in the wind over extremist strongholds.

Marines love flags, too — especially their own, which wave high above American positions. They also enjoy taking the Taliban flags and putting them on display for the bad guys to see.

 

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
Infantrymen from 3rd Battalion 5th Marines Lima Company 2nd Platoon enjoy a moment after capturing a Taliban flag. #wegotyoursh*t

4. A good slicing

Around 500 B.C., a war between the State of Yue and the State of Wu in China broke out.

Gou Jian, the King of Yue, was unsure of his victory over the Wu. To try to gain an element of surprise, Jian ordered 300 of his men to stand in front of the enemy, remove their swords and cut their own throats before the battle began.

The Wu were so completely stunned, Jian was able to send in his attack on the unsuspecting army and defeat them.

(We actually don’t recommend this tactic…)

Can you think of any others? Comment below.

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Watch a 20mm Lahti anti-tank rifle rip through steel plates

The Lahti anti-tank rifle looks a little unusual, showing a pair of skis on the front. But then again, it does come from Finland.


According to Modernfirearms.net, the Lahti L-39, also known as the Norsupyssy — or “elephant gun” — fired a 20x138mm round and had a 10-shot clip. While not effective against the most modern tanks, like the Russian T-34, the rifle proved to be useful against bunkers and other material targets. One variant was a full-auto version used as an anti-aircraft gun.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t laugh. According to the 25th Infantry Division Association’s website, American personnel used the Browning Automatic Rifle — or BAR — against the Japanese planes during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This semi-auto rifle was kept in Finnish military stocks until the 1980s, when many were scrapped. This makes the M107 Barrett used by the United States military look like a mousegun.

A number of these rifles, though, were declared surplus and sold in the United States in the early 1960s. The Gun Control Act of 1968, though, placed these rifles under some very heavy controls — even though none were ever used in crimes.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
A Lahti L-39 anti-tank rifle used during World War II. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In this video, the punch this rifle packed is very apparent. The people who set up the test put up 16 quarter-inch steel plates. You can see what that shell does to the plates in this GIF.

via GIPHY

For a real in-depth look at this awesome gun — and the way they set up this firepower demonstration — look at the whole video below:

FullMag, YouTube

MIGHTY CULTURE

Union troops changed the words to ‘Dixie’ to make fun of the South

Making fun of the enemy is nothing new, especially for American troops. When U.S. troops like something, they’ll probably still come up with their own term for it. Even if they respect an enemy, they will still come up with a short, probably derogatory name for them. For American troops in the Civil War, many of which took the war very seriously (and rightly so), they would take any opportunity to denigrate the “Southern Way of Life.”

That started with the pop song “Dixie,” which became a de facto national anthem for the Confederates.


This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

But even Abe Lincoln loved the song. Why? It was written in New York for use in traveling shows.

“Dixie” was actually written by an Ohioan, destined for use among blackface performers in traveling minstrel shows throughout the United States. These shows were wildly popular before, during, and after the Civil War everywhere in the United States, and were usually based on the premise of showing African-Americans as slow, dumb, and sometimes prolifically horny. It’s supposed to be sung by black people who are depicted as preferring life in the South, rather than as free men in the North.

“Dixie” is one of the most enduring relics of these shows, still retaining popularity today, although without the connection to the minstrel shows of the time. It’s safe to say almost every Confederate troop knew the words to “Dixie,” as the song depicts an idyllic view of what life in the American South was like in the 1850s, around the time the song was written, with lyrics like:

Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton
Old times there are not forgotten
Look away! Look away!
Look away! Dixie Land!

Union troops who were dead-set on killing Confederates, eventually came up with some new lyrics for the song. Like a group of murderous Weird Al fans, the Northerners wanted to poke fun at their deadly enemy in the best way they knew how – a diss track. The Union lyrics are harsh and the tune to the song just as catchy.

“Away down South in the land of traitors
Rattlesnakes and alligators…
… Where cotton’s king and men are chattels,
Union boys will win the battles…
Each Dixie boy must understand
that he must mind his Uncle Sam…”

The Union version of “Dixie” rates somewhere between “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on the list of All-Time Greatest Civil War Songs That Make You Want to March on Richmond.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how WWII, G.I. Joe and a decorated U.S. Marine shaped Transformers

Today, the Transformers IP has a world-wide presence in toys, comic books, video games, TV shows, movies and even amusement park rides. Just hearing the name cues the iconic jingle or robotic transforming noise in the heads of even the most casual fans. It’s incredible to think that this franchise that dominates the globe owes its existence to the Second World War, G.I. Joe action figures and one very special Marine.


This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

Transformers is still going strong with a new Netflix original series (Netflix)

Following the end of WWII, American troops occupied the Japanese islands as the nation entered into the process of reconstruction. A key element in reviving the Japanese economy was its once prominent toy industry. However, with few raw materials available after the war, toy makers were forced to resort to unconventional sources.

American GIs occupying Japan were fed heavily with canned rations. It was the metal from these cans that was recycled and used to craft Japanese robot toys. To highlight Japanese craftsmanship, these toys were often motorized with clock mechanisms that allowed them to walk and roll.

The popularity of Japanese robot toys increased through the 1960s and 1970s. With the expansion of television, the robot toys were paired with manga comics and anime cartoons that engaged children and promoted toy sales. Japanese robot-based entertainment like Astroboy, Ultraman, Shogun Warriors and Gigantor became increasingly popular in America.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

Robot shows like Gigantor were also successful in Australia (Eiken/TCJ)

However, even the robots from the east couldn’t compete with “A Real American Hero” like G.I. Joe. High sales of the action figure in the states were enough to convince Japanese toy maker Takara to license G.I. Joe for the Japanese market.

Having gained respect in the Japanese toy world for their toy dolls, Takara wanted to branch out and make a toy line for boys. However, G.I. Joe’s iconic scar and grimacing expression were a bit too harsh and aggressive for post-war Japan. To market the toy to Japanese boys, Takara decided to make G.I. Joe into a superhero with superpowers. When the designers realized that G.I. Joe’s body wasn’t conducive to a superhero build, they resorted to type and made him into a robot. With a clear plastic body displaying his metal computer-like internals, G.I. Joe became Henshin Cyborg. Henshin meaning “transformation”, this was the first step towards what we know today as Transformers.

Following the 1973 oil crisis, the 11.5″ tall toy and all of its accessories became prohibitively expensive to produce. Like G.I. Joe in the states, Takara introduced the 3.75″ tall Microman. A mini version of Henshin Cyborg, the Microman toy line focused even more on transforming toys with robots that could change into sci-fi spaceships. Microman was so popular that it was marketed in the US under the name Micronauts.

By the 1980s, robot toys that transformed into exotic spaceships were losing popularity. To rejuvenate the robot toy concept, Takara introduced the Diaclone Car Robo and Microman Micro Change lines. Diaclone toys transformed from robots into 1:60 scale vehicles like cars and trucks while Microman toys transformed into 1:1 replicas of household items like cameras, cassette players and toy guns.

At the Tokyo Toy Show, Hasbro executives took notice of Diaclone, Microman Micro Change and the plethora of other Japanese transforming robot toys and wanted to develop their own toy line. A deal was struck with Takara and Hasbro lifted almost every one of their toy lines for the US market, including Diaclone and Microman Micro Change.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

Diaclone transforming robot truck Battle Convoy (Takara)

To review, Hasbro licensed G.I. Joe to Takara in the 1970s. Takara turned G.I. Joe into Henshin Cyborg. Henshin Cyborg was shrunk down to Microman. Microman evolved into Diaclone and Microman Micro Change, both of which were licensed back to Hasbro. Things had really come full circle.

With all of these transforming robot toys, Hasbro turned to Marvel Comics to develop a backstory for the new toy line. Over a weekend, Marvel writers came up with the names and backstories for the first 26 Transformers as well as the plot for the first comic book issue.

Diaclone and Microman Micro Change robots were renamed and became Transformers as we know them today. Micro Car became Bumblebee, Cassette Man became Shockwave, Gun Robo became Megatron, Battle Convoy became Optimus Prime and the War for Cybertron between the just Autobots and the oppressive Decepticons was born. The first commercial for the Transformers toys introduced the now iconic jingle and the phrases, “Robots in disguise” and, “More than meets the eye.”

The 1984 release of Transformers was a huge success netting Hasbro 5 million in sales. The popularity of the franchise was due in large part to the Transformers cartoon, the star of which was the venerable Optimus Prime.

Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime, became so iconic that he was brought back to reprise the role of the Autobot leader in the 2007 Transformers film and its many sequels. Cullen, also known for voicing Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh franchise, crafted the voice of Optimus Prime with inspiration from his older brother.

Marine Captain Henry Laurence Cullen, Jr., known as Larry, was a decorated veteran of the war in Vietnam. While serving with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Capt. Cullen was awarded a Bronze Star with a V device as well as two Purple Hearts for his actions during Operation Hastings in June 1966.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

Capt. Cullen was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery (Cullen family)

When his younger brother told him he was going to audition for the role of a hero in a cartoon series, Capt. Cullen said, “Peter, if you’re gonna be a hero, be a real hero. Don’t be one of those Hollywood heroes pretending they’re tough guys when they’re not. Just be strong and real. Tell the truth. Be strong enough to be gentle.”

With his older brother’s words echoing in his mind, Peter Cullen delivered the strong yet gentle voice performance that Transformers fans today will always hail as the one, true Optimus.

“He had a lot of influence on me, you know, and especially coming back from Vietnam. I noticed somebody different,” Cullen remembered of his older brother. “Going into that audition, Larry was with me. I mean, he was right there beside me. When I read the script, Larry’s voice just came out. He was my hero.”

From recycled ration cans, to a classic American action figure and an inspirational leader of Marines, the Transformers franchise has had a lot of American military influence to get to where it is today.

MIGHTY HISTORY

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Kim Il-Sung, the founder and patriarch of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – known to many as North Korea – went by a lot of names, including General Secretary of the Korean Workers Party, President, Premier and Supreme Leader.

And those are just the titles he earned while he was alive. In death, Kim Il-Sung is still the leader of North Korea, as the country’s constitution was amended to proclaim him the Eternal President and de jure head of state. Forever.


Before Kim earned his “Eternal” presidency in 1994, however, he was the victim of a celebrity death hoax that got way out of hand. To this day, no one knows why.

It all began at the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the 38th Parallel that has separated the two Koreas since 1953. For years, the two sides blasted propaganda at one another over large loudspeakers.

The North talked about the superiority of North Korean Communism and about Kim Il-Sung in particular. The South blasted information about the superiority of democracy and capitalism. It was an ongoing exchange every day for years.

One day in 1986, it all stopped. The North Koreans started playing music, with no words. The South Koreans were puzzled by this until the speakers began to speak: Kim Il-Sung was dead and Kim Jong-Il. The North Korean flag was lowered to half mast.

When anything major happens in the North (like a Kim dying), the South goes bonkers. !986 was no different. They never know who might take power, what their politics might be and if another Korean War is about to happen. Naturally, the South Koreans went on high alert, waiting for the outcome of the death of North Korea’s first Communist leader (and the only one since the end of World War II).

Rumors poured out of intelligence agencies, with none of the intel vetted or confirmed. Kim Il-Sung had been shot and killed. He was killed in a coup by his generals. North Korean officials around the world were being recalled as the offending officers were escaping to China. Vietnamese officials were told the elder Kim was dead as the North was rising up against Kim Jong-Il.

For almost two days, rumors around the world flared and died as everyone speculated what might happen next. Then, according to NK News, Kim Il-Sung showed up, alive and well. He met a Mongolian delegation at Pyongyang airport, as if the whole world hadn’t been talking about how he was shot and killed in a coup.

Neither Kim nor any state media agency has ever discussed the issue or reported the motivation behind the event. The only thing they know is Kim Il-Sung didn’t die from a gunshot wound in 1986, instead dying from a heart attack in1994.

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This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship

December 7, 1941, is a heartrending day for Americans — even 75 years later.


Despite the solemn reminder that over 2,000 individuals perished that day, the instances of self-sacrifice and valor offer a source of inspiration to Americans.

Captain Bennion of the USS West Virginia is one of those men, immortalized forever for his stubborn refusal to give up his ship or abandon his men during one of America’s darkest hours.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
Medal of Honor Recipient Captain Mervyn Sharp Bennion. (Photo courtesy of the Naval Historical Center)

Mervyn Sharp Bennion was born in Utah Territory in May of 1887. He successfully graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1910, ranked third in his class. His roommate, Earl C. Metz, recalled the Mormon farmer’s sharp mind during his academic years. “He was able to concentrate mentally to a degree I have never seen equalled. He could read over a thing once and he had it. He had a perfectly marvellous brain and mental processes,” Metz recollected.

After graduation, Bennion served aboard the USS North Dakota as a lieutenant during the First World War. He methodically rose in the ranks of the Navy until he received command of the USS Bernadou in 1932. He returned to the Naval War College for a short time, and served as an instructor. On July 2, 1941, Bennion assumed command of the USS West Virginia of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. A little over five months after receiving the command he would be dead.

His brother, Howard Sharp Bennion, published an account of his deeds in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Captain Bennion was casually shaving in his cabin on the morning of December 7 before heading out to church service. This stillness in his cabin was disrupted when one of his sailors burst through the door and alerted him that a wave of Japanese aircraft was headed directly toward the vessel.

Bennion rushed to the deck and issued a series of orders to prepare for the imminent attack. It was not long before a low flying Japanese torpedo bomber dumped three bombs on the West Virginia, causing severe damage and tearing a hole in its side.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
A rescue operation underway from the burning USS West Virginia after the Japanese attacks. (U.S. Navy, December 7, 1941)

On his way to the Flag Bridge a fragment of metal tore through the air and gashed Bennion in the abdomen. The projectile nearly decapitated him, tearing his torso to shreds and damaging his spine and left hip. He was unable to move his legs and his entrails protruded from his stomach.

A pharmacist’s mate came to his aid and placed a makeshift bandage over the mortal wound. Bennion demanded that the man go attend to other wounded sailors and continued to issue orders amid the chaos.

Bennion refused to be moved an inch from his location until the first Japanese attack ended. During the lull before the second wave arrived, he finally permitted himself to be placed on a cot under a sheltered position on the deck.

As he lay protracted and in agony, he resumed issuing commands and receiving reports when the second wave struck an hour later.

Due to the combination of the loss of blood and shock, he began to lose consciousness. A few of his men tied him on a ladder and carried the makeshift stretcher to the navigation bridge out of the way of flames and smoke engulfing the vessel.

Barley coherent and somehow still clinging to life, Bennion again ordered his men to leave him and look after themselves. Roughly 20 minutes later he passed away, one of the thousands of Americans to perish that day.

One officer who remained alongside Bennion to the end proudly proclaimed that “the noble conduct of Capt. Bennion before and after being wounded met the highest traditions of the naval service and justified the high esteem in which he was universally held. I consider it my great good fortune to have served under him.”

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
The USS West Virginia continued to serve as an active battleship throughout the Pacific, and was present for the surrender of the Japanese on September 2, 1945. (U.S. Navy)

Bennion’s body was transported home and buried with honor in Utah. He was afterward awarded the Medal of Honor for his inspirational leadership. His citation read: “For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.”

Despite being incapacitated early in the action at Pearl Harbor, Bennion refused to abandon his ship and nobly encouraged his men until the bitter end.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That one time in 1995 when Russia almost nuked the United States

Russia almost blew the United States away with a nuclear strike in 1995 after mistakenly thinking it was under attack. If it weren’t for Russia’s then-president Boris Yeltsin, America as we know it wouldn’t exist. Under the “launch-on-warning” policy used by both nations, Russia had 30 minutes to decide to nuke us but Yeltsin only had five.


Here’s how this monumental mistake almost took place:

NOW: The US nuclear launch code during the Cold War was weaker than your granny’s AOL password

OR: Here’s the entire Cold War by the numbers

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How this 20th century Viking fought in 13 wars

The Vikings of old traveled far and wide. Their settlements ranged from Scandinavia to Italy to Canada and everyone, from the Byzantines to the Kievan Rus to the Iberians, feared them. Their blood runs deep inside Ivor Thord-Gray. Within the span of 31 years, he would wear nine different uniforms to fight in thirteen wars across five continents.


He was born Thord Ivar Hallstrom in the Sodermalm district of Stockholm, Sweden in 1878. Unlike much of his family, his Viking heritage inspired his entire future. While his older brother became an artist and his younger brother an archaeologist, Thord set off to become an adventurer. He first joined the Merchant Marines at age 15 where he first settled in Cape Town, South Africa.

This led him to join the Cape Mounted Rifles in 1897, just before the Second Boer War. After a British victory over South Africa, he enlisted in the South African Constabulary and was back to the Armed Forces within the Transvaal Regiment, where he first became an officer. He was transferred to the Royston’s Horse and fought in the Bambatha Rebellion. After the rebellion, he moved up to Kenya to join the Nairobi Mounted Police.

 

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
South Africa is where he started growing his majestic mustache.

 

Then, he traveled to Germany where he wanted to fight in the First Moroccan Crisis but was told they didn’t need him. So, he went to the Philippines to join the U.S. Foreign Legion under the Philippine Constabulary.

He took a quick break from his life as a badass to become a rubber planter in Malaya (modern-day Malaysia), but true to his Viking nature, he couldn’t stay away from battle for long.  He took up arms again during the Chinese Revolution and rediscovered his love of fighting by joining the French Foreign Legion in Tonkin (Modern-day Vietnam).

He hopped between the Italian Army in the Italian-Turkish War and then again to China directly under Sun Yat Sen, founding father of the Republic of China (also known as Taiwan). This lead him to his first high command position during the Mexican Revolution, where he served as the Commander of the Artillery and, eventually, the Chief of Staff of the First Mexican Army for Pancho Villa.

 

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

He wrote about his time in Mexico in his autobiography, Gringo Rebel. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Then, the Great War broke out. He rejoined the British Army as a Major, commanding the 11th Northumberland Fusiliers until his battalion was disbanded. After his mercenary status forced his resignation, he joined the American Expeditionary Forces and became the Commander of the Theodore Roosevelt Division. After that unit was also disbanded, he moved to the Canadian Expeditionary Forces to finish World War I.

Thord-Gray, still with the Canadians this time, was sent as part of the Allied Expeditionary Corps to assist and was eventually transferred to the Russian White Army (anti-Communist forces). He finally attained the rank of General, commanding the 1st Siberian Assault Division. He was selected as the Representative to the Provisional Siberian Government until the Bolsheviks seized complete control of Russia. 

 

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
He would also wear all of his badges from his long military and mercenary career. Because, well, he can. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

 

His last official act of military service was as a Lieutenant-General in the Revolutionary Army of Venezuela in 1928. After all this, he finally returned to Sweden to write about his travels and archeological discoveries. Ivar Thord-Gray finally settled down in America until his passing at age 86. Like the Viking he was, he spent the majority of his adult life taking on his enemies. 

For more information on Ivar Throd-Gray, be sure to check out Peter E. Hodgkinson’s British Infantry Battalion Commander in the First World War and Thord-Gray’s own, Gringo Rebel.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

If a bad guy wants to mess with someone, they should probably make sure that someone is not a Gurkha. Gurkha are a legendary class of Nepalese warriors whose lineage dates back to the Middle Ages. Gurkhas fought first against the British during the colonial era, and the Brits were so impressed by their ability in combat, they decided to enlist them in their military efforts.


They’ve been with the British since the days of the British East India company, through to World War II, and even through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their distinctive knife, the Khukuri, is symbolic of their heroism, bravery, and skill in combat.

 

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
Gurkhas in Afghanistan

 

A true testament to the ability of these renowned Nepalese warriors is praise for their prowess from friend and foe alike. Indian Army Chief of Staff Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, once stated “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” Prince Charles once said, “In the world there is only one secure place, that’s when you are between Gurkhas.” Osama bin Laden once claimed he would “eat Americans alive” if he had Gurkhas on his side. Adolf Hitler said of them, “If I had Gurkhas, no armies in the world would defeat me.”

 

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
Gurkhas in the process of defeating Hitler in 1943.

On Sep. 2, 2010, when Bishnu Prasad Shrestha was returning home after a voluntary retirement from the Indian Army, the train incident happened. At around midnight on the Maurya Express train from Ranchi to Gorakhpur, 40 armed bandits boarded the train and started looting the passengers. He allowed himself to be robbed by the gun- and knife-toting train robbers. When they soon began to mess with an 18-year-old girl in front of her parents, who were watching helplessly, he couldn’t sit down any longer. Shrestha lost it.

He took out his Khukuri and fought the entire group of 40 robbers single-handedly, killing three of them and injuring eight others. The rest fled. After the incident, he explained:

“They started snatching jewelry, cell phones, cash, laptops and other belongings from the passengers. They had carried out their robbery with swords, blades and pistols. The pistols may have been fake as they didn’t fire. The girl cried for help, saying ´You are a soldier, please save a sister.’ I prevented her from being raped, thinking of her as my own sister. 

During the fight, he took a serious knife wound on his left hand and the girl took a small cut on her neck. He was able to recover what the bandits stole, 200 cell phones, 40 laptops, a significant amount of jewelry, and nearly $10,000 in cash.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
Shrestha in the hospital after the train fight.

 

When the intended rape victim’s family offered him a large cash reward, he refused it, saying:

“Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier. Taking on the thugs on the train was my duty as a human being.”

Bishnu Prasad Shrestha held himself to the traditions of his Gurkha regiment and training. Today, Gurkhas fight with British, American, Indian, Nepalese, and Malaysian forces all over the world. After their service ends, they usually return to Nepal to become subsistence farmers. In 2009, the United Kingdom granted pensions at settlement rights to any Gurkha who served the UK for at least four years.

Check the WATM podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss how the Gurkhas became feared Nepalese warriors.

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These are the events that led to the ‘Miracle at Dunkirk’

The “Miracle at Dunkirk,” when 338,000 troops were evacuated in Operation Dynamo where optimistic estimates topped out at 45,000 might be rescued, was a turning point for the allies, allowing them to salvage troops that would fight in North Africa, at D-Day, and beyond.


In 7 steps, here’s how the British Expeditionary Force was trapped on the beaches of France and then rescued in Operation Dynamo.

1. The Brits arrive on the continent

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
British troops from the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards, march through Cherbourg, France, in late 1939. (Photo: Imperial War Museums)

The seeds of Dunkirk were laid on Sep. 3, 1939, when the British Expeditionary Force was sent to France following Germany’s invasion of Poland and amidst the obvious German military buildup of the late 1930s. Eight first and second-line infantry divisions as well as a number of support troops had arrived by May 1940, spending most of their time training and preparing defenses.

The military maneuvers and buildup between the two sides were dubbed the “Phoney War.” Belgium, the Netherlands, and other countries across Europe prepared for the likelihood of a German invasion.

2. The Germans invade

On May 10, 1940, the “Phoney War” came to a violent end as the Germans invaded the Netherlands and Belgium. The Germans quickly took ground and captured bridgeheads on the River Meuse, allowing them to invade France through the Ardennes Forest.

3. Allied countries collapse

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium was thought to be one of the strongest forts in the world in 1940. German paratroopers exploited weaknesses to capture it in hours. (Photo: Public Domain)

The German blitzkrieg advanced faster and harder than most Allied leaders could believe, and countries quickly collapsed. One of the world’s greatest forts was captured in Belgium in only hours. The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and others surrendered within weeks.

4. The French and British withdraw towards the beaches

As army after army and country after country surrendered to the German war machine, those still fighting were forced to withdraw further and further east and north. They were pushed against the beaches of France. Panzer forces attacked and captured the French deep-water ports at Boulogne and Calais on May 25 and 26, limiting the potential evacuation options.

5. The Panzers stop

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
German panzers invade western Belgium in May 1940. (Photo: German Federal Archives)

The 48-hour timeline was agreed upon because it was the longest that forces could reliably hold out against German armor. But the German tanks had mysteriously stopped their push towards Dunkirk itself on May 23 by order of Gen. Ewald von Kleist. The next day, a full “stop order” was given by Hitler.

The Allies responded by quickly shoring up their defenses as best they could. What was a loose line of troops on May 23, likely to be brushed aside quickly, became a much more formidable line of dug in but exhausted forces.

6. The evacuation begins

On May 26, Operation Dynamo was launched with the goal of evacuating 45,000 troops within 48 hours before the beaches fell. British defenders helping to hold Calais sent their own evacuation ships to Dover to help evacuate those troops at Dunkirk. Calais fell that evening; all British and French forces there were killed or captured.

7. The evacuation runs for 10 days

The pace of the evacuation started slow on May 26 with 8,000 men removed, but increased in efficiency quickly result in more men getting off.

Within the first few days, Royal Navy officers working the “Mole,” a pier-like breakwater that protected the harbor from ocean currents, turned it into an improvised dock that evacuated 1,000 troops an hour at its peak. Additional men embarked from improvised piers and the beaches themselves.

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down

One of the most shocking events in the evacuations began on May 27 when the Royal Navy requisitioned small vessels for use in the evacuations. Most of the ships were manned by the Royal Navy, but some ship owners insisted that they would pilot their craft to assist in the evacuation.

The crews of the “Little Ships of Dunkirk” grew on May 29 when the BBC broadcasted an appeal “for men with experience of motorboats and coastal navigation.”

This WWII fighter pilot ‘piggy-backed’ his wingman home after he was shot down
The British Army evacuation from Dunkirk (Source: Public Domain)

The fleets of navy and civilian vessels crossed back and forth across the English Channel, rescuing about 338,000 troops, mostly British and French, by June 4 when Operation Dynamo ended.

Learn more about the events of May and June 1940 in the video below:

YouTube, World of Tanks North America

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