MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam's Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY STORIES

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Mighty Stories is a WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Art Jetter, Vietnam Veteran.

“I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. I was the oldest of six boys, no girls, in middle class America. My dad was a great man and my mom was a wonderful mother.

My dad was a B-17 pilot in World War II. He flew 35 missions out of England. He volunteered to fly in the Pacific, but thankfully the war ended as he finished his training. My mom’s two brothers were also pilots. My grandfather joined the Signal Corp in the Army and was also in pilot training during World War I. My dad didn’t really talk about the war.

He was the youngest of 9 kids. I read some letters he sent back to his family during World War II. Whatever the Army paid him, he sent home. Here’s a guy who did all his country ever asked him, and I don’t think he had time to be scared.

The 8th Army Air Corps had a reunion in Omaha about 25 years ago. His crew all came. They fought together, they came home together, and they stayed connected. They all came over to dinner at my parents that night and invited us kids to join them. My dad was pretty hard of hearing, so imagine a long dinner table with my dad at one end. One of the guys, Marty, was at the other end. And Marty said, ‘Now boys, I just want you all to know that the reason that we all are able to have dinner here tonight – the reason that we all came home alive – was because of your dad. I asked, ‘What did my father do,’ I mean these B17s flew in formation, ‘What did he do to provide protection?’ And Marty explained that my dad always flew toward the flack.

There was some room between the bombers, and the Germans would aim their anti-aircraft at a particular aircraft and when my dad would see the flack, he would turn toward it. The Germans would adjust, trying to guess where they should have shot, and they’d always guess wrong. My dad turned to me and said, ‘What did Marty just say?’ I said, ‘He said that in order to avoid getting shot you would fly toward the flack.’ And my dad said, ‘You know I used to do that.’ We all had a pretty good chuckle about it. He expected me to do the right thing. He was a very honorable, truthful, loyal guy.

I remember in 1965, our student body was all sitting in the auditorium for some kind of program. One of my favorite friends, Charlie Lee, was sitting next to me. His dad was a major in the Army. He turned to me and said, ‘My dad says we should join the Reserves.’ And I said, ‘Why would we do that?’ And he said that as soon as we turned 18 then we could join the Reserves, and we could pick our jobs instead of just getting sent to Vietnam as an infantry guy. I didn’t really even know what Vietnam was. Charlie joined the 173rd Transportation Company in the Reserves and as soon as he joined his whole unit was called up and sent over. He’d been trained as a lifeguard at a swimming pool at the Officers Club and got to Vietnam as a convoy commander. He remains to this day one of the most organized guys I’ve ever met in my life. Charlie stayed in the Reserves and was called to most of the battles after Vietnam. He achieved the rank of Command Sergeant Major before he retired.

I didn’t follow his instructions and I got drafted. I wanted to be an architect. I got accepted to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but my grandpa was on the Board of Trustees at a small college in Iowa and he wanted me to go there. So, I went, but I shouldn’t have gone. I left and couldn’t get back into UNL. I was selling men’s and boy’s clothes at a retail store for id=”listicle-2645885448″ an hour. I went to Wentworth Military Academy for 12 months and soon after, I got a letter welcoming me to the United States Army.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

I went to Fort Lewis for basic training. They put us all in a line and asked anyone who had been through ROTC to take a step forward. I did, and then they asked if anyone had gone to a military academy. Since I had, I took another step forward. And so, they made me the acting drill sergeant for one of the platoons. I thought, ‘holy crap.’ I was a little guy when I graduated from high school. I was almost 5’2 and 120 pounds. I think I could do about three pushups.

I worked hard and pretty soon I was maxing the PT test. At the end of basic, they put an article in the Omaha World Herald that I was the top in my class and they promoted me to E3. I went to my senior drill sergeant and told him I was the best guy he had. He replied that I shouldn’t be bragging. I said, ‘Make no mistake, I’m not bragging. I’m saying if I’m the best you have you’re in big trouble.’ He said, ‘You don’t think the training was adequate.’ I said, ‘I’ll be lucky to make it down the stairs of the airplane in Vietnam without getting shot.’ We talked about needing better training and a week later I found myself as a candidate in the Infantry Officer Candidate School (OCS).

After I applied for Ranger and Airborne school (which I didn’t get), they told me I had the aptitude to be a pilot. I thought it was pretty nifty with so many pilots in my family. I did my troop duty and then went to flight school in Texas. Then I spent four months at Fort Rucker learning to fly Hueys. I graduated from flight school as one of the top guys. I tell you that not to brag, but it was because I was more afraid of what could happen to me than anybody else, so I studied harder. It was more about being able to live than grades. I was picked to fly the Cobra, which was like going from a family minivan to a full-tilt Ferrari.

I knew I was going to Vietnam. I had a month off, so I went home. Every girl I knew took me to the airport on my way to Vietnam. The whole time I was in helicopter school I knew they weren’t training me to stay home. It’s an interesting thing about getting ready to go. You know in one regard, I was scared. Another, was, with all this training, I really wanted it to be put to use.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo via Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association

I’m not a fan of war. But I’d put everything into training that I could – for my own survival and for the survival of everyone I’d be associated with. I requested to be in the 1st Air Calvary Division. When I got to Vietnam I went to the 1st Air Calvary reception station. The smart thing would have been to ask which is the unit where nobody got shot at, but I had heard people talking about the legendary Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit, and I requested that. I wasn’t disappointed. Maybe a little overworked, but I was in a unit with exceptional human beings.

That experience and those guys stuck with me. Many of them are dear friends of mine. We only had 32 pilots in our unit. Just after I left, eight of them got killed. It was a weird way of thinking about those guys. And I think I had survivor’s guilt. Like I left too soon. By the time I was there about nine months, I had been the flight lead in most organized attacks. I told my commander, Major Larry McKay, I’m going to extend for six months. I felt like I belonged to this unit. Larry said great, company clerk said great, and the day after I was originally supposed to leave Vietnam – the day my year was up – the Department of the Army called up my commander and said, ‘Where is he? My commander said I was on a mission, that I’d extended for 6 months, and the Army said no. So, my commander sent out another Cobra to relieve me. He and I went to the 1st Calvary Division Headquarters and I was told I had to report to Fort Riley, Kansas. I left Vietnam and tried like crazy to go back. Those guys were that important to me.

Our mission was this: They parked us within 5 minutes’ flight time of our guys in the field. We sat with a radio operator who would have contact with the guys on the ground. If the radio operator yelled, ‘Fire Mission,’ we’d run to the aircraft and have to be off the ground in less than two minutes. As soon as we took off, the guy would give us a heading to follow and then he’d read the mission. If there was a Medevac, part of our mission was security. We’d provide security for the medevac helicopter to come in.

I flew 1,032 combat missions but there are a bunch that stand out, all for different reasons. When I first got there, I was a co-pilot. You strive to become an aircraft commander but when you start out you’re a co-pilot. It was an incursion in Cambodia. A command and control helicopter got shot down and landed on a road. Just an ocean of people came out of the treeline; enemy soldiers, running toward the Huey.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Getting that would have been a prized treasure. Parts of war are treacherous, and parts are bizarre and humorous in a dark humor kind of way. We were shooting so many people. We weren’t very high off the ground and we were looking at them shooting at us. The devastation was just insane. And I just kept thinking, ‘What is wrong with these soldiers – they just keep coming. We’re taught to disperse.’

While all this shooting is going on, a two-and-a-half-ton truck is coming down the road. The truck stops and picks these guys up and they just keep going down the road to Vietnam. I think just the memory of all those enemy soldiers in the open … that will never go away.

I had a co-pilot, Ernest Rickenbacker, who had a famous last name because of his great uncle, Eddie, the World War I flying ace and Medal of Honor recipient. I went to my commander and told him that Ernest needed his own aircraft – he was unbelievable. And my commander did it. We called Ernest “Fast Eddie” because he became an aircraft commander so quickly. He won a Silver Star for rescuing his co-pilot. But let me tell you about that mission, first.

There was a Fire Support Base called Pace, right next to the Cambodian border where the Ho Chi Minh Trail came into Vietnam. For political reasons, the Army was supposed to evacuate this Fire Support Base. Left to its own devices, the Army never would have sacrificed it because of the strategic advantage. But, some guy wouldn’t go on patrol and he wrote his senator, so they shut it down for being “too dangerous.” Not the way you should fight a war, but anyway. We were supposed to take 12 helicopters to the Tay Ninh airport for a briefing and we’re being told about all this anti-aircraft all over the place and that nobody could get into Pace – it was too deadly.

We were working out how to get these guys evacuated. The plan was that the next day, a Huey with a smoke generator would fly around and mask trucks coming up to pick up the guys and get them out of there. I don’t tell this story very often, so I might miss parts of it. But the bunch of us that were walking back were supposed to brief the other pilots. But then the airport came under a rocket attack.

First thing we had to do was get our helicopters out. So, we did, and then we’re all supposed to land. As we’re coming in for final, the guys at Pace start yelling that they’re taking incoming. I said to my wingship, ‘Let’s take care of this.’ So, we went low-level up to the treetops until we got next to Pace. We popped up to about 1500 feet and we see 6 guys and a mortar tube on the other side of the border. The border right there was marked by a creek. Everything on the west side was Cambodia and the east was Vietnam.

We always had to call to get clearance to fire, so I called. I think the guy I had to call was an Air Force guy, and I requested flying over the border to Cambodia in order to save the men at Pace who were taking mortars. He denied my request. I said, ‘We’re in hot pursuit,’ and he said, ‘Nobody’s crossing. Out.’ Just like that, and that was the last I heard from him.

I pulled the nose of my helicopter up and launched about 6 rockets in the direction of the mortar tube. I shot across the border instead of crossing it. As luck would have it, the rockets fell right by the guys. I killed three and three hobbled off. We both dove at those three guys. My wingship, who was ahead of me, shot the other three guys. We took a hard left and and I called the guy back at Pace and told him something stupid like, ‘Send the Congressional Medal of Honor to Blue Max 1-2.’ And just as I’m saying this, I’m probably at 800 feet and there’s a loud kablamo and a big flame shoots out the left side of the nose of my helicopter. And my helicopter whips about 30 degrees to the left and then snaps back. I said to my wingship, Blue Max, 1-8, 1-2, we just got hit. And my wingship says Roger that 1-2, we just got hit.

My co-pilot in the front seat is pointing down and just yelling really loud. He’s not on the intercom; he’s just pointing and yelling. And I look down and I see this big orange garbage can coming toward me and I thought, ‘The hell is that.’ It looked like a Star Wars kind of thing. It took a lot slower than you’d think a bullet would go and it went right past us. I’m thinking, ‘That’s a 23-millimeter antiaircraft cannon round tracer.’

So, I was an infantry guy – What do you do in a near ambush? You assault. I flipped the cobra over and dove on the gun. None of my weapons would work.

I pushed the rocket launch button, nothing.

I pulled the trigger for the mini-gun, nothing.

I pushed the button for the 40-millimeter grenade launcher, nothing.

I called my wingship and said, ‘See where I’m going to hit the ground? Blow that up!’ I pulled up my nose and he hit where I was trying to and there was a huge secondary explosion from where we took out munitions. But then my cockpit filled with smoke.

I thought this was really bad because the helicopter is made of magnesium and would just burn up. So, I was flying really low – a few feet off the ground – because I thought that when the thing goes up like a match, I’ll set it down and skid down the road and open the canopy and we’ll just jump out. But as we’re coming on final, the smoke cleared out and I landed. It was the weirdest thing. The 23 millimeter came up through the nose of the helicopter. It went through the heavy steel cartridge ejection shoot for the mini gun and just shredded that, and then it went through this wire loom that controlled all the weapons systems, and it was a big heavy bundle of wires. Because it was a tracer, it started the insulation on fire and that somehow got sucked into the cockpit. And that’s all that happened.

But for my wingship commander, the 23 millimeter went through his engine compartment and took out the Environmental Control Unit and turned it into shrapnel and clipped a hydraulics line. You can fly a helicopter if you can’t shoot, but you can’t fly the Cobra without hydraulics.

All this is a lead up to what happened the next day to fast Eddie Rickenbacker.

The next morning, they told me they got my rockets fixed but they haven’t fixed my mini-gun or my 40-millimeter grenade launcher. My wingship can’t go. I shouldn’t go because I don’t have all my weapons.

Somebody needs to be back up so that’s me.

Rickenbacker’s job was to provide security for the smoke generating Huey to mask the extraction. Rickenbacker is flying about 400′. In Vietnam they would always tell us to fly below 50′ or above 1500′ because between 50′ and 1500′ a guy can shoot you down with a rifle. Rickenbacker’s helicopter gets hit about 15 times by a 51-caliber machine gun. His engine quits, his helicopter starts on fire and he crashes into the woods directly east of Fire Support Base Pace, across the road.

He crashes, and the helicopter is leaning a bit to the right, sitting there on fire. Rickenbacker gets out and runs away from the helicopter. He turns around and he looks back and Mac, his co-pilot is still in there and he’s on fire, thrashing about. He’s not getting out. Understand that you don’t want to be standing in front of one of these things when it’s on fire because it’s got all these rockets on it ready to launch.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

Rickenbacker runs back over there, reaches into the fire, unbuckles Mac, picks him up bodily and yanks him out of the helicopter and puts him behind a dirt mound as the ammo starts to explode. So, all this is going on and the other 11 cobras that are there can only fly for about an hour and a half and then they’re out of fuel. I get the call that they’re out of fuel and that they’re heading back, and I have to go find Rickenbacker. I said, ‘What do you mean, find him?’

Well, there was a patrol that left the support base to rescue the crew, but what they found was Mac laying there with a compound fracture of his femur and he’d broken his pelvis and he was badly burned. He had Rickenbacker’s pistol – Eddie had this really fancy revolver with a pearl handle, like a cowboy that he had brought with him. Rickenbacker had given it to Jim and told him he would go to the base to get help and have them come back for him.

The patrol walks over and finds Mac and ask him where his pilot is. He points east. East is 80 miles to the ocean through jungle, which would be the absolute wrong thing to do. I’m flying in little circles and only my rockets work. The guy in the front seat and I are trying to see where the hell Rick is.

The guy on the radio says, ‘We think our ground surveillance radar found your guy in some elephant grass across the road.’ So, my plan was to land in the Fire Support Base and my co-pilot would get out and I’d hover over there to where the elephant grass was and hopefully I’d find Rickenbacker. I’m on final to the Fire Support Base and one of the guys who flies the air ambulance, the Medevac, who’s a dear friend of ours, calls and says, ‘I’ve been listening to all this on the radio, and I’m coming up to get Rick. You just provide me with security.’ And so that’s what happened.

We get Rick out and God Bless Him. He had yanked Mac right out of there. Fast Eddie Rickenbacker had a stellar military career after that.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

Eddie was a Harley guy. He drove his motorcycle to Omaha and stayed a couple days with my wife and me. This was eight years ago maybe. He drove clear across the country and back and when he got home, he checked into the hospital for problems with cancer from Agent Orange. He probably shouldn’t have made the trip and he didn’t even say anything to me about his health problems. We had a good visit.

He was dead shortly after that.

We went to his ceremony at Arlington and my wife said, ‘I don’t care if you knew who was getting buried here or not, you’d be crying just standing here.’

It was very touching. Mac showed up and that was really touching to watch him say goodbye. I’m still in touch with him. He’s a great guy. You know he says that Rick gave him the rest of his life, which he did.

That day sticks out in my memory because I’ve been reminded of it so many times over the years, having seen Mac and Fast Eddie. Even in the Arlington National Cemetery website eulogy for Ernest Rickenbacker said that I had given him the name Fast Eddie. So, if I’m proud of one thing, it’s that his son, Scott, who was also a helicopter pilot, had told the writer that.

I don’t think you ever become immune to the missions. You don’t become jaded, you become more professional with how to handle missions. And you learn when to break the rules, because sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

Going from selling clothes for id=”listicle-2645885448″ an hour to flying around Vietnam in a million-and-a-half-dollar helicopter with all this elaborate training and going through all this craziness, I think I’m much better for it. I don’t know how I would have turned out otherwise, but it really helped me set my course and make good decisions. Between the training and the camaraderie with the guys in my unit and with my high school buddy Charlie Lee, it really prepared me for life. Not that life should be about killing, but the education experience, the leadership, well, it made me a better person.

Being around those guys was strengthening. A year ago, I was in Salado, Texas. I met up with my commander, Jerry, who was commander the first part of my tour, and my co-pilot and another aircraft commander. Jerry told us that we’d all been hand selected by our commanders. You know we had to wait 47 years to hear that but that was wonderful to hear. I don’t think he was making it up.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

It was a very special unit. Wings, the History of Aviation even did a little 10-minute thing on my unit. I don’t see the guys too often. I’m 70 now. Some of them have died.

In 1993, the Army had a new Apache helicopter company. And the new commander’s name was Timothy Solms. And I know this because he called me and said, ‘The Army gave me a new Apache unit and because I’m the charter commander, I get to name it. I looked through Army history and of all the stood down helicopter units so that I could give the members of my unit a legacy. I picked your unit. We’re calling our guys ‘Blue Max’ in your honor and we’re going to have a black-tie dinner in Fayetteville, North Carolina and we’d like you to come out for it.’

He found about 15 of us, and we went out for this dinner. The guest speaker that night was General Bill Miller, and Larry McKay who was the commander the second half I was out there. McKay was just a wonderful guy. He had decided it had been too long since we had seen each other after that night, so he started hosting a dinner the night before Veterans Day every year in Washington DC. Then on Veterans Day, we’d have a sunrise service at the wall, and then go have breakfast with the 1st Calvary Division.

Larry died in 2014. I don’t see the guys as a group like when Larry was doing those dinners, but we stay in touch and my crew chief even flew in from Alaska to see us. In 1995, I took my wife and daughter to a Vietnam helicopter pilots’ reunion and she saw that about 8 of these guys had Blue Max t-shirts on. And so, my wife went up to one of them, a guy named Jet Jackson. She asked if he knew me, and he replied, ‘No ma’am, he was just a legend when I got there.’ I pulled him aside and said, ‘Where did that come from? What do I owe you for that?’ And he said, ‘Just remember what to say to my wife when you meet her.’

Blue Max was truly a special group of guys. I think about them often. I guess I always will.”

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Photo via Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association

Art Jetter Jr Veterans History Project

www.youtube.com

Art Jetter Jr Veterans History Project

Art Jetter, Jr. on his experience as a US Army Cobra Helicopter Gunship pilot flying in Vietnam. This interview was done for the Veterans History Project of …

Articles

A WWI Hungarian soldier turned out to be a serial killer

Imagine being a landlord, finding out your tenant was missing, and then walking into a house of horrors when cleaning out their space. That’s exactly what happened during World War I in Hungary. An unsuspecting landlord found out his tenant had gone MIA. Rather than finding normal personal belongings within the home, he found preserved bodies, all women who had been reported missing in months before. 

At least, that’s one way the story is told. 

Another is that the enlisted soldier, Bela Kiss, was known for stockpiling gasoline in preparation for war rations. While he was away at war, his gasoline was needed and confiscated by said landlord. However, rather than fuel, they found foul odors and blood-less bodies — essentially pickled human remains. In all, 24 metal drums had been sealed in a vat of alcohol. Each victim was strangled, had puncture marks on their necks and were void of blood, leaving authorities to believe he was an aspiring vampire. 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Kiss’ drums, where the landlord found the remains. (Wikimedia Commons)

The victims were almost all female, with one male body. 

Kiss was conscripted (drafted) to the Hungarian Army in 1914. While away, he left his home in the care of his cleaning lady; he also willed her his money. Unfortunately for her, this led police to believe she was involved. However, she showed them around the property, including a locked room that she wasn’t allowed to enter. Inside the room were countless books on strangulation and poisoning. There were also letters from more than 74 women that Kiss was manipulating. Long before “catfishing” was a term, he would put out false marriage requests in the paper and try and woo the women out of their money through letters. He also pretended to be a matrimonial agent or a fortune teller to lure a larger audience of women. He stole money from as many women as he could, but only invited those without family ties to visit. Those women would unfortunately become his victims. Many of the women were reported missing but ultimately never found, until Kiss’s drums were opened.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Kiss’ home (left) (Wikimedia Commons)

Upon the discovery of Kiss’s killings, the Army sent for his arrest. However, he was able to evade arrest for several years. It’s thought that he swapped identities with a deceased soldier. Several sightings were reported in the next several years, but ultimately, he was never caught. 

The last official sighting of Kiss took place in 1932 in New York City, when he was spotted by homicide detective, Henry Oswald. Oswald saw Kiss coming off of a Subway train, but was unable to reach him. They later found that he was working as a janitor, but when they had gone to search for him, he was gone. 

His fate still remains unknown to this day. 


Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

MIGHTY STORIES

How an SR-71 Blackbird engineer helped 3rd graders with a school project

Mrs. Jaffe, as she was known to her third grade students at Ambrose Elementary School in Winchester, Massachusetts, mailed a special package to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Inside was a small paper cutout of a bear, detailed in crayon, wearing a NASA suit and black sunglasses.

Bill the “Travelmate Bear” was a part of a class project to learn more about geography. The idea was to have the bear passed from traveler to traveler, who would place postcards and souvenirs in the “kit” with the bear. And the goal was not only to illustrate geography lessons but also to receive NASA classroom materials designed to make learning science and math more fun and interesting.

In early March 1996, Bill the Travelmate Bear took flight, first on a research mission aboard an F-18 aircraft to San Antonio, Texas. Then, on March 20, Bill the Travelmate Bear flew in an aircraft that only a select few engineers or pilots had ever had the opportunity to fly in.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Bill the Travelmate Bear with SR-71 Blackbird researcher and flight engineer Marta Bohn-Meyer and pilot Ed Schneider in March 1996 at Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in Edwards, California, was the home of the SR-71 research flight program. Marta Bohn-Meyer was one of two flight engineers — the other being her husband, Bob Meyer — assigned to fly aboard one of three former SR-71 Blackbird spy planes NASA acquired from the US military upon their retirement in 1989. 

The spy planes, developed by Lockheed Martin and announced to the world in 1964, were capable of flying up to an altitude of 85,000 feet and could reach speeds faster than 2,200 mph, three times the speed of sound. 

On March 20, Bill the Travelmate Bear rested without a seatbelt in SR-71 Blackbird pilot Ed Schneider’s cockpit while Bohn-Meyer, then an SR-71 reconnaissance system operator, sat in the back seat to handle the navigation and imaging systems. Bill, in a span of just one hour and 20 minutes’ flight time, had traveled 1,800 miles over the states of Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and California.

“To my dying day, it will always bring a smile to my face,” Bohn-Meyer once recalled about her experiences flying in the SR-71 Blackbird. “That was the most invigorating, stressful, enjoyable, toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Ever wonder what it looks like inside the cockpit of an SR-71 Blackbird? A self-portrait of Brian Shul in full flight suit gear. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The following week, Bill hitched a ride aboard a 747 carrying the space shuttle Atlantis back to Florida. The STS-76 landed at Dryden Flight Research Center at 5:29 a.m. on March 31, 1996, after completing a nine-day mission. His final leg home was by US mail from Florida to Mrs. Jaffe’s class back in Massachusetts.

Along with Bill the Travelmate Bear were mementos including coins, stickers, and postcards. There were also journal entries from each traveler and their personal accounts of some of the many interesting places they’d been to. Story Musgrave, a NASA astronaut, wrote about his experience orbiting Earth, describing the coral in the South Pacific surrounding the volcanic islands as glorious. 

When Schneider and Bohn-Meyer landed the NASA 831 SR-71 Blackbird back at Edwards AFB, they took a picture by the plane, holding their paper companion that went along for the ride. Schneider also sent the class a handwritten letter, and in it he asked students questions like “Can you see how far 1800 miles is in a straight line from your school?” and “Can you find Edwards on your map?”

The learning experience between the class, NASA, and Bill the Travelmate Bear added a unique spin that Mrs. Jaffe’s pupils surely would not forget.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

Articles

Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. President to hold a patent

The President of the United States is quite a title to hold. Great Americans have held the office since George Washington founded the nation. To stand out in this lineage of leaders is no small task. For all the history that Abraham Lincoln made as president, incredibly, he stands out as the only one to hold a patent.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Lincoln and his friend pilot a flatboat down the Mississippi to New Orleans

Lincoln grew up on the American frontier. He learned flatboat river navigation on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers as a teenager. At the age of 19, he made a flatboat journey all the way down to New Orleans.

A few years later, Lincoln made a second trip down to New Orleans. However, before Lincoln reached the Illinois River, the boat became stuck on a milldam at New Salem. Stranded on the Sangamon River, the boat started to take on water. Lincoln acquired an auger from New Salem and hurriedly returned to the boat. He unloaded part of the cargo to the right of the boat and proceeded to drill a hole in the bow. After enough water ran out, he plugged the hole and was able to free the boat and continue to New Orleans.

After completing the voyage to New Orleans, Lincoln returned to the small prairie town of New Salem. Interestingly, it was there that he met his first love and fiancé, Ann Rutledge. Lincoln also began his political career in New Salem.

In 1848, Lincoln served in the House of Representatives. On his way back to Illinois, the boat he was on beached on a sandbar. The captain ordered all hands to collect planks, barrels, and boxes, and force them under the sides of the boat. The items buoyed the vessel and eventually freed it from the sandbar. Along with his experience on the Sangamon, this event inspired Lincoln to invent something to help stranded boats.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Lincoln’s patent drawings (Public Domain)

Lincoln had a mechanically curious mind. While traveling the circuit as a lawyer, he would often find farm machines and tools to examine. He was fascinated with the intricacies and interactions of machinery. Combining this mechanical interest with his riverboat experiences, Lincoln set to work inventing a device to free beached vessels.

Lincoln called his invention “An Improved Method of Buoying Vessels Over Shoals.” His idea involved waterproof fabric bladders that could be inflated to, well, buoy stuck vessels over shoals. Accordion-shaped air chambers on the side of the boat would inflate the bladders when necessary. He built a scale model of a ship equipped with his invention to validate its design. However, it was never fitted to an actual ship.

On May 22, 1849, Congressman Abraham Lincoln became the holder of U.S. Patent No. 6,469. He remains the only U.S. President to be a patentee.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
The Smithsonian replica of Lincoln’s patent model. The Smithsonian uses this model for display to preserve to fragile original. (Smithsonian Institute)

Feature image: Lincoln circa 1846 (Library of Congress)

Articles

Bea Arthur was a Marine before starring on Golden Girls

Thank you for being a friend … and a MARINE! Yes, the very same Bea Arthur that we know and love as Dorothy Zbornak from the “Golden Girls” and Maude from “All in the Family” served in the U.S. military. 

Arthur, who passed away in 2009 of lung cancer, was originally named Bernice Frankel. She later changed her first name, and used an alternate spelling of her former husband’s last name, Aurthur. 

In 1943, the Marines became the last military branch to accept women into their ranks. They announced a call for enlistments with the marketing slogan, “Be a Marine … Free a Man to Fight.” With the addition of women into their force for administrative and behind-the-scenes work, men who were previously performing those jobs were able to head to the frontlines. 

Just five days later, Arthur enlisted. However, not yet 21 (the age required to enlist at the time) she had to obtain permission from her parents. All of this, and more, is listed on her Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), which is available to this day via the National Archives. 

It’s worth noting that, because the Marines had just begun accepting women, they hadn’t even provided paperwork to do so. Therefore, Arthur, and hundreds of others, were processed into the Marines through Navy paperwork and exam schedules. 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
USMC photo

In one of her incoming interviews, a processing worker wrote comments like “frank and open,” “argumentative,” “over aggressive,” and “probably a good worker if she has her own way!”

She joined the military during World War II, in February of 1943, when she served for two years before being honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant in September of 1945. She was one of the first women to enlist with the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. She worked as a typist in Washington, D.C., before requesting to attend the Motor Transport School. She then worked as a dispatcher and truck driver. Throughout her career, she was stationed between Washington, D.C. and two bases in North Carolina. 

After her discharge, Arthur went to school to become a lab tech, even interning at a hospital. However, she didn’t enjoy the work and left to attend drama school in 1947. By the late ’40s, she was performing in off-Broadway shows. She went on to perform on Broadway, winning a Tony for her performance as Vera Charles in “Mame”, before transitioning to television, where she was one of the most famous actresses throughout the ’70s and ’80s. 

It’s worth noting that Arthur publicly denied her time in the Marines throughout her acting career; she also did so blatantly, on-the-record, in a 2001 interview. Her military records were made public a year after her death, in 2010, proving her enlistment. It’s unknown why she denied her involvement as a Marine. Though one running theory is that it was to hide a misconduct report, when Arthur was written up for contracting a sexually transmitted disease. The stint left her “incapacitated for duty” for five weeks, for which she received a cut in pay. 

However, at the time of joining, records show her as eager and “willing to do her part” to help with the war. 


Feature image: National WWII History Museum

Articles

How the fall of the Berlin Wall affected techno music

Berlin is known as the techno music capital of the world. Much to the chagrin of Detroit, where the style originated, the German city took the style and baked it right into their up-and-coming ’90s culture. How that happened has a unique history, including political events that allowed the city to flourish with its own thriving music scene. 

Techno music as we know it wouldn’t exist today without the fall of the Berlin Wall and the German Democratic Republic. Here’s why:

When East Germany reunified with the West, there was a lull. A lull in government jurisdiction, in law enforcement, and in collecting assets. For years, large buildings that had disputed ownerships sat empty with no one keeping an eye on them and no one enforcing what took place within their walls. Because of this lack of order, young music fans were given the chance to thrive.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
For some strange reason, everyone was ready for a little less law and order (screen capture from YouTube)

They would host parties in these abandoned buildings, illegally, but with little consequence. An underground movement began where locations spread by word of mouth. The were multiple-day parties in industrial settings where there were basically no rules — sex, drugs, and dancing were all welcome. The only rule? Remain respectful to those around you. 

Parties were first held through an underground scene, radios or flyers would provide instructions to call a number at a certain time, and the person receiving the call would provide the location of the party. Usually, a single party was held for a day or two at a location, then it was off to the next spot to avoid attracting too much attention. 

Techno enthusiasts explored and found empty buildings across East Berlin where they could throw their parties. Factories, empty apartment buildings, former military sites, even condemned buildings. Most locations had been confiscated by Nazis, then sat empty while legal battles determined the property’s rightful owner. In the meantime, they fell into disrepair and served as the perfect locations for multi-day techno raves. 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
“I see four walls and a working outlet. Let’s party!” (Photo by Alexander Popov on Unsplash)

Before the fall

Before the fall of the wall, East Germans had their radio censored. Young people would travel near the wall where they could, on occasion, pick up radio signals from West Berlin’s freeform waves, including disco parties that were often broadcast. Some dance parties, few and far between, were hosted in East Germany. That, however, required an appeal to the government, which took months of red tape to become approved. 

But once the wall was taken down, all bets were off. East Germans were now free to attend techno dance scenes. But they were soon outgrown, with the ability to only hold about 100 people at a time. A need emerged, and techno fans began creating their own parties. Finding bigger and bigger venues to fit their growing fan base. 

A legal venture

Over time, these industrial buildings were transformed and turned into actual dance and music clubs. Eventually, it became a business, owned by the same people who were previously throwing parties illegally. Techno events were no longer on a pop-up schedule, but a certified brand. It’s worth noting that liquor or attendance permits weren’t yet enforced; the government was still working on regulating. There simply wasn’t infrastructure in place to check on a business’ paperwork. This allowed these non-experienced entrepreneurs to roll in more money early on, and brush up on their business chops as regulations were put into place.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
There must be a ton of Germans in their fifties that talk about the old days and call these people posers… (Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, over time, the disco scene in Germany became more regulated. With the government seeing it as an important part of tourism and city revenue, it provided support, allowing the town’s techno business to grow far quicker than in other countries (like Detroit). To account for a growing club scene, Germany did away with things like closing times (the clubs stay open all weekend) and dress codes (you might just a naked person dancing. Don’t be alarmed). There was also no “last call” for alcohol. Today, it continues to offer thriving nightlife opportunities to citizens and visitors alike, as well as providing huge profits for the city as a whole. 

Articles

How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

In 1967, the Space Race was in full swing. The Soviet Union had made a number of historic firsts, but the United States was racing to catch up while making a few firsts of its own. 

President Kennedy had challenged America to put a man on the moon within the decade. Long after his death, the memory of that challenge was fresh in the minds of everyone, especially those in the U.S. government who were working hard to make that happen. These include agencies such as NASA, the U.S. military and, not surprisingly, the Central Intelligence Agency.

But the United States wasn’t always so close to winning. In fact, for a time, it appeared to be behind — way behind. So far behind, in fact, the Americans were willing to do anything to catch up, even if that meant stealing the Soviet technology. 

They had the world’s first ICBM as well as the first artificial satellite

Declassified CIA documents describe their initial efforts to do just that. While they never conclusively stole Soviet space technology outright, they did have to make a huge effort to get some time alone with the tech. 

Many people know about Sputnik, the first man-made satellite in orbit. Not many others know about Luna (sometimes called Lunik), the first man-made satellite to hit the moon’s surface. Both successful missions took place in 1959. And the Soviets did what any superpower looking to dunk on their Cold War rival would do: they took a victory lap. 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

The USSR sent Sputnik and Luna on a world tour that included stops in the United States. The U.S. was losing the Space Race because the Soviets had better booster and rocket technology than they did. So the CIA decided it would learn everything it could about Soviet space tech through the traveling showcase.

Specifically, the U.S. wanted a detailed look at the USSR’s upper stage. Most in the CIA assumed the Soviets weren’t bold enough to bring an actual Luna on a world tour for everyone to see, but there were some who realized the USSR really had brought the real thing. One night, after the traveling exhibition was closed, CIA operatives gained access to the room. They discovered it really was an actual Luna module and the lone Soviet guard had disappeared.

The CIA spent a full 24 hours with the Luna, taking what information they could with them, but they wanted more. They wanted to get inside of it. That’s when they concocted a complex, almost absurd scheme that would have been stupid – if it hadn’t worked. 

That’s when they hatched a plan to steal Luna, get into it, and return the device before it could be found. They knew it usually had a large guard force posted as sentries at almost all times. They needed to get to it when the guard force was at its lowest number and find a way to get to it when no one would miss it. 

The operatives discovered that the Luna went unguarded when moving by train. A guard checked its crate in at the platform, but he didn’t know what was in each of the crates and there was no expected delivery time for its arrival at the show’s next stop.

CIA agents arranged for the Luna to be on the last truck out of an exhibition. When it was on the way, other CIA operatives tailed the truck, looking for when the Soviet guards rejoined their precious cargo. But the Soviets never came. The CIA stopped the truck driver and “held him in a hotel overnight” (the documents don’t mention how he was enticed (booze, guns or prostitutes were likely involved).

With the driver safely dispatched, the truck was parked in a salvage yard and covered up. At the rail yard, the lone guard there didn’t even know the last truck was expected and he knocked off for the night, none the wiser. The CIA kept a tail on him too, just to make sure he didn’t come to work early. 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Hey, not every heist requires a shootout

Back at the truck, CIA officers dismantled and photographed the Luna in detail, working through the night to get everything documented so that the Soviet booster technology could be analyzed.

They sealed everything back together, closed the crate and put the original truck driver back on the job. When the rail yard guard checked the crate onto the train in the morning, he suspected nothing and the secret Soviet space technology was on its way to the next stop.

Feature image: Photo by Sergiu Nista on Unsplash

MIGHTY STORIES

From a farm in Iowa to multiple tours in Vietnam, Dale Gardner shares his story

Mighty Stories is a WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Dale Gardner, Vietnam Veteran.

“I grew up on a farm in the little town of 800 people called Neola, Iowa. I was raised doing typical Iowa farm stuff. My dad was a farmer and my grandfather was a farmer. I graduated high school in 1969. I found myself unable to wrap my head around all that was high school – prom, pep rallies, football, girlfriends.

At the time of the Tet Offensive and afterwards, I think we were tagging and bagging guys in Vietnam at a rate of around 500 a week. I was appalled at that. High school didn’t do a whole lot for me, and I made up my mind that as soon as I graduated I’d join the military. As naïve as only someone from a town of 800 people in Iowa could be, I joined the Army in order to win the war in Vietnam. I joined in the delayed entry program, meaning I signed up in May and was supposed to report in September. I

showed up in Fort Polk, Louisiana, with a shorter haircut than they were giving – I was that gung-ho. I thought I was John Wayne. I went to Basic and then on to Advanced Individual Training (AIT). My attitude changed considerably after 16 weeks in the military. I hadn’t quite figured it out yet. Frankly, I was tired of being screwed with. They were used to people not wanting to be there and everybody got painted with the same brush. But I did want to be there. I made this friend in AIT from California – Steve McCauley. I’d been in the Army five days longer than him. A

fter we finished AIT we got a short amount of leave before we headed to Vietnam. Steve flew home to California to marry his girlfriend, Joan, and after I went home to see my family, I jumped on a plane to go see some friends in Santa Monica, and see Steve and meet his new wife. We were supposed to fly out of the Oakland Terminal. I called Steve and said I wasn’t ready to get on the plane the next day, and he wasn’t ready to leave Joan, so we decided not to go. We took about a three week hiatus. We were AWOL.

After three weeks, I called Steve and said, ‘We probably ought to go.’ We met up at the terminal in Oakland and flew back to check in. We didn’t really care that we were late – we had adopted this attitude of ‘What are they going to do, send us to Vietnam?’ We checked in and the guy looked at our orders and said, ‘You were supposed to be here three weeks ago. Where have you been?’ And we were honest. We told him we just didn’t feel like coming. We got sent to this room and there must have been 20 guys in there shooting the breeze. Steve and I walk in, thinking we’re in really deep kimchi, and then we start talking to these guys who were two YEARS late. So Steve and I are looking at each other thinking, ‘We’re probably going to be alright.’ We got busted back to E-1s, but we didn’t care.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Steve McCauley

A few days later we boarded a flight to Vietnam.

Vietnam was divided into Corps at the time. We flew into III Corps, and immediately got sorted and sent to where we’d be going. It seemed like everyone was being sent to 1st Cavalry division. I was sent to Alpha Company, 3rd Platoon. Steve was 2nd Platoon. Our MOS was the same: 1120 – infantryman. I got assigned to my unit, to a forward fire base in Song Be. I remember having a meeting with the 2nd LT, Jack Signor, and he told us, ‘The goal here is to stay alive.’ That started processing my thinking that nobody was there to win the war. We were just there to do our job.

The war was lost from a political standpoint – Walter Cronkite had already been on the news and said we’d lost the hearts and minds of America and the war.It was spring of 1970, when I started patrolling. I was carrying something like 75 high explosives in my pack. I was a walking bomb. Plus we were carrying claymores, plus shovels, plus meals and 15 quarts of water, plus poncho, plus personal gear … literally you couldn’t get up with your own packs, that’s how heavy they were.

This guy, Michael Brown, first helped me figure out how to put my pack on. He was just one of those helpful guys. There were about 110 of us in a company. Contrary to what you see in the movies, the dummies didn’t walk point. The experienced guys walked point. As we walked through the jungle, we’d walk in two columns; the columns about 10 meters apart, with about 5 meters between you and the guy in front of you, and the guy behind you. You can picture this: 100 guys walking five meters apart, two columns deep. You can imagine how long that strings out. At night you’d dig in; you’d circle the wagons, putting out claymore mines and trip wires in front of that, and that’s how you’d set up every night. That was our night defensive position.

A little over a week after I got there, we were on patrol one morning. The first platoon started out, and I was in third, so it was about 30 minutes before we were ready to start. It was just about our turn – we’re putting our packs on – and 1st Platoon starts getting shot at. Somebody called in the artillery, and they got the coordinates mixed up and started dropping on us. Luckily for me, I was still in my night defensive position, and as soon as the shooting started I made a beeline for the foxhole I’d slept in. Artillery rounds started falling all around us, and fillings literally fell out of my teeth. When they finally called it off, we got out of the foxholes and the medics started scrambling. Our squad leader was the first guy I saw. He was on his back and the medic was over him. He took a direct hit. The medic had tied shoelaces around his thighs. The sergeant’s legs were totally gone.

Michael Brown had taken some shrapnel, about the size of a fist that went through his back and came out through his front. The medic, who was a really good friend of his, was giving him CPR. I’ll never forget the sound. It sounded like when a kid is blowing up a balloon with a hole in it. His lungs had been shredded, and he was already gone. That was April 27, 1970. It was my 19th birthday. It was a fairly short firefight but we had all these wounded people. We were in the jungle and we found a few clearings. We had to get medevacs in there, and I was told that we needed to make a clearing. I grabbed a machete and there were people helping me and we cleared a spot for the helos to land. I got put in for an Army Commendation Medal for that. I thought it was ridiculous. What’s heroic about clearing bamboo? It wouldn’t even register for me that you wouldn’t do that.

It’s said sometimes – and correctly so – that being an infantryman is mostly boredom. I’d agree. It’s sheer boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. On April 30th, three days later, much to my mother’s horror back in Iowa, Nixon informed the United States that he was sending the 1st Calvary Division to Cambodia. This insurgence into Cambodia was only supposed to last 60 days. A helicopter came and dropped maps and we packed up. That’s when it really got fun. It was pretty crazy.

When I first got to my platoon, I was the newest guy there. Three months later, I was the third oldest. That gives you an idea of what was going on. We found the largest cache of weapons ever recovered. We hauled stuff out of there for two weeks. It was just crazy. In the course of this, the Army had a new problem. It was mostly big city kids from Chicago and North Philly who had said, ‘I’m not going to Cambodia. I said I’d do Vietnam, but not Cambodia.’ So the Army’s response was to send anybody not willing to go to Cambodia to jail. This went on for a while and they meant it. I was too naïve (maybe too afraid) so I didn’t push back. I didn’t join the Army to go to jail for not obeying orders. But it became a huge problem, so the Army said to everyone, ‘Okay, you don’t want to be in the field anymore? We’ll tear up your existing contracts and we’ll write you a new contract for any job you can be trained for in Vietnam for three years.’ As long as you had been in the Army for eight months, you were eligible. It was a good deal.

Special services needed somebody, which was stuff like escorting USO tours, showing movies to troops, handing out baseball bats and balls — and that was definitely the job for me. Remember my friend Steve I told you about? He took the deal, too. But I’d been in five days longer, so he had to stay five extra days in the field. And it sounds like a movie … but in those five days he got killed. They were out, they got ambushed, he went running and hit a tripwire for a B-40 rocket that was booby trapped in a tree. He was sprayed with shrapnel, and it perforated his lungs. It was a very survivable injury, but it just so happened to be one of those monsoon afternoons, and they couldn’t medevac him. He died at two in the morning. I wrote his wife, Joan, and the Army gave me 30 days of leave to fly back to see her. I stopped in Iowa to see my family on my return, and then I flew back to Vietnam for another two years.

I made a deal when I got back to Vietnam that I would extend an extra six months if they’d put me on duty as a lifeguard at one of the pools. They did, and I stayed until my time was up. When I got home, I found and married this wonderful girl, Lindy – a social worker – from South Dakota. For our honeymoon we rode a motorcycle from Omaha, Nebraska to just south of Mexico City. We’ve been married over 40 years. That’s the girl I married – a girl who would get on the back of a motorcycle. She’s always been a partner. We moved to Alaska and raised our kids there. We lived there for almost 30 years. We eventually got tired of the cold and moved to Mexico, to a spot we found on our honeymoon. People make this quintessential caricature of Vietnam Veterans as someone who is a drain on society and we should pity him. By and large, that’s not us. The typical Vietnam Vet is me. A kid from a family whose attitude was, ‘Get up every day and if you do nothing else, don’t be a part of the problem.’ We aren’t poor loss souls. We are successful businessmen, we are dads, and we are proud of our service.”

Articles

Why one general takes the blame for the South losing at Gettysburg

General James Longstreet was one of the Confederate army’s most trusted and capable officers. After the Battle of Gettysburg and long after the end of the Civil War, Longstreet takes much of the blame for the southern loss at the battle – and sometimes for the loss of Civil War itself.

For many people who blame Longstreet for the loss (or show outright disdain for the man), it all goes back to the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg — specifically, Pickett’s Charge. It was an attack Longstreet didn’t order or want, but he still takes the blame for its failure. 

When Gen. Robert E. Lee gave the order, Longstreet openly voiced his disagreement with it. He relayed the order to Pickett anyway, but was very unhappy to do so. Longstreet didn’t think the Confederate army should have been so far north at all. He takes a lot of blame for the failure at Gettysburg overall, because it’s said he delayed his actions during the battle. 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
U.S. Army

Whether it was a good idea or not, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg saw 12,500 Confederate soldiers charged an entrenched and fortified Union position protecting Cemetery Hill. The hill commanded a network of roads essential to command of the battlefield. The Union commanders predicted the attack and the chargers took at least 50% casualties.

The Army of Northern Virginia never recovered from the failed assault and the Confederate Army never recovered from the loss of at Gettysburg. It was the turning point in a battle that was the turning point of the Civil War. Longstreet saw it all coming and tried to talk Lee out of it, but to no avail. 

No matter what the armchair historians may say, Lee is actually responsible for the failed attack, and he knew it right away. He was so personally devastated by the losses incurred in Pickett’s Charge that he offered his resignation to Confederate President Jefferson Davis (who turned it down). 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
In other words, Lee wasn’t up on his high horse… I’ll see myself out (Wikimedia Commons)

Longstreet takes a lot of the blame for Pickett’s Charge (and the defeat at Gettysburg) because he, for the most part, didn’t think the Confederate Army should have been there after the first day of fighting. 

It’s said that Longstreet dithered and delayed so much and so often throughout the battle that it was almost considered intentional sabotage. When it came to Pickett’s Charge, he openly disagreed with Lee, which earned him a transfer West after the Confederate retreat from Pennsylvania. 

Gen. Longstreet believed that it was more important to defeat Ulysses S. Grant in Tennessee and less important to invade the North. He felt so strongly that the disagreement went all the way up to Jefferson Davis. Lee argued that moving troops to the West would force his army to stay closer to Richmond. Davis sided with Lee, so the perception was that Longstreet’s disagreement and delays during the battle were mostly sour grapes. 

And since the battle – and Pickett’s Charge – was so pivotal to the Confederacy’s survival, the idea that Longstreet didn’t do his best is why he takes much of the blame.

Longstreet also takes a lot of blame in the eyes of Southern historians, especially propagators of the “Lost Cause” mythology, because of his postwar activities. Longstreet actively sought to rejoin the Union and earn a pardon. He eventually ended up working in a presidential administration – under President Ulysses S. Grant. 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Longstreet after the war (Library of Congress)

As for who is actually responsible for the failure of Pickett’s Charge, when asked after the war, Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett went on the record as saying, “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”

Articles

The KGB’s Alpha Group left terrorists in fear of the Soviet Union

The massacre of Israeli athletes by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics was a wake-up call. Like many countries in the 1970s, the Soviet Union had to come up with a way to counter the rise of domestic and international terrorism. The western countries that comprised the NATO alliance had their special units, so the Soviet Union relied on its state security service to make its own.

KGB Chief Yuri Andropov created Alpha Group, a special operations and commando unit inside his already elite organization. Their skills included counterterrorism, hostage situations, interdicting foreign intelligence services, VIP protection, and more. Unlike most federal police agencies’ special tactical units, the KGB’s Alpha Group often found itself deployed overseas. 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Not the look of a man who has patience with terrorists (Wikimedia Commons)

The Alpha Group would leave terrorists in fear, not the other way around. 

When deployed to Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion of the country, the KGB’s special operators decapitated the Afghan government, capturing the Ministry of Defence, the presidential palace, and assassinating President Hafizullah Amin, along with every other Afghan in the Tajbeg Palace and any witnesses. 

Members of the Alpha Group would spend the next ten years in Afghanistan, waging a war of fear and intimidation against the Afghan Mujahideen. 

The KGB’s finest operation against international terrorism came in Beirut, Lebanon in the early 1980s. At the time, Lebanon was in the early stages of a long civil war, and Beirut was a city torn apart. 

Although western countries sent peacekeeping forces into Lebanon and into Beirut in particular, many western countries began to feel the effects of terrorism on their people. The Americans not only suffered the bombing of its Marine barracks, but also experienced a number of significant kidnappings. Members of many Lebanese factions would go out and abduct high-profile individuals throughout the city.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
U.S. Embassy in Beirut after the 1983 bombing (Wikimedia Commons)

Many of these victims were kept for years. The longest was held captive for nearly five years. Diplomats, aid workers, and journalists were all victims of abductions from groups like Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Liberation Organization and others. France, the United States, West Germany, Ireland, and Switzerland were all victims. 

The Soviet Union lost one diplomat of the four that were abducted. In October 1985, four officials from the USSR were kidnapped in Beirut and the KGB’s Alpha Group was dispatched to find and rescue them. By the time the KGB arrived in Lebanon, Arkady Katkov, a consular attaché, had been killed. His body was found in a Beirut street. 

The KGB’s long-standing policy was not to negotiate with terrorists. Its operatives went to work identifying each member of the Islamic Liberation Organization who had a part in the abductions. Once they found a member of ILO who helped kidnap Soviet citizens, the KGB would abduct one of the offenders’ family members. 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Alpha Group: Not to be trifled with (Wikimedia Commons)

It’s rumored that one of those family members had their testicles forcibly removed by the KGB and mailed to the members of the ILO. The threat was clear: you can get to us, but we can also get to you. Not only were the remaining three diplomats dropped off near the Soviet embassy within the next thirty days, international terrorists left the Russians alone for the next 20 years. 

Alpha Group would go on to have significant roles in attempted coups during the fall of the Soviet Union, but could not prevent the Evil Empire’s fall. The KGB would fall with the USSR, but Alpha Group would live on with the new Russian FSB state security service. 


Feature image: Vladimir Putin shakes hands with members of Alpha Group in Chechnya in 2011 (Wikimedia Commons)

popular

This is what happens when your father was your drill instructor’s drill instructor

If Marine Corps boot camp is a bitter slice of hell, then drill instructors are the demons who dish it.


Now imagine what basic training would be like if your drill instructor was your father’s recruit and knew it. That’s exactly what happened to Reddit user hygemaii.

 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Gunnery Sergeant Shawn D. Angell gently corrects a trainee. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

You’d expect one of two things to happen: you get favorable treatment because your father treated your DI to a rose garden — highly unlikely — or you become your DI’s reprisal punching bag for everything your father put him through as a recruit — probably more realistic. Here’s how the story played out, according to hygemaii (mildly edited for grammar and curse words):

Related: 4 of the funniest boot camp stories we’ve ever heard

“My best military story is my own boot camp story. I decided to join the Marine Corps almost on a whim after planning to join the Air Force for most of my senior year in high school.

“Same old story of AF recruiters seeming like they didn’t give a sh-t about their appearance or job and the Marine recruiter putting out max effort all the time and always being presentable. I was a pretty easy mark for the USMC because my dad was in the USMC; I grew up on bases all over the U.S. until we moved to the little farm town in North Florida where I went to high school.

“Since I was 18, I basically did all the paperwork myself, found a job series I liked, signed, the whole nine yards, my dad didn’t know anything until I told him I was going to MEPS and joining the Marines. He was overjoyed, obviously. He loved the Corps and regretted getting out after 12 years.

“Now the story gets funny. My dad was a drill instructor when he was in the Marines. I remembered living on Parris Island but didn’t think much of it. When I got my ship date for boot camp, my dad called some old friends and I ended up in a Company who’s First Sergeant was an old friend of my dad’s — they served on the drill field together all those years ago. So through some sort of crazy coincidence, I end up in a platoon with a drill instructor who was a recruit under my dad (6-7 years prior to me going to boot camp).

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
A Drill Instructor whispers loving words of encouragement to Marines who needed some motivation. (U.S. Marine Corps)

“I have a very distinct name, and on the second day after we got our real drill instructors, as he was going through roll call, the drill instructor suddenly fell quiet. After a couple of seconds, he said my name, perfectly pronounced, and I knew I was f**ked.

“He said ‘[Last name], I bet there aren’t too many [Last names] in the world like that, are there?’ Sir, no sir. ‘Was your daddy a Marine in the 90’s Lastname?’ Sir, yes sir. ‘F**king good, [Last name], good. Get on my quarterdeck now.’

“I spent the rest of boot camp unable to make myself invisible. It spread from my drill instructor to drill instructors from other platoons, even other companies. It was f**king miserable. I felt bad for my rack mate, because at one point for about three days I had to move my entire rack to the quarterdeck and he was just along for the ride, so he caught a lot of it, too.

“It made graduating really special, in retrospect, to finally get the kind words from that drill instructor, but man that sucked. I’m pretty sure this entire thing was set up by my dad and his buddy, but they both deny it, and there’s no way to prove it.

“It was funny seeing my drill instructor stand a little straighter when he saw my dad at graduation.”

popular

‘Kilroy Was Here’ was the WWII-era viral meme

Kilroy, the bald guy with the long nose hanging over a wall, may be the world’s first viral meme. While it didn’t originate with U.S. servicemen in World War II, it resonated with them. And Kilroy has had staying power all over the world well after WWII.


The graffiti originated with a British doodle called “Mr. Chad,” who commented on rationing and shortages during the war. Often accompanied by the phrase “Wot? No Sugar”, “Wot? No engines?”, or anything decrying the lack of supplies in Britain at the time. “Eventually,” etymologist Eric Shackle writes, “the spirit of Allied unity merged, with the British drawing appearing over the American phrase.”

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
The infamous “Kilroy was here” graffiti on a piece of the Berlin Wall located in the Newseum in Washington, D.C., USA. (Wikimedia Commons)

The little graffiti doodle became a national joke. GIs and civilians alike would compete to draw “Kilroy was here” in the most remote, obscure places. “Kilroy was here” suddenly appeared on the torch of the Statue of Liberty, Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Marco Polo Bridge in China, a girder on the George Washington Bridge in New York, and even the bellies of pregnant women in hospitals.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

 

Kilroy the name is widely considered to originate from J.J. Kilroy, a welding inspector at the Bethlehem Steel Shipyards in Quincy, Massachusetts. The New York Times told the story of how Kilroy, tired of co-workers claiming he didn’t inspect their work, began writing “Kilroy was here” with a crayon, instead of making the usual chalk mark. When these ships came in for repairs in worldwide ports, wartime workers would open sealed compartments to find the doodle. This random appearance would be an amazing feat from the repair crews’ perspective since no one would have been able to access these areas.

 

For years, rumors and theories abounded about the origin of the name. In 1946, the American Transit Association held a contest, offering a full-size street car to anyone who could prove they were the real Kilroy. J.J. Kilroy entered and corroborated his story with other shipyard workers. The ATA sent the trolley to Kilroy’s house in Halifax, Mass. where he attached the 12-ton car to his home and used it as living space for his nine children.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Feature image: Engraving of Kilroy on the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Wikimedia Commons)

Articles

Did the phone call for fire scene in ‘Heartbreak Ridge’ really happen?

While typically rooted in true events, war films often take “creative liberties” in the portrayal of military members and their exploits. Heartbreak Ridge is no exception, but there’s one famously far-fetched scene in the cult classic that may have actually happened.

The 1986 film depicts the efforts of Medal of Honor recipient and thoroughly crusty Gunnery Sgt. Tom Highway (Clint Eastwood) as he whips a group of undisciplined Marines into combat shape just in time for the 1983 invasion of Grenada. While Heartbreak Ridge is known for its over-the-top depictions, the scene where Gunny Highway finds himself in a jail cell for bar fighting and urinating on a police cruiser might be the most accurate depiction of a battle-hardened Marine staff NCO in history.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Gunny Highway stands trial for urinating on a police cruiser. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

In the film’s depiction of Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, there is no shortage of hip firing from the highly trained Recon Marines, who use almost no structure or tactical maneuvering. And at a climactic point in the battle, the pinned-down Marines use a house phone and credit card to make a collect call back to Fort Bragg to request air support. 

As unlikely as that last one seems, it may have actually happened. 

Operation Urgent Fury is infamous for the innumerable blunders and SNAFUs that occurred before and during the operation. The US military of the early ’80s was a largely untested force that was undergoing a large-scale downsizing and restructuring (stop me if this sounds eerily familiar). 

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
Gunnery Sgt. Highway whipping young Marines into shape. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

President Ronald Reagan sent an initial force of 2,000 troops to rescue the nearly 1,000 Americans in Grenada at the time and settle the turmoil there, but the Pentagon ultimately had to send in roughly 4,000 additional military members to complete the operation. Short notice, bad planning and intel, and poor interservice communication plagued the operation.

US forces ultimately succeeded, and that was due, in no short part, to the boots on the ground doing what they do best — adapting and overcoming. Many stories are told from this operation, but none encapsulate the event and also the versatility of the American warrior quite as well as the legend of the American who called for indirect fire from a pay phone. 

As the tale goes, US service members were pinned down by enemy fire and were in dire need of artillery to gain the upper hand. Communication to any kind of support was cut off, spurring one quick-thinking soldier to action. The soldier allegedly took out his credit card and utilized the nearest pay phone to call Fort Bragg. The call was relayed through several channels and the necessary artillery was provided — saving the soldiers and winning the day.

MIGHTY STORIES: Art Jetter and Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit
War movie or Discover card ad? Mario Van Peebles as Cpl. Stitch Jones. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

To date, there are a couple of different versions of this legend. One involves a Navy SEAL making the call from a governor’s mansion for air support from an AC-130. However, Marines claimed the fire came from a naval destroyer positioned just off the island. Another involves a member of the 82nd Airborne actually using a pay phone to call his wife back at Fort Bragg who then relayed the message to his command. 

We may never know what really went down, but the legend of the phone call for fire inspired screenwriter and Vietnam veteran James Carabatsos to incorporate the impromptu call in his script for Heartbreak Ridge

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle. 

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

Feature image: Warner Bros.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information