Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart - We Are The Mighty
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Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart

When you think of artillery, you’re probably thinking of something like the M777-towed 155mm howitzer or the M109A6 Paladin self-propelled gun. But in the Civil War, artillery was very different.


Back then, a gun wasn’t described by how wide the round was, but how much the round weighed. According to a National Park Service release, one of the most common was the 12-pounder Napoleon, which got that name from firing a 12-pound solid shot. The typical range for the Napoleon was about 2,000 yards. Multiply that by about twenty to have a rough idea how far a M777 can shoot an Excalibur GPS-guided round.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
The M1857 12-pounder Napoleon, probably the most common artillery piece of the Civil War. (Wikimedia Commons)

Another round used was the shell, a hollowed-out solid shot that usually had about eight ounces of black powder inserted. This is pretty much what most artillery rounds are today. The typical Civil War shell had a range of about 1,500 yards — or just under a mile.

However, when enemy troops were approaching, the artillery had two options. The first was to use what was called “case” rounds. These were spherical rounds that held musket balls. In the case of the Napoleon, it held 78 balls. Think of it as a giant hand grenade that could reach out as far as a mile and “touch” enemy troops.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
Artillery shot-canister for a 12-pounder cannon. The canister has a wood sabot, iron dividing plate, and thirty-seven cast-iron grape shot. The grapeshot all have mold-seam lines, and some have sprue projections. (Wikimedia Commons)

When the enemy troops got real close, there was one last round: the canister. In essence, this turned the cannon into a giant shotgun. It would have cast-iron shot packed with sawdust. When enemy troops got very close, they’d use two canister rounds, known as “double canister” (in the 1993 movie, “Gettysburg,” you can hear a Union officer order “double canister” during the depiction of Pickett’s Charge).

To see what a canister round did to enemy troops, watch this video:

Intel

Every Veteran Should Take ‘The Spartan Pledge’

The issue of suicide within the military and veteran community is a serious problem, and a former soldier named Boone Cutler is taking it head on.


Also Read: One Of America’s Most Elite Universities Is Helping Veterans In A Unique Way

“I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family,” reads the Spartan Pledge, a new initiative started by Cutler.

The pledge started between Cutler and his battle buddy Nacho who served in Iraq with him. They lost touch after the military, but were brought together after Nacho’s friend – who was also a veteran – committed suicide.

The Spartan pledge was created after they both admitted to each other of having suicidal thoughts and not talking about it. Realizing the disproportional suicide rate among veterans, Cutler started engaging other war buddies with his pledge starting a viral effect.

According to Boone, the pledge ensures that veterans take care of themselves, take care of their own, and maintain a mission focus.

Here’s Boone’s video. He requests that you please pass it along.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nslIi09gCLQ

NOW: This disabled veteran describes his scars of war with incredible slam poetry. Watch the video

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MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

MilSpouse and NASA’s last living ‘Hidden Figure,’ Katherine Johnson, dies at 101

NASA legend, mathematician, race barrier breaker, women’s rights advancer, mother, military spouse: Katherine Johnson was truly out of this world. The once in a generation mind passed away at age 101 on February 24, NASA announced.

We’re saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers: https://go.nasa.gov/2SUMtN2 pic.twitter.com/dGiGmEVvAW

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Johnson was born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. From an early age, she demonstrated a love of counting and numbers far beyond her peers and well beyond her years. By age 10, Johnson was already through her grade school curriculum and enrolled in high school, which she finished at 14. She enrolled in West Virginia State College at only age 15 and started pursuing her love of math.

According to NASA, while at WVSC, Johnson had the opportunity to study under well known professor Dr. William W. Schiefflin Claytor. Claytor guided Johnson in her career path, once telling her, “You’d make a great research mathematician.” He also provided her guidance with how to become one. In an interview with NASA, Johnson recalled, “Many professors tell you that you’d be good at this or that, but they don’t always help you with that career path. Professor Claytor made sure I was prepared to be a research mathematician.” Claytor’s spirit of mentorship was something that Johnson paid forward. “Claytor was a young professor himself,” she said, “and he would walk into the room, put his hand in his pocket, and take some chalk out, and continue yesterday’s lesson. But sometimes I could see that others in the class did not understand what he was teaching. So I would ask questions to help them. He’d tell me that I should know the answer, and I finally had to tell him that I did know the answer, but the other students did not. I could tell.”

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart

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Johnson became the first black woman to attend West Virginia University’s graduate school. Following graduation, she became a school teacher, settled down and married. She spent many years at home with her three daughters, but when her husband became ill, she began teaching again. In the early 1950s, a family friend told Johnson that NACA (the predecessor to NASA) was hiring. According to NASA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics were specifically looking for African-American females to work as “computers” in what was then their Guidance and Navigation Department. In the 1950s, pools of women at NACA did calculations that the engineers needed worked or verified.

Johnson applied but the openings were already filled. The following year, she applied again, and this time she was offered two contracts. She took the one as a researcher. She started working at NACA in 1953. In 1956, her husband died of an inoperable brain tumor. In 1959, Johnson remarried James A. Johnson, an Army captain and Korean War veteran.

Johnson was a pioneer for multiple reasons. Not only was she a working woman in the 1950s, an era during which women were generally secretaries if they worked at all, she was also a black woman. In an interview for the book “Black Women Scientists in the United States,” Johnson recalled, “We needed to be assertive as women in those days – assertive and aggressive – and the degree to which we had to be that way depended on where you were. I had to be. In the early days of NASA women were not allowed to put their names on the reports – no woman in my division had had her name on a report. I was working with Ted Skopinski and he wanted to leave and go to Houston … but Henry Pearson, our supervisor – he was not a fan of women – kept pushing him to finish the report we were working on. Finally, Ted told him, ‘Katherine should finish the report, she’s done most of the work anyway.’ So Ted left Pearson with no choice; I finished the report and my name went on it, and that was the first time a woman in our division had her name on something.”

If Johnson was intimidated, she never showed it. “The women did what they were told to do,” she explained in an interview with NASA. “They didn’t ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there.”

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart

NASA photo

Johnson was so well known for her capabilities, that John Glenn personally asked for her before his orbit in 1962. According to NASA, “The complexity of the orbital flight had required the construction of a worldwide communications network, linking tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, Cape Canaveral in Florida, and Bermuda. The computers had been programmed with the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission from liftoff to splashdown, but the astronauts were wary of putting their lives in the care of the electronic calculating machines, which were prone to hiccups and blackouts. As a part of the preflight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to ‘get the girl’—Johnson—to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine. ‘If she says they’re good,” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, ‘then I’m ready to go.’ Glenn’s flight was a success, and marked a turning point in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in space.”

Johnson was an instrumental part of the team and was the only woman to be pulled from the calculating pool room to work on other projects. One of those projects: putting a man on the moon.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart

live.staticflickr.com

Johnson lived a remarkable life and had a prestigious career. Her awards and decorations are numerous, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, honorary doctorate from William and Mary, a facility being named after her at NASA’s Langley campus and even a Barbie made in her image. She had a fervor for learning and a love of life.

“Like what you do, and then you will do your best,” she said.

Rest in peace, Ms. Johnson.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
Articles

That time John Cena destroyed ‘Big Show’ while performing for the troops

World Wrestling Entertainment, better known as the WWE, marked Memorial Day this year by sharing some of their best Tribute to the Troops moments. Tribute to the Troops is a recurring WWE program that hosts wrestling matches specifically to entertain service members deployed around the world.


One of the most popular clips they shared came from a 2003 fight between John Cena and Big Show. The match was held in Baghdad less than two weeks after American soldiers captured Saddam Hussein. It was the first WWE Tribute to the Troops and featured some great action performed in front of soldiers celebrating their victories over the Iraqi military.

Check out the clip below:

For more WWE Tribute to the Troops clips, check out the WWE’s page.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why its important for troops to go through the CS chamber

Corson-Stoughton Gas, commonly known as “CS gas” or tear gas, has been a part of military culture since it was first mass produced in the 50s. Technically, it’s less-than-lethal — death from inhaling CS gas is rare, but it still hurts like hell to breathe in. You’re going to cry and all of the mucus in your body will try to escape at once. It’s not pretty.

So, why not subject troops to it regularly, on a every-six-months basis? What could possibly go wrong?

No really, I’m not being sarcastic. There are actually many good reasons to subject troops to a bi-annual deep cleanse in the CS chamber — and it’s a much more valid reasoning than the standard “it builds character” excuse that first sergeants use.


The very first moment troops are exposed to CS gas is the most important one — during initial training. This serves many different functions.

For starters, it builds confidence in your equipment. All of the “lowest bidder” jokes tend to go away when you realize that the mask you were assigned is perfectly capable of stopping the painful gas from entering your lungs.

It also serves as a way of teaching troops that pain is temporary. Troops have nothing to fear from temporary discomfort. Yeah, it’s going to hurt like hell, but you shouldn’t cower from it — just accept it and move on. Think of it like the scene in Dune when Paul Atreides faces the pain box.

“Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart

This is one of those moments where the phrase “suck it up, buttercup” is completely applicable because it will get easier the more you do it.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Caleb Barrieau)

Troops will walk in with their mask on, knowing that they’re to take it off in the middle of the chamber. And before you start coming up with a plan, no, you can’t just hold your breath to escape the pain. The drill sergeant will likely ask you to recite the Soldier’s Creed, sing the Marines’ Hymn — whatever gets you to open your mouth and take in a breath. And then you can leave.

Feeling the pain of CS gas is universal experience throughout the U.S. Armed Forces — but it doesn’t last long. Twenty or thirty minutes later and you’re back on your feet — until the exercise is put back on the training calendar.

Heading into the CS chamber twice a year can actually help you build up a tolerance to the gas that lasts a lifetime. The first time hurts like a motherf*cker. The second time just hurts like hell. The third time is a little better than that, and so on, until it just makes you slightly uncomfortable. It’s not a complete immunity, but it’s a strong tolerance.

Your eyes will still water but you’re not vomiting in the corner at the very least — so that’s good.

Articles

5.11 Rolltop Pack Gucci-ed up in MultiCam Black

5.11 Tactical has been building gear for military personnel, law enforcement officers, and PMC/PSC contractors for years now (and of course for adventurer- and gun-carryin’ type civvies as well). We’ve received word they just released a new, limited edition version of its rolltop boxpack — in Multicam. But what sets it apart is that this time it’s in Multicam Black. MultiCam Black is pretty damned sexy if you ask us.


Go ahead, ask us.

The color will surely excite some (MC Black has become a defacto Gucciflage over the last year or so) and the pack itself will give others that tingly sensation — but there will be a few who piss and moan about it. Special operations forces, military security and three-letter agency types have been drooling over this pattern for their operational kit for a few years now.

5.11 Tactical takes a beating sometimes (as a company, we mean) for having its gear built overseas, and we understand that. We’re as pro “Made in the USA” as you can possibly get, but we’re also realists who try to be pragmatic about gear.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
(Photo from 5.11 Tactical)

Lots of of reputable companies have their kit built in foreign lands where sweat smells funny and the food makes your guts rumble the first few times you eat it — and much of the equipment they make is worth using. When it comes to packs, bags, and plate carriers, 5.11 makes good stuff.

Besides, the ladies of Siam and Cathay are hawt.

Reminder: At the risk of sounding orgulous, this is just a gear porn notification — a public service if you will — letting you know these things exist and might be of interest. It’s no more a review, endorsement, or denunciation than it is an episiotomy.

Grunts: Orgulous.

The 5.11 “Covert Boxpack” is water- and weather-resistant (note, not -proof) and it’s built of 1680 ballistic polyester (the sames stuff they build tool belts with). It’s a rolltop model, with a dorsal pocket to access things you need in a hurry (primary or secondary handgun depending on your needs, spare mags, rin-no-tama, etc.) and a ventral pocket that’ll hold a ballistic panel.

What, you don’t roll every day with an extra mag or six and a trusty set of rin-no-tama?

Side pockets with elastic retention loops zipper down the sides and a bottom pouch can be used to sequester an IFAK, electronic gear, or whatever else you need to have compartmentalized.

The laptop pouch inside can be accessed through the rolltop or in through the zippered back. It features padded, reinforced shoulder straps and a slide-adjusting sternum strap, and their signature lined eye-pro pocket up top.

The description of the new pack reads largely the same as the regular version. We’ve copied that below from the actual product page. You can watch the manufacturer’s video detailing the original versions features below.

Take a few minutes to check it out. Some of our wretched minions have carried these things. They’re good to go.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart

PURPOSE BUILT:

The Limited Edition Multicam Black Covert Boxpack is engineered for speed, agility, and dependability in any environment. A slide-adjusting sternum strap and reinforced padded shoulder straps ensure a stable and comfortable carry when you’re on the move, and the roomy TacTec™ main compartment is designed to remain covert but allow fast access to your sidearm or backup. A water resistant finish keeps your gear dry in wet climates, dual side zip pockets are ideal for accessories or a hydration bottle, and internal elastic retention straps allow secure storage for additional magazines.

OVERVIEW:

All-weather roll top backpack

Multicam Black™ exterior

Multiple externally-accessible pockets

Dual size zip pockets with internal elastic retention

Slide adjusting sternum strap

Reinforced padded shoulder straps

Bottom pocket for general storage

SPECIFICATIONS:

1680D ballistic polyester

Water resistant finish

Authentic YKK® zippers

Durable Duraflex® hardware

Imported

We picked this video because it’s labeled in Russian, which reminds us of Timka, but don’t worry, it’s narrated in English.

The link to find the MC Black version of this is: http://www.511tactical.com/multicam-black-8482-covert-boxpack.html.

Articles

This Japanese Dish Exists Only Because Of The US Military

As an overseas hub for U.S. military bases, Okinawa, Japan is known among troops for its beautiful coastline, hot and humid weather, and a unique fusion food simply referred to as TRC.

“Tacos had already been introduced to Okinawa by the Americans, but it was more like a snack – not very filling for Americans. And it was something you couldn’t find at a restaurant,” Parlor Senri restaurant’s Sayuri Shimabukuro Shimabukuro told Stripes Okinawa. “Matsuzo decided to substitute the taco shell with rice, which is relatively faster to cook and also filling. Parlor Senri’s customers were 100 percent Americans, and in order for the wait staff to explain the dish, he named it taco rice.”

TRC, or “Taco, Rice, and Cheese,” — a Mexican-Japanese fusion dish that exists only because of the U.S. military presence on the island — is most simply put, a giant taco salad with rice instead of the taco shell. First introduced on the island in 1984, it’s now a staple among U.S. service-members stationed there.

The dish is so popular among troops that most shops that serve it are literally walking distance from the base gates. There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to it.

There’s considerable debate among shop owners as to who came up with TRC first. According to Stripes Okinawa, multiple shops in Kin (the town outside Camp Hansen) claim it was their idea. But while we’re trying to figure out who cooked it first, you can always make it yourself at home.

SEE ALSO: 5 Signs You’ve Been In The Barracks Too Long

MIGHTY TRENDING

Pink Floyd alum Roger Waters talks to WATM about his concert for (and by) wounded vets

We Are The Mighty sat down with Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello to chat about the ‘Music Heals’ concert that was held last week in DC to create awareness about MusiCorps — a program that uses the healing power of music to assist wounded vets with their rehabilitation.


And here’s the setlist from the amazing show held at DAV Constitution Hall on October 16:

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart

And check out this video from the show of the band playing the Pink Floyd classic, “Comfortably Numb,” featuring wounded warrior and former Army captain Greg Galeazzi on lead guitar:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7urjTOyaZpo

Articles

These are the 6 worst carriers (or classes) to ever set sail

Some aircraft carriers are legends – either from long service like that of USS Enterprise (CVN 65) or with an unmatched war record like that of another USS Enterprise (CV 6).


They have either heroic sacrifices, the way USS Yorktown (CV 5) did at Midway, or they simply take a ton of abuse as USS Franklin (CV 13) did.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) transits the Arabian Sea during her last deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jared King)

But some carriers just stink. You wouldn’t wish them on your worst enemy… or maybe you would, simply to make the war easier. There’s arguments on both sides of that. Here are the carriers that would prompt such an internal debate.

6. USS Ranger (CV 4)

When America was down to one carrier in the South Pacific in 1942, re-deploying America’s first purpose-built carrier, the USS Ranger (CV 4) was not considered as an option.

That tells you something about the ship. Her combat career was relatively brief, and she eventually was relegated to training duties. Still, she had a decent air group (mostly fighters and dive-bombers), so she is the best of this bad lot.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
USS Ranger (CV 4) at sea. (US Navy photo)

5. Admiral Kuznetsov Class (Kuznetsov, Liaoning, and unnamed Type 001A)

If you’ve read a lot of WATM, then you know about the Kuznetsov Follies. The crappy engines (the Russians send tugs along with her in case of breakdown), the splash landings, and the fact the Russians ended up using her as a glorified ferry all speak to real problems. In her favor, though, is the presence of 12 long-range anti-ship missiles on the lead ship, and she can fly MiG-29K and Su-33 Flankers off her deck. China’s versions carry J-15 fighters, but not the missiles.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ in her natural habitat, a dry dock, in July 2015. | Christopher Michel/Flickr photo

4. Kiev class (Kiev, Minsk, Novorossiysk)

The Russian Kiev and her sisters are on here for a crap air wing.

The Yak-38 Forger was one of the worst planes to ever operate from a carrier. The Kiev gets a higher ranking largely because she had a lot of firepower, including eight SS-N-12 Sandbox missiles as well as a lot of SA-N-3 Goblets and point-defense systems, which were arguably more of a threat to the enemy than the planes she carried.

Yeah… that kinda has the whole purpose backwards. Now, a modern version with F-35Bs or even AV-8B+ Harriers and the Aegis system could be interesting.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
The Soviet aircraft carrier Kiev, showing off elements of the crap air wing, including the Yak-38 Forger. (US Navy photo)

3. HTMS Chakri Naruebet

The Chakri Naruebet from the Thai navy is on the list not so much for inherent problems, but because of substantial air wing neglect during the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (aka Rana IX). Worse, the Thais officially call her an “offshore patrol helicopter carrier.”

They did buy some second-hand AV-8S Matadors from Spain. But most flunked the maintenance, and soon Thailand had one flyable jet. At least the Kievs had heavy firepower to make up for their crap air wing!

That said, his successor, King Vajiralongkorn, was a former fighter pilot, and hopefully will be able to turn things around.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
Photo: PH3 Alex C. Witte/US Navy

2. Ise Class battleship/carrier hybrid conversions

Okay, in some ways, this is understandable. After the Battle of Midway, Japan needed carriers in the worst possible way. Ise and Hyuga are perfect examples of getting those “carriers” — in the worst possible way.

Initially built as battleships with a top speed of 23 knots, they got turned not into full carriers, which might have been useful. But a half-battleship/half-carrier holding 22 seaplanes (okay about 50 percent more than Hosho) that they could launch and recover wasn’t totally awful.

Remember that’s seaplanes, not Zeroes for fighter cover or strike planes. Granted Japan had the A6M-2 Rufe, a seaplane Zero, but this was a rush job, and it showed. At least they each had eight 14-inch guns.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
The HIJMS Ise was a failed battleship/carrier hybrid. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

1. HIJMS Hosho

This was the world’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier. But let’s be honest, the Japanese boat was a dog. It had a top speed of 25 knots, and it carried all of 15 planes. During the Battle of Midway, it had eight biplanes.

By comparison, USS Langley (CV 1), America’s first aircraft carrier, could carry 36 planes. Even with a top speed of 15 knots, she would have been useful escorting convoys in the Atlantic – if America hadn’t turned her into a seaplane tender to satisfy an arms-control treaty Japan violated anyhow.

Are there any bad carriers we missed? Let us know in the comments!

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

An update on identifying returned Korean War remains

The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency provided an update on the status of identifying the remains transferred in July 2018 to the United States from North Korea.

An honorable carry ceremony July 27, 2018, at Osan Air Base, South Korea, transferred 55 boxes of remains believed to be of Americans missing in the Korean War. The boxes were received Aug. 1, 2018, in an honorable carry ceremony in Hawaii.

“We are guardedly optimistic the 1 August repatriation is the first tangible action of others, with which we will be able to account for more of our missing from the Korean War,” the director of DPAA, Kelly McKeague, said at today’s White House media briefing.


The August 2018 repatriation and homecoming was a “poignant manifestation” of the commitment secured by President Donald J. Trump and the pledge by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their June 2018 summit in Singapore, he said.

McKeague highlighted the return of a dog tag of Army medic Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel. “It was a sole personal effect returned by the North Koreans,” he said, adding that the return of the remains is the first step toward talks to resume joint field recovery operations. The dog tag was returned to McDaniel’s sons.

Joint recovery operations in North Korea were suspended in 2005 due to security concerns by then-President George W. Bush.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart

A United Nations Honor Guard member carries remains during a dignified return ceremony at Osan Air Base, South Korea, July 27, 2018.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kelsey Tucker)

Humanitarian endeavor

McKeague described the recovery effort as a humanitarian endeavor and said he is encouraged that the June 2018 summit and North Korea’s reaffirmation to resume recovery operations may lead to further cooperation. He said the contacts are being treated as military-to-military contacts.

The time it will take to match the remains to a service member will be DNA-intensive and take months or years, DPAA lab director John Byrd said.

“At no time did we expect there to be one body, one box. Nor did the North Koreans try to pitch it that way to us when we were in Osan,” Byrd said, citing as an example the return of remains over five years the 1990s.

“Out of those 208 boxes over those five years, we estimated, after DNA sampling, 400 individuals. Now from that, 200 were Americans,” he said.

Initial inspections indicate the recently returned remains are in moderate to poor condition and do not contain any remains of animals, Byrd said.

Sacred obligation to recover missing Americans

There are 7,700 Americans missing from the Korean War, McKeague said.

The DPAA mission is to search for, find and account for missing Defense Department personnel from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War and other recent conflicts. More than 82,000 Americans remain missing from those conflicts, with 34,000 believed to be recoverable, according to DPAA.

“The fact that the United States of America vigorously pursues the fullest possible accounting of our missing reflects our values as a nation,” McKeague said. “The sacred obligation, if not moral imperative, remains a high priority for the Department of Defense.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

Articles

Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission

The 1968 World War II film “Where Eagles Dare” thrilled some viewers — and scared the bejesus out of others — with its tale of commandos storming a snow-covered mountain fortress and a scene of Richard Burton wrestling with Nazi thugs on the roof of a swaying cable car.


But for an Omaha teen named James Stejskal, seeing the movie inspired his life’s work as an Army Green Beret.

“I was always interested in that kind of life,” said Stejskal, 63, now retired from careers as a soldier and CIA agent and living in Alexandria, Virginia. “A small unit fighting against the bigger enemy (using) a combination of military and intelligence operations, not just brute force.”

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
Green Berets standing proud.  (U.S. Army photo)

This spring, Stejskal published a book called “Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90,” about the secret unit with which he spent nine of his 23 years in the Army. Its work was so sensitive that the Pentagon didn’t acknowledge its existence until 2014.

“That’s when we finally came in from the cold,” said Tom Merrill, 63, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, who served with Stejskal in Berlin and remains a friend.

Stejskal enlisted in the Army in 1973, a year after graduating from Central High School. Soon he became a Green Beret, serving on small special ops teams. He was a weapons sergeant and a medic, known to his buddies as “Styk.”

“He was the consummate operator — natively smart, well-educated, thought well on his feet,” said Merrill, who lived in Council Bluffs as a boy.

The Berlin unit, created in 1956, was blandly named Detachment “A.” It disbanded in 1990, after the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
Berlin Wall, 1989 (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

The soldiers of Detachment “A” didn’t look much like soldiers. They dressed in modish clothes, wore beards and long hair, made local friends, lived in off-base apartments. All spoke German, many of them fluently.

“Working in civilian clothes, blending in with the locals, doing cool stuff in West Berlin and the middle of (Communist) East Germany,” recalled Stejskal, who served in the unit from 1977 to 1981, and from 1984 to 1989. “It was a very ambiguous kind of duty.”

They were expert at soldierly skills like marksmanship, wilderness navigation, rappelling from helicopters, urban combat. But they also learned the tradecraft of spies, including surveillance and secret messaging.

In the event of a Soviet-led invasion of Western Europe, the detachment’s job was to melt into the population of Berlin and engage in acts of sabotage behind enemy lines. In his book, Stejskal describes it as a “Hail Mary plan to slow the (Soviet) juggernaut they expected when and if a war began.”

Each of the detachment’s six teams was to be responsible for sabotaging bridges and railroads, harassing the enemy in designated slices of East Berlin and East Germany.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
Berlin during the Cold War.

The work evolved as new threats emerged in Europe, and encompassed training in guerrilla warfare, direct-action precision strikes, and counterterrorism.

As radical groups spread terror across Europe with kidnappings, mass shootings and hijackings in the 1970s, Detachment “A” practiced rescuing hostages from trains and airplanes. Pan Am let them drill using airliners stored in its hangars at Berlin’s Tegel airport.

The detachment’s highest-profile mission had little to do with the Cold War and didn’t even take place in Europe. In 1980, the detachment was tapped to help rescue 52 U.S. diplomats held hostage in Tehran by radical Iranian students.

Soon after the embassy was captured Nov. 4, 1979, the U.S. military began developing a plan to seize the hostages. Most were held in the main embassy compound, but the job of Detachment “A” was to snatch three who were being held separately at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

The first rescue attempt, Operation Eagle Claw, ended in disaster when a plane and a helicopter collided in the dark in the Iranian desert.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
Operation Eagle Claw ends in failure, 1989. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The military quietly began planning a second rescue attempt, again including members of Detachment “A.” Stejskal and Merrill, who hadn’t been part of Eagle Claw, were involved in the second, Operation Storm Cloud. It involved using Air Force transport planes to fly partly disassembled helicopters into an airfield commandeered in the desert. The helicopters would be quickly reassembled and used to assault the Foreign Ministry.

The team traveled to Florida to conduct live-fire drills and spent weeks rehearsing with helicopter crews. They honed their weapons skills with extra-long hours on the shooting range.

“We were blowing (our weapons) up, we were firing them so much,” Stejskal said.

They ran a dress rehearsal in late November 1980, but soon the word came down: The mission had been scrubbed.

“It was deflating, extremely,” Stejskal said. “It’s like preparing for a big game and then being told you can’t play.”

The hostages were released Jan. 20, 1981, the same day President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
President Reagan’s inauguration, 1981. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Stejskal soon rotated out but returned to the unit in 1984. The 1980s are remembered now as the death throes of the Soviet empire. But at the time, it wasn’t clear whether popular movements like Poland’s Solidarity might provoke a Soviet crackdown.

“No one was really sure how it would all play out,” he said.

Stejskal left Berlin in the spring of 1989, but he flew back in November when he heard that the Wall had fallen. He wanted to see the end of the Cold War icon that had shaped his life.

“In one way, it was a relief: The mission as I knew it in Berlin was over, or soon would be,” Stejskal said. “On the other hand, there was a bit of nostalgia for the way things were.”

Not that his life on the razor’s edge ended when the Wall fell. In December 1992, Stejskal was badly wounded when his car drove over a land mine in Somalia.

Stejskal suffered a serious head injury and a shattered leg.

“I basically had 3½ inches of bone that was turned to confetti,” he said.

Stejskal returned to duty a year later. But he knew he would never regain his former strength. So he retired in 1996.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
Green Berets. (U.S. Army photo)

That was the same year he married Wanda Nesbitt, a State Department foreign service officer he had met five years earlier during an evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, in the country then known as Zaire.

At his first overseas posting with Nesbitt, Stejskal said, someone handed him a sticky note with a telephone number on it and said to call if he wanted a job. That led to a 13-year stint with the CIA.

In recent years, Stejskal has attended Detachment “A” reunions, where the stories flow along with the beer.

“Somebody said, ‘We need to get this down on paper. We’ve got a history. Who’s going to write it down?'” he said.

Stejskal volunteered. Merrill said the book, published in March by Casemate Publishers, has taught him a lot he didn’t know about the unit’s history.

“He gave it the respect it deserved,” Merrill said. “He was able to take his insider knowledge and transfer it to something an outsider can understand.”

Articles

You had to bet your life to graduate from the Vietnam-era Recondo school

When Maj. Gen. William Westmoreland took command of the 101st Airborne in 1958, he noticed a severe lack of proficiency in small-unit tactics and patrolling.


So he immediately created a school to fix the problem.

When he took command of all American forces in the Vietnam War, he once again created a school to teach long-range patrolling and small unit tactics with a Ranger-qualified cadre of instructors from the 5th Special Forces Group. To graduate from this school, you had to bet your life on it.

Dubbed “Recondo” school, Westmoreland claimed it was an amalgamation of Reconnaissance, Commando, and Doughboy. Recondo training emphasized both reconnaissance and standard infantry skills at the small unit level.

In 1960, Army Magazine described the Recondo tactics as “dedicated to the domination of certain areas of the battlefield by small aggressive roving patrols of opportunity which have not been assigned a definite reconnaissance or combat mission.” From these graduates, the 101st developed the Recondo Patrol.

This patrol type was meant to allow a Recondo to create as much havoc as possible in their area of operations. The patrol could be used against a disorganized enemy, as a screen for retrograde operations, to develop a situation or conduct a feint ahead of an advancing force, or to eliminate guerrilla activity.

It was the last ability that Recondos would put to great use in Vietnam.

The Recondo school was set up at Nha Trang and was inspired but the highly successful Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol training conducted by detachment B-52 from 5th Special Forces. This program, known as Project Delta, was originally intended to train Special Forces and their Vietnamese counterparts in guerrilla-like ambushes.

The course became so popular that within two years over half of the students were from regular Army units. Westmoreland expanded the school to teach Recondo tactics to as many LRRPs as possible.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
Two 1st Cav LRRP teams in July 1968. All team leaders were Recondo grads.

In order to qualify for the MACV Recondo school, participants had to be in-country at least one month and have at least six months remaining on their tour upon completion. Students also had to have a combat arms MOS and an actual or pending assignment to an LRRP unit. Finally, they had to be in excellent physical shape and be proficient in general military knowledge.

The school was open to soldiers and marines of the Free World Military Assistance Forces, including the South Vietnamese, Koreans, Australians, and Filipinos. Many U.S. Marines also attended the training.

The curriculum of the school included improving students’ skills in the areas of map reading, intelligence gathering, weapons training, and communications. Weapons training included a variety of American weapons as well as weapons used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army. Particular attention was also given to mines and booby-traps. Communications covered the use of several different radios, field expedient antennas, and proper message writing techniques.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
Recondo School trainees in the harsh rigors of long-range patrolling.

The school also gave advanced training in medical treatment, including the use of Ringer’s lactate solution and intravenous and intramuscular injections. Schooling also focused on air operations – especially the use of the UH-1 Huey helicopter for insertions and extractions. Forward Air Controller techniques were taught with students calling in live ordnance on a target.

Most importantly, the school taught patrolling.

Students learned different patrolling techniques, preparation, and organization. Proper patrol security was taught along with intelligence-gathering techniques. The students trained heavily in immediate action drills to react to or initiate enemy contact.

After over 300 hours of training, averaging over 12 hours per day, it was time for the students to take the final exam: an actual combat patrol.

In the early days of the program, the area the prospective graduates patrolled was relatively secure and quiet. As the war progressed, however, contact with the enemy became a given. This led to students saying “you bet your life” to graduate from Recondo School.

At least two students died in Recondo training with many others wounded. An unknown number of Viet Cong were also killed in the skirmishes during the “you bet your life” patrol. This led to the school itself receiving a nickname of its own: “the deadliest school on earth”.

In just over four years of operation, over 5,600 students attended Recondo school. Just 3,515 men graduated, not quite two-thirds of all who tried. Each student who graduated was awarded a Recondo patch, worn on the right breast pocket, and an individual Recondo number that was recorded in their 201 personnel file. The Honor Graduate from each class was also given a specially engraved Recondo knife.

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
A Recondo graduate is presented with medals ca 1968.

Despite the school and its graduates’ success, Westmoreland’s successor, Gen. Creighton Abrams, officially closed the school on December 19, 1970. The Recondo name and training lived on, as some divisions continued to host their own Recondo schools until they were eventually closed too.

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Why was Dakota Meyer uninvited from a Marine Corps Ball?

Why would one of the Marine Corps’ biggest heroes be uninvited from the Marine Corps Ball in Afghanistan? That question has been circulating online over the last few days – and the reason might make you go high and to the right.


Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart
Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer visits Marines at Camp Pendleton, California. (Photo by Marine Cpl. Angelica Annastas)

Sergeant Dakota Meyer received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Sept. 8, 2009, during the Battle of Ganjgal, in which five Americans and eight Afghan security personnel were killed in action. Meyer made five runs into enemy fire to evacuate wounded personnel and recover the bodies of American KIAs.

For this year’s Marine Corps Ball held to celebrate the 241st birthday of the Marine Corps, Meyer had been invited to attend in Afghanistan, where he had served with Embedded Training Team 2-8. According to a report by tribunist.com, the celebration was to be held at the American embassy in Kabul due to security concerns. Such concerns are valid, as last week a murder-suicide bombing at Bagram Air Base left four Americans dead and wounded 17 others.

According to tribunist.com, Meyer’s invite was reportedly rescinded at the direction of Amb. P. Michael McKinley over Meyer’s “political views.” On his Facebook page, Meyer has been vocally critical of the Obama Administration on a number of issues, including a push for additional gun control laws.

Meyer’s wife, Bristol Palin, is also the daughter of former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

“It’s disheartening that he’s using the Marine Corps Ball as a chance to be petty and political. It’s disheartening that he’s using the Marine Corps Ball as a chance be petty and political. This should be beyond politics and a time for him to support the men and women who defend he and his staff at the embassy,” Meyer told the Tribunist.


,On his Facebook page, Meyer posted a link to the site’s article, adding the comment, “I want to make sure the Marines in Afghanistan know I really wanted to join them for our birthday, but politics got in the way. Let me know when you guys get back in country and we’ll rock out then!”
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