The thought of summer brings on thoughts of sunshine, being outside and ice cream parlor trips for most people. But 67 years ago, summer was a time of fear for parents all over the world. Long before the novel coronavirus, there was a debilitating and deadly epidemic that would sweep through towns without warning. It was polio.
The original name for the virus was poliomyelitis, which was shortened to polio. History has demonstrated that polio actually may have existed long before it caused widespread fear in the 20th century. There are Egyptian carvings from 1400 B.C. which showcase a younger man with a leg deformity not unlike what you would see with someone who had polio.
This 1988 photograph showed Dr. Jonas Salk (left), who introduced the first polio vaccine in 1955, and Dr. Frederick A. Murphy (right), former Director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, together during Dr. Salk’s visit to the Centers for Disease Control that year.
The first documented polio outbreak in the United States occurred in 1894. It would be discovered that it was highly contagious in 1905. During the 1900s, this virus would become an epidemic.
The virus itself would spread through nasal or oral secretions and by contact with contaminated feces. As it continued multiplying within the body’s cells it may have only led to mild, virus like symptoms. But if it was the paralytic polio? Paralysis and even death could result because of the inability for the lungs to move for breathing. The iron lung, a negative pressure ventilator, would be invented around 1929, saving the lives of many. But it wasn’t enough to stop the virus from spreading.
It would begin to be known as infantile paralysis as it mostly affected children. Every summer, a child with a fever would leave parents gripped in fear that it was polio. A quarter of children would be left with mild disabilities and another quarter with severe and permanent disabilities. Thousands died.
The Alabama National Guard prepares to fly polio vaccine from Birmingham to Haleyvilled during the epidemic of 1963.
On March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Stalk announced on a national radio show that he had successfully tested a vaccine to prevent polio. It was the first “killed virus” vaccine attempt. The year prior had been a terrible year for Americans, with 58,000 new cases reported. His announcement was one that brought incredible joy to the world. It would take two more years before it was proven completely safe and a national inoculation campaign would begin.
It should be noted that Stalk never attempted to patent the vaccine, which was proven to have saved countless human lives. He was once asked on live television who owned the patent and his reply is one quoted often: “Well, the people I would say. There is no patent; could you patent the sun?”
A liquid version of the vaccine would be created later on, which would greatly impact the distribution of the vaccine to more people. Polio was officially eradicated in the United States in 1994 thanks to the incredible efforts of Stalk and those who followed.
Gilbert Bates knew what a lack of understanding between people could lead to: violence and war. Bates was a Civil War veteran of the Wisconsin artillery who knew that people were basically good, no matter what the rumors said. If there was an area that was supposed to be hostile and dangerous for Americans, Bates would set out to prove the rumors wrong.
And he did so on more than one occasion.
After the Civil War ended, Sgt. Bates returned to his Wisconsin farm. Tensions between North and South were still high, even though the war had resolved the major issues. Northerner and Southerner were still mistrustful of one another. But Bates knew the South was in the Union for good. The victory was hard-won, but won nonetheless. So when his Wisconsin neighbors began to circulate rumors that the South was rising once more in rebellion and that any Northerner was not safe down there, Bates set out to prove them wrong by marching across the South with the U.S. Flag in hand.
Bates’ march received so much notoriety at the time that even Mark Twain, the famous American author wrote of it, predicting that Bates would “get more black eyes, down there among those unreconstructed rebels than he can ever carry along with him without breaking his back.” But everyone who predicted his demise greatly exaggerated.
Bates walked across the unreconstructed South, some 1,500 miles, through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to Washington, DC. He didn’t arrive on one leg and with an eye missing, as Twain predicted. The opposite was true, actually. Bates received genteel Southern Hospitality everywhere he went, even flying the American flag he carried over the former Confederate capital at Richmond. The only place he wasn’t allowed to fly it was over the U.S. Capitol building.
This march led to Bates taking on a bet. A wealthy friend of his bet the flag carrier that he could not do the same march across England without receiving a single insult. Bates, who had an incredible belief in the goodness of his fellow man took that bet.
Relations with England at the time of the Civil War were much different from the “Special Relationship” we enjoy today. In the 1860s, the British were more interested in King Cotton than supporting the United States against its rebels. In many ways, the English Crown supported the Confederacy, if not openly, then as an open secret. Still undeterred, Bates marched on foot – in full Union uniform – across the country. He walked some 400 miles from the border of Scotland to London to great fanfare. The English could not support him enough. He never paid for a meal or a place to sleep. By the time he got to London, the crowds swelled so much he had to take a carriage to the raise the Stars and Stripes next to the Union Jack.
Upon arriving, he telegrammed his friend, canceling the bet. To Bates, the event was worth more than any sum.
It has been 25 years since the culmination of the so-called Russian constitutional crisis, when the country’s president, Boris Yeltsin, sought to dissolve the parliament and then ordered the military to crush opposition led by the vice president at the time, Aleksandr Rutskoi, and the chairman of parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov.
I was working in Central Asia when the crisis broke out in September 1993, and heard bits and pieces from Radio Mayak every now and again from the Uzbek village I was working in at the time.
I traveled regularly to Moscow for my job — heading a Central Asian sociology project for the University of Manchester and the Soros International Fund for Cultural Initiative — to hand over material from our Central Asian colleagues, pick up their salaries, and restock my own household supplies for the next period of village life.
By chance, I arrived in the Russian capital on October 1. Friends there explained the rapidly changing situation. (I was more interested in the party that some friends told me was set for the Penta Hotel on Saturday night, October 2.)
I had my first look at the Russian parliament building, known as the White House, on the way to the Penta. It was surrounded by trucks, the Soviet-era tanker trucks that had big letters on the sides showing they carried moloko (milk) or voda (water), or something. There was also barbed wire around the building. Small groups of people were milling about on both sides of the barricade.
Sunday, October 3, was shopping day for me. There were always too many people at the Irish store on the Arbat on the weekend, but there was another Irish store on the Ring Road. There was a smaller selection but I was only looking for basic products, like toilet paper.
‘Some snap drill’
Just before I reached the store, a convoy of Russian military trucks full of soldiers drove by. They were moving rather fast. I didn’t think too much of it. I’d seen military convoys drive through cities before, especially in Moscow. “Some snap drill,” I thought.
I hadn’t been back at my accommodation long when the phone rang. It was an Italian friend, Ferrante. He was doing business in Russia and lived not far from the flat I stayed in when I was in Moscow. We knew each other from parties and had seen each other at the Penta on Saturday night.
Our conversation went something like this:
“Are you watching this?” he asked.
“Watching what? I just got back,” I replied, “What’s going on?”
“There’s shooting at Ostankino,” Ferrante said in reference to the TV tower. “It’s on CNN. Come over.”
Now I knew what the military trucks were doing. I hurried over to Ferrante’s place and sat down to watch.
“Here,” Ferrante said, handing me a shot of vodka.
We both downed the shot and watched, then downed another shot, and watched.
We were also listening to a local radio station, and Ferrante was getting calls from people around Moscow. It was clear Ostankino was not the only place where serious events were unfolding.
Ferrante poured us both another shot. We downed it and Ferrante started speaking.
“You know,” and he paused. It seemed like a long pause, then he said exactly what I was thinking: “I always wished I was here in 1991,” a reference to the events that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. “Something big is happening. Let’s go out and see.”
Ferrante called his Russian driver to come over and get us, and we headed to the parliament building just as the sun was setting.
And then it got weird
We had trouble reaching the area. Some streets were blocked off. Once, our car turned a corner and there was a group of around 50 men marching toward us carrying sticks and crowbars. “Go back,” Ferrante yelled, though the driver was already trying.
We parked by the Hotel Ukraina, across the Moscow River from the parliament building. The bridge across the river was barricaded on the side near the parliament building but pedestrians could pass easily enough. We walked around watching apparent supporters of Rutskoi and Khasbulatov turn over those tanker trucks, light fires, and rearrange the barbed wire.
There was lots of drinking everywhere.
The crowd was growing. Men in military uniforms had arrived carrying a Soviet flag, and they were trying to form a column of several hundred of the seemingly hard-drinking supporters of Rutskoi and Khasbulatov. It was clear things were about to get ugly.
We noticed and were already talking, in English, about departing. I lit a cigarette, and a Russian man who had obviously had a few shots of vodka himself approached me and asked for a light. After I lit his cigarette, he stared at us and said, “Well guys, are we going, or are we going to sit here taking a piss?”
“Sit here taking a piss,” I replied immediately. “Sorry, we’re foreigners and this isn’t our fight.”
That was enough for him, and he left.
So did we. Back across the river to the Metro, which, amazingly, was working. It was packed, but we were easily able to make it to Tverskoi Boulevard, where the pro-Yeltsin side was assembling. They were drinking, too, but there were places where the atmosphere was more party than political upheaval. I remember a truck lay overturned and there was a guy on top of it playing the accordion and singing with a voice like iconic balladeer Vladimir Vysotsky. A lot of people were just sitting around on the street, drinking and talking.
I got back to my apartment at about 3:00 a.m. “What would daylight bring?” I wondered.
The phone woke me up on Monday, October 4. It was Ferrante again.
“I just got back from the center. I was on the bridge when the tank fired at parliament,” he said quickly.
A lot to digest
It was a lot for me to digest, first thing out of bed. There was an assault on the parliament building, a lot of shooting, people killed…
As I sat at the table drinking tea, more calls came in from friends. Did I know what happened? Had I heard? What had I heard? They told me what they heard.
Several people called just to see where I was, since they knew I was in Moscow but I had not answered the phone all Sunday night.
I remember best the call from my friend Samuel. “Where were you last night?”
When I told him I had been out roaming around in both camps, he screamed, “Are you totally stupid? People are getting killed out there.”
The call ended with me promising I wouldn’t leave my apartment. And I would have kept that promise if I had not run out of sugar for my tea.
I figured the odds of finding someone selling sugar were probably not so good in such times, but I don’t like tea without sugar, so I headed out and got on the subway, which was still running, and went to the Arbat stop.
There was no traffic on the road. I tried walking to where the Irish store on the Arbat was located, but that side of the street was blocked off. On the other side of the street, there was a long line of people behind metal barriers, so I crossed to see. The crowd stretched all the way down the road in the direction of the Moscow River until the about the last 100 meters from the intersection where the Aeroflot globe was. The other side of the intersection was the road that sloped down to the parliament building.
There were several thousand people behind this barrier, and I made my way toward the intersection, where eventually I could see four armored vehicles parked in the center of the road.
I made it to where Dom Knigi (House of Books) used to be. Across the street was that massive block of stores that included, at the time, the Irish store, the Yupiter furniture and appliance store, the Aeroflot office, and dozens of other businesses. Some of the windows were shot out. On top of the building, in plain sight, were OMON, the elite Interior Ministry troops, in their black uniforms gazing down at the streets. There were a lot of police and OMON troops on the other side of the road, at street level also.
Snipers, tracer rounds
But behind the waist-high metal barricades on my side of the street it was a carnival atmosphere. People were talking about snipers where the intersection was, but no one seemed particularly concerned. At least until a sniper finally did take a shot at the armored vehicles.
One of the armored vehicles turned in the direction of a building on the cross street and unloaded. The tracer rounds could be seen flying toward it and dust was kicked up off the side of the building from the bullets.
The crowd roared like it was a sporting event. “Give it to them!” people yelled.
The shooting stopped, the crowd calmed, and then a thoroughly inebriated, shirtless young man jumped over the metal barrier and danced around with his arms outstretched.
Burned facade of the Russian White House after the storming.
Two OMON troops jumped over the barrier on the other side of street, ran to the drunken dancer, and beat him with their clubs, each grabbing one of the now-unconscious drunk’s ankles and dragging him over the curb to their side of the street.
Another shot at the armored vehicles, another volley of return fire, and more cheering from the spectators on my side of the street.
About that time, I was thinking this was too bizarre and decided to leave. But just as I was making my way back, a roar went up from the direction I was headed and the ground started rumbling. A column of armored vehicles, including many tanks, was making its way up the road toward the intersection.
People were calling to the soldiers: “Be careful!” and “There are snipers there.”
I took one last look at the intersection. Two of the armored vehicles were peppering a building with bullets.
The Metro train I took was on a line that briefly emerged from underground to cross a bridge, and everyone looked out the window at the White House, whose upper floors were on fire.
I got my sugar, went home, and had tea. I went to Ferrante’s place that evening to drink more vodka. There were many people there, some with spent shell casings they had gathered after the raid on the parliament building. Everyone had a story to tell.
I packed my bags the next day and by October 6 I was safely back in Central Asia.
Ask around — every veteran pilot has a few stories involving close calls. Some of these terrifying near-misses happen in combat and others during peacetime. Chuck Yeager, however, has the displeasure of experiencing both. In fact, his closest call had nothing to do with the enemy.
Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the United States Air Force was testing a number of planes, always trying to reach for the higher and faster. One such plane was the NF-104A Starfighter, a modification of the baseline F-104 that had a short career with the United States Air Force, but saw decades of service with other countries.
A West German F-104 Starfighter. In 1962, this plane crashed with three others, killing four pilots (one of them American).
The purpose of the NF-104A was to test reaction control systems for use in space (since conventional control surfaces need air to function). The F-104 was a great choice for this test. As a high-performance fighter, it could reach a top speed of 1,320 miles per hour, had a maximum range of over 1,000 miles, and maintained the ability to carry two tons of weapons. However, it also proved to be very difficult to fly, earning the nickname “Widowmaker” among the West-German Luftwaffe.
To reach the altitudes required for such a test, engineers paired a rocket with 6,000 pounds of thrust with the J79 engine (the same engine used by the F-4 Phantom). The NF-104A was able to reach altitudes as high as 12,000 feet. It was called the Aerospace Trainer.
A NF-104 Starfighter lights off its rockets to zoom to altitudes of as much as 120,000 feet.
Lockheed modified three F-104As taken from the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for the Aerospace Trainer program. Two of the three NF-104s crashed. Yeager’s was the first among them and perhaps the most dramatic. His NF-104A, delivered less than six week prior to the nearly fatal flight, went into a flat spin. Yeager fought the plane as it fell almost 10,000 feet before he ejected. He suffered burns, but lived to eventually command a fighter wing in Vietnam.
Learn more about the plane that nearly killed one of the most famous pilots in history in the video below!
On April 13, 1943, Nazi Germany announced the discovery of a series of mass graves containing the bodies of thousands of Polish officers who had been arrested and then executed by the Soviet Army. Seventy-five years later, the Katyn massacre is still a sensitive issue between Poland and Russia.
For decades, our troops have faced awful weather, separation from their families, and a diet consisting of the same daily rations, and yet they still complete their vital missions.
In our eyes, that’s badass!
However, as time moves forward, so, too, does technology. Because of that, many modern troops don’t face the same problems as those that came before them. It’s important to always remember and respect just how tough our brothers and sisters-in-arms had it way back in the day.
To all past, present, and future veterans out there, WATM salutes you for your outstanding service. Be thankful that you don’t have to worry about these problems that once plagued the old-timers.
Two trusty SAPI plates.
Getting shot by a small-caliber round
We understand that getting shot sounds like a huge deal — because it is. However, allied troops on the modern battlefield wear a particular type of body armor, called “SAPI plates.” The inserts are made from a ceramic material and are worn over vital organs. These plates protect from small-arms fire and they’re a massive step up compared to what troops wore in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, troops wore only the uniforms issued to them as protection. Taking a round to the upper torso was, almost without exception, a profound injury that left long-term effects.
Lance Cpl. Eric W. Hayes makes a phone call to his mother from the phone center at Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
(Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Mark E. Bradley)
Not hearing from your family back home
Back in the day, the art of letter-writing was a troop’s only avenue of communication with family and friends back home. Those letters could take weeks to be delivered.
Today, we still have a mail service up and running, but we also have this thing called “the internet” — ever hear of it? — that can keep deployed troops in the loop. Soldiers, sailors, and Marines today also have access to phones through the USO and, sometimes, satellite phones to connect them with home in a matter of seconds.
Frequent weapon jams during a firefight
Those of us who’ve fired a weapon or two in our lives may have experienced a jam at some point. Even those of us who have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan rarely experience weapons malfunctions while sending rounds downrange because modern weapons are so well-manufactured and well-maintained.
It hasn’t always been this way. Ask any Vietnam veteran and they’ll tell you that their weapons would jam “just by looking at them.” We can’t imagine anything worse than losing your primary weapon when fighting the enemy on their home turf.
Staff Sgt. Bryan Robbins calls in for mortars during a live-fire exercise.
(Photo by Cpl. Jonathan Wright)
Communication issues between troops
Today, calling a service member from another platoon or company is as easy as picking up the comms gear headset and requesting someone’s call sign.
Although troops have had verbal communication systems in place for decades, they weren’t nearly as mobile or readily available as they are today. Back then, the radioman was in charge of carrying the proper equipment and usually stuck closely to their superior to make sure they maintained quick access. If that unit’s radio was down, replacing it wasn’t as easy as going to Radio Shack and buying another.
Today, many key members of the infantry platoon carry vital gear, making communication easy as f*ck. If a radio goes down, you can have it replaced in a few hours.
After members of the Native American Blackfeet Nation overwhelmed an Army recruiting office in 1941, those waiting in line cried, “since when has it been necessary for Blackfeet to draw lots to fight?“
Hitler surely didn’t realize the fight he was picking.
Japan kicked off their war with the U.S. with a bang — no declaration necessary. Their formal declaration came the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. One by one, the United States and the Axis countries declared war on one another. But the war between Native American nations in the United States and Germany had never actually been resolved, so they just resolved to continue fighting.
The Iroquois Confederacy declared war against the Kaiser’s Germany in 1917 alongside the U.S. after 16 members of a traveling circus were detained by the Germans, ostensibly for their own protection. The capture of those 16 prompted the leaders of the Iroquois to issue a declaration of war and implored members of the Iroquois Nation to enlist to fight alongside their U.S. ally, even though they were ineligible for American citizenship.
Some 12,000 Native Americans enlisted in the U.S. military during World War I, mostly volunteers, serving as scouts, snipers, and code talkers. Their incredible service in World War I prompted the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, John J. Pershing, to write:
“The North American Indian took his place beside every other American in offering his life in the great cause, where as a splendid soldier, he fought with the courage and valor of his ancestors.“
Beyond code talkers
When World War II came about, the Iroquois hadn’t yet made peace with Germany, so they were already ready to go back to Europe to give Germany more of the same. The Chippewa and Sioux Nations, this time around, also issued formal declarations of war.
Members of the Navajo Nation overwhelmed recruiting offices in three states with recruits ready to go fight – no draft required. One fourth of the entire Mescalero Apache Nation joined the U.S. military during World War II as did all the able-bodied Chippewas at the Grand Portage Reservation. So great was the Native Americans’ desire to serve that if all Americans had joined the military during World War II in the same proportion that Native Americans did, there would have been no need for a draft. Ten percent of all Native Americans served in World War II.
Another 150,000 left the reservations and went to work in war production, serving in factories and farms while Native women took over the traditionally male roles on the reservations.
Native Americans won their citizenship after World War I with the 1924 Snyder Act, but it was World War II that disrupted so much of traditional American society, including Native American nations.
Natives came home with a new standard of living, new skills, and shaped a new way forward for pan-Native American societies. For the first time, Native Americans were able to assert themselves and their status as equals, fighting for the rights and privileges of every other American, as well as those granted to them by existing treaties with the United States.
If a bad guy wants to mess with someone, they should probably make sure that someone is not a Gurkha. Gurkha are a legendary class of Nepalese warriors whose lineage dates back to the Middle Ages. Gurkhas fought first against the British during the colonial era, and the Brits were so impressed by their ability in combat, they decided to enlist them in their military efforts.
They’ve been with the British since the days of the British East India company, through to World War II, and even through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their distinctive knife, the Khukuri, is symbolic of their heroism, bravery, and skill in combat.
A true testament to the ability of these renowned Nepalese warriors is praise for their prowess from friend and foe alike. Indian Army Chief of Staff Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, once stated “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” Prince Charles once said, “In the world there is only one secure place, that’s when you are between Gurkhas.” Osama bin Laden once claimed he would “eat Americans alive” if he had Gurkhas on his side. Adolf Hitler said of them, “If I had Gurkhas, no armies in the world would defeat me.”
On Sep. 2, 2010, when Bishnu Prasad Shrestha was returning home after a voluntary retirement from the Indian Army, the train incident happened. At around midnight on the Maurya Express train from Ranchi to Gorakhpur, 40 armed bandits boarded the train and started looting the passengers. He allowed himself to be robbed by the gun- and knife-toting train robbers. When they soon began to mess with an 18-year-old girl in front of her parents, who were watching helplessly, he couldn’t sit down any longer. Shrestha lost it.
He took out his Khukuri and fought the entire group of 40 robbers single-handedly, killing three of them and injuring eight others. The rest fled. After the incident, he explained:
“They started snatching jewelry, cell phones, cash, laptops and other belongings from the passengers. They had carried out their robbery with swords, blades and pistols. The pistols may have been fake as they didn’t fire. The girl cried for help, saying ´You are a soldier, please save a sister.’ I prevented her from being raped, thinking of her as my own sister.
During the fight, he took a serious knife wound on his left hand and the girl took a small cut on her neck. He was able to recover what the bandits stole, 200 cell phones, 40 laptops, a significant amount of jewelry, and nearly $10,000 in cash.
When the intended rape victim’s family offered him a large cash reward, he refused it, saying:
“Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier. Taking on the thugs on the train was my duty as a human being.”
Bishnu Prasad Shrestha held himself to the traditions of his Gurkha regiment and training. Today, Gurkhas fight with British, American, Indian, Nepalese, and Malaysian forces all over the world. After their service ends, they usually return to Nepal to become subsistence farmers. In 2009, the United Kingdom granted pensions at settlement rights to any Gurkha who served the UK for at least four years.
Check the WATM podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss how the Gurkhas became feared Nepalese warriors.
There’s one Army-Navy Game tradition that might seem a bit surprising for institutions that preach honor, loyalty and dignity: the mascot heist. Somehow, over the decades, the ritual of stealing your opponent’s mascot has become a beloved prank that’s part of the rivalry’s tradition.
Army cadets seem to be more focused on stealing their generation’s version of Bill the Goat than Navy midshipmen are committed to mule theft. Of course, goats are much more compact creatures, something that makes them easier to transport and leaves far less of a mess to clean afterward.
To be fair, mascot pranks have a long history at our country’s elite colleges, though they didn’t surface at the service academies until after World War II because rank has its privileges. Even so, the academies signed a nonaggression pact in 1992 that supposedly put a stop to these shenanigans.
Here are 4 classic Army-Navy mascot heists
In 1953, Army cadets somehow thought they could corral a goat in a cardboard box.
(United States Military Academy Library)
1. 1953 — the tradition begins
West Point cadets used chloroform to gas Billy the Goat and spirit him away from Annapolis in the back of a convertible. After Bill’s return, Superintendent of the Naval Academy Vice Adm. C. Turner Joy told The New York Times that the goat had not, in fact, been “kid-naped” by the Army but had merely visited West Point as a guide for the “‘pathetic’ group of Army cadets who, like Yale’s ‘poor little sheep,’ had lost their way.”
2. 1965 — The Golden Fleece
West Point cadet Tom Carhart wrote an entire book called “The Golden Fleece: High-Risk Adventure at West Point” about the successful mission that he and five of his classmates pulled off in 1965. Sick of losing their goat, the Navy started keeping Bill on a naval base between appearances, a location with far greater security than the relatively open campus in Annapolis.
Dressed in black, the commandos cut through wire fences and completed their goat theft while their girlfriends distracted the Marine Corps guards with a story about being lost after getting stood up on a blind date.
These modern-day mules are not the same ones stolen in 1991. But they may be related.
3. 1991 — crimes committed in pursuit of a higher good
Navy midshipmen on a mission to steal West Point’s mules cut phone lines, tied up members of Army staff and went on the run from police. Facing felony charges, they instead got off with the “Order of the Mule,” a made-up award from the Navy commandant that declared their actions “in the highest traditions of the naval service.” Two of the raiders rose to become top leaders in the Navy SEALs.
Lead From The Front: An Army/Navy Short Film 2017 [4K]
West Point commandant Brig. Gen. Steven Gilland got in on the action last year as the star of a 10-minute Army spirit video that celebrated the tradition and plays out like a Hollywood Heist movie. Gilland plays the role of airborne commando in an elaborate raid on Annapolis.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
When Japan introduced the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, it gained a remarkable plane that racked up an impressive combat record through 1941. However, despite its incredible performance for the time, the Zero couldn’t hold up.
The Grumman F6F Hellcat achieved fame as a Zero-killer after it was introduced in 1943. But it was its predecessor, the Grumman F4F Wildcat, that held the line during the first campaigns of World War II.
So, how did the Wildcat match up so well against the fearsome Zero? First, it’s important to understand that a big part of the Zero’s reputation came from racking up kills in China against a lot of second-rate planes with poorly-trained pilots. After all, there was a reason that the Republic of China hired the American Volunteer Group to help out during the Second Sino-Japanese War – Chinese pilots had a hard time cutting it.
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero had racked up a seemingly impressive record against second-rate opposition.
A damaged F4F Wildcat lands on USS Enterprise (CV 6) during the Battle of Santa Cruz. Japanese pilots would put hundreds of 7.7mm machine gun rounds into a Wildcat to little or no effect.
But, believe it or not, the Wildcat almost never made it to the field. The original F4F Wildcat was a biplane that lost out to the Brewster F2A Buffalo in a competition to field the next carrier-born fighter. Grumman, unsatisfied by losing out a contract, pitched two upgraded designs, and the F4F-3 was finally accepted into service. It was a good thing, too. As it turned out, the Brewster Buffalo was a piece of crap — whether at Midway or over Burma, Buffalos got consistently fell to Zeros, costing the lives of Allied pilots.
When the F4F faced off with the Zero, however, it proved to be a very tough customer. A Zero’s armament consisted of two 7.7mm machine guns and two 20mm cannon. The former had a lot of ammo, but offered little hitting power. The latter packed a punch, but the ammo supply was limited. As a result, in combat, many Japanese pilots would empty their 7.7mm machine guns only to see the Wildcat was still flying.
By contrast, the Wildcat’s battery of four to six M2 .50-caliber machine guns brought not only hitting power to bear against the lightly armored Zero, but also came with an ample supply of ammo. Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa was able to score seven kills against Japanese planes in one day with a Wildcat.
But ammo wasn’t the only advantage. Wildcat pilots had an edge in terms of enemy intelligence thanks to the discovery of the Akutan Zero, a recovered, crashed Zero that gave the U.S. insight into its inner-workings (this vessel made a cameo in a training film featuring future President Ronald Reagan).
Learn more about this plane that held the line against the odds in the video below.
On Oct. 23, 1941, US Navy destroyer USS Reuben James left Newfoundland to escort a convoy bound for Britain. Two days later, the German U-boat U-552 left the French port of St. Nazaire to prowl the North Atlantic on its sixth patrol.
The US was not a belligerent in the war in Europe at the time, but Washington had set up neutrality zones in the Atlantic in which its ships would guard British and neutral merchant ships. US ships would also notify convoys of U-boats’ locations.
The James and the U-552 sailed a few weeks after a U-boat fired on the Navy destroyer USS Greer without hitting it. After that incident, President Franklin Roosevelt told the public that “if German or Italian vessels of war enter the waters, the protection of which is necessary for American defense, they do so at their own peril.”
In the early-morning hours of October 31, when the Reuben James and the U-552 crossed paths near Iceland, the de facto state of war between the US and Germany in the Atlantic intensified.
German Capt. Lt. Erich Topp and other crew members aboard the U-552 in St. Nazaire, France, Octo. 6, 1942.
The James and four other US destroyers were escorting the more than 40 ships that made up HX-156, a convoy of merchant ships sailing from Halifax in Canada to Europe. At that time, US warships would escort convoys to Iceland, where British ships took over.
As day broke on October 31, the Reuben James was sailing at about 10 mph on the left rear side of the convoy. Just after 5:30 a.m., the U-552 fired on the James, its torpedoes ripping into the left side of the destroyer.
“One or more explosions” occurred near the forward fire room, “accompanied by a lurid orange flame and a high column of black smoke visible for several minutes at some miles,” according to the Navy’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
The ship’s forward section was blown off, and it sank rapidly. Only two sailors on that part of the ship survived the blast. Others who made it out were sailors “berthed, or on watch, [aft of] the forward fireroom.”
No official order came to abandon ship, but crew members launched three rafts and started to leap overboard as the sea swallowed the ship. The captain had issued life jackets to the crew and told them to have them on hand at all times, which meant many sailors were able to get to them as they fled the ship.
A German U-boat.
While many men made it off, a number of those in the water around the ship were killed or later drowned after at least two depth charges on the ship detonated as it sank.
The escort commander sent two destroyers to investigate. With a smooth sea and little wind, they were able to spot the James’ sailors just before 6 a.m. and began rescuing them minutes later. The destroyers’ crews used cargo nets, Jacob’s Ladders, life rings, and lines to pull survivors, many covered in oil, out of the water.
Rescue operations were over by 8 a.m.; 44 of the crew were recovered, but 93 enlisted men and all the ship’s seven officers were killed.
US merchant ships had already been sunk in the Atlantic, and in mid-October, another US destroyer was hit by a torpedo but made it to Iceland. But the James became the first US warship sunk by the enemy in World War II.
“The news of the torpedoing of one of our destroyers off Iceland was the first thing that the President spoke of this morning, and that has cast a shadow over the whole day,” Eleanor Roosevelt wrote on November 1. “I cannot help but think of every one of the 120 men and their families, who are anxiously awaiting news.”
US Coast Guard cutter Spencer crew members watch a depth charge blast a German submarine attempting to break into a large US convoy, April 17, 1943. The U-boat was critically damaged and sunk off the coast of Ireland.
Germany was unapologetic, saying US ships were escorting British ships in a war zone and had fired on German vessels before. The US didn’t declare war, but the sinking drew the US further into the conflict in Europe, which was already more than two years old.
On November 1, Roosevelt signed an executive order reassigning the US Coast Guard from the Treasury Department to the Navy. About two weeks later, under pressure from the president, Congress further amended the Neutrality Acts passed in the 1930s, revising them to allow US merchant ships to be armed and to sail into war zones.
The James was stricken from the Navy’s official register on March 25, 1942. The U-552 continued the fight. It joined U-boats that preyed on US ships along the East Coast in 1942 but was later transferred to waters closer to Europe.
The U-552’s success waned, as did that of the rest of the U-boat force, as the Allies improved their convoy and anti-submarine tactics and invaded Europe, recapturing ports. In early May 1945 — days before the surviving Nazi leadership surrendered in Berlin — the U-552 was scuttled in waters off the North Sea.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Anyone can tell you that in combat, good communications are important. But there was one time that a miscommunication helped the U.S. win a significant naval surface action off Guadalcanal during the Battle of Cape Esperance.
That bit of lucky confusion happened on the night of Oct. 11, 1942. That was when Japan decided to carry out what was called a “Tokyo Express” run. These runs delivered troops, often dashing in under the cover of darkness. This was necessary because American planes at Henderson Field were very capable of taking down enemy ships in the daylight hours.
To take Henderson Field, Japan had to reinforce the troops on Guadalcanal — especially because the Americans had, in the middle of September run a substantial convoy to Guadalcanal at the cost of the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV 7). During that month, at the battle of Edson’s Ridge, the Marines had repelled an attack, inflicting substantial losses on the Japanese ground troops.
According to “The Struggle for Guadalcanal,” Volume Five in Samuel Eliot Morison’s “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II,” on Oct. 9, 1942, an American convoy carrying the 164th Infantry Regiment, part of the Americal Division, departed for Guadalcanal. Three United States Navy task forces covered the transports.
One was centered around the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8), which had launched the Doolittle raid almost six months prior. The second was around the battleship USS Washington (BB 56). The third was a group of cruisers and destroyers under the command of Rear Adm. Norman Scott, who had his flagship on the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco (CA 38).
In addition to the San Francisco, the heavy cruiser USS Salt Lake City (CA 25), the light cruisers USS Helena (CL 50) and USS Boise (CL 47), and the destroyers USS Laffey (DD 459), USS Farenholt (DD 491), USS Duncan (DD 485), USS McCalla (DD 488) and USS Buchanan (DD 484) were part of Task Force 64, which had the assignment of securing Ironbottom Sound until the transports finished unloading.
At 11:32 that night, the radar on the USS Helena detected a Japanese force of three heavy cruisers (the Aoba, Kinugasa, and Furutaka) and the destroyers Fubuki and Hatsuyuki. American radar tracked the Japanese force, which was covering a supply convoy. At 11:45 that night, Capt. Gilbert C. Hoover on board the Helena would send a fateful message to Admiral Scott, “Interrogatory Roger.” He was requesting permission to fire. Scott’s response, “Roger,” was intended to acknowledge receipt of the request. But “Roger” was also used for granting permission to fire, according to Morison.
Hoover would assume the latter, and at 11:46, the USS Helena opened fire with her fifteen six-inch guns. According to NavWeaps.com, the Mk 16 six-inch guns could fire up to ten rounds a minute. In that first minute, as many as 150 rounds would be fired by that ship. Other American ships also opened fire, and the Aoba, the flagship of the Japanese force, took the brunt of the American fire. The Japanese commander, Rear Adm. Aritomo Goto, was mortally wounded early on.
Thrown into confusion, the Japanese force initially believed they had been fired on by their troop convoy. Eventually, they began to return fire, but the battle’s result was never in doubt. The Aoba would be badly damaged, and the Furutaka and the Fubuki would be sunk by the end of the battle.
The Americans would lose the destroyer USS Duncan, while the Boise and Salt Lake City were damaged and returned to rear bases for repairs, along with the destroyer Farenholt.
Norman Scott had won a tactical victory, thanks to that communications foul-up, but the Japanese landed their reinforcements that night. On the night of October 13, the battleships Kongo and Haruna delivered a devastating bombardment against Henderson Field, but couldn’t prevent American reinforcements from arriving.
Later that month, Japanese forces would fail to take Henderson Field, while a naval offensive would be turned back in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands at the cost of the Hornet.
The two men involved in that communications foul-up would see action about a month later off Guadalcanal when Japanese battleships tried to again bombard Henderson Field, only to be stopped by Daniel Callaghan.
Rear Adm. Norman Scott would be killed in action in that engagement. Hoover would survive, and be left in command of the surviving ships. As he lead them back, the anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52) would be sunk by a Japanese submarine. Rather than try to rescue survivors, Hoover radioed the position of the survivors to a patrolling B-17, expecting a request to be relayed to the South Pacific.
The British position at Stony Point, New York was really just an attempt to force George Washington out of the mountains and into a pitched battle – one the British could win. The American War of Independence had been going on for years, and by 1778, the British were languishing in New York City. To get things moving, General Sir Henry Clinton sent 8,000 men north to keep the Americans from using King’s Ferry to cross the Hudson.
But the Americans weren’t stupid. Assaulting a fortified position against overwhelming numbers was a bad call no matter how you try to justify it. So when the British Army left Stony Point with just a fraction of its troops as a garrison, that’s when Washington saw his opportunity.
If there’s anything Washington excelled at, it was picking his battles.
The setup was so grand and well-made, the British began to refer to their Stony Point position as the “Gibraltar of the West.” The fort used two lines of abatements, manned by roughly a third of the total force in each position. To top it all off, an armed sloop, the HMS Vulture, also roamed the Hudson to add to the artillery guns already defending Stony Point. It seemed like a suicide mission.
But when the bulk of the troops left to return to New York, Washington knew his odds were never going to get better than this. The British left only 600-700 troops at Stony Point. The defenses were intimidating, but Washington wasn’t fielding militia; he had battle-hardened Continental Soldiers, and a General they called “Mad Anthony” to lead them.
This is not some tiny stream.
The American plan seemed as Mad as Gen. Anthony Wayne. The Americans discovered that the British abatements didn’t extend into the river during low tide, so they could just go around the defenses if they timed their attack right. They created a three-pronged plan. Major Hardy Murfree would lead a very loud diversionary attack against the British center and create alarm in the enemy camp. Meanwhile, Gen. Wayne and Col. Richard Butler would assault either side of the defenses and flank the British. But they had to do it in total silence.
They unloaded their muskets and fixed bayonets to surprise the British.
They don’t call him “Mad” Anthony Wayne for nothing.
And the British were surprised. They were completely flanked on the sides of their abatements. As Murfree attacked the center, the other Americans completely rolled up the British defenses and cut off the regiments fighting Murfree in the center. They stormed the slopes of Stony Point and completely routed the British positions. They captured almost 500 enemy troops, and stores of food and weapons.
In a dispatch to Washington, Anthony wrote that the fort and its garrison were now theirs and that “Our officers men behaved like men who are determined to be free.”