The United States Air Force says they intend to pit an artificial intelligence-enabled drone against a manned fighter jet in a dogfight as soon as next year.
Although drones have become an essential part of America’s air power apparatus, these platforms have long had their combat capabilities hampered by both the limitations of existing technology and our own concerns about allowing a computer to make the decision to fire ordnance that will likely result in a loss of life. In theory, a drone equipped with artificial intelligence could alleviate both of those limiting factors significantly, without allowing that life or death decisions to be made by a machine.
As any gamer will tell you, lag can get you killed. In this context, lag refers to the delay in action created by the time it takes for the machine to relay the situation to a human operator, followed the the time it takes for the operator to make a decision, transmit the command, where it must then be received once again by the computer, where those orders translate into action. Even with the most advanced secure data transmission systems on the planet, lag is an ever-present threat to the survivability of a drone in a fast paced engagement.
Unmanned aerial vehicle operators in training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman BreeAnn Sachs)
Because of that lag limitation, drones are primarily used for surveillance, reconnaissance, and air strikes, but have never been used to enforce no-fly zones or to posture in the face of enemy fighters. In 2017, a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone successfully shot down another, smaller drone using an air-to-air missile. That success was the first of its kind, but even those responsible for it were quick to point out that such a success was in no way indicative of that or any other drone platform now having real dogfighting capabilities.
“We develop those tactics, techniques and procedures to make us survivable in those types of environments and, if we do this correctly, we can survive against some serious threats against normal air players out there,” Col. Julian Cheater, commander of the 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, said at the time.
Artificial intelligence, however, could very feasibly change this. By using some level of artificial intelligence in a combat drone, operators could give the platform orders, rather than specific step-by-step instructions. In effect, the drone operator wouldn’t need to physically control the drone to dogfight, but could rather command the drone to engage an air asset and allow it to make rapid decisions locally to respond to the evolving threat and properly engage. Put simply, the operator could tell the drone to dogfight, but then allow the drone to somewhat autonomously decide how best to proceed.
A hawk for hunters
The challenges here are significant, but as experts have pointed out, the implications of such technology would be far reaching. U.S. military pilots receive more training and flight time than any other nation on the planet, but even so, the most qualified aviators can only call on the breadth of their own experiences in a fight.
Drones enabled with some degree of artificial intelligence aren’t limited to their own experiences, and could rather pull from the collective experiences of millions of flight hours conducted by multiple drone platforms. To give you a (perhaps inappropriately threatening) analogy, you could think of these drones as the Borg from Star Trek. Each drone represents the collected sum of all experiences had by others within its network. This technology could be leveraged not just in drones, but also in manned aircraft to provide a highly capable pilot support or auto-pilot system.
“Our human pilots, the really good ones, have a couple thousand hours of experience,” explains Steve Rogers, the Team Leader for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Autonomy Capability Team 3 (ACT3). “What happens if I can augment their ability with a system that can have literally millions of hours of training time? … How can I make myself a tactical autopilot so in an air-to-air fight, this system could help make decisions on a timeline that humans can’t even begin to think about?”
As Rogers points out, such a system could assess a dangerous situation and respond faster than the reaction time of even highly trained pilots, deploying countermeasures or even redirecting the aircraft out of harm’s way. Of course, even the most capable autopilot would still need the thinking, reasoning, and directing of human beings–either in the cockpit or far away. So, even with this technology in mind, it appears that the days of manned fighters are still far from over. Instead, AI enabled drones and autopilot systems within jets could both serve as direct support for manned aircraft in the area.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins)
By incorporating multiple developing drone technologies into such an initiative, such as the drone wingman program called Skyborg, drone swarm initiatives aimed at using a large volume of cooperatively operating drones, and low-cost, high capability drones like the XQ-58A Valkyrie, such a system could fundamentally change the way America engages in warfare.
Ultimately, it may not be this specific drone program that ushers in an era of semi-autonomous dogfighting, but it’s not alone. From the aforementioned Skyborg program to the DARPA’s artificial intelligence driven Air Combat Evolution program, the race is on to expand the role of drones in air combat until they’re seen as nearly comparable to manned platforms.
Of course, that likely won’t happen by next year. The first training engagement between a drone and a human pilot will likely end in the pilot’s favor… but artificial intelligence can learn from its mistakes, and those failures may not be all that long lived.
“[Steve Rogers] is probably going to have a hard time getting to that flight next year … when the machine beats the human,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, head of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, said during a June 4 Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event. “If he does it, great.”
There’s nothing great about having to surrender. At best, the loser gets to keep most of his men alive. At worst, well… he doesn’t and the outcome is a room full slaughtered defenders. Brave defenders, sure. But they’re still outnumbered and slaughtered.
So sometimes, surrender is the best option – but no one brags about it, and it sure as hell won’t win any drinks at the bar. But at least your unit will still be at the bar later. Here’s a few people who also chose wisely.
1. The French Foreign Legion in Mexico.
In the 1860s, the United States was too busy beating the hell out of the Confederacy to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, which basically was meant to keep European powers from messing around with the Americas. Naturally, as soon as the U.S. turned its sights on the Civil War, France invaded Mexico.
During the fighting, the Foreign Legion was tasked with resupplying the French at the Battle of Puebla. Since only 65 of them weren’t struggling with dysentery and the Foreign Legion isn’t exactly known for not getting the job done, that’s the number of troops who rolled out to Puebla with the supplies. Along the way, they stopped at a place called Palo Verde – where they were immediately met by Mexican cavalry.
The Legion fought their way back to an inn in the city of Camarón, where they decided to make a stand. They didn’t know that the cavalry was just the beginning – the Mexicans had three battalions of infantry too, totaling 1,200 men and 800 cavalry. Even when the Mexican commander informed the French about how they were outnumbered 33-to-1, the French accepted the challenge.
Over the next 11 hours, the legion killed or wounded 600 of the Mexican attackers. The Mexican commander returned under a flag of truce to find only two Legionnaires remaining. After the Mexican demanded their surrender, the half-dead Frenchmen still demanded terms: immediate safe passage home, their wounded, their fallen captain, their weapons and their regimental flag.
The Mexican accepted.
2. Hezbollah gives in to the KGB.
In 1985, four Soviet diplomats were kidnapped in West Beirut – right in front of the Soviet embassy. They were held by one of the many extremist organizations in the decade-long Lebanese Civil War. The abductors called themselves “The Khaled Al-Walid Force” and were demanding the Soviet Union pressure its Syrian client to squeeze its factions to stop attacking Muslim-held positions in Tripoli. And they wanted the Soviets to evacuate their embassy in the city.
That was the plan, anyway.
When one of the abducted men was found dead in a field in Beirut, riddled with bullets, the KGB we have all come to know through ’80s movies and real goddamn life showed up. KGB station chief Col. Yuri Perfilev met with the Grand Ayatollah of Lebanon’s Shia muslims Muhammad Fadlallah and told him that “A great power cannot wait forever” and that waiting could lead to “serious action” and “unpredictable consequences.” The Russian then told him:
I’m talking about Tehran and Qom [Shiite holy city and the residence of Ayatollah Khomeini], which is not that far from Russia’s borders. Yes, Qom is very close to us and a mistake in the launch of a missile could always happen. A technical error, some kind of breakdown. They write about it all the time. And God or Allah forbid if this happens with a live, armed missile.
If that wasn’t enough, the KGB kidnapped a relative of a top Hezbollah leader, castrated the relative and sent his organs to Hezbollah – along with photos of his other relatives – and demanded the release of Soviet prisoners. The three hostages were released back at the embassy and no Soviet citizen was ever kidnapped in Lebanon again.
3. Japan surrenders to the Atomic Bomb.
The end of WWII was pretty harsh to Japan. Its surrender to the Allies had to be unconditional, which must have been a huge bitter pill to swallow for a warrior culture like Japan’s.
Still, after the Yalta Conference, the Soviet Union was forced to declare war on Imperial Japan in the weeks following the fall of the Third Reich. The Russians quickly moved into Manchuria as the Americans warned of “prompt and utter destruction” if they didn’t give up soon.
After mistranslating the Japanese for “no comment,” the Americans infamously rained nuclear death on Japan, first at Hiroshima and then at Nagasaki. The destruction itself wasn’t the biggest aspect of the choice to surrender – U.S. Army Air Forces General Curtis LeMay had been firebombing Japanese cities for much 0f 1945.
Still, wonton destruction isn’t a good look for any culture and the horrifying reports and photos – not to mention radiation and fallout – in the days that followed sealed the deal. the Emperor took to the radio (through a recording) and announced Japan would submit to the Allied demands.
4. Anyone surrendering to the Mongols.
The great Khans had one rule: give in and be spared. Cause a Mongol casualty and your city will be laid to waste and everyone inside will be killed or worse.
Even after many, many examples of the Mongols winning against great odds and destroying cities much greater than anything they’d build on their own, people still refused to submit to the Mongols. At Nishapur, an arrow killed Genghis Khan’s favorite son-in-law. In response, Khan killed every living thing in the city as he sacked it – an estimated 1.7 million people.
The fun didn’t stop there. Legendary cities like Kiev, Samarkand, and Herat were all put to the Mongol sword. Whereas those who surrendered were let off comparatively easy – the Mongols may kill off the royal family and do some light looting, raping, and pillaging for a few days. A light sentence compared to the mass murder and destruction of Baghdad, where the center of learning was destroyed, its contents thrown into the Euphrates.
I led multiple combat conditioning programs in the Marine Corps, and I did my Martial Arts Instructor Certification at the MACE in Quantico with the creators of MCMAP. Yet, I had no idea what HITT was. I thought it was just a cheap rip-off of HIIT that the Marine Corps wanted to get their proprietary mitts on.
I was a little salty at certain points in my career.
The short of it is: HIIT is a type of workout and HITT is a comprehensive program that encompasses all aspects of fitness.
A few seconds of this, a few seconds of that…
What HIIT is
High-Intensity interval training (HIIT) really got popular when the Tabata method got some good press. The Tabata method is a type of HIIT workout where you perform a movement for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. You repeat this sequence for as many rounds as you are adapted to.
Other styles of HIIT follow the same basic layout. You perform a movement for a certain period of time, and then you rest for about half the time you did the movement for.
If you are really particular, you would measure your heart rate and rest until your heart rate gets to about 60% of your estimated maximum heart rate.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BjzcNion5Qq/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link expand=1]Michael Gregory on Instagram: “Here’s how to do a HIIT workout properly. . A lot of people do “HIIT” but they don’t understand the purpose. It’s to to boost your output…”
It might sound like math class, and it basically is. There are plenty of apps and timers out there for HIIT workouts, but most people just wing it.
In fact, most people completely miss the point of HIIT.
At its base, HIIT is a fat burning workout that takes advantage of the anaerobic fuel systems of the body. If you don’t allow your heart rate to get down low enough between sets, you are preventing your body from truly resting. Without enough rest, you cannot perform at 90-100%+ effort, and therefore miss out on burning a maximum amount of fat.
I can and will go more in-depth on this topic in the future. Take a look at the above Instagram post for details on how to properly use HIIT to help you lose that adorable baby fat on your tummy.
Run fast and lift heavy. Sounds pretty good to me.
(Photo by Capt. Colleen McFadden)
What HITT is
High-Intensity Tactical Training, on the other hand, is a program designed by the Marine Corps to prepare Marines for combat. You can read the whole methodology behind it here.
It has 3 basic principles:
Prevent potential for injury
Increase performance levels that support combat specific tasks
Build strength, optimize mobility, and increase speed
Subtle how they squeezed five principles into three, but I’ll roll with it.
High Intensity Tactical Training (HITT) Promo Video- USMC
I’d argue that these components should be the base of every single human being’s training plan, not just military personnel. I would just switch the wording around in number two to read “increase performance levels to support career specific tasks” for the normies.
Reading through the methodology, linked above, I could nitpick some of the specifics of the program. Ultimately though, I’m a fan.
Unlike HIIT, HITT has nothing to do with burning fat whatsoever. Actually, it would probably be in a Marine’s favor to keep a modest amount of body fat on their frame in case things go south and they are without food for multiple days.
The next step is to do the workout with a full combat load. That’s HITT.
(Photo by Capt. Colleen McFadden)
Execution is everything
HIIT and HITT couldn’t be more different. HIIT is for people who are primarily concerned with how they look while HITT is for Marines who want to f*ck sh*t up.
Both of these can be very beneficial to you depending on what you are trying to achieve.
Military personnel don’t have the luxury of knowing exactly what they are getting themselves into with a deployment until they get there. A well-rounded plan, like HITT, that increases all aspects of fitness is ideal if you have the time.
Don’t let this image fool you. This man’s primary form of exercise is not HIIT. He lifts.
HITT is for someone who is looking for long-term nonspecific training that will focus on all aspects of fitness. It doesn’t need to be just for those getting ready for a deployment.
HIIT is for someone who is looking to burn fat while maintaining lean muscle. That’s it for HIIT. It won’t make you stronger, it probably won’t make you much faster. It is exclusively for people who want to lose fat.
The bottom line of this showdown between fitness modalities is that the Marine Corps needs to get better at naming their programs. Otherwise, most people will just write off their highly researched program as a shameless government knock-off of something that already exists.
Kadena Air Base, Japan (AFNS) — Providing the base and various other units on the island with cryogenic products – whether it be in a liquid or gaseous form – is the plant’s priority.
“We produce the liquid oxygen and the liquid nitrogen here for our organizations across the island to make sure they get the product they need to make the mission happen,” said Tech. Sgt. Mark Pannell, 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron assistant noncommissioned office in charge of cryogenic productions.
The production plant provides services for a range of reasons, whether it be for pilots or patients, the plant handles it all and can also be the difference in life or death in some instances.
“We manufacture liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen for various organizations to use…Breathable oxygen at high altitudes for aircraft, liquid nitrogen to fill tires for the aircraft so they don’t explode if they hit the ground too hard and the hospital has various uses for oxygen and nitrogen as you could imagine…It’s important,” said Senior Airman Christopher Tallan, 18th LRS cryogenic production operator.
While other bases have to purchase their liquid oxygen and nitrogen from external providers, Kadena Air Base is able to support the mission directly as well as save money.
A beaker of liquid oxygen sits filled July 27, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jessica H. Smith)
“I don’t like to solely rely on other people because I know if we do it ourselves, it’s going to be done the right way and I think this is really valuable for the Air Force because we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to save money,” Pannell said. “We should really strive to be innovative and this is something I push down to my Airmen – to be innovative and think of new ways to do things.”
With innovation comes plenty of learning opportunities – and growing pains.
“It’s been challenging at times because everyone is learning a new plant,” Pannell explained. “We have to learn the ins and outs; everyone here is growing.”
Providing these services can prove to be rather complex. From separation of atmospheric air to expansion and cooling, the job is chemically impossible to do without machines.
The machine – production plant – typically runs one week at a time for 24 hours a day and enables the production of about 50 gallons an hour.
While the machine is doing its job, the rest of the team is ensuring it works properly.
“We have to do hourly checks to make sure nothing is malfunctioning,” Tallan said. “We’re responsible for knowing what’s supposed to be going on. With such a big plant and so many pipes, we have to make sure that nothing is in a pipe that shouldn’t be in it, and make sure things are at the right temperature in the pipes they’re supposed to be in.”
With such a unique and vital mission role, working at the only operational cryogenic production plant in the Air Force seems to be a great source of pride and inspiration for those in the career field.
Senior Airmen Michael Hall and Christopher Tallan, both 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenic production operators, prepare to fill a cart with liquid oxygen July 27, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jessica H. Smith)
“I love my job; I love coming to work. I work in a cryogenic facility – it’s insane,” Tallan laughed. “I always thought about the cryo guys and how badly I wanted to go for one day and see…It’s different when every single day you’re holding a sample of liquid oxygen and you can feel it boil inside the beaker…I love it.
Along with the job being cool – literally and figuratively – it also demonstrates the importance of smart investment and innovation with promises of bettering the success of the Air Force mission as a whole.
“I take it as a personal challenge to myself and my team to do our best and actually show higher leadership that this is a legitimate plant and it could benefit not just Pacific Air Force, but other areas – especially overseas,” Pannell said.
Featured image: Senior Airman Michael Hall, 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenic production operator, fill a cart with liquid oxygen July 27, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) successfully completed a Live Fire With A Purpose (LFWAP) exercise, Dec 6, 2018.
LFWAP is a reinvigorated missile exercise program conducted by the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC), designed to increase the proficiency of the Combat Direction Center watch team by allowing them to tactically react to a simulated real-world threat.
SMWDC, a supporting command to strike groups and other surface ships in the Navy, is responsible for training commands and creating battle tactics on the unit level to handle sea combat, Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD), amphibious warfare and mine warfare. SMWDC is a subordinate command of Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Its headquarters are located at Naval Base San Diego, with four divisions in Virginia and California.
Two IAMD Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTI) led teams aboard Abraham Lincoln through LFWAP. They’ve spent the last month working closely with Combat Systems Department to plan a simulated threat, train them on response tactics and execute a safe live fire.
“The most challenging aspect of these exercises is getting the ship’s mindset to shift from basic unit-level operations to integrated, advanced tactical operations,” said Lt. Cmdr Tim Barry, an IAMD WTI instructor aboard Abraham Lincoln. “On the opposite side of that, the best feeling is seeing the watch team work together, developing confidence in themselves and their combat systems.”
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln fires a RIM-116 test rolling airframe missile during Combat System Ship Qualification Trials.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kyler Sam)
LFWAP is an important evolution that departs from scripted events to focus more on scenario-driven events. Watch teams have the opportunity to use their pre-planned responses and the commanding officer’s orders to defend the ship from dangers that mirror potential threats on deployment.
“This isn’t a pass or fail event; it’s a validation — a means for sailors to develop confidence prior to deployment,” said Lt. Lisa Malone, the IAMD WTI execution lead from SMWDC. “This is the ‘Battle Stations’ for Combat Systems. We want them to come out of this with a new sense of teamwork, a feeling of preparedness and an excitement for what the future will bring.”
LFWAP allowed Abraham Lincoln to react to a sea-skimming drone in real time. The lead for this evolution was Abraham Lincoln’s Fire Control Officer, Ens. Ezekiel Ramirez.
“To show everyone we’re ready to defend the ship and our shipmates is best feeling ever,” said Ramirez. “Today, we put the ‘combat’ in Combat Systems.”
After detecting the target using radar, Combat Systems used the ship’s Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM) to engage it.
A Close-in Weapons System fires during a pre-action Aim Calibration fire evolution aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeremiah Bartelt)
“This training has really brought us all together and made us work more cohesively; we feel like a real unit now,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class Matthew Miller, who fired the RAM that brought down the drone. “We’ve worked hard this last month and had this scenario down-pat, and to see that drone finally go up in an explosion was the perfect payoff.”
LFWAP is another example of how Abraham Lincoln is elevating Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12’s operational readiness and maritime capabilities to answer the nation’s call.
The components of CSG-12 embody a “team-of-teams” concept, combining advanced surface, air and systems assets to create and sustain operational capability. This enables them to prepare for and conduct global operations, have effective and lasting command and control, and demonstrate dedication and commitment to become the strongest warfighting force for the Navy and the nation.
The Abraham Lincoln CSG is comprised of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, Destroyer Squadron (CDS) 2, associated guided-missile destroyers, flagship Abraham Lincoln, and the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55).
A US defense bill would bar delivery of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey until the US government provides an assessment of the relations between Washington and Ankara — a move that comes over the objections of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and underscores growing tensions between Turkey and its NATO partners.
The conflict with Turkey — which fields NATO’s second-largest army and hosts important NATO infrastructure — stems largely from its decision to buy the Russia-made S-400 air-defense system, one of the most advanced systems of its kind on the market.
NATO officials have cautioned Ankara about the purchase, saying the missile system would not be compatible with other NATO weapons and warning of “necessary consequences” for acquiring it. Using the F-35 and the S-400 together could compromise the F-35 and expose sensitive information.
Turkey plans to buy roughly 100 F-35s and has already received two of them. The country’s defense industry has also taken an active role in the jet’s development, with at least 10 Turkish companies building parts for it.
S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
But the measure agreed upon by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on July 23, 2018, would bar Ankara from getting any more F-35s until the Pentagon delivers a report on how the measure would affect US-Turkey relations, what impact Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 will have, and what the effects of Turkey’s removal from the F-35 program would be for the US industrial base, according to Bloomberg.
The bill also includes a statement calling on Turkey to release “wrongfully detained” US citizens Andrew Brunson and Serkan Golge.
The Defense Department has 90 days to submit its assessment. The defense bill, which allots 7 billion for fiscal year 2019, still needs final approval; the House is expected to vote this week and the Senate could do so in early August 2018.
Mattis also urged Congress not to block Turkey from acquiring the F-35, telling legislators in a July 2018 letter that doing so would cause an international “supply chain disruption” that could cause delays and additional costs.
“If the Turkish supply chain was disrupted today, it would result in an aircraft production break, delaying delivery of 50-75 F-35s, and would take approximately 18-24 months to re-source parts and recover,” Mattis said.
In the letter, Mattis said the Trump administration was pressuring Turkey over the S-400 as well as the detention of US citizens on charges the US has called exaggerated. He also acknowledged lawmakers’ concerns with Turkey’s “authoritarian drift and its impact on human rights and the rule of law.”
Mattis has cautioned lawmakers against sanctions on other partners, like India or Vietnam, for buying Russian weapons, including the S-400, arguing that they need to time to shift away from that weaponry. The compromise reached by US lawmakers would let Trump waive sanctions on countries doing business with Russia if the country in question is working to distance itself from Russian defense and intelligence firms.
An F-35A Lightning II team parks the aircraft for the first time at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Feb. 8, 2016.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The dispute over the S-400 purchase comes amid broader friction between Turkey and its partners in NATO — tensions that Turkey has helped stoke by boasting of the S-400’s abilities to target NATO aircraft.
Erdogan has said he pursued the Russian-made system because NATO countries declined to extend deployments of their Patriot air-defense systems and would not sell Turkey a comparable system. Erdogan has also expressed frustration with the EU over its response to a coup attempt against him in 2016 and accused the bloc of “messing us about” on issues like visas and Syrian migrants.
The US’s support for Kurdish fighters in Syria has also created tension with Turkey, which recently said it would not abide by Washington’s request that other countries stop buying oil from Iran.
While tensions with NATO may push Ankara to consider new relationships, it remains closely entwined with the trans-Atlantic defense alliance and its defense industry is reliant on Western firms. Turkey could expand dealings with other non-US partners in Europe, but it’s not clear those countries or the US would assent to such a shift.
Turkey’s warming relations with Russia and Erdogan’s crackdown have already alienated some in the US.
“Turkey may be an ally, but it is not a partner,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former director of policy planning for the State Department, said in September 2017.
Featured image: President Donald J. Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
We all know Stone Cold Steve Austin from his years when he was the face of World Wrestling Entertainment. “The Texas Rattlesnake” was one of the toughest, most badass wrestlers who left an indelible mark in the ring — both on TV and on the silver screen. Recently, we got to see Stone Cold sit down with some gentlemen who exhibited an entirely different type of toughness and heroism. By partnering up with Wargaming, the company responsible for the hit game World of Tanks, Austin recently sat down to interview three World War II tankers about their experiences. Their stories are powerful, harrowing, and heartbreaking.
The second veteran interviewed is Clarence Smoyer.
Clarence Smoyer served in the 32nd Armored Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division. Hailing from Pennsylvania, Smoyer served as a gunner during World War II. On D-Day, he landed on Omaha Beach. He recounted that, by the time he landed on the beach, things were already under control — but that control didn’t extend far inland. Moving forward, he rapidly found himself in the thick of it.
Smoyer would load his tank’s gun fast and often get blistered up badly as a result. He recalls that once, he went to medical to get the blisters treated and, on the way back, heard a mortar coming in. He ran and took cover just as it exploded nearby. A piece of shrapnel ripped his nose up, but Smoyer didn’t want to go back to medical because, “I was afraid I’d get hit by another mortar,” so he soldiered on.
Austin asks Smoyer if his tank ever got hit. Smoyer tells us that his tank got hit with an armor piercing shell and it took a chunk out of the tank. If it had been six inches over, it would have gone through his telescopic sight and he would have died. It’s a harrowing thought.
(Photo Courtesy of Clarence Smoyer)
In one of the most heart-wrenching accounts of losing a buddy, Smoyer relates a story about losing his tank commander who was also his best friend. When one of the open-top vehicles was hit, his friend ran toward them to assist — despite Smoyer’s warnings. “He always ran to help someone if they were in need.” Just before he reached the vehicle, he was killed instantly by two mortar shells as Smoyer watched in horror.
Smoyer’s stories are so powerful, in fact, that they’re the subject of a New York Times bestselling book, Spearhead, which is a great read if you’re looking for all the gritty details.
Austin asks Smoyer to recount the first time he took on a German tank. Smoyer tracked down a tank, but it backed off behind a building. Smoyer shot through the building and hit a pillar which caused the building to collapse. Smoyer learned later the building collapsed on the tank and put it out of actions. Years later, on his return to Europe, he met one of the occupants of the German tank after they fished him out from under the building’s rubble. “I hesitated, I didn’t know how he was going to feel about me. After all I dropped a building on him.” The meeting went well, and they shook hands. Smoyer told him, “The war is over now, we can be friends.”
To continue the Tank action, be sure to check out World of Tanks on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One today. Through the World of Tanks Tanker Rewards program, Wargaming offers tons of benefits and exclusive rewards both in-game and in person for all registered players. Be a part of our current WWE season and get endless opportunities to claim WWE and Tanker rewards. To learn more about the program, click here.
The 18,000 Marines and sailors who landed on the island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll in the Pacific Ocean early on Nov. 20, 1943, waded into what one combat correspondent called “the toughest battle in Marine Corps history.”
After 76 hours of fighting, the battle for Betio was over on November 23. More than 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and nearly 2,300 wounded. Four Marines received the Medal of Honor for their actions — three posthumously.
Of roughly 4,800 Japanese troops defending the island, about 97% were killed. All but 17 of the 146 prisoners captured were Korean laborers.
“Betio would be more habitable if the Marines could leave for a few days and send a million buzzards in,” Robert Sherrod, a correspondent for Time, wrote after the fighting.
The victory at Tarawa “knocked down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific,” Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific fleet, said afterward.
Four Marines carry a wounded Marine along the cluttered beach to a dressing station for treatment after fighting on Tarawa eased.
(US Marine Corps Photo)
Hundreds were left unidentified and unaccounted for
Because of environmental conditions, remains were quickly buried in trenches or individual graves on Betio, which is about a half-square-mile in size and, at the time of the battle, only about 10 feet above sea level at its highest point.
Navy construction sailors also removed some grave markers as they hurriedly built runways and other infrastructure to help push farther across the Pacific toward Japan.
The US Army Graves Registration Service came after the war to exhume remains and return them to the US, but its teams could not find more than 500 servicemen, and in 1949, the Army Quartermaster General’s Office declared those remains “unrecoverable,” telling families that those troops were buried at sea or in Hawaii as “unknowns.”
Over the past 16 years, however, Betio, now part of Kiribati, has yielded some of the largest recoveries of remains of US service members.
That work has been led by History Flight, a Virginia-based nonprofit and Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency partner that’s dedicated to finding and recovering missing US service members.
“History Flight was started in 2003, and we’ve been researching the case history of Tarawa since 2003, but we started working out there 2008,” Katherine Rasdorf, a researcher at History Flight, told Business Insider on Thursday. “We had to do all the research and analysis first before we went out there.”
The first individual was found in 2012. That was followed by a lost cemetery in 2015 and two more large burial sites in 2017 and 2019, Rasdorf said.
In 2015, History Flight found 35 sets of remains at one site, including those of US Marine 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.
In July 2017, the organization turned over 24 sets of remains to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for identification.
Osteologists with History Flight excavate a grave site from the battle of Tarawa at Republic of Kiribati, July 15, 2019.
Those are the largest recoveries of missing US service personnel since the Korean War.
Using remote sensing, cartography, aerial photography, and archaeology, History Flight has recovered the remains of 309 service members from Tarawa, where the organization maintains an office and a year-round presence, Mark Noah, president of History Flight, told a House Committee on Oversight and Reform in a hearing on November 19.
Seventy-nine of those discoveries were made during the 2019 fiscal year, Noah said, adding that History Flight’s recoveries are 20% of the DoD’s annual identifications.
Archaeologists with History Flight excavate a grave site from the battle of Tarawa, in the Republic of Kiribati, July 15, 2019.
(US Marine Corps photo Sgt. Melanye Martinez)
“Many of them were underneath buildings, underneath roads, and houses,” Noah told lawmakers of remains on Betio, noting that they are often discarded, covered up, and accidentally disinterred — the first two Marines his organization recovered on Tarawa in April 2010 were displayed on a battlefield tour guide’s front porch.
Today, 429 servicemen killed at Betio remain unaccounted for, Rear Adm. Jon Kreitz, deputy director of the DPAA, said when at least 22 servicemen returned to the US in July.
Hero’s welcome for those returned home
Those discoveries have allowed the sailors and Marines who died at Tarawa to finally return home.
Joseph Livermore, a 21-year-old Marine private when he was killed by a Japanese bayonet on November 22, 1943, was given a hero’s welcome in his hometown of Bakersfield, California, where his remains were buried on November 15.
A thousand people lined the streets for Livermore’s return, Noah said.
Service members with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency fold flags on transfer cases on a C-17 Globemaster, in Tarawa, Kiribati, Sept. 27, 2019.
Pvt. Channing Whitaker, an 18-year-old from Iowa killed in a Japanese banzai attack on the second day of the battle, was buried with full military honors in Des Moines on November 22. His remains returned to the US in July.
In History Flight’s experience, more than 50% of those recovered had living brothers, sisters, and children at their funerals, Noah told lawmakers this week.
“The recovery of America’s missing servicemen is a vital endeavor for their families and for our country. What we are accomplishing in recovering the missing is putting a little bit of America back into America,” Noah said.
An island nation ‘facing annihilation’
While hundreds of servicemen likely remain on Betio, environmental conditions there may soon make finding them even harder.
Kiribati, one of the most isolated countries in the world, is also one of many Pacific Island nations likely to be unlivable in a few decades due to the effects of climate change.
More than half of Kiribati’s nearly 120,000 residents live on South Tarawa, just east of Betio. Rising sea levels are a particular threat to densely populated country. Exceptionally high tides and sea-water incursions threaten the fresh water under the atolls.
Many of the graves located by History Flight are below the water table, meaning workers had to pump water from the sites each day to excavate.
“When it’s rainy season, it’s very difficult to do archeology, because the locations fill with water and we have to come up with drainage solutions that are not impacting the highly populated areas and … reroute [the water] to places where it’s not infringing on their clean drinking water,” Rasdorf said.
On the whole, History Flight’s day-to-day work has not been greatly affected by changing environmental conditions, Rasdorf said, but others in Kiribati have called for drastic action in response to the threat of climate change.
Anote Tong, Kiribati’s president from 2003 to 2016, bought nearly 8 square miles of land to potentially relocate to in Fiji, about 1,200 miles away from Kiribati, for nearly million in 2014.
His purchase was decried by some as a boondoggle and alarmist, and his successor took office in 2016 planning to shift priorities and making no plans for people to leave. But Tong continues to sound the alarm.
SpaceX is one giant grain-silo launch closer to reaching Mars.
The aerospace company, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, launched and landed an early prototype of a potentially revolutionary rocket system called Starship at 7:57 p.m. ET on Monday. The flight occured at SpaceX’s expanding rocket factory, development, and test site in Boca Chica, a relatively remote region at the southeastern tip of Texas.
“Mars is looking real,” Musk tweeted shortly after the flight of roughly 492 feet (150 meters) into the air, later adding: “Progress is accelerating.”
SPadre.com, which has a camera trained on SpaceX’s launch site from about 6 miles away on South Padre Island, captured the entire launch from start-to-finish with a 24-hour live feed on YouTube. In the background audio of a livestream hosted by NASASpaceFlight.com (which caught yet another view with a different camera and angle), audible cheers could be heard coming from on-site SpaceX employees and contractors.
The clip below shows a profile of the whole flight from SPadre‘s feed.
In the movie, the prototype takes off using a single Raptor rocket engine, translates across the launch site, deploys a set of short landing legs, and touches down on a concrete pad.
Musk later tweeted that Starship’s next set of landing legs “will be ~60% longer” and that a version farther down the line “will be much wider taller” like the legs of a Falcon 9 rocket booster, “but capable of landing on unimproved surfaces auto-leveling” — in other words, optimized to landing on the moon or Mars.
If Starship and its Super Heavy rocket booster end up being fully reusable, Musk has said, the system may reduce the cost of launching anything to space by about 1,000-fold and enable hypersonic travel around Earth.
But first, SpaceX has to see if its core designs for Starship work. To that end, the company is moving briskly to build, test, and launch prototypes.
Monday’s “hop” flight — Musk said ahead of the flight that SpaceX was targeting an altitude of 150 meters (492 feet) — represents the first flight of any full-scale Starship hardware. It’s also a crucial step toward informing future prototypes and, ultimately, launches that fly Starships into orbit around Earth.
SpaceX had hoped to attempt a flight of SN5 on July 27, but Hurricane Hanna damaged a component that had to be fixed, Musk said. A previous notice to airmen, or NOTAM, suggested the company would try to fly SN5 on Sunday — the same day as its attempt to land two NASA astronauts in the Gulf of Mexico — but the launch window came and went. (SpaceX’s Demo -2 was an historic test flight of the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship, a vehicle developed with about .7 billion in NASA funding.)
Prototyping toward Mars
The above photo shows the SN5 prototype from above during a test-firing of its engine on July 30.
SN5 is the latest of several full-scale Starship prototypes that SpaceX has built in Texas. The previous versions have either crumpled during tests or, as was the case on May 29, catastrophically exploded.
Each failure has taught SpaceX valuable lessons to inform design and material changes — tweaks that Musk says are already being worked into SN6, SN7, and SN8 prototypes, which are in various stages of assembly within the company’s expanding and bustling work yards in South Texas.
The steel vehicles don’t have wing-like canards or nosecones attached, in case something goes wrong in their earliest phases of testing, so they look more like flying fuel tanks or grain silos than rocket ships.
However, as last year’s test launch of an early Starship prototype called Starhopper showed, the flights of even experimental vehicles (shown above) can impress: On August 27, Starhopper soared to a similar height as SN5, translated across a launch site, and landed on a nearby concrete pad.
SpaceX obtained a launch license from the FAA to send Starship prototypes on a “suborbital trajectory,” meaning the experimental rocket ships could reach dozens of miles above Earth before returning and landing. However, it’s uncertain if SpaceX eventually plans to launch SN5 on such an ambitious flight path after Monday’s “hop.”
The company couldn’t attempt more ambitious flights until late August at the soonest, though. On July 23, SpaceX asked the FCC for permission to communicate with prototypes flying as high as 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) within the next seven months. The earliest date noted on the request, which is still pending, is August 18.
Musk said after the flight of SN5 that the next phase of testing won’t fly prototypes very high, at least initially.
“We’ll do several short hops to smooth out launch process, then go high altitude with body flaps,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
SpaceX is also pursuing a launch license for full-scale, orbital-class Starship-Super Heavy vehicles. Musk hopes Starship will launch a cargo mission to Mars in 2022, send a private crew around the moon in 2023, return NASA astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024, and even begin sending people to Mars the same year.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the country’s foreign minister ahead of a planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in June 2018.
Lavrov’s May 31, 2018 visit — his first to North Korea since 2009 — was seen as an attempt by Moscow to ensure its voice is heard in Pyongyang’s diplomatic overtures with the United States and South Korea.
Lavrov met Kim in Pyongyang, Russia’s Foreign Ministry tweeted, and extended an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin for the North Korean leader to visit Russia.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was too early to know whether there would be a Putin-Kim meeting in Russia.
Lavrov began his visit to North Korea by meeting with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.
“We welcome contacts between North and South Korea, as well as between North Korea and the United States,” Lavrov said on May 31, 2018, after meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
The Russian minister called on “all the parties involved to fully realize their responsibility for preventing the failure of such an important but fragile process.”
Moscow is interested in implementing joint economic projects with Pyongyang and Seoul, including railway construction, Lavrov also said.
Russia and North Korea share a small border that is only a few kilometers from the Far East city of Vladivostok and they enjoy relatively cordial relations.
Lavrov’s trip to Pyongyang comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity to organize a historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Kim’s right-hand man, General Kim Yong Chol, in New York late on May 30 2018, to discuss the matter.
Kim Yong Chol, the most senior North Korean to visit the United States in nearly 20 years, dined with Pompeo and the two were due to meet again on May 31, 2018.
“Good working dinner with Kim Yong Chol in New York tonight. Steak, corn, and cheese on the menu,” Pompeo tweeted.
Trump previously cancelled the summit scheduled for June 12, 2018, in Singapore, but both sides have since made fresh efforts to hold it as planned.
Washington is seeking the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for certain economic and security benefits for Pyongyang.
In 1988, a ski-equipped Lockheed C-130 took off some 800 nautical miles northwest of the McMurdo Station Antarctic Research Center. It was the first time the plane had flown since 1971 – because it was frozen in the ice below for the previous 17 years.
In 1971, the plane was making a resupply run to an international research mission at McMurdo Station when it crashed. These resupply missions gave the United States its active presence on the Antarctic Continent and allowed for the safe conduct of polar research. The 1971 crash tempered that movement. Only a handful of C-130s made the trip and the loss of one put stress on the others. It was declared a total loss, stripped for parts, and left in the ice.
But not for long. New planes are expensive, after all.
The plane crashed on takeoff when a rocket booster struck an engine and destroyed one of the plane’s propellers. The Navy had to take everything of value off the plane and then leave it where it fell, in a remote area of Antarctica known as site D-59.
That’s where the plane was for 17 years until the U.S. military realized that it needed seven planes to make the resupply effort work. A new C-130 would have cost substantially more than a salvage operation. The choice was clear and, in 1987, LC-130 321 was dug up out of the ice-covered snowbank that had formed over it.
After being pulled out of 40 feet of ice and snow, the C-130 was restored at site D-59 until it could be flown to the main base at McMurdo Station. The dry air in Antarctica kept it largely free from corrosion and other threats to the airframe. Sadly, the costs didn’t stop at million. Two U.S. sailors were killed when another Hercules carrying spare parts for the refurbished Hercules in Antarctica went down on Dec. 9, 1987. Nine others were injured.
That crash only strengthened the Navy’s resolve to repair and restore the 16-year-old plane. It gave the mission a deeper meaning for the Navy and the Polar Science Foundation.
When the time came to get the restored plane in the air, it was manned by a five-person Navy crew. The mission began with a “buddy start” from another Navy C-130. The second plane used its prop wash to start the props on the restored C-130. Once a Lockheed engineer certified the plane would fly, and an ice speed taxi assured the crew would reach takeoff speed, the mission was a go.
The two planes flew to McMurdo Station and later, over to Christchurch, New Zealand. The plane was restored completely in the United States before resuming active polar service.
In 2003, the town of Erie, Pennsylvania made national news when an unassuming pizza delivery man walked into a local bank and demanded a quarter of a million dollars from the vault. What happened next would baffle authorities for years and see the crime become one of the most intriguing ever committed in the United States. So what happened?
At roughly 2:30 PM on August 28, 2003, a 46 year old man by the name of Brian Wells walked into the Erie branch of PNC Bank and handed the teller a note that read, “Gather employees with access codes to vault and work fast to fill bag with $250,000. You have only 15 minutes.”
As the teller read the note, Wells informed them that he had a live explosive around his neck that would detonate if the demand wasn’t met. He then pulled down his shirt to reveal a crude, but threatening-looking metal collar with two pipe bombs attached. Wells was also holding a custom made cane that doubled as a shotgun.
Showing a remarkable amount of professionalism, the bank workers informed Wells that it wouldn’t be possible to retrieve that sum of money in such a short amount of time due to the various safeguards to limit access to the vault.
Wells then simply asked for whatever they had available, taking time to grab a lollipop from the counter, which he began to idly suck on whilst waiting for his money.
All-in-all Wells would leave the bank about 12 minutes later with ,702 in cash. He then went to McDonald’s next door for a bit, as you do, after which he headed back to his car.
As you might imagine, hanging around in the parking lot next door to the bank you just robbed isn’t a great way to not get caught. And so it was that Wells found himself tackled by police as he was walking to his vehicle.
Whilst being cuffed, Wells helpfully informed the troopers of the bomb around his neck and that three black men had put it there. He further stated that, as far as he was aware, it would go off any minute.
Naturally, the officers all very abruptly backed away from Wells, no doubt mumbling to themselves that they were “too old for this shit”, if movies from that era have taught me anything. After getting a safe distance away, they called the bomb squad.
As for Wells, for 20 agonizing minutes he sat alone on the concrete, occasionally shouting to officers to check if they’d called his boss to inform him why Wells hadn’t come back to work after the delivery, and inquiring when the bomb squad was going to show up.
Unfortunately for Wells, just a few minutes before said explosives experts arrived, the collar around his neck began beeping- never a good sign. Wells’ calm demeanor disappeared completely at this point and he frantically wiggled backwards in a futile attempt to get away from the bomb. Approximately ten seconds after the beeping started, the collar exploded, killing him.
After the bomb squad checked the collar to ensure all explosives had detonated, the gathered law enforcement began slowly sifting through Wells’ belongings, beginning what would soon become one of the most unusual cases in the annals of law enforcement history.
Most pertinent to the topic at hand, while searching through Wells’ beat up old Geo Metro, they stumbled across several pages of handwritten instructions ominously addressed simply to the “Bomb Hostage”. These instructions, evidently meant for Wells, included several explicit warnings against deviating from them in anyway and were littered with threats of harsh and instantaneous reprisal should they be ignored, including remote detonation of the bomb. Further, on one page it stated, “This powerful, booby-trapped bomb can be removed only by following our instructions… ACT NOW, THINK LATER OR YOU WILL DIE!”
Later analysis would conclude that these threats were baseless as there was no way to detonate the collar remotely, despite a cell phone seeming to be connected to the bomb; in fact, it was just a realistic looking toy phone.
As for what the instructions were telling Wells to do, beyond of course instructing him to rob the bank, what followed was a twisted scavenger hunt to find several keys which the instructions claimed would delay the timer on the bomb and, eventually, disarm it completely. At that point, they stated he would be able to safely remove it without setting it off. However, it turns out, along with the cell phone being fake, the various key holes weren’t wired or linked to anything.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, experts analysing the collar would later conclude that although the device “looked” dangerous and sophisticated, including a lot of wires that seemed to be connected in significant ways, the guts of the bomb actually had the complexity of, to quote one of the investigators, a “child’s toy“- more or less just two pretty run of the mill pipe bombs connected to two electronic kitchen timers with nothing complicated about any of it. Cut the wires to the timers, no boom.
Further, it turns out even that wasn’t necessary to save Wells’ life, as had he simply reached up and tugged the mechanism to allow it to open and taken it off, this too wouldn’t have triggered the bomb. He could have even simply added time to the timers manually or turned them off if he wanted to leave the collar on without risk.
So what devil made this dastard device of destruction?
Investigators tried to follow the trail laid out in the instructions, traveling several miles to a nearby wood to find another note which in turn directed them to a seemingly random road sign miles in the other direction. The trail went cold at the road sign when a jar that was supposed to contain yet another clue turned up empty. Investigators would later surmise that the killer or killers had learned of Wells’ death and abandoned their plans to continue placing clues for him. Either that, or they’d simply assumed he’d not have had time to get to that point before the bomb would detonate so didn’t bother leaving another message.
With nothing else to go on, investigators turned to looking more into Wells. To begin with, upon initially being arrested, Wells, as noted, had alleged that the collar had been forcibly placed upon him by a group of large black men during a routine pizza delivery. Looking into it, indeed Wells had been working at the still existing and exceptionally well reviewed Mama Mia’s Pizzeria when a call came in from what turned out to be from a payphone at around 1:30p on that day of August 28, 2003. The original person who answered the pizzeria phone couldn’t understand the speaker, so passed it over to Wells, who then took the order and ultimately went out to deliver the pizzas.
Following the trail, investigators went to the site of that last delivery- a TV transmission tower at the end of a dirt road- and found nothing of significance other than a neighbor had stated he’d heard a gunshot at approximately the time Wells would have been there delivering the pizzas.
Local law enforcement and later the FBI further found nothing that would give Wells motive to commit such a bizarre crime had he been the one to instigate it. Wells had no apparent significant outstanding debts or commitments, and was noted as being a model employee and a man of good moral standing. People who knew him described him as a simple man, but also a very nice, and seemingly happy person.
In short, the authorities were at a complete loss. In fact, it’s possible this bizarre crime would have remained a mystery forever had the police not received a phone call a few weeks later from a man called Bill Rothstein.
You see, Rothstein lived near the TV transmission tower Wells had made his final delivery to and had even been interviewed by the FBI who combed his property for clues, finding nothing. This changed, however, when Rothstein inexplicably confessed to having a human body in his freezer.
After being arrested, Rothstein identified the body as being that of Jim Roden, the lover of one of his ex girlfriends, then 54 year old Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. Rothstein insisted that he had nothing to do with Roden’s death and that his ex had shot and killed Roden during an argument. Not wanting to incur his ex’s vengeful wrath, Rothstein had hidden the body at her insistence and even helped dispose of the murder weapon. However, when Diehl-Armstrong told him to grind up the body and bury it, Rothstein decided enough was enough and confessed.
Now, initially the FBI wrote the whole location of the two crimes off as a bizarre coincidence. That is, until Rothstein told local police that he was so wracked with guilt about the whole ordeal that he’d contemplated killing himself.
Why is this important, you ask?
Well, to prove this, Rothstein directed police to a suicide note he’d stashed away in a drawer. Along with containing a confession about the murder of Roden and his remorse over his involvement, it also for some reason contained the sentence -“This has nothing to do with the Wells case.”
Naturally, this led to some follow up questions about why he’d written that. While Rothstein and Diehl-Armstrong initially flatly denied having anything to do with the collar bomb plot, once again leaving authorities with nothing solid, over the course of many years of investigation that followed, this trail did lead somewhere and things slowly became reasonably clear.
To begin with, it’s important to note that while in her younger years Diehl-Armstrong had been a straight-A student type and ultimately even earned a Master’s degree in college, she also had mental health problems that only got worse with age. On that note, previous to murdering Roden, it came to light that she had shot and killed one Robert Thomas in 1984. As to why she wasn’t in prison for it, she was acquitted as it was deemed self-defense, despite that he’d been apparently just sitting on their couch at the time and she shot him not once, not twice, not thrice, not what we’re going to call frice and, I don’t know, fwivce- but six times.
Further, eight years later in 1992, her husband, Richard Armstrong, died of a cerebral hemorrhage. While we can only hope that was naturally induced, it is noteworthy that she managed to finagle a rather sizable legal settlement with the hospital involved over it. She also allegedly had a couple other men in her life who likewise met rather untimely deaths at ages where men not acquainted with Diehl-Armstrong didn’t normally find themselves failing to continue breathing.
Whatever the case with any of that, she was ultimately convicted of the murder of Roden. At the same time, police were still trying to figure out if they could connect her and Rothstein more concretely to the Wells case, but coming up empty…
That is, until Diehl-Armstrong herself became tired of the high security prison life at Muncy Correctional Institution about a year and a half after Wells’ death. She thus requested to be transferred to a minimum-security prison. In exchange for granting her request, she would tell the authorities anything and everything they wanted to know about the Wells’ case, which she subsequently did.
A further break was had getting another side of the story not long after when one Kenneth Barnes’ brother-in-law decided to call the police to let them know Mr. Barnes, a retired individual who’d taken up drug dealing for some extra money, had bragged to him about his own involvement in the pizza collar bomber case. As for Barnes, he was easy for police to find as he was sitting in a prison cell at the time after being arrested for his little side job as a crack dealer. Once confronted, Barnes too had a story of his own to tell the police.
Naturally, the confessions of those involved should be met with some degree of skepticism on the finer points, particularly as they all pointed the finger at someone else being the mastermind behind the whole thing. That caveat out of the way, combining all the evidence and the stories, the generally accepted tale the investigators cobbled together is as follows.
It would seem leading up to the bank robbery, Diehl-Armstrong approached Barnes to see if he wouldn’t mind killing her father. As to why, she believed, whether accurately or not isn’t clear, that his net worth was approximately million (about .7 million today). Notably, in his waning years, he’d begun donating this small fortune to various charities. To ensure she got the bulk sum, she apparently figured it would be best not to wait for him to die naturally, but just kill him immediately.
The problem was when she asked Barnes to take him out, Barnes asked for a sum of 0,000- not exactly something she had lying around, and he was unwilling to do the job with only the promise of money after the inheritance was acquired.
So how to come up with the 0,000 to get M? Well, robbing a bank apparently seemed like the easy solution if one could think of a way to ensure there was no chance of getting caught.
At some point in here, it’s not clear when, Rothstein became involved, with Diehl-Armstrong herself claiming he was the mastermind behind the whole thing in the first place, though most authorities think it likely that it was, in fact, her. And for whatever it’s worth, Barnes claims Diehl-Armstrong herself first asked him if he knew how to make a bomb for the plot, but he did not, and thus Rothstein, who was a bit of a closet genius and worked as a handy-man and shop teacher, did.
Whatever the case, plan developed, they now needed someone to actually go rob the bank and function as the fall-guy should things go wrong.
Enter prostitute Jessica Hoopsick, who was an acquaintance of Barnes through his drug dealing business, including using his house as a bit of a home base to entertain clients, as apparently several prostitutes in the area did.
While elements of Hoopsick’s story, as with all the others involved, are considered somewhat suspect, she claims she was asked by Barnes for someone who might be easily pressured into committing a crime, though she stated she had no knowledge at the time of what the crime would be. In exchange for drugs and money, she thus gave them the name of one of her frequent clients, Wells, as an ideal candidate given he was, to quote her, a “pushover”. Hoopsick also claims that, at least as far as she was aware, Wells had no prior knowledge of the plot before his fateful pizza delivery on the day of his death.
This brings us to Wells’ role in the plan. While there is still some debate on this point, it would actually seem that Wells had known the plan going into the delivery, though had been pressured into agreeing to it in the first place. Whether that is actually true or not, it would appear on the day of the event, he decided to back out.
You might now be thinking, “If he decided to back out, why did he go deliver the pizzas?” Well, it would appear his reticence to remain involved was squarely centered around the fact that in the planning stage, he had been told the bomb would be fake. But upon arriving on the day in question, he discovered they’d lied to him and Rothstein had, in fact, made a real bomb. Thus, when they tried to put the collar on him, he attempted to flee, resulting in a gun being fired as a warning shot, as heard by the neighbor. Further, according to Barnes, he had to punch Wells in the face to get him to allow the collar to be put on.
From there, it is speculated that Wells probably was under the impression he needed to follow the steps as laid out to get the collar off, which would go a long way in explaining why he chose to go get the paper with the next step at the McDonald’s next door, rather than, you know, fleeing the scene of the crime immediately after committing it. Unless of course he simply wanted to get caught, which would have been a massive risk, but perhaps one he felt was better than returning to his compatriots.
Of course, as the bomb put a hole in his chest, we’ll never know what he was thinking at the time. But given that there was no way for Wells to complete the steps the notes required of him in the time allotted, it’s thought by the authorities the conspirators had always planned for him to die. The steps were simply to lead him out of town where the bomb would detonate and they could go collect the cash. Making sure he felt he needed to follow them just ensured he wouldn’t lead police right back to them.
Had they left him alive, even if he wasn’t initially caught, there was little chance Wells wouldn’t be identified and arrested. And on the flip-side, should he be caught before the bomb went off, well, the limited time on the device gave good odds Wells wouldn’t have time to spill the beans. Thus, aside from the mistake of having Wells go to the McDonald’s next to the bank, this was a pretty ingenious plan overall. Had Wells made it out of town, it is likely they would have gotten the cash, with no further leads for the police other than Wells’ body.
This all brings us back to Roden’s death which foiled the whole plan. According to a fellow inmate of Diehl-Armstrong’s, she allegedly told said unnamed inmate that the argument the couple had was over the scheme. Allegedly, Roden told her if she didn’t call off the plot, he was going to tell the police. Rather than nix the plan, she simply decided to kill him and then handed the body over to Rothstein. From there, she allegedly threatened him to keep his mouth shut or he’d get the same.
Whatever the truth of that, in the end, Rothstein died of lymphoma in 2004 at the age of 60, years before any of this would become known, and thus the only one of the primary conspirators to avoid jail time; Diehl-Armstrong met her maker thanks to breast cancer, dying in prison on April 4, 2017. As for Barnes, he joined the pair in the afterlife in June of 2019 at the age of 65 from complications due to diabetes.
In November 1978, 909 members of a fanatical cult died — killing themselves and their children using a cyanide and Valium-laced grape drink — to make a political statement: they would die on their own terms in a “revolutionary suicide.” It would be the largest single loss of civilian life until the September 11th terror attacks.
The People’s Temple, as the cult was called, was founded by Jim Jones, a former monkey salesman and self-ordained minister in 1950s Indianapolis. He later moved the church to California. There, the size of the cult grew to around 20,000.
With that growth, Jones became a public figure and fled to the South American country of Guyana to escape the negative press surrounding the People’s Temple. Jones faced accusations of financial fraud and child abuse and sought to escape what he thought was the persecution from U.S. intelligence agencies.
More than 1,000 members went with him.
Jones and his cult founded Jonestown, an agricultural cooperative on 4,000 acres of poor soil and limited access to fresh water. Temple members worked long days and were punished for disobeying Jones’ orders. They were allowed limited contact with friends and family. Jones even confiscated their passports.
Toward the end of the Jonestown experiment, Jones became inceasingly paranoid as his mental state broke down. Congressman Leo Ryan came to Jonestown to investigate allegations that his contituents’ loved ones were actually hostages there. People’s Temple members asked to return home with the Congressman, who took them back to his plane.
That’s when tragedy struck.
After arriving at the airstrip that took Congressman Ryan to the People’s Temple collective, Jones’ armed thugs gunned down the contingent, along with members of the press and some of the defectors. At the same time, Jones was distributing the poisoned punch (which was actually Flavor-Aid, not Kool-Aid, as the saying goes) to the cult members.
An aerial view of the bodies of the victims of the Jonestown tragedy. U.S. Army personnel from Fort Bragg, North Carolina (NC), are placing the remains into body bags. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Nov. 20, 1978.)
There is evidence that those who didn’t want to imbibe were forced to drink the punch. Jones himself was found dead with a bullet in his head, among the other 900+ bodies.
Within hours of learning about Congressman Ryan’s death, the U.S. State Department received assistance from the 437th Military Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina. Charleston C-141 Starlifters led what would be “the most unusual airlift operation since the Berlin Airlift.”
Col. Bruce M. Durvine, vice commander of the 39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing, and members of the 55th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron carry boxes of plastic body bags to an HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopter for use in the evacuation of bodies from Jonestown. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Jonestown, Nov. 20, 1978.)
Air Force Combat Controllers were the first American forces on the ground, securing the airstrip area, providing security, and operating the airspace. The Starlifters had to be staged more than 150 miles away from the dirt airstrip where Ryan’s body was found because they were too large for the field.
The military Aeromedical Evacuation Team repatriated eight wounded survivors from the area. It wasn’t until November 20th that Guyanan Defense Forces could reach the Jonestown Compound. The small contingent was overwhelmed by what they found there and asked the Americans to take over.
A U.S. Air Force HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopter from the 55th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron stands by to assist in the removal of the remains of the victims of the Jonestown tragedy. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Georgetown, Nov. 20, 1978.)
Jonestown victims’ bodies were to be airlifted to Dover Air Force Base, but first they had to be moved by three HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopters to the Starlifter staging area. There were so many bodies, the Air Force ran out of remains transfer cases.
U.S. Army UH-1 Iroquois helicopters are loaded aboard a C-141 Starlifter aircraft for transport back to their home base in the Canal Zone. The helicopters were used during humanitarian relief efforts following the Jonestown tragedy. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Georgetown, Nov. 20, 1978.)
“Stacked like cordwood,” the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition. It took 30 helicopter sorties carrying 30 bodies each to get the remains to the Starlifters for transport. Each C-141 could handle 81 remains cases — as long as they were stacked on pallets.
The stench of death in the helicopters was so bad, they were deemed medically unsafe. Task Force personnel who handled the bodies burned their clothing on the runway at the end of the mission.
U.S. military personnel place a body bag containing the remains of the victims of the Jonestown tragedy in a coffin for transport to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Pedro J. Gonzalez, Georgetown, Nov. 20, 1978.)
Jeff Brailey, the Army medic who entered Jonestown, wrote a book about his experience, “The Ghosts of November.”