A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation - the Blue Angels - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

You might think intense physical training and serious mental workouts only apply to Special Ops teams in the military. The truth is that the Blue Angels training schedule is just as intense and just as serious as any Special Ops team out there. In this video, we get a rare behind the scenes glimpse at what it takes to become the rock stars of aviation.

From Recruit to Pilot

In this series, we get to see just what it’s like to go from recruit to Blue Angel pilot. During the first show of the season, the recruits wear their old khaki uniforms and talk among the crowd gathered to watch the show. For these officers, this is their first experience of what life will be like as a Blue Angel.

History of the Blue Angels

The US Blue Angels collectively represent almost a quarter-century of aviation exploration. Way back in 1946, Admiral Chester Nimitz (who helped play a serious role in the Navy’s involvement during WWII) got it in his mind that the only way the public would understand aviation would be to bring it out front and center. And by highlighting Navy pilots, Nimitz thought for sure that he’d help boost unit morale, too.

Turns out he was right.

blue angels

Since the 1940s, the Blue Angels have been captivating and entertaining audiences with daredevil airshows that feature death-defying acrobatics. Within a decade, this elite flying team had refined its approach and perfected the six-aircraft Delta Formation – the same one that’s in use today. But that doesn’t mean just anyone can become a Blue Angel.

The pilots’ maneuvers are all based on combat tactics, and the show is designed with a crowd in mind. Shows might be fun to watch, but that doesn’t mean getting the title of Blue Angel is easy.

Rookies are put to task with seriously difficult tests, and most liken the experience to “relearning hot to fly.” That means in addition to flying with precision, these aircraft pilots also have to successfully execute tight maneuvers over and over again and do them perfectly without error – or run the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But for those who are committed and dedicated to the training, the payoff is immense. Ten weeks of intense training prepares pilots with the right skills to perform their first airshow.

On the ground at the first show, recruits will watch, pay attention, and imagine what it’ll be like for them once they’ve completed their training.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how medical evacuations have evolved over the last 145 years

Medical treatment is a crucial element on the battlefield, helping keep troops in the fight and boost morale with the knowledge that if you’re hurt by the bad guys, someone’s got your back and will get you out of harms way.


While past wars featured medical evacuations draped over the shoulder of a comrade or on the back of a horse, technology has progressed to include a more effect way to get the wounded back to hospitals through the air.

In one of the first true MEDEVAC operations during the Siege of Paris in 1870, balloons were used to rescue civilians and soldiers in the Franco-Prussian war.

 

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
An early photo of the first balloon out of Paris during the Siege.

It’s reported that another of the first aerial MEDEVACs took place during World War I when an unknown Serbian officer flew a French Air Service plane with an injured comrade to a hospital. Back then, an injured soldier’s mortality rate decreased from 60 percent to 10 percent using aircraft to get them to medical care.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
French aircraft flying over German held territory, 1915.

At this point, all documented MEDEVACs had involved fixed wing airplanes.

In April 1944, an Army Air Forces aircraft carrying Army Staff Sgt. Ed “Murphy” Hladovka and three wounded British soldiers was forced to land deep behind enemy lines near Mawlu, Burma. Then a brave Lt. Carter Harman flew his defenseless Sikorsky YR-4B into harms way, rescuing the four stranded men. The helicopter was so small it took four trips to lift everyone to safety.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Carter Harman with ground crew in India

Acclaimed aeronautical engineer Igor Sikorsky once said, “If a man is in need of rescue, an airplane can come in and throw flowers on him, and that’s just about all. But a direct lift aircraft could come in and save his life.”

During the Korean War, helicopters were more widely used in medical transport, spawning the growth of auxiliary surgical hospitals — later renamed to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals, or “M.A.S.H.”

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Inside a real Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.

With this medical expansion considered a huge success, the U.S. began beefing up its medical wards on Navy ships, adding dozens of beds and expanding the number of surgical rooms to handle the incoming patients. An estimated 20,000 Americans had been successfully evacuated and treated during the war.

It wasn’t until Vietnam where things kicked into high gear. The UH-1 Huey was big enough that it could carry medical personnel and the wounded on the same bird. This reduced the mortality rate to one dead per 100 causalities.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Combat Medics load wounded soldiers on to a UH-1 Huey in Vietnam.

Entering service in the 1970’s, the UH-60 Black Hawk provided even more room for medical personnel render more complicated medical treatments while in flight on multiple patients. Today, the Black Hawk is the go-to helo for MEDEVACs.

Equipped with the latest in defensive technology and maneuvering capabilities, the UH-60 Black Hawk has the ability to head out into some pretty dangerous situations and land on rough terrain to secure those men and women in need of top medical care.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

 

Today, with the average response time decreasing, the survival rate for the wounded troops has reached an all-time high of a 92 percent.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were America’s first African-American paratroopers

During World War II a company of service soldiers became the world’s first Black paratroopers and then made history as smokejumpers.


It started in 1942 when 1st Sgt. Walter Morris, an E-5 who had taken responsibility for his company because no first sergeant was assigned to it, crafted a plan for improving horrible morale.

The men were assigned to the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, but were afforded none of the privileges other soldiers had and even lacked access to facilities that enemy POWs were allowed to use.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
The paratroopers of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion get ready to fight a forest fire. Photo: US Army

The men were assigned to cleaning the course after the white paratroopers finished training, and Morris simply had his men run it before they began cleaning. One day they were spotted making their way through the course by a passing general. The general ordered Morris to report to his office the next day. The general had received orders to start a Black airborne test platoon that would soon become a Black company and then airborne battalion. For his leadership of the service company, Morris was asked to become the unit first sergeant.

Morris and his men were officially re-assigned to the 555th Parachute Infantry Company, the Triple Nickles, in the final days of 1943. On Feb. 8, 1944, Morris and 16 others graduated Airborne School and became the first Black paratroopers.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
First Sgt. Walter Morris during pre-jump inspection for his first jump. Photo: US Army

The 555th quickly grew over the next year and Morris was sent to officer candidate school to become an officer so he could take another leadership role in what was now the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.

Unfortunately for the paratroopers of the unit, lingering racism kept them from the combat deployment to Europe that they were seeking.

They were instead loaned out to the U.S. Forest Service to defend the forests of the western states from Japanese incendiary bombs. The Japanese were floating thousands of balloons, each with four incendiary devices, across the Pacific to start wildfires in North America.

The Forest Service had decided to fight the tactic with “smokejumpers,” a new type of forest firefighter who jumped into the woods near the massive blazes and then created firebreaks to starve the flames of fuel.

Three hundred men were assigned to the mission, but only 160 were sent to Pendleton, Oregon for retraining. Between them all, they conducted 1,200 individual jumps and completed 36 fire missions in the summer of 1945.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
The men of the Triple Nickle before a training jump in New Jersey. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

Smokejumpers carried special “letdown” ropes to climb down from trees in case they were hung up on the high branches, and the men of 555th crafted special face protection by wrapping chicken wire around football helmets.

The war and the Army smokejumper mission ended in 1945, and the Triple Nickle was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where the famed 82nd Airborne Division was headquartered. Maj. Gen. Jim Gavin, “The Jumping General” who commanded the unit, was impressed by the Black paratroopers and an early advocate of integration.

The unit trained and existed within the 82nd Airborne Division until Gavin ordered the men to an 82nd function in Dec. 1947. When the 555th commander presented his battalion to Gavin, the general ordered the unit fully integrated it into the 82nd as the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Brigade.

While the men regretted the loss of the Triple Nickles, they celebrated being integrated into a storied unit.

“Everybody was crying,” former 555th paratrooper Charles Stevens told the Fort Jackson Leader. “I think we were crying for two different reasons. We were glad that segregation was leaving the Army and we were sad we were losing our Triple Nickle colors.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman

After enduring countless hardships and overcoming unimaginable obstacles, Airman 1st Class Guor Maker, a dental assistant currently in technical training, found his way out of war-torn South Sudan, Africa and into the U.S. nearly 20 years ago.


Surviving

As one of roughly 20,000 children uprooted by the gruesome Second Sudanese Civil War, Maker’s childhood was far from normal. After losing 28 family members, including eight of his nine siblings, 8-year-old Maker set out on foot from South Sudan to live with his uncle.

“The country I came from was torn apart by war,” said Maker. “It was all I knew growing up, nothing else. I’ve seen people die in front of me, but I knew no matter what, I had to make it.”

During his harrowing journey, Maker was captured and enslaved twice: once by Sudanese soldiers, and once by herdsmen.

Also read: Seven soldiers will compete in 2018 Winter Olympics

“When I was captured, I was forced to be a slave laborer,” said Maker. “I would wash dishes or do anything else needed to get by. I slept in a small cell and rarely got to eat… but not always.”

Both times, Maker successfully escaped from enslavement and was finally able to join his uncle in Khartoum after three perilous years. However, his journey to safety was far from over.

During a nighttime attack on the perceived safety of his uncle’s home, Maker sustained serious injuries when he was beaten unconscious by a soldier who smashed his jaw with a rifle.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

“My mouth was shut for two months and I could only consume liquids because my jaw was broken,” he said. “We fled to Egypt after that, and the United Nations treated my injuries.”

After two years of filling out paperwork at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Egypt, Maker and his uncle’s family were finally granted permission to enter the United States.

“I was very excited to come to the U.S.,” said Maker. “Looking back at everything my family and I endured, it is a miracle that we made it out of there.”

Dreaming

When Maker first arrived in the U.S. in 2001, he settled in Concord, New Hampshire. Not only did he want to survive, but he wanted to thrive.

“I wanted to change my life, help my parents back in South Sudan, and give my future children a better childhood than the one I had,” he said. “And the only way to do that was through education and determination.”

Maker started with the basics and began learning English by watching children’s cartoons and spending plenty of time with other high school kids just listening to their conversations and absorbing all that he could.

More: Blinded by flak shrapnel, this airman helped save his B-17 crew

“Within a short amount of time, I was able to communicate with effectively with other students and teachers, order food, and really get by on my own,” Maker said.

While learning English was a crucial step in his personal journey, Maker’s high school career really took off when one of his teachers introduced him to running.

“Running was always just natural and easy for me,” said Maker. “It was a great high school experience and it helped me meet a lot of friends, build confidence and it was genuinely fun.”

After winning the National High School indoor two-mile title, Maker received a scholarship to compete at Iowa State University, where he allowed himself to dream of things that had never been done before.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Guor Maker, a trainee at Air Force Basic Military Training, supports a wingman taking a physical fitness test Jan. 30, 2018 at the 324th Training Squadron’s physical training pad at Join Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Maker was selected as a physical training leader for his time at BMT, his duties include leading the flight during warm-ups and providing support for struggling trainees. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Dillon Parker)

“When I got to college in 2005, I remember hanging a piece of paper on my wall that said I was going to run in the Olympics in 2012 for South Sudan,” said Maker. “I thought ‘Why not me? Why can’t I do it?'”

Maker graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and reached All-American status as a student-athlete, Ready to start his new life. Maker planned to head to Flagstaff, Arizona to train for the 2012 Olympics.

The same day he left for Arizona in 2011 was the day South Sudan officially gained its independence.

“I drove the whole way celebrating and it was a very special day that I will always remember,” said Maker.

Following his year of training, Maker qualified to run the marathon in the 2012 Olympics in London.

Even though South Sudan officially gained its independence, the country was not yet a member of the International Olympic Committee and Maker was still not an official U.S. citizen.

Related: An Army officer is gunning for his next Olympic bobsled medal

“State senators from New Hampshire and Arizona presented my case to the Senate in Washington D.C. so the International Olympic Committee allowed me to run in the Olympics without a country,” said Maker.

Even though his dream of running for South Sudan had not yet come true, Maker accomplished a great deal as an unaffiliated Olympian.

“All of the people in South Sudan knew where I was from,” said Maker. “I wanted to be the inspiration for the children to say, ‘Hey, if Maker can do it, you know what, I can do it too.'”

After the 2012 Olympics, Maker was undeterred and set a new goal for himself and his country.

“I said to myself, ‘In 2016, I’m going to bring South Sudan to the Olympics for the first time,'” said Maker. “I wanted to try to do more for my country and the 2012 Olympics only strengthened my conviction to accomplish my goal.”

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Gour Maker, a trainee at Air Force Basic Military Training, completes the one and a half mile run portion of the Air Force physical fitness test Jan. 30, 2018 at the 324th Training Squadron’s physical training pad at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Maker finished his run with a time of 7:31, earning the top fitness score for males in his graduating class. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Dillon Parker)

This time around Maker’s dream became a reality in Rio de Janeiro 2016 when he became one of three athletes to be the first to represent South Sudan in an Olympic games, as well as South Sudan’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony.

“Walking into that stadium, carrying the South Sudan flag was just indescribable,” said Maker. “The people of South Sudan were in my mind the whole time I was running into the stadium with that flag and it meant so much to me.”

While it was a truly incredible and improbable moment for Maker, his thoughts were filled with the people of his home country while he was running with that flag.

Also read: This determined soldier will compete in 2018 Olympics

“Over 50 years of civil war and my country finally got independence,” said Maker. “So many lives were lost for our freedom, it was just ringing in my head that we have done it, we have done it. On that day, everyone in South Sudan was at peace watching the Olympics for the first time.”

The 2016 Olympics were an enormous accomplishment for the former slave and South Sudan native that went far beyond his 82nd overall finish.

“I couldn’t have accomplished any of it without all the support I received from my family and the opportunity the United States gave me. It’s the highlight of my athletic career so far and a moment I’ll treasure forever.”

Serving

The next chapter in Maker’s life began when he decided to join the U.S. Air Force to serve the country that gave him so many opportunities.

“All of the things I’ve accomplished have derived from the opportunities the U.S. has afforded me,” said Maker. “When I first came to America, I didn’t have hardly anything, but with the support and opportunity this country has given me, I’ve been able to completely change my life.”

The staff at basic military training had no idea who Maker was, but he quickly stood out to leadership at the 324th Training Squadron.

“I went out to the track and saw the instructors were putting their attention on one trainee in particular,” said Maj. John Lippolis, director of operations for the 324th TRS. “I could see him running noticeably faster than everyone else and the instructors explained to me that we had a two-time Olympian at BMT.”

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

In addition to Maker’s Olympian status, his unique personal story also stood out Lippolis.

“I was just absolutely floored when I talked to him about what he went through to get to where he is today,” said Lippolis. “Not only did he get survive, he wanted to better himself and he has accomplished so much. He has an amazing story and the drive he has displayed to succeed like that in the face of such adversity is truly inspiring.”

Maker not only inspired Lippolis, but other members of his flight were inspired too.

More reading: These are the 3 soldiers going to the 2018 Winter Olympics

“All of his wingmen said the same things when I talked to them,” said Lippolis. “They told me what an inspiration he was within the flight; that the flight rallied around him and he doesn’t do anything he’s supposed to do for himself until he helps out everybody else.”

While Maker has accomplished a great deal in his lifetime, he’s not done dreaming.

Maker hopes to join the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, a program designed to allow elite athletes the opportunity to train and compete in national events to make the Olympics. He also wants to make the 2020 Olympics where he’ll have the opportunity to represent his new home and the country that gave him so much.

“Joining the greatest Air Force in the world has been an absolute miracle,” said Maker. “I can’t wait to see what this next chapter holds for me.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US raided a Soviet arctic base in the Cold War

The U.S. and Soviet militaries in the Cold War both understood the importance of the Arctic. Their submarines moved under it, their bombers moved over it, and both sides kept radar stations to track each other’s planes and potential missile launches. But after the U.S. figured out how to track Soviet submarines from drift stations, they wanted to know if the Soviets had figured out the same trick.


The problem was that drift stations were small bases built on floating ice islands. It’s hard to sneak onto such isolated and small installations. Luckily, drift stations are a bit dangerous. As the ice shifts on the island, it can crack and rupture. Drift station commanders had to keep firm eyes on their runways. Otherwise, the ice could crack too badly and make escape impossible.

So they had a tendency to get abandoned every once in a while, but only as they were becoming inaccessible. Well, inaccessible to the Russians, who couldn’t get personnel out of the remote areas without a runway. But America had a new trick up its sleeve in 1962 it wanted to try out.

That was the Skyhook, an ingenious but dangerous tool that allowed planes to scoop people off of the ground using a system of hooks, wires, and balloons. A famous Batman clip actually shows the concept in very exciting detail. And, Russian Station NP 9 had recently been abandoned.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

An instruction comic for the Robert Fulton Skyhook.

(CIA)

But the mission would be dangerous. A small team would need to parachute into Arctic conditions, scrounge through the rubble of the rapidly breaking base, and then get extracted with a Skyhook before it all fell apart. This was Operation Coldfeet.

Two men were selected for the mission. Air Force Maj. James Smith was a Russian linguist with experience on American drift stations, and U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Leonard LeSchack, an Antarctic geophysicist. LeSchack had to learn to jump out of planes, and both men had to train on the retrieval system.

But as the men trained, the target drift station was shifting further from their launch point at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. Luckily, something even better came along.

Station NP 8 was a more modernized station, but its runway rapidly degraded and the Soviets abandoned it. America found out in March 1962 and shifted the planned operation to target NP 8.

But the operation was short on time. NP 8 wasn’t expected to last long. It was drifting quickly and would soon be crushed in the ice. And the training and the surveillance of NP 9 and then NP 8 had used up the funds allotted for the operation. So the military went shopping for partners, and the CIA was happy to help. They had their own questions about Soviet drift stations.

So an aviation company and CIA front, Intermountain Aviation, got a polar navigator and prepared to drop the men.

The insertion took place on May 28, and the two investigators got to work. They searched through piles of documents, technological equipment, and other artifacts to piece together what was happening at the drift station.

They discovered that, yes, the Soviets were tracking American subs. Worse, they were developing techniques to hunt them under the ice.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

The Fulton Skyhook being used by the men of Operation Coldfeet in 1962.

(CIA)

Smith and LeSchack made a prioritized set of documents and items they needed to get out, and they carefully packed it into bags. Over six days and five nights, they cataloged, documented, and packed. Then they attached them to balloons, filled the balloons with helium, and sent them into the sky where the plane snagged them up.

Once they were sure the bags were safe, they sent their own balloons up and got pulled out by the plane.

The Soviets wouldn’t know for years that their secret was out.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This teenage soldier survived 6 months in a Nazi POW camp

At just 18 years old, Hjalmar Johansson was given a choice: either serve in the infantry or work as a nose gunner in a B-24 bomber. Johansson decided he would be best in the air and was quickly assigned to a ten-man aerial crew headed off to fight in World War II. His first flight in a war zone was over Italy, during which his aircraft was to bomb enemy petroleum plants. His squadron started taking heavy anti-aircraft fire, which punctured a hole in his bomber’s wing.

Then, out of nowhere, German fighter planes flew into position. headed straight toward the American bombers. Johansson, sitting in his front gunner’s position, squeezed his machine gun’s trigger, sending hot lead at his sworn enemy.

Just as Johansson was making a dent in the German forces, one of his weapon systems jammed. Soon after, his second gun went down. He was left without defenses.

Nobody could’ve prepared for for what happened next…


Also Read: Watch rare footage of a Kamikaze attack caught on film

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel in Germany welcome their liberators, 1945.

With his plane’s wing on fire, Johansson thought to himself, “I’m not going home in this plane.”

The captain gave the order to bail out. Johansson quickly put on his parachute, leaped out of an open door, and careened head-first toward the ground.

He deployed his chute, hit the dirt, and located his tail gunner — just as small arms fire rang out in their direction. He could hear Germans shouting nearby. Johansson was captured, transported to an interrogation center, and then locked in solitary confinement.

He was officially a POW.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Hjalmar Johansson personal dog tags.

 

While confined, Johansson vowed to not give the Germans any information besides name, rank, and serial number. Soon after, Johansson and other POWs were loaded on a train and transferred to a permanent prison camp. The brave nose gunner estimated he and the others were on that transport train for roughly one-week.

For the next several months, Johansson ate nothing but weed soup and his body was riddled with lice.

“We didn’t live through it, we existed through it,” Johansson recalls.

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For months, Johansson and the rest of the POWs endured brutal beatings and freezing temperatures. Then, one morning, after all hope seemed lost, the brave POW noticed the prison’s guards had disappeared. The Americans looked out to find that Russian Army had broken through.

Russian forces tore down the barbed wire that held the men captive for so long and opened the prison’s front gates. Johansson tasted freedom for the first time in six months. He was finally sent back home to New York City, where he would spend his life working hard and retelling his incredible story.

Hjalmar Johansson passed away on June 30, 2018, at the age of 92.

Check out the History Channel’s video below to hear this incredible story from the legend himself.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s proof you can teach an old ship new tricks

When World War II began, the US had yet to develop an official strategy for amphibious operations. Early in the war, we learned that lesson the hard way. This led to the development of doctrine for amphibious warfare. Ultimately, the strategy contributed to plenty of future successes, but the going was rough to start. The USS Texas played a significant role in that process. 

A lot of great technology emerged between World War I and World War II. So WWII was all about finding new ways to use old things. After all, our war-time factories could only produce so much. So early on, everyone started looking for ways to refresh our existing equipment. The USS Texas was a prime example. It was central in developing a strategy to use ships as fire support platforms for amphibious landings.

The USS Texas launched in 1912 and was out to sea for most of WWI. It was a New-York class battleship that was commissioned in 1914. Almost immediately after her commission, the USS Texas saw action in Mexican waters. During WWI, the vessel made numerous sorties into the North Sea. Then WWII popped off and everything, as they say, is history.

When things don’t go as planned… 

In 1942, Texas was a member of the fleet sent to North Africa as part of Operation Torch. Operation Torch involved a direct attack on North African beaches because of the Axis powers embedded there. The fleet coordinated three landings in the Vichy French territories of Morocco and Algeria to secure Tunisia. The USS Texas was the flagship of Task Group 34.8 assigned to attack Port Lyautey in French Morocco, which was home to a large French arsenal and an air base. 

Operation Torch was supposed to be a surprise attack. But that’s not what happened. America didn’t have an amphibious warfare strategy so there was no fire support before landing. The USS Texas was ready to provide fire support but that command was never issued. The battleship saw the most action a couple of days later when the Army gained ground on land.

Later, the USS Texas would participate in the Normandy landings before transferring to the Pacific Theater. There, she provided naval gunfire support during the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. But before that could happen, the US had to figure out amphibious landing ops.

Operation Torch provided lessons on accuracy, Naval fire effectiveness, and fire saturation, and they were taken seriously and used to develop the US doctrine on amphibious warfare. The success of the mission also meant that the Army and Navy working together could provide a successful amphibious landing. 

You can teach an old ship new tricks after all

Taking those lessons from Operation Torch and putting them quickly into play for future amphibious landings, like in Sicily in 1943 and in Normandy in 1944, gave the Allied Forces the upper hand. Without the new amphibious war strategies, who knows what the war would have looked like. The USS Texas played a central role in all that, serving as an essential fire support platform for many amphibious landings throughout the war. In fact, without it, World War II could have turned out a lot differently.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the WWI ‘Harlem Hell Fighters’

It’s African-American History Month and a fitting time to recall the black soldiers of the New York National Guard’s 15th Infantry Regiment, who never got a parade when they left for World War I in 1917.

There were New York City parades for the Guardsmen of the 27th Division and the 42nd Division and the draftee soldiers of the 77th Division.


But when the commander of the 15th Infantry asked to march with the 42nd — nicknamed the Rainbow Division — he was reportedly told that “black is not a color of the rainbow” as part of the no.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Children wait to cheer the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment as they parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home. More than 2,000 Soldiers took part in the parade up Fifth Avenue. The Soldiers marched seven miles from downtown Manhattan to Harlem.

(National Archives)

But on Feb. 17, 1919, when those 2,900 soldiers came home as the “Harlem Hell Fighters” of the 369th Infantry Regiment, New York City residents, both white and black, packed the streets as they paraded up Fifth Avenue.

“Fifth Avenue Cheers Negro Veterans,” said the headline in the New York Times.

“Men of 369th back from fields of valor acclaimed by thousands. Fine show of discipline. Harlem mad with joy over the return of its own. ‘Black Death hailed as conquering hero'” headlines announced, descending the newspaper column, in the style of the day.

“Hayward leads heroic 369th in triumphal march,” the New York Sun wrote.

“Throngs pay tribute to the Heroic 15th,” proclaimed the New York Tribune.

“Theirs is the finest of records,” the New York Tribune wrote in its coverage of the parade. “The entire regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Under fire for 191 days they never lost a prisoner or a foot of ground.”

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

For that day, the soldiers the French had nicknamed “Men of Bronze” were finally heroes in their hometown.

In the early 20th Century, black Americans could not join the New York National Guard. While there were African-American regiments in the Army there were none in the New York National Guard.

In 1916, New York Gov. Charles S. Whitman authorized the creation of the 15th New York Infantry to be manned by African-Americans — with white officers — and headquartered in Harlem where 50,000 of the 60,000 black residents of Manhattan lived in 1910.

When the New York National Guard went to war in 1917, so did the 15th New York. But when the unit showed up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to train, the soldiers met discrimination at every turn.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

New York City residents cram the sidewalks, roofs, and fire escape to see the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

To get his men out of South Carolina, Col. William Hayward, the commander, pushed for his unit to go to France as soon as possible. So in December 1917, well before most American soldiers, the men from Harlem arrived in France.

At first they served unloading supply ships.

But the French Army needed soldiers and the U.S. Army was ambivalent about black troops. So the 15th New York, now renamed the 369th Infantry, was sent to fight under French command, solving a problem for both armies.

In March 1918, the 369th was in combat. And while the American commander, Gen. John J. Pershing, restricted press reports on soldiers and units under his command, the French Army did not.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

When Pvt. Henry Johnson and Pvt. Needham Roberts won the French Croix de Guerre for fighting off a German patrol it was big news in the United States. A country hungry for war news and American heroes discovered the 369th.

The 369th was in combat for 191 days; never losing a position, never losing a man as a prisoner, and only failing once to gain an objective. Their unit band, led by famed bandleader James Europe, became famous across France for playing jazz music.

When the 369th arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Feb. 10, 1919, the New York City Mayor’s Committee of Welcome to the Homecoming Troops began planning the party.

On Monday, Feb. 17, the soldiers traveled by ferry from Long Island and landed at East 34th Street.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Sgt. Henry Johnson waves to well-wishers during the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

They marched up Fifth Avenue and passed a reviewing stand that included Gov. Al Smith and Mayor John Hylan at Sixtieth Street. The official parade route would cover more than seven miles from 23rd Street to 145th Street and Lennox Avenue in Harlem.

“The negro soldiers were astonished at the hundreds of thousands who turned out to see them and New Yorkers, in their turn, were mightily impressed by the magnificent appearance of these fighting men,” the New York times reported.

“Swinging up the avenue, keeping a step spring with the swagger of men proud of themselves and their organization, their rows of bayonets glancing in the sun, dull-painted steel basins on their heads, they made a spectacle that might justify pity for the Germans and explain why the boches gave them the title of the “Blutdurstig schwartze manner” or “Bloodthirsty Black men,” the Times reporter wrote.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Wounded Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment are driven up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

Lt. James Reese Europe marched with his band, the New York Tribune noted, while Sgt. Henry Johnson, who had killed four Germans and chased away 24 others, rode in a car because he had a “silver plate in his foot as a relic of that memorable occasion.”

“He stood up in the car and clutched a great bouquet of lilies an admirer had handed him,” the Tribune wrote about Johnson. “Waving this offering in one hand and his overseas hat in the other, the ebony hero’s way up Fifth Avenue was a veritable triumph.”

“Shouts of ‘Oh you Henry Johnson’ and ‘Oh you Black Death,’ resounded every few feet for seven long miles followed by condolences for the Kaiser’s men,” the New York Times reported.

Along the route of the march soldiers were tossed candy and cigarettes and flowers, the newspapers noted. Millionaire Henry Frick stood on the steps of his Fifth Avenue mansion and waved an American flag and cheered as the men marched past.

When the 369th turned off Fifth Avenue onto Lennox Avenue for the march into Harlem the welcome grew even louder, the New York Sun reported.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

“There were roars of welcome that made all the music of the day shrink into itself,” the Sun reporter wrote. And although the 369th Band had 100 musicians nobody could hear the music above the crowd noise, the reporter added.

People crammed themselves onto the sidewalk and into the windows of the buildings along the route to see their soldiers come home.

“Thousands and thousands of rattlesnakes, the emblem of the 369th, each snake coiled, ready to strike, appeared everywhere, in buttonholes, in shop windows and on banners carried by the crowd,” the New York Times reported.

“By the time the men reached 135th Street they were decorated with flowers like brides, husky black doughboys plunking along with bouquets under their arms and grins on their faces that one could see to read by,” the Sun reported.

At 145th Street the parade came to its end and families went looking for their soldiers.

“The fathers and mothers and wives and sweethearts of the men would no longer be denied and they swooped through police lines like water through a sieve,” the Sun wrote.

“The soldiers were too well trained to break ranks but when a mother spied her son and threw her arms around his neck with joy at getting him back again, he just hugged her off her feet,” the paper wrote.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

The color guard of the 369th Infantry Regiment parades up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

With the parade over, the men were guided into subway cars and headed to the Park Avenue Amory, home of the 71st Regiment, for a chicken dinner and more socializing. The regimental band, which had begun playing at 6 a.m. and performed all day, finally got a break during the dinner and the men lay down to rest.

The New York Times noted that the band boasted five kettle drums presented to the unit by the French Army “as a mark of esteem.” They also had a drum captured from a German unit that had been “driven back so rapidly that they lost interest in bulky impedimentia.”

The New York Times estimated that 10,000 people waited outside the armory and “all the spaces about the Armory were packed with negro women and girls.” The soldiers inside ate quickly and came back out to find their families.

“I saw the allied parade in Paris and thought that was about the biggest thing that had ever happened, but this had it stopped,” Lt. James Reese Europe, the band’s commander, told the New York Sun reporter as the party ran down.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

The National Archives and Records Administration recently marked the 45th anniversary of a devastating fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri, that destroyed approximately 16–18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) documenting the service history of former military personnel discharged from 1912 to 1964.

Shortly after midnight on July 12, 1973, a fire was reported at the NPRC’s military personnel records building in St. Louis, Missouri. The fire burned out of control for 22 hours and it took two days before firefighters were able to re-enter the building. Due to the extensive damage, investigators were never able to determine the source of the fire.


The National Archives focused its immediate attention on salvaging as much as possible and quickly resuming operations at the facility. Even before the final flames were out, staff at the NPRC had begun work toward these efforts as vital records were removed from the burning building for safekeeping.

“In terms of loss to the cultural heritage of our nation, the 1973 NPRC fire was an unparalleled disaster,” Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said. “In the aftermath of the blaze, recovery and reconstruction efforts took place at an unprecedented level. Thanks to such recovery efforts and the use of alternate sources to reconstruct files, today’s NPRC is able to continue its primary mission of serving our country’s military and civil servants.”

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

A fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 12, 1973, destroyed approximately 16–18 million Official Military Personnel Files.

(National Archives photo)

Removal and salvage of water- and fire-damaged records from the building was the most important priority, according to NPRC Director Scott Levins. Standing water—combined with the high temperatures and humidity—created a situation ripe for mold growth. This work led to the recovery of approximately 6.5 million burned and water-damaged records, Levins said.

The estimated loss of Army personnel records for those discharged from November 1, 1912, to January 1, 1950, was about 80 percent. In addition, approximately 75 percent of Air Force personnel records for those discharged from September 25, 1947, through January 1, 1964 (with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.) were also destroyed in the catastrophe.

However, in the years following the fire, the NPRC collected numerous series of records (referred to as Auxiliary Records) that are used to reconstruct basic service information.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

(National Archives photo)

Bryan McGraw, access coordinator at the NPRC, emphasized the gravity of the loss of the actual primary source records. “Unfortunately, the loss of 16–18 million individual records has had a significant impact on the lives of not only those veterans, but also on their families and dependents,” McGraw said. “We can usually prove eligibility for benefits and get the vet or next of kin their entitlements; however, we cannot recreate the individual file to what it was—we don’t know what was specifically in each file, and each of these was as different as each of us as individuals. So from a purely historic or genealogical perspective, that material was lost forever.”

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Recovery efforts at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, salvage documents after a fire on July 12, 1973, destroyed approximately 16–18 million Official Military Personnel Files.

(National Archives photo)

In the days following the fire, recovery teams faced the issue of how to salvage fire-damaged records as well as how to dry the millions of water-soaked records. Initially, NPRC staffers shipped these water-damaged records in plastic milk crates to a temporary facility at the civilian records center where hastily constructed drying racks had been assembled from spare shelving. When it was discovered that McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis had vacuum-drying facilities, the NPRC diverted its water-damaged records there for treatment using a vacuum-dry process in a chamber large enough to accommodate approximately 2,000 plastic milk cartons of water- and fire-damaged records.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Preservation staff must restore and preserve documents nearly destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center staff in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 12, 1973 .

(National Archives photo)


“This is a somber anniversary,” Levins said. “In terms of the number of records lost and lives impacted, you could not find a greater records disaster. Although it’s now been 45 years since the fire, we still expend the equivalent of more than 40 full-time personnel each year who work exclusively on responding to requests involving records lost in the fire.”

Much has been written about the fire and its aftermath. A white paper, The National Personnel Records Center Fire: A Study in Disaster, provides an extensive account. It was originally published in October of 1974 in The American Archivist, Vol. 37, No. 4. In addition, Prologue magazine published “Burnt in Memory: Looking back, looking forward at the 1973 St. Louis Fire.”

Each year, the NPRC connects more than a million veterans with their OMPFs as part of the National Archives’ services to the nation.

This article originally appeared on National Archives. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the punishment for breaking a cryptology oath during WWII

Throughout the second World War, the United states relied heavily on cryptology — a form of communication where language was hidden or written in code so that it could not be identified by the enemy. Meanwhile, the enemy tried their hardest to determine a pattern to the code through difficult math equations or algorithms

The U.S. wasn’t alone — other countries did the same, while their code was attempted to be broken. In fact, there was an entire field of professionals dedicated to intercepting messages and cracking them: cryptologists. Their efforts were widely successful, too, having regularly cracked the German Enigma machine messages. 

However, this important job came with important responsibilities: it was not to be talked about under any circumstances. The punishment for doing so? Death in wartime. Talking in unapproved channels about their work would be an act against the nation.

After all, talking about military secrets was considered treason. And cryptologists worked on some of the most classified projects of the war. 

In full form, the Constitution lists treason as being punishable by: “Death, or not less than 5 years’ imprisonment (minimum fine of $10,000, if not sentenced to death). Any person convicted of treason against the United States will lose the right to hold public office in the United States.” 

Cryptologists were recruited for the war

In the early 1940s, the Army and Navy began recruiting women to become cryptologists. They searched for females who had college degrees and had studied in areas of a foreign language, math and science. Looking mainly in the Midwest and South, this meant many teachers were recruited heavily and worked for the military in codebreaking. Both branches trained new recruits in the art of cryptology but required certain education levels of their new workers. 

With a mindset that women should help war efforts in any capacity, they flocked to the branches in order to lend their services. Thousands were brought in, joining and working as civilians alike.

But here’s the kicker: on their first day, they signed an oath of secrecy. Before their training even began, new cryptologists had to sign their loyalty to their country. Or, if they proved to be untrustworthy, they were reassigned to a new job. Only the most loyal were assigned to the cryptology unit. 

The most secretive units were those working at Arlington Hall and the Naval Communications Annex. Military forces downplayed the importance of the cracked messages and how they fit into the war effort. In most cases, workers never learned the true value of what they were doing. 

Cryptologists receive recognition

Because of these oaths, it wasn’t until decades after the war that these women began talking about their experience in the military, including the impending death threat, should they have talked. Some 70-some years later, they have given interviews and told about their contribution to WWII. Their first-person stories and interviews are available in the 2017 book, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, book by Liza Mundy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: One of the last living Marines from Iwo Jima shares his story with WATM

Frank Clark was 15 years old when Pearl Harbor was brazenly attacked by the Japanese on December 7th, 1941. On that fateful Sunday morning in Hawaii, 2,403 people lost their lives and 1178 more were wounded. The next day, the United States entered World War II.


Clark’s two older brothers, Charles and Pat immediately enlisted into the Air Corps. “Our patriotism among the young men was unbelievable. They just flooded the enlistment,” he shared. Since he was too young to join, he had to wait. On December 23rd, 1943, his mother signed the paperwork that would allow him to become a United States Marine.

He was just 17 years old.

Clark had a twinkle in his blue eyes and a sly grin when he shared that he chose to serve as a Marine because of their beautiful uniforms. He had no way of knowing what was waiting for him.

Clark turned 18 two weeks before he graduated from Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego, CA and was chosen to become a radio operator. When he finished his training, he joined the 4th Marine division in Hawaii. On February 17th, 1945 – he and those he described as “on his level” were told of the plan to invade Iwo Jima in two days time.

The 4th Marine division was told that the invasion would give the United States a staging facility to eventually attack Japan, since Iwo Jima was just 750 miles from its coast. Iwo Jima boasted two air strips that would be needed for a successful attack on Japan. Clark also shared that the officers told them that the recent air and naval bombardments over thirty days had taken out 95% of the Japanese’s fighting force on Iwo Jima. Officers assured the Marines that they’d be off the island in five days and back in Hawaii.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Clark shook his head and said, “What they told us was wrong and we paid dearly for it.”

As a radio operator, he was on a small communications ship off the shore of Iwo Jima as the Army and Marine divisions hit the island all at once. Clark watched in horror as the men who stepped off the landing ship were killed without warning.

Unbeknownst to those officers who planned the attack on Iwo Jima, the Japanese had created underground tunnels. It was there that they hid, safely waiting out the month long bombings from the United States. As those soldiers and Marines stepped onto the beaches of Iwo Jima, on February 19th, 1945, a camouflaged mountainside artillery awaited them.

It would take all day under intense fire, but eventually the Marines and soldiers were able to take the first part of that coveted airfield. The price for that piece of land was heavy. Hundreds of bodies laid on the volcanic ash sand beach bearing witness to the cost of that day.

On the third day of the battle of Iwo Jima, Clark got off the boat and made his way on the island – with an extra forty pounds of radio equipment on his back. He and the other Marines he was with struggled through the tough sand to make their way to safer positions.

At one point, he and three other radio operators were in a hole about five feet deep with all of their equipment communicating with their leaders. Clark vividly remembers what happened next. He bent over to get something and within a second, the Marine behind him was shot in the forehead, dying instantly. That bullet was meant for Clark, but bending over saved his life.

It wouldn’t be the last time Clark narrowly evaded death.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

He remembers the feeling of that volcanic ash sand on his body. He stopped to take a quick break to catch some sleep, burying himself in the sand and covering his head with his poncho. “When I started getting up and pushing myself to get out, I felt a hand there. As it turned out, I had taken my little nap laying in the lap of a dead Japanese soldier. It wasn’t a good feeling, but there was nothing you could do about it,” Clark said.

Clark shared another memory of his time on Iwo Jima. He recalled seeing six rows – each the length of a football field – of bodies covered in white lime. He was unsure if they were American or Japanese bodies, but seeing that gave him an eerie feeling. Clark said you won’t find pictures or videos of that, as he was sure the government told the media not to show it. That image of those bodies has stayed fresh in his mind.

The Marines and soldiers continued their advancement onto Iwo Jima, slowly taking the island. On day six of the bloody battle, that now infamous picture was taken of the Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The image would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize and become an iconic image of the war.

It would take almost another month before they captured the island completely. When they left that island, Clark didn’t look back.

The Marines in his division never made their way to Japan – they didn’t have the fighting power like they originally planned for. The Battle of Iwo Jima took the lives of 6,800 brave men and US troops suffered 26,000 casualties. After the Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the Japanese quickly surrendered.

After leaving Iwo Jima, Clark was informed that his two brothers, Charles and Pat, had both been killed in action.

Clark left the Marines after the war ended and went on to live a quiet civilian life. He was married for 68 years and 8 months to his beautiful wife Nadine, before she passed away in 2017. After her death, he moved into the Missouri Veterans Home.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Frank took a break from his interview to ask WATM writer Jessica Manfre for a dance.

These days, Clark enjoys spending time on his computer and visiting with the ladies that work at the Veterans home.

When asked what advice he would give incoming service members as we approach twenty years at war he laughingly joked, “Do what you can to get into officer’s training – live the better life.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

What really happens at Fort Ord?

Army posts aren’t typically known for their beauty, but an exception can be made with Fort Ord. Between the rocky cliffs, the fantastic ocean views, and the excellent weather, this Army post was, well, actually pretty decent.

Located about 100 miles south of San Francisco, California on the Monterey Bay, millions of Soldiers have trained here over the years. No, we’re not exaggerating. Literally millions of Soldiers passed through Fort Ord. That’s because it used to be one of the Army’s principal training centers. As many as 50,000 soldiers trained at Fort Ord in just one year when it was at its peak.

Fort Ord Beginnings

In 1940, Fort Ord was first constructed and designated as a fort. Before that, the military used the land as a field artillery target range and maneuver area. The 7th Infantry Division was first activated at Fort Ord in 1917, during World War I, and it remained there for the majority of its history.

The 7th Infantry Division is particularly special because is it the only active-duty multi-component division headquarters in the entire US Army. It is most famous for its placement at Ford Ord in the Pacific theater of World War II to fight off US enemies. These days, 7th ID calls JBLM home. Not a far stretch from Fort Ord, but they’re definitely not getting California sunshine in Washington state.

A Booming Monterey Bay Thanks to Fort Ord

After the Vietnam War, training missions at Ford Ord were redesigned with technology in mind. Both education and physical training occurred here. Throughout the years, Soldiers all lived in town, spending a lot of their hard-earned money supporting many of the neighboring communities. You could say business was always booming thanks to the Soldiers. Often, it was the first taste of Army life as well as the last stop before deployment for many soldiers.

Fort Ord closed in 1994 after the Base Realignment and Closure Act passed in 1988. At the size of San Francisco, 28,000 acres, it is the largest army base to ever have closed in the US. Unsurprisingly, the nearby cities took an economic beating as a result.

What to Do with All That Land?

The neighboring communities received divided portions of the land, with proposals to use it for artist colonies, amusement parks, golf courses, you name it. No one could agree on how to use the ex-Fort Ord land, which caused more than a few scuttles. In the end, the State of California had to step in and make the final decision.

Their verdict was to use Fort Ord for education, the environment, and economic vitality. California State University – Monterey Bay was established on Fort Ord grounds. As of 2009, the majority of the land became Fort Ord Dunes State Park and National Monument. That was an easy choice because ot its wildlife variety and lush natural beauty. Both the educational and environmental uses of the land also helped the economy.

While thousands of acres of toxic buildings and empty lots still remain on Fort Ord land, the decisions about what to do with them and the rest of the land lie in the hands of the community. Hopefully, they will keep the best interest of the land and its rich history in mind.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An Army vet’s murder was a milestone event of the Civil Rights Movement

Jimmie Lee Jackson was a 26-year-old Army veteran, civil rights activist, and deacon at his Marion, Alabama, church. In February, 1965, Jackson took part in a peaceful nighttime demonstration to protest for his right to vote. As the congregation left the church to march to the local jail just a half block away, a wall of local policer officers and state troopers was waiting for them. As soon as they arrived, someone turned off the streetlights.

In the aftermath of the melee that followed, Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot in the stomach by a state trooper. He died eight days later. His death was the catalyst for Martin Luther King to lead the march from Selma to Montgomery, and set in motion a chain of events, one that includes the infamous “Bloody Sunday” incident on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, that would change American culture forever.


By 1964, Jackson had become an ordained deacon of the St. James Baptist Church of Marion. At this point in his life, he had already joined the Army and saw service in Vietnam. After a short stint in Indiana, he returned to his hometown of Marion where he watched as his 80-year-old grandfather was turned away while trying to register to vote. He eventually joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to help fight for his civil rights.

Three years later, he died in that fight.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

On the night of Feb. 18, 1965, there were 500 or so people filing out of Marion’s Zion United Methodist Church to make their way to the local jail where a civil rights activist was being held by local police. The SCLC was a nonviolent group, and the demonstrators planned to sing freedom songs as they marched to the jailhouse. They never made it that far. The wall of police officers — state, county, and local — began to tear into the crowd as soon as the lights went out.

They weren’t alone. Angry onlookers joined the crowd, attacking anyone in their path, including other onlookers, journalists, and even patrons of a nearby cafe. It was Mack’s Café just off the city square where state troopers started tearing the place apart, hitting customers and marchers. Lee’s grandfather, Cager, was clubbed, as was his mother, Viola. When Jimmie tried to help his mother to her feet, he was shot in the stomach by Alabama State Trooper James Fowler.

Lee languished in the hospital for eight days, eventually succumbing to his wound. Fowler was not initially charged with any crime, nor was he questioned about Lee. What happened next changed the country forever.

The SCLC decided they would march from Selma, Ala. to the capital at Montgomery to protest the death of Lee and the inequality of life in Alabama, to display their desire to vote, and to demonstrate the need for a Voting Rights Act to pass in Congress. In three attempts over 18 days, protestors attempted to march the 54-mile walk from Selma to Montgomery. The first attempt became infamous after it was attacked by police after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

One of the organizers became famous for a photo of her beaten body lying wounded on the bridge.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

The second and third marches were joined by other activist groups and sympathizers from all over the United States who were horrified by the violence inflicted by the state troopers. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King, the second group of marchers turned around before fully crossing the bridge, so as not to violate a court order. The 2,500 people assembled said a prayer before turning back.

The third time, the procession was led by Dr. King with the First Amendment blessing of a federal judge. President Lyndon Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard and ordered the soldiers to protect the marchers. They did and the procession made it all the way to the a camp site outside of Montgomery, adding more and more marchers along the way.

By the time they reached the state capitol building, the march was 25,000 strong. By August, 1965, President Johnson was signing the Voting Rights Act into law. Fowler, the trooper who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, was finally convicted of manslaughter for the shooting in 2011.

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