MIGHTY MOVIES

10 questions with Hollywood icon and Army veteran, Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall has had a remarkable career. With iconic roles in The Godfather I and II, Lonesome Dove, The Apostle, Tender Mercies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Apocalypse Now, Days of Thunder, and many more, Duvall is best known for his roles on screen and as an accomplished filmmaker. Perhaps lesser known is that he served in the Army for two years during the 1950s and comes from a military family where his father was a Rear Admiral.

WATM had the opportunity to speak with Duvall to hear about his fascinating life, from growing up as an Admiral’s son to working with some of the greatest minds in entertainment of all time.


WATM: What was your family like and your life like growing up?

We moved a lot because of being in a military family. We lived in San Diego and then Annapolis, MD, at the Naval Academy. I remember seeing a movie when I was really young at Camp Pendleton for a dime back in the 1930s when we lived in Mission Hills in San Diego. Right before WWII started, my dad was transferred from Pacific Fleet to the Atlantic Fleet, which led to our move to Annapolis for eight straight years. My father’s first ship was in the Atlantic. My grandmother lived with us for a while as well back then. As a young boy, I watched athletic events at the Academy and became inundated with their sports as a kid. I remember watching Army and Navy games when Army players such as Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis were on the field.

My father was a good line officer and had a solid war record where he retired as a Rear Admiral. His first command was in San Pedro which was the USS Clark, which was a minesweeper. He was with destroyers from Europe to North Africa where his last command was USS Juno, which was a light cruiser. My father served on the USS Indianapolis (famous for delivering parts for Little Boy and then being sunk by the Japanese losing a large percentage of the crew to sharks) and carried President Roosevelt’s bags for him while he was on the ship. My father kept quiet about his service in retirement and didn’t go out on ships once retired..

We prayed and did our bit at home while he was abroad fighting in the war. One funny thing was how my father stopped smoking during the war, so we sent him chewing gum instead. My father worked with the British Navy and enjoyed serving with them. He told us how the British Navy would toast the Queen but not the President of the U.S. After they would have dinner and wine, the British would have wrestling matches where it was best two out of three falls. My dad respected the British and Churchill. Thank God for Churchill as he was likely the greatest man in the 20th century.

The USS Indianapolis- U.S. Navy photo 80-G-425615

As a young teen, me and my siblings went out to our uncle Harold Prescott’s 40,000-acre cattle and sheep ranch in Montana for two summers in a row. This happened at the end of WWII. These memories and experiences at the ranch I’ll never forget; they embedded in me a certain culture. We would go there by train on the Empire Builder of the Great Northern. It would take us from Chicago where we took the Baltimore Ohio the first way and my aunt would pick us up when the Empire Builder would stop in the open fields.

We rode horses, cleaned out the chicken coop, went camping in the mountains and fly fishing with my uncle. I met Jimmy Morrison, a great veterinarian and immigrant from Scotland, while at the ranch and learned a lot about handling animals from him. He was just good to be around where we pitched horseshoes every night with him. Jimmy roped a baby coyote from his horse once and he raced full speed on his quarter horse and touched a galloping antelope on the neck.

They would have big dances there in Montana where if you asked the wrong woman to dance the whole place would turn into a gigantic fist fight, thereby ending the dance. My uncle even gave us a salary at the end of the summer for the work we did around the ranch. He told us, “With your father off fighting the war the least I can do is pay you boys something for your work around here.” My uncle Harold fought in WWI in the Battle of Belleau Wood as a Marine.

Empire Builder of the Great Northern. Credit: Great Northern Railway Historical Society.

I went into a small college, Principia College where my military family pushed me into acting. I changed my major to drama after my first A in an acting course and found myself.

WATM: What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?

My mother ran the home while my father was away. My father could be gone for eight months and we respected him for his service. He was a good man and taught us work ethic by example. My mother ran a cotillion for dancing as we grew up where we learned social graces and how to interact with people, especially women. She made for us a good and stable home life with great experiences.

The US Naval Academy in the 1940s. Credit:HipPostcard.com

WATM: What values were stressed at home?

We were taught to believe in God, do good for other people and to be patriotic. We were taught to keep positive thoughts even in hard times.

Norman Rockwell’s “Saying Grace” painting. Credit Norman Rockwell.

WATM: What influenced you to join the U.S. Army and what lessons did you take away from your service?

I was drafted and went in for two years where the Army was okay. I did a lot of imitations of people I met in the Army which was shared with my family and friends. One experience really stuck with me was with a fellow soldier nicknamed 3-D, who was like six feet six inches tall and could hardly see. We were marching one night and he disappeared as he had fallen into a fox hole. It struck me as strange that Mickey Mantle was 4F, but that 3-D was considered service worthy. How is a star center fielder for the Yankees not able to serve but this guy is?

I really brought away humor and the ability to tell stories from the Army and served my time. It served me later for playing military roles and allowed me to have a respect for the part. I have a respect for the military, so I played those parts with credence and professionalism.

President George W. Bush stands with recipients of the 2005 National Medal of Arts, from left: Leonard Garment, Louis Auchincloss, Paquito D’Rivera, James DePreist, Tina Ramirez, Robert Duvall, and Ollie Johnston. Credit: White House photo by Eric Draper – whitehouse.gov

WATM: What are the best lessons that Sanford Meisner taught you?

I trained with Sanford on the GI Bill where he taught me how to be as simple as possible in connecting with people. He showed us how to be basic and get to the core of communication. He taught me a legitimate and helpful shortcut in acting. Meisner once said he was easier to please than Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Meisner was friends with Horton Foote, who gave me my first film in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Horton had seen me in a play that Meisner had directed at the Neighborhood Playhouse and liked what they saw, so from that I got Boo Radley. It was a wonderful part to start off with and Horton really helped me a lot in my career.

A photo of a young Robert. Credit unknown.

WATM: What was it like transitioning from stage actor to Film/TV actor?

I started out in the theatre and did summer stock. The main difference is you just speak up a little more on stage than you do in film and TV. You are still believing in an imaginary set of circumstances and going into an imaginary world. It is you doing it yourself where you are appearing as you are becoming something else as we have only one set of emotions and psyche. One of my favorite stage parts ever, American Buffalo, I did on Broadway, which is the Mamet play, it was the best. You do eight shows a week which can wear you down. I would nap between shows and just get up and stumble on stage from that deep nap. Rest is very important.

And Robert Duvall in the “Miniature” episode of the “Twilight Zone.” Credit IMDB.com

WATM: What are some of your best memories from your early to mid-career working on great shows and films?

There were parts I was able to grow in and was able to get better as I got older. There are always some parts you do better than other parts for whatever reasons. Eastwood was good to work with and I liked working with John Wayne as well. The Duke was just neat to be around. He did some good work and stuck up for me on the set of “True Grit.” I was having struggles working with the director of the film where Duke chimed in to balance the odds.

Ulu Grosbard was a close friend and gave me a lot of help early in my career. He directed me in Broadway and Off-Broadway plays. If I needed something from him, he would help me right away. He was a great guy.

Brando was the great one to work with and was so innovative. A memorable story is where I met a great English stage actor that went to see a Streetcar Named Desire when Brando was in it on Broadway. The English actor got embarrassed because he thought a stagehand had wandered on stage by mistake. The “stagehand” was so natural, but it turned out that it was just Brando on stage. The English actor went to see it seven times. Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and I would meet at Cromwell’s drug store two or three times a week for an hour. We mentioned Brando nearly every day in those conversations. Working with Brando was amazing; he turned the world upside down when he came around.

Jimmy Caan is super funny and an extremely quick wit. James has a lot of talent and is a wonderful actor where we stay in touch with each other. De Niro was wonderful and I did summer stock with Gene Hackman. One note on Gene, when I busted my pelvis on set a long time ago, he offered me his last 0. I didn’t take it but he is a great guy to be around. Gene Hackman was a Marine and played on the USMC Football team with Joe Bartos, a Naval Academy grad and professional football player for the Redskins. Gene also served in Korea and stood duty in the cold there. He used to tell me stories about his time in Korea. Dustin Hoffman was my roommate and was a character where he belongs in the business. I kept in touch with Wilford Brimley as well when he was a bodyguard for Howard Hughes and a Marine.

Robert in his first feature film “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Credit IMDB.com

Francis Ford Coppola, Robert, and Marlon Brando on set for “The Godfather.” Credit IMDB.com

Robert with George Lucas and Donald Pleasance working on “THX 1138.” Credit IMDB.com

Robert and Tommy Lee Jones in “Lonesome Dove.” Credit IMDB.com

Robert Duvall with Clint Eastwood while filming Joe Kidd. Credit IMDB.com

WATM: What was your experience like working on the military films “Apocalypse Now” and “The Great Santini?”

When I went in to read for “Apocalypse Now,” the initial writing for the character I played wasn’t written very well. Colonel Carnage was the original name for LtCol Kilgore and was made more of a caricature of the Army than a realistic portrayal. It was just too much for me. Coppola allowed me to adjust the LtCol for the film and to find the uniform and the hat for the character. Coppola always allowed me to find the character and was very instrumental in my career. He helped me a lot. Coppola and I were so close, we would have arguments on the phone about artistic points, but we had a mutual respect. I really like working for him.

When I did “The Great Santini,” I went down early to location to get settled in Beaufort, South Carolina. I found a place to live and went into a real estate office where they thought I was a Marine. One funny memory was when I went up to a beautiful house on the hill when looking for a place to rent. I went up to the door with the real estate people where this sweet, little southern lady opened it and I asked her if she would allow me to rent the home from her. She had the most honest and funniest response with her draw, “Well where would I go?” I thanked her for her time, and we left.

I would get up at 5:30 in the mornings and go hang out with the drill instructors at MCRD Parris Island. They seemed more beat up and tired than the recruits were. They were hoarse and exhausted from their work training them. I went to the officers and non-commissioned officers’ ball while on base where I had a great time with them. I always try to be as accurate as I can with military parts, especially in “The Great Santini.” Overall, working with the Marines was great! I love Marines!

As LtCol Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now.” Credit IMDB.com

Robert Duvall with Francis Ford Coppola on set of “Apocalypse Now.” Credit unknown.

Robert Duvall in The Great Santini. Credit IMDB.com.

WATM: What are your favorite moments from your mid-career to now on such films?

“Tender Mercies” comes to mind where I insisted on Wilford being in the film with me where he had my back in dealing with the director. Wilford helped with the common distance between a foreign director and a native actor, which was taking place in my situation. One of the best memories from that set is when the director, Bruce Beresford, told us to, “pick up the pace,” on set. Wilford responded with, “I didn’t know anybody dropped it.” . Wilford’s retort drew laughter from the cast and crew.

I once walked into the dining room on “Lonesome Dove” and told them, “We were making the Godfather of Westerns.” I really believe that and playing Gus is probably my most favorite part to play overall.

“Days of Thunder” was a lot of fun working with Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise is a good guy to work with and he bought me a ,000 jumping horse. He really is a terrific and very giving guy. It was great to be with him again on “Jack Reacher.” I played a retired Marine in that film with him.

Working on “Falling Down” with Rachel Ticotin was wonderful. She is a smart and fun actress to work with. We had a great time on set for the film.

“The Apostle” was a wonderful film to make. Miranda Richardson was so talented in the film and we had Farrah Fawcett, who was underrated, in it as well. I put my own money in that film and we got it back. Marlon Brando loved it and so did Billy Graham, so I got praise on both sides from the secular and religious. Brando wrote me a letter that is framed on my wall and it still means a lot to me what he wrote.

Hank Whitman is another talented professional to work with where we worked together on “Wild Horses” in 2015. He is a Texas Ranger and served in the Marines. He is a classy guy and a man of his word.

My favorite film to work on recently was “Get Low,” just loved the character. It was just a nice production to work on, especially with Lucas Black who I worked with on “Sling Blade.”

Robert with Tess Harper in “Tender Mercies,” which he won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1984. Credit IMDB.com.

Susan Rinnell, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Jason Presson, Gail Youngs and Wilford Brimley in “The Stone Boy.” Credit IMDB.com.

Robert working on “The Natural.” Credit IMDB.com.

Robert with Tom Cruise while filming “Days of Thunder.” Credit IMDB.com.

Robert and Gene Hackman in Geronimo: An American Legend. Credit IMDB.com.

Rachel Ticotin and Robert Duvall in “Falling Down.” Credit IMDB.com.

Robert wrote, directed, produced and starred in “The Apostle.” Credit IMDB.com.

Robert with Nic Cage filming “Gone in 60 Seconds.” Credit IMDB.com.

On set in “Get Low” with Bill Murray. Credit IMDB.com.

WATM: What are you most proud of in your life and career?

I am proud of my wife Luciana and we have a nice relationship. She is a great cook, she is going for her brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is studying Kali which is Filipino knife training. She has a great family she comes from in Argentina where she is the granddaughter of Argentinian aviation pioneer Susana Ferrari Billinghurst. We love our dogs and they are like kids.

Picture of Robert with his wife Luciana at an event for “The Judge.” Credit IMDB.com.


MIGHTY CULTURE

Rudy Reyes’ new mission might be his coolest yet — which is saying something

If anyone can save the planet, it’s Rudy Reyes, a specops veteran who is changing the definition of what it means to be a warrior.

Reyes served with the Marine Corps 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in both Iraq and Afghanistan before engaging in a counter-terror contract for the Department of Defense, training African wildlife preserver rangers in anti-poaching missions, and writing the book Hero Living, which chronicles his warrior philosophy and teaches others how to follow it.

Now, as the co-founder of FORCE BLUE, Reyes and his team unite the community of Special Operations veterans with the world of marine conservation for the betterment of both.

And they’ve just completed a very critical mission: the study of juvenile green sea turtles in the Florida Keys.

It might not seem like a big deal — but it is.

According to the trailer for their new documentary Resilience, “The sea turtle tells us the health of the ocean and the ocean tells us the health of the planet.”

Check out the rest of the trailer right here:


[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B1JZ1jNgtPu/ expand=1]FORCE BLUE on Instagram: “PLEASE REMEMBER to join us tomorrow night (Thursday) at 8:00 p.m. EST on Facebook for the world premiere of our short film RESILIENCE. And…”

www.instagram.com

Watch the trailer:

On Aug. 15, at 8:00pm EDT, FORCE BLUE will premiere Resilience, the story of their recent mission. During the study period in June, FORCE BLUE veterans helped collect samples from 26 green turtles in the lower Florida Keys in order to improve green turtle conservation and recovery efforts.

“These sea turtles are the oldest living creatures on the planet, yet —through no fault of their own — they’re locked in a battle just to survive. We owe them our support. The same can be said, I think, for our FORCE BLUE veterans and the warrior community they represent,” said Jim Ritterhoff, Executive Director and Co-Founder of FORCE BLUE.

Also read: You don’t know the real Rudy Reyes

That’s the genius of FORCE BLUE, a non-profit that seeks to address two seemingly unrelated problems — the rapid declining health of our planet’s marine resources and the difficultly combat veterans have in adjusting to civilian life. Consisting of a community of veterans, volunteers, and marine scientists, the organization offers veterans the power to restore lives — and the planet.

“We were all in the hunter warrior mindset yet we were hunting to protect and to study and to treat,” said Reyes. It’s not exactly what one might expect from a community known for watering the grass with “blood blood blood.”

“It almost feels like the turtles know they are going through a crisis too, just like us. And now we have a chance to do something for them. That means everything,” shares Reyes.

Reyes is a man who has emerged from the battlefield with the desire to improve the world. The first time I met him, I said I’d heard a rumor that he could kill me with his little finger. He immediately and passionately corrected me: “I could SAVE you with my little finger!”

That told me everything I needed to know about him — because both statements are true, but what Reyes chooses to do with his power is what makes him a leader within the military community and a force for good in this world.

Check out Resilience on Facebook, premiering Aug. 15 at 8:00pm EDT and be sure to follow FORCE BLUE’s efforts and deployments on social media.

Anyone who wants to get involved can spread the word, check out cool gear straight from the FORCE BLUE Special Operations dive locker, or sponsor veteran training recruitment.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch Army paratroopers jump from a perfectly good Chinook

Helicopters have long been valuable to the military for a bevy of reasons — perhaps most importantly because they expand where you can put troops down. For these versatile aircraft, landing zones can be just about any clearing that a helicopter can fit.

Sometimes, however, the best option may not be to land the helicopter at all. Why? For one thing, when a helicopter is touching down to drop off troops, it’s vulnerable. As it hovers in place, it is, for all intents and purposes, a sitting duck. So, when it’s time to put boots on the ground, a bird is sometimes better off delivering paratroopers.


The CH-47 Chinook is a very good fit for that mission. Boeing notes that this helicopter has a mission radius of 200 nautical miles, far enough to get some Rangers or Green Berets well behind enemy lines. A single helicopter can hold up to 55 troops (or 12 tons of cargo). And, to top it all off, its rear ramp is similar to those on the C-130 and C-17, both planes used by paratroopers

U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade, along with British, French, Spanish and Italian Paratroopers, board a 12th Combat Aviation Brigade CH-47 Chinook helicopter for an airborne operation at Juliet Drop Zone in Pordenone, Aviano, Italy.

(U.S Army photo by Graigg Faggionato)

One reason this is so valuable is that America has a lot of Chinooks. Between CH-47D/F and MH-47G helicopters, the United States Army has 483 Chinooks on hand with another 40 on order, making for a grand total of 523 airframes. By comparison, the United States Air Force has a total of 204 C-130H and 115 C-130J airframes on hand, with another 62 C-130Js on order. These accompany 60 MC-130H/Js on hand with another 43 on order. That’s a total of 484 C-130s.

For those unfamiliar with the whole “math” thing, 523 is greater than 484.

From a C-130? No, these paratroopers came from a Chinook.

(U.S Army photo by Graigg Faggionato)

But how does one make a successful jump from a Chinook? Well, it’s actually not much different than jumping from a fixed-wing plane. Normal paratroopers will hook up a static line that will automatically open their parachutes. Free-fall parachutists can just run out the back ramp (again, just as you would from a fixed-wing plane).

Watch the video to below to see troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade carry out some practice jumps from a Chinook!

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Military wants ‘vision enhancement’ for combat troops

The Pentagon wants a new style of sophisticated protective eyewear that features adjustable vision enhancement so Marines and soldiers can identify and sight in on targets more quickly than ever before.

The goal of Vision Enhancement for the Dismounted Soldier is to “enhance natural eyesight to aid in visual detection, identification, and acquisition of targets, friendlies, and other items of interest that would otherwise be obscured or difficult to see in military relevant environments with the unaided eye,” according to a Sept. 24, 2018 solicitation posted on the government website for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which is designed to encourage small businesses to engage in federal research and development.


The research effort is looking to defense firms to present designs that “take into consideration the pupil location of the individual wearer, as needed, to optimize performance and compatibility with weapon technologies,” the solicitation states.

“Hands-free activation (such as voice command) is also of interest, but not necessary for the purposes of this effort. In the event of power loss, imaging shall revert to an unaided mode for unobstructed vision,” the document states. “Ultimately, the objective of the effort is to increase lethality and survivability through enhanced vision, and faster target detection and identification times, of persons and items of interest in military environments, without limiting capabilities naturally afforded by unaided vision.”

Currently, soldiers and Marines rely on a combination of natural vision and optical aids such as scopes, binoculars, image intensifiers and thermal imagers to enhance combat vision.

Soldiers observe the impact zone during a howitzer live-fire exercise at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany, Jan. 17, 2018.

(Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)

“Donning and doffing of individual visual aids takes time and are impractical in situations when seconds count,” according to the solicitation.

The effort, however, is not intended to duplicate or replace current weapons’ optics and other sensors, it states.

The program is searching for concepts that:

  • Reduce time needed to detect targets or friendly forces as compared to performance when relying on unaided vision.
  • Ensure natural vision is not degraded in the event of power failure.
  • Ensure performance is reasonably stable in different operating environments, such as temperatures, lighting conditions and humidity levels.
  • Minimize distracting or confusing images that may decrease situational awareness, such as unwanted reflections, glare, ghost images, erratic flickering and image distortion.

Companies wishing to participate have until Oct. 24, 2018, to submit proposals, the solicitation states.

The document does not provide a timeline, contract awards or fielding goals except to say that phase one deliverables shall include monthly reports and conceptual drawings and designs.

Phase two deliverables include schematics and 12 working prototypes of spectacles or goggles.

“End item cost shall be considered early on,” the solicitation states. “Target cost is 0 or less (with an ultimate goal of 0 or less once in production).”

The target weight of the entire system — including batteries — is less than 3 ounces if a “spectacle platform is chosen” and less than 6 ounces if a “goggle platform is chosen,” the solicitation states.

“The ability to enhance vision and increase lethality shall be validated through testing,” according to the solicitation.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Military Life

4 of the worst things about being stationed at Camp Pendleton

In 1942, the government purchased some land in beautiful Southern California from a private owner for $4,239,062. The property was soon named in honor of Maj. Gen. Joseph H. Pendleton for his outstanding service. Thus, Camp Pendleton was born.

Several years later, Camp Pendleton became the home of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, countless brave service members, and their families.


Maj. Gen. Joseph H. Pendleton

Known for its beautiful beaches and sprawling landscape, there are a few drawbacks to getting stationed on the historic grounds…

It’s harsh, but true.

It’s a huge military town outside the gates

Marines and their families typically live just outside the gates and you’ll see them while out on liberty — they’re everywhere. So, good luck dating someone who isn’t attached to the military somehow. You’ll have to drive an hour or so before you leave the true confines of the camp.

The camp encompasses more than 125,000 acres and houses thousands of Marines inside. Now, step outside the camp’s gates, and it still feels like you’ve never left.

If you get stationed in Camp Pendleton and think you’ll somehow be an individual — you won’t.

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Oh, we know that.

Seeing paradise nearby is torture

Occasionally, when you’re out in the field training, you’ll see a beautiful beach and a bunch of civilians out there enjoying themselves. You’ll wish it was you.

But no, you’re stuck mining a post pretending to be deployed in Afghanistan for the next 72 hours.

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You’re all alone.

The infantry is in the middle of nowhere

If you’re stationed in the Division aspect of the camp and you need to head over to main side to the large PX, you’re going to have to get in a car and drive at least 20 to 25 minutes.

Now, if you don’t have a car, then your options are limited. Good luck getting someone to take you all the way over there — it’s mission.

Marines hike supplies up a hill during a training exercise.

Hiking those freaking hills, man

The hills of Camp Pendleton are famous throughout the Corps. 1st. Sgt’s. Hill in San Mateo (62 Area) is one of the most notorious natural obstacles over which Marines will climb to either visit the Sangin Memorial or to get that daily PT.

Compared to flat landscape of Camp Lejeune, the hills of Camp Pendleton can be a huge pain in the ass.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This unique French destroyer takes down ships and aircraft

While France, at times, has been the butt of many jokes when it comes to military prowess, we must not forget one historical fact: The French Navy arguably won the battle that secured American independence by defeating the Royal Navy’s effort to relieve General Cornwallis at Yorktown. The Battle of the Virginia Capes, at the time, was a rare setback for the Royal Navy – it was like the Harlem Globetrotters losing a game.


It’s a reminder that the French Navy is no joke, even if it has left a lot of the heavy lifting in the World Wars to the Royal Navy. In fact, France has one of the more modern air-defense destroyer classes in the world. They didn’t design this vessel on their own, however.

The French destroyer Chevalier Paul operating with the United States Navy. (US Navy photo)

In 1992, the French Navy, the Royal Navy, and the Italian Navy began development of what they called the Common New Generation Frigate. The goal was to come up with a common design that would help cut costs for the three countries. The British planned to buy 12 vessels, France four, and the Italians four. However, increasing expenses and disagreements lead to the British dropping and instead building six Type 45 destroyers.

France and Italy ended up building a grand total of four ships, two for each country. The French vessels were named Horizon-class frigates and the Italian vessels were labeled Orizzonte class frigates.

The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG 69), and the French Navy destroyer FS Forbin (D620) are conducting operations in the Arabian Sea supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and maritime security. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rafael Figueroa Medina)

The Sixteenth Edition of the Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World notes that the French Horizon-class vessels are armed with eight MM.40 Exocet anti-ship missiles, a 48-cell Sylver A50 vertical-launch system, two 76mm guns, and two 20mm guns. They can also carry a NH-90 helicopter for anti-submarine warfare or to mount additional Excoet anti-ship missiles.

Learn more about this destroyer in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbDb9VncOGk
MIGHTY HISTORY

World War II secret code breaker finds life’s purpose in a drawer

It was 1945, and the world was at war. Charles Hessemer was just 17 years old when he took a drive to Detroit, Michigan with a friend to enlist in the United States Navy. Hessemer’s older brother had already joined and was in Europe fighting. Hessemer gave a wry grin when he admitted that there may have been some fibbing in regard to his age. But he felt called to go. Hessemer had watched so many men that he knew die during that war. He wanted his chance to fight for his country — and those who lost their lives.


Hessemer could never have imagined that joining the Navy would change the course of his entire life. “You are born to do a particular thing and you will do it whether you want to, I firmly believe this. We are guided in what we do,” he shared.

Hessemer dreamed of getting stationed on an aircraft carrier. Everyone he went to boot camp with was being sent to San Diego, which meant action. He had visions of being on a dive bomber and sailing the high seas. As he watched his friends leaving, he was told to go down to the personnel office. Upon arrival, he was told that he had passed a second, more abstract test that all recruits were given. The test didn’t have any wrong answers, but his responses were deeply creative due to his way of thinking. It was those answers that would earmark him for “special” duty, something only five other graduating recruits were chosen for.

But the officer couldn’t tell him what it would be.

Hessemer decided to take it, feeling the pull towards something unique. Although he thought he would ship out soon after accepting the special assignment, he would end up waiting another five weeks. He found out later it was due to his last name – of German descent – which caused in-depth investigations.

For many years, Adolf Hitler’s number two man was Rudolf Hess. Hess would go on to edit Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, and become deputy leader of the Nazi party. Due to the closeness of Hessemer’s last name, the Navy wasn’t taking any chances.

The investigations would span all the way back to his time in grade school, but would finally come back with an approval. The six men selected for the special assignment were then put on a train and took a three day trip to Washington, D.C., still unaware of what they would be doing.

Hessemer and the others arrived in D.C. and reported to the temporary building the Navy was using as the brand-new Navy Department was being built. He shared the story of continually running into a heavily braided admiral in the hallways of that building. The second time Hessemer almost knocked him over, he remembers the admiral saying: “Young man, you and I seem to be having a problem.”

That man was Fleet Admiral Charles W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. From the moment he assumed command after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he brought the fight to the enemy and would eventually sign the Instrument of Surrender from Japan. As Hessemer walked away from him, his head was spinning.

Eventually the new building was ready. Hessemer remembers how heavily secured it was, as he had to show his identification three times before he made it into the office where he was assigned to work. The six men were brought to a room and told to pick a desk. He remembers looking around and seeing one by the window, so he chose that one. As he searched the drawers, he found the book that would change his life, “How to Draw the Figure.” Hessemer finally found out what his special assignment was at that desk. He was a secret code breaker.

Hessemer spent three years as a part of the communications annex, breaking codes, and he was sworn to secrecy for life. During this time, he read that book he found front to back and enrolled in art night classes. “That book was just waiting for me. I know it,” said Hessemer.

He began to win awards for his paintings. Hessemer eventually left D.C. after two years to work onboard the famous aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Randolph, anchored in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He left the Navy in 1948 with an honorable discharge and was accepted into the American Academy of Art in Chicago in 1950. Although passionate about painting, he felt like something was missing. By accident, he tried painting figures with a palette knife – something no one at the time was doing. From the moment he began, he knew he found what he was meant to do for the rest of his life. His favorite thing to say is that, “An artist’s life is a climb up an endless stairway which he must never stop climbing.”

Hessemer would go on to work as an art director for several successful art ad agencies while painting at night and on the weekends. He spent 10 years truly perfecting his palette knife work before he knew in his heart it was beyond good. It was breathtaking.

“Everything has its reason, it just comes to you and you say that’s it – and you do it,” he said. He believes every mistake you make is only a serious mistake if it makes you quit. When Hessemer was asked what he would tell today’s veterans as they leave the service, he implored them to find their passionate purpose and give it everything they have.

These days, Hessemer is retired from ad agency work and spends his days and nights painting alongside his furry rescue dog, Charlie. Hessemer is 92 years old and still living his purpose, every day.

Visit his website to see his incredible palette knife paintings.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The fascinating beginning of the term ‘grunt’

Major H.G. Duncan of the United States Marine Corps once defined a grunt as, “a term of affection used to denote that filthy, sweaty, dirt-encrusted, footsore, camouflage-painted, tired, sleepy, beautiful little son of a b*tch who has kept the wolf away from the door for over two hundred years.”


While this is true, we often think of the term as being synonymous with infantryman — you know, the guy who kicks in the doors and blows things up — but the fact of the matter is that terms like this and ‘POG’ have relatively unknown origins. If you were to ask a service member about these terms, the response is typically a definition, not a history lesson.

This is a grunt. He’s tired of your whining. (image via Reddit)

Related: The fascinating beginning of the term ‘POG’

Some say the term started in Vietnam when POGs needed their own term to describe the dirty, smelly infantrymen who made fun of the troops who sat in air-conditioned buildings all day instead of getting stuck in the jungle. Legend has it that the first POG to use the term was making a reference to the same term as used in the early 1900s to describe those who performed the less desirable jobs, which were typically physically demanding but not mentally stimulating. In this story, the first grunt to hear the term was unfamiliar with its history and instead took it as a compliment.

Let’s be real, grunts do the things you’d rather lie about doing when you go home.

But, much like the term ‘POG,’ ‘grunt’ can also be thought of as an acronym. This origin story takes us back to the second World War when infantry united sustained extremely high casualty rates, forcing troops from rear-echelon units (often referred to as rear-echelon motherf*ckers or REMF) forward they were quickly trained, often in-theatre, to be foot soldiers. These troops were categorized as “General Replacement Unit, Not Trained,” or GRUNT.

Some of these REMFs hadn’t even shot an M1 rifle before. (Image via Pinterest)

Also read: 6 ways for a POG to be accepted by grunts

Whichever piece of history you find to be more believable, the fact remains that infantry soldiers and Marines really do a lot of grunt work. These days, you might find infantrymen who have spent just as much time with a mop or broom than with their own rifles. Being just as accustomed to the smell of Pine-Sol as spent brass.

No matter the case, infantrymen tend to see their nickname as a compliment — unlike those uptight POGs.

Mighty Moments

This guardsman saved a little girl’s life during a mall shooting

Pfc. Rashad Billingsly was shopping Black Friday at the Riverchase Galleria mall in Hoover, Alabama, when he heard two distinct gunshots over the sound of the crowd.

A few seconds passed, then he heard two or three more.

“At that point, everybody was running and screaming,” Billingsly said. “It was chaotic. And that’s when I crossed [the injured girl’s] path. They were screaming ‘[she’s] hurt, [she’s] hurt,’ so I stopped and told them I could help.”


Hero Medic who helped 12-year-old in shooting speaks out

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The 12-year-old girl, running with her sister and grandmother, had been shot in the back, though she hadn’t realized it at the time and only remarked that it “hurt.” Billingsley, however, recognized right away.

“I cleaned off as much of the blood as I could with what I had,” he said, “then a police officer came up and I asked him to grab me a shirt off a rack nearby and I used it to apply pressure and try to slow her bleeding.”

Billingsley said he kept her calm and stable, holding pressure on the wound until paramedics arrived to transport her to the emergency room. He also accompanied her sister and grandmother to the ambulance to shield their view from bodies on the floor nearby.

Billingsley’s parents and unit leadership at the 2025th Transportation Company in Jacksonville, said they were not surprised to hear how he responded in the moment.

“We’re very proud of him,” his mother, Amanda Billingsley, said, “but not surprised. That’s just the type of young man that he is, and we’re thanking God he was at the right place at the right time to help.”

Capt. Jody Harkins, commander of the 2025th Transportation Company, echoed the sentiment.

“When I got the call that he was the one involved in this incident, I was immediately proud to know him and share a unit with him,” he said. “Even from my first impressions of Pfc. Billingsley, he’s just been that kind of guy, but I think that would also be the reaction of most Alabama Guardsmen in that moment.

“That’s what we’re trained for, and that’s what these guys live to do. They’re always volunteering for any missions, they love their country, love their community, love to do their part and they love to serve the people around them. Pfc. Billingsley did a heroic and outstanding thing and, while I certainly can’t take any credit for it, I’m proud to be his commander.”

Billingsley, however, never used the word “proud,” saying, instead, that he is simply “grateful.”
“I’m just glad I could help her out,” he said, “glad God put me there in that moment, and glad I had the training I needed, so I could potentially help save this girl’s life.”

When he enlisted in the Alabama Army National Guard in March 2017 as an 88M Motor Transport Operator, Billingsly said he had dreams of following in his father’s footsteps as a truck driver. He planned to one day parlay his military training and certifications into a commercial driver’s license and profitable career, but said he never anticipated needing it to save a life near home.

Ultimately, he said, it was his military training that made the difference. He admitted he is not a medic or even Combat Life Saver-certified, but feels the Soldier-level combat casualty care training drilled into him since his first unit of assignment had “fully prepared” him to act quickly and appropriately.

“It was just natural,” he said. “It all clicked in the moment. I didn’t panic, I knew what to do, and I just acted.”

Billingsley said he is trying to stay humble in the midst of media attention and tries not to bring it up, but he is quick to encourage others to get the same training.

“A lot of people my age say, ‘oh, I’m gonna try to do this or that, but I’ll keep the military as a plan B,’ but I always tell them, ‘no, the military really can be plan A,'” said the 18-year-old.

“You get the best training on so many things; it really opens up a lot of opportunities to do good for yourself and maybe someone else, too.”

Billingsley said he has been in constant communication with the young girl he helped, as well as her family, and is happy to see her recovering and he looks forward to life returning to normal for himself and for her.

Harkins said Billingsley is expected to be promoted to the rank of specialist in January 2019, and he wouldn’t be surprised to see Billingsley receive official military recognition for his actions.

Articles

This is why Cheyenne Mountain is one of the most secure bases in the US

According to legend, Colorado’s Cheyenne Mountain is a sleeping dragon that many years ago saved the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. In the Native American story, the Great Spirit punished the people by sending a massive flood, but after they repented, it sent a dragon to drink the water away. The dragon, engorged by the massive amount of water, fell asleep, was petrified and then became the mountain.


Unlike the dragon of legend, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex has never slept during 50 years of operations. Since being declared fully operational in April 1966, the installation has played a vital role in the Department of Defense during both peacetime and wartime.

The Cheyenne Mountain Complex is a military installation and nuclear bunker located in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. The mountain itself is about 9,500 feet tall, and the tunnel entrance sits about 2,000 feet from the top. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

Though the complex may have changed names during the past five decades, its mission has never strayed from defending the U.S. and its allies. Today, it is known as Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, with a primary role of collecting information from satellites and ground-based sensors throughout the world and disseminating the data to North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Strategic Command — a process Steven Rose, Cheyenne Mountain AFS deputy director, compares to the work done by the stem of the human brain.

“Those sensors are your nerves out there sensing that information,” Rose said, “but the nerves all come back to one spot in the human body, together in the brain stem, entangled in a coherent piece. We are the brain stem that’s pulling it all together, correlating it, making sense of it, and passing it up to the brain — whether it’s the commander at NORAD, NORTHCOM or STRATCOM — for someone to make a decision on what that means. That is the most critical part of the nervous system and the most vulnerable. Cheyenne Mountain provides that shield around that single place where all of that correlation and data comes into.”

Cheyenne Mountain Complex is a military installation and nuclear bunker located at the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

In the 1950s, the DOD decided to build the installation as a command and control center defense against long-range Soviet bombers. As the “brain stem,” it would be one of the first installations on the enemy’s target list, so it was built to withstand a direct nuclear attack.

Cheyenne Mountain’s 15 buildings rest on more than 1,300 springs, 18 inches from the mountain’s rock walls, so they could move independently in the event of a nuclear blast and the inherent seismic event. In addition, an EMP, being a natural component of a nuclear blast, was already considered in Cheyenne Mountain’s original design and construction features, Rose said.

The Cheyenne Mountain Complex is a military installation and nuclear bunker located at the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Its entrance is equipped with two 23-ton blast doors and the mountain has a facility with 15 buildings that rest on more than 1,300 springs, 18 inches from the mountain’s rock walls so they could move independently in the event of a nuclear blast or earthquake. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

“Back then, it was just part of the effect of a nuclear blast that we were designed for at Cheyenne Mountain,” he added. “If you fast forward 50 years from our construction, the EMP threat has become more important to today’s society because of the investment that has been made into electronics. Just by sheer coincidence, since we were designed in the 50s and 60s for a nuclear blast and its EMP component, we are sitting here today as the number one rated EMP protected facility. The uniqueness of the mountain is that the entire installation is surrounded by granite, which is a natural EMP shield.”

The station, built 7,000 feet above sea level, opened as the NORAD Combat Operations Center. When NORAD and the newly stood up NORTHCOM moved their main command center to Peterson Air Force Base in 2008, many believed Cheyenne Mountain had closed. Today, Cheyenne Mountain hosts an alternate command center for NORAD and is landlord to more than a dozen DOD agencies, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“When I bring official visitors up here, not only are they surprised that we’re still open,” said Colonel Gary Cornn, Cheyenne Mountain AFS Installation Commander. “Many are impressed by the original construction, the blasting of the tunnels, how the buildings are constructed inside, and some of the things we show them, such as the survivability and capability we have in the blast valves, the springs, the way we do our air in the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) filtering and the huge blast doors. It’s funny to see senior officers and civilians become sort of amazed like little kids again.”

The two 23-ton blast doors at the entrance inside the Cheyenne Mountain Complex are made of steel and can take up to 20 seconds to close with the assistance of hydraulics. If the hydraulics were to fail, the military guards stationed in the tunnel can close the doors in 40 seconds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

The threats and sources have drastically changed from when the station opened at the height of the Cold War, but the station’s iconic 25-ton steel doors remain the same, ready to seal the mountain in 40 seconds to protect it from any threat. The underground city beneath 2,000 feet of granite still provides the protection to keep the station relevant as it begins its next half-century as “America’s Fortress.”

Longtime Cheyenne Mountain employees like Rose and Russell Mullins, the 721st Communications Squadron deputy director, call themselves “mountain men.” Mullins’ time in the mountain goes back to the Cold War era, about halfway through its history to 1984.

Although the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal was the main focus, today’s Airmen conduct essentially the same mission: detect and track incoming threats to the United States; however, the points of origin for those threats have multiplied and are not as clearly defined.

Senior Airman Ricardo Collie, a 721st Security Forces member, patrols the north gate of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex at Cheyenne Air Force Station, Colorado. Collie is one of many security layers to enter more than a mile inside a Colorado mountain to a complex of steel buildings that sit in caves. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

“The tension in here wasn’t high from what might happen,” Mullins said. “The tension was high to be sure you could always detect (a missile launch). We didn’t dwell on the fact that the Soviet Union was the big enemy. We dwelled on the fact that we could detect anything they could throw at us.

“There was a little bit of stress back then, but that hasn’t changed. I would say the stress now is just as great as during the Cold War, but the stress today is the great unknown.”

The 9/11 attacks added another mission to NORAD and the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate – the monitoring of the U.S. and Canadian interior air space. They stand ready to assist the Federal Aviation Administration and Navigation Canada to respond to threats from the air within the continental U.S. and Canada.

Airplane icons blot out most of the national map on the NORAD/NORTHCOM Battle Cab Traffic Situation Display in the alternate command center. To the right another screen shows the Washington, D.C., area, called the Special Flight Restrictions Area, which was also added after 9/11.

Tech. Sgts. Alex Gaviria and Sarah Haydon, both senior system controllers, answer phone calls inside the 721st Communications Squadron Systems Center in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. The systems center monitors around the world for support and missile warning. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

Whenever a crisis would affect NORAD’s vulnerability or ability to operate, the commander would move his command center and advisors to the Battle Cab, said Lt. Col. Tim Schwamb, the Cheyenne Mountain AFS branch chief for NORAD/NORTHCOM.

“I would say that on any given day, the operations center would be a center of controlled chaos; where many different things may be happening at once,” Schwamb said. “We’re all trying to ensure that we’re taking care of whatever threat may be presenting itself in as short an amount of time as possible.

“I would describe it as the nerve center of our homeland defense operations. This is where the best minds in NORAD and U.S. Northern Command are, so that we can see, predict, and counter any threats that would happen to the homeland and North American region. It’s really a room full of systems that we monitor throughout the day, 24-hours a day, seven-days a week, that give us the information to help us accomplish the mission.”

Protecting America’s Fortress is a responsibility that falls to a group of firefighters and security forces members, but fighting fires and guarding such a valuable asset in a mountain presents challenges quite different from any other Air Force base, said Matthew Backeberg, a 721st Civil Engineer Squadron supervisor firefighter. Firefighters train on high-angle rescues because of the mountain’s unique environment, but even the most common fire can be especially challenging.

Kenny Geates and Eric Skinner, both firefighters with Cheyenne Mountain’s Fire and Emergency Services Flight, put out a simulated fire in an area underneath the facility during an exercise. With no room to drive throughout the facility to reach the fires, firefighters have to run to them. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

“Cheyenne Mountain is unique in that we have super challenges as far as ventilation, smoke and occupancy,” Backeberg said. “In a normal building, you pull the fire alarm, and the people are able to leave. Inside the mountain, if you pull the fire alarm, the people are depending on me to tell them a safer route to get out.

“If a fire happens inside (the mountain), we pretty much have to take care of it,” Backeberg added. “We’re dependent on our counterparts in the CE world to help us ventilate the facility, keep the fire going in the direction we want it to go, and allow the occupants of the building to get to a safe location – outside the half mile long tunnel.”

Although Cheyenne Mountain, the site of movies and television series such as “WarGames,” “Interstellar,” “Stargate SG-1” and “Terminator,” attracts occasional trespassers and protesters, security forces members more often chase away photographers, said Senior Airman Ricardo Pierre Collie, a 721st Security Forces Squadron member.

“The biggest part of security forces’ day is spent responding to alarms and getting accustomed to not seeing the sun on a 12-hour shift when working inside the mountain,” Collie said.

Steven Rose (left), the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station deputy director, and the safety chief paddle a boat toward the back of one of Cheyenne Mountain Complex’s underground reservoirs to place a floating device. The underground reservoirs carved from solid rock provide drinking and cooling water, while a lake of diesel fuel sits ready for the six locomotive-sized diesel generators capable of powering a small city. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

Security forces must also be ready to respond at a moment’s notice because, when charged with protecting an installation like Cheyenne Mountain AFS, the reaction time is even more crucial. Airmen like Collie feel their responsibly to protect America’s Fortress remains as vital today as it was during the Cold War.

“The important day at Cheyenne Mountain wasn’t the day we opened in 1966,” Rose said. “The next important date isn’t in April 2016 (the installation’s 50-year anniversary), it’s about all those days in between. The Airmen who come here to Cheyenne Mountain every day will be watching your skies and shores in (the nation’s) defense.”

As Cheyenne Mountain AFS enters its next 50 years, the dragon remains awake and alert to all threats against the U.S.

AirmanMagazineOnline, YouTube
MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch the actual footage of George Bush’s WWII sea rescue

During World War II, George H.W. Bush served in the U.S. Navy. A pilot assigned to a torpedo squadron in the Pacific Theater, Bush flew the TBM Avenger, a torpedo bomber capable of taking off from aircraft carriers that would famously see combat during the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.

Bush enlisted in the Navy’s flight training program fresh out of high school, becoming one of the Navy’s youngest aviators. He first saw action in May 1944 and would go on to fly 58 combat missions. Then, on Sept. 2, 1944, he was hit by anti-aircraft fire during an attack run on the Japanese-occupied island of Chichi Jima.

“Suddenly there was a jolt,” Bush wrote later, “as if a massive fist had crunched into the belly of the plane. Smoke poured into the cockpit, and I could see flames rippling across the crease of the wing, edging toward the fuel tanks.”

His two crewmembers were killed in the attack, leaving the young pilot to complete his bombing run against a radio facility and bail out alone over the Pacific into jellyfish-infested waters. During the egress, he struck his head, which bled profusely as he swam to a life raft and hoped for rescue.

He was one of the lucky ones. Many aviators struck down during that battle where captured and executed and, according to Bradley James’ bestselling novel Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, their livers even eaten by their captors.

After four hours, the USS Finback, a lifeguard submarine, found him. Now you can watch the video from the moment when the Finback’s crew pulled from the water the man who would go on to become the Director of Central Intelligence and the 41st president of the United States, serving from 1989 to 1993. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions during the mission.

President George H.W. Bush died on Nov. 30, 2018, at the age of 94 years old.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

US withdraws from Cold War nuclear arms pact with Russia

The US is officially withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia due to alleged violations of the 1987 pact by Moscow, the Trump administration said Feb. 1, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the withdrawal after a series of tense conversations with the Russians failed to save the agreement, which dates from the closing years of the Cold War.


“Countries must be held accountable when they break the rules,” Pompeo said at the Department of State. “Russia has jeopardized the United States’ security interests. We can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

(Photo by Mark Taylor)

In a statement, the White House said that Russia has, for too long, “violated the [INF Treaty] with impunity, covertly developing and fielding a prohibited missile system that poses a direct threat to our allies and troops abroad.”

The weapon at the heart of the dispute is the Novator 9M729, which NATO refers to as SSC-8. The US argues that the missile, which US intelligence believes has been deployed to hold most of Europe at risk, violates the range restrictions of the INF Treaty.

“These new missiles are hard to detect, they are mobile, they are nuclear capable,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said recently. “They can reach European cities and they reduce the warning time.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

In a statement on the decision to withdraw, NATO allies said they “fully support” the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw.

“The United States has fully adhered to the INF Treaty for more than 30 years, but we will not remain constrained by its terms while Russia misrepresents its actions,” the White House said in its statement, “We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other.”

In the same statement, President Donald Trump said the US will “move forward with developing our own military response” to alleged violations of the pact by Russia. Moscow has insisted it will take steps to counter whatever Washington pursues, signaling the start of a new arms race.

While the administration remains focused on Russia rhetorically, the move is believed to be a response to China’s growing arsenal of intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

One example is the DF-26, which China claims could be used to sink a US aircraft carrier or strike US bases in the Pacific.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A World War I legionnaire wrote this ‘Rendezvous with Death’

In 1916, an American poet, Harvard graduate, and soldier of the French Foreign Legion was killed while attacking in the first wave at Belloy-en-Santerre, part of the opening of the Battle of the Somme. Alan Seeger had written a prophetic poem that would be published a year later titled, I Have a Rendezvous with Death.


Alan Seeger as a young Harvard student. A few years after this photo, he would join the French Foreign Legion.

The young Seeger graduated from Harvard in 1910 where he studied with poetry legends like T.S. Eliot. He spent two years living the Bohemian life in New York City’s Greenwich Village, crashing on couches and living off friends’ generosity. But New York didn’t live up to his expectations and, in 1912, he departed for Paris.

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The City of Lights filled him with admiration despite the large amount of misery that came with living in crowded and filthy quarters in the city. When war broke out between Germany and France, Seeger joined the French Foreign Legion to protect his beloved city.

The young Seeger was a fatalist and romantic, and he wrote a number of poems that glamorized the idea of dying in war, especially for his adopted country.

Alan Seeger as a legionnaire.

After training, Seeger was sent with others to the front where, in June 1916, the French were tasked with assisting the British attack a few days into the Battle of the Somme.

Seeger took a spot in the first wave of his unit’s attack and wrote a letter to a friend where he wrote of his gratitude for the assignment.

“We go up to the attack tomorrow. This will probably be the biggest thing yet. We are to have the honor of marching in the first wave. I will write you soon if I get through all right. If not, my only earthly care is for my poems. I am glad to be going in first wave. If you are in this thing at all it is best to be in to the limit. And this is the supreme experience.”

Soldiers waiting for H-Hour during in operation in the Battle of the Somme.

But time passed without the men being ordered forward. On July 4, they were told that general offensive was about to begin, but they would only be in reserve.

Then, a few hours later, a voice called out. “The company will fall in to go to the first line.”

Seeger fell in with the troops front and center. A friend on the left wing later described what he saw.

The Battle of the Somme and its overall campaign cost over 1.5 million lives.

Two battalions were to attack Belloy-en-Santerre, our company being the reserve of battalion. The companies forming the first wave were deployed on the plain. Bayonets glittered in the air above the corn, already quite tall.
The first section (Alan’s section) formed the right and vanguard of the company and mine formed the left wing. After the first bound forward, we lay flat on the ground, and I saw the first section advancing beyond us and making toward the extreme right of the village of Belloy-en-Santerre. I caught sight of Seeger and called to him, making a sign with my hand.
He answered with a smile. How pale he was! His tall silhouette stood out on the green of the cornfield. He was the tallest man in his section. His head erect, and pride in his eye, I saw him running forward, with bayonet fixed. Soon, he disappeared and that was the last time I saw my friend. . . .”

Seeger was killed that afternoon, cut down during the battle that is the bloodiest in British military history, and a costly one for every other nation that took part.

Seeger’s poem, published after his death, was panned as being outdated, but went on to become a favorite with many veterans, including John F. Kennedy, who would ask his wife to recite it for him often.

I Have a Rendezvous With Death

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.