There are many unfounded superstitions within the military. Don’t eat Charms candy. Don’t whistle on a Navy vessel. Pilots won’t take off without being given a thumbs up. The list goes on.
Many of these superstitions have traceable roots that run back to a time when someone did something and terrible results followed, but there’s seldom any empirical evidence behind the practices. To that end, Marines and Marine veterans from all eras and battlefields will all attest to one fruit being such bad luck that even uttering its name will cause them to freak out.
This fruit is, of course, the apricot.
Vietnam was bad enough. Even if you liked the taste of the fruit, you probably shouldn’t do anything to make everyone ostracize you.
While most troops tend to stay away from apricots — typically referred to as ‘cots, forbidden fruits, or A-fruits, to avoid being jinxed by uttering its true name — the biggest contributors to this superstition are Marine tankers and Marines on Amphibious Assault Vehicles.
Officially, the myth began in WWII. Many of the AAVs that were hopping around the islands of the Pacific would carry the fruit, as it was often found in rations. All the AAVs that were destroyed with their crewmembers inside were said to have a single piece of cargo in common: apricots. Of course, there isn’t much proof to back up this statement, as many vehicles that didn’t carry the forbidden fruit met the same fate.
The superstition continued into the Vietnam War. There, Marines were hesitant about even being near someone eating a ‘cotbecause they thought it meant that rockets or artillery were soon incoming. The belief was so strong that Marines would often force someone out of the tent if they tempted fate by biting into one of the stone fruits.
You still won’t find any of them in a Marine Corps chow hall. Just grab an apple, they taste better and probably maybe won’t cause everything to explode or break down. Probably.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Janessa K. Pon)
It was also said that ‘cots were to blame for many Marines vehicles breaking down during the Persian Gulf War and the early days of the Global War on Terrorism before they were all but banned by the military overseas.
Until apricots were removed from MREs in 1995, many Marine tankers would opt out of bringing MREs into their vehicles altogether on the off chance that the A-fruit was hiding in one of the sealed bags. The myth continues to this day, and most Marines won’t even utter the name of the fruit, let alone touch them.
NATO defense ministers have wrapped up two days of talks in Brussels during which they approved plans to create two command centers in response to what the military alliance called a “changing” security environment.
Speaking at the end of the meeting on Feb. 15, 2018, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the allies also planned to “scale up” the alliance’s presence in Iraq.
On the first day of their talks, the ministers approved the establishment of two new command centers aimed at supporting rapid troop movements across Europe and protecting sea channels between the continent and North America.
The new command center for logistics, reinforcement, and military mobility will allow NATO to respond to crises “with the right forces, in the right place, at the right time,” Stoltenberg said on Feb. 14, 2018.
The NATO ministers also agreed to set up a new cyberoperations center to help counter military hacker attacks, among other things.
“The security environment in Europe has changed, and so NATO is responding,” he also said.
Since the Cold War, the alliance has shrunk from 22,000 staff working in 33 command centers to fewer than 7,000 staff in seven centers, the secretary-general said.
The ministers are expected to decide on the required timelines, locations, and increased staff levels at their next meeting in June 2018.
The moves come as relations between Moscow and NATO have been severely strained over issues including Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014 and its support for separatists who control parts of eastern Ukraine. The war between Kyiv’s forces and the Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.
Allegations of malicious Russian cyberactivity and a series of potentially dangerous close encounters between Russian and NATO warplanes and navy ships in recent months has added to the tension.
Stoltenberg said on Feb. 15, 2018 he was looking forward to meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the Feb. 16-18 Munich Security Conference in Germany, saying “dialogue is particularly important when tensions are high.”
On Iraq, the secretary-general announced that the defense ministers agreed to start planning for a NATO training mission that he said would “make our current training efforts more sustainable.”
“We will also plan to help the Iraqi forces become increasingly professional” by “establishing specialized military academies and schools,” he added.
“We are planning to scale up NATO’s presence. But we are not planning for a combat mission,” Stoltenberg said. “We can make a big impact with our trainers and advisers — in full coordination with the Iraqi government, the global coalition, and other actors, such as the UN and the EU.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told a press conference in Brussels that NATO allies “will go to a constant mission in Iraq to build the capabilities that [the Iraqis] believe they need to sustain this effort and protect their people from the uprising of another type of terrorist organization.”
NATO ministers also met with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in the Belgian capital to discuss their concerns over duplication after members of the bloc agreed in December 2017 to develop new military equipment and improve cooperation and decision-making.
“There is a clear understanding to include in written EU documents that the common defense is a NATO mission and a NATO mission alone,” Mattis said.
By choosing the already-fielded Heckler Koch M27 as the new service rifle for Marine Corps infantry squads, the service saved up to $24 million and avoided years of delay, top leaders told a congressional committee early March 2018.
In a hearing on readiness before a panel of the House Armed Services Committee on March 6, 2018, Marine Corps brass defended the service’s decision to publish a request for proposal for more than 15,000 of the M27, which is already serving as the Corps’ infantry automatic rifle.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the HASC subcommittee on readiness, expressed concern for the U.S. industrial base as the Corps prepares to make the large purchase from German company HK.
“Do you believe the U.S. defense industrial base could support such a request and … do you believe that issuing a sole-source contract for such a large number of rifles from an internationally based company poses any logistical readiness challenge in meeting the demand for not only rifles but supplementary parts?” Wilson asked the three general officers testifying.
Lt. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, deputy commandant for Plans, Policies, and Operations, said the Marine Corps had held an open competition before the M27 was originally fielded in more limited quantities in 2008.
“It would cost probably … I’ve seen a figure as high as $24 million, to go through a recompetition for that weapon,” he said. “There’s no additional requirements, it’s to purchase as-is, and it’s simply an increase in a quantity of a weapon.”
Beaudreault said the Government Accountability Office had also completed a report looking at the Corps’ request and found it “within legal parameters” to pursue the sole-source contract the service wants. He added that the Marine Corps is now in the final stages of setting a price with HK for the lot of M27s.
“Do I think the industrial base could support those types of quantities? Absolutely,” Beaudreault said. “But what we would experience by reopening a competition would be, perhaps not being able to recover the additional money that would go into the [competition] … and probably a two-year delay in fielding that weapon to the rest of the infantry.”
Commandant Gen. Robert Neller confirmed to Military.com in December 2017 that the Corps had committed to purchase the M27 for all members of infantry squads to replace the M4 carbines they currently carry. Weapons experts say the M27 is more accurate and has a longer effective range than the M4, and would place greater combat power and lethality in the hands of infantrymen.
What hasn’t been clear until now is how many of the high-end rifles the Marine Corps planned to purchase. In February 2017, the service published a request for information for 11,000 infantry automatic rifles; then in August 2017, it published a pre-solicitation for up to 50,000 M27s.
Beaudreault told Wilson the request send to industry was for 15,000 rifles, enough to equip squads, with some left over for others as well.
Neller told Military.com he was considering giving the weapon to other ground combat Marines, including artillery forward observers, fire support teams, and even engineers.
A U.S. Marine with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, fires aanM27 infantry automatic rifle at simulated enemies during an Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez)
“I’m going to wait and see,” he said in December 2017. “It’s not that much [money].”
The Marine Corps does expect to get a good deal on the rifles this time around. At SHOT Show in Las Vegas in January 2018, HK executive Robert Reidsma told Military.com that global demand for the M27 was driving down cost. The larger order the Corps is making will help too.
“Obviously, they want a bigger quantity and the economies of scale have changed,” he said then. “I think it’s one of the most affordable prices I’ve seen for the capability they’re getting.”
On March 6, 2018, Beaudreault emphasized that going with the M27 isn’t just the cheap and fast choice for the Corps. It’s also the best option, he said.
“The Marine Corps looked at some other options, and the M27 outperformed some of the other weapons that we’re also considering,” he said. “So it’s a great weapon, gets great reviews from Marines, and we were very eager to try to get it fielded as rapidly as we could.”
For its second act of expansion, Arlington National Cemetery plans to grow southward onto property formerly occupied by the Navy Annex. Work there will begin in 2020, said the cemetery’s executive director.
Karen Durham-Aguilera spoke March 12, 2019, before the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies. She told lawmakers the cemetery plans to break ground on the first phase of the project in 2020. She also thanked them for providing the appropriate funding to make it happen.
“With Congress’s support, the Defense Access Road project is fully funded with million and the Southern Expansion is partially funded with 9.1 million dollars no-year funding, toward a 0 million requirement,” she said.
Both projects, which include a plan to reroute Columbia Pike, which runs alongside the cemetery to the south; and a plan to develop reclaimed land and bring it up to the standards of the cemetery, are currently underway.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. James K. McCann)
The road project should finish by 2022, Durham-Aguilera said. The second phase of the project should begin in 2022, and complete in 2025.
“Southern Expansion will add 37 acres of burial space and extend the cemetery’s active life,” Durham-Aguilera said. “We will continue to provide quarterly report to Congress, outlining the progress of these important projects.”
To move forward on the project, Durham-Aguilera said the Army is working with Arlington County, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Federal Highway Administration.
Durham-Aguilera also told lawmakers about additional projects that have either been completed at the cemetery, which are underway, or which are currently in the planning stages. Since 2013, she said, 70 infrastructure projects have been completed. Today, an additional 25 are underway.
“We have completed or are currently rebuilding more than eight miles of roadways, with approximately ten additional miles in planning or design,” she said. “We have replaced about one-third of the cemetery’s storm sewer lines … since 2013, we have replaced over 1,000 feet of sanitary line, typically, as an emergency repair. We plan to replace or rehabilitate an additional 5,000 feet to prevent further failures.”
The Arlington National Cemetery Southern Expansion Plan will add more space to ANC in a location near the existing Air Force Memorial and former Navy Annex. Plans include rerouting portions of the existing Columbia Pike.
In submitted testimony, Durham-Aguilera said the cemetery will also do work on its administrative building where families gather in advance of a funeral.
In fiscal year 2018, ANC buried nearly 6,500 service members, veterans and eligible family members, Durham-Aguilera said. While the expansions will extend how long the cemetery can remain active, it will not be enough, she said.
“Expansion alone will not keep ANC open well into the future — defined as 150 years,” Durham-Aguilera said. “The [fiscal year 2019] National Defense Authorization Act requires the secretary of the Army, in consultation with the secretary of defense, by Sept. 30, 2019, to prescribe and establish revised criteria for interment that preserves ANC as an active burial ground. Evaluation of multiple options is ongoing to inform the secretary of the Army’s decision.”
To help inform that decision about eligibility criteria, Durham-Aguilera said, ANC has, among other things, conducted two public surveys of nearly 260,000 respondents and held meetings and listening sessions with key stakeholders — including more than 25 veteran and military service organizations.
“Arlington National Cemetery’s enduring mission is to represent the American people for the past, present and future generations by laying to rest those few who have served our nation with dignity and honor, while immersing guests in the cemetery’s living history,” Durham-Aguilera said. “We are committed to ensuring confident graveside accountability, our cemetery maintenance, our fiscal stewardship, and preserving the iconic look and feel of the cemetery.”
A lost photo may shed new light on the mysterious death of famous aviator Amelia Earhart.
The photo, which will be featured in a new History channel special called “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” was discovered in the National Archives more than 80 years after her death. In it, a woman who appears to be Earhart sits on a dock in the Marshall Islands near to a man who resembles her navigator Fred Noonan.
Photo from US National Archives
After becoming the first female pilot to fly a plane across the Atlantic Ocean, Earhart set off to circumnavigate the globe in July 1937. Her plane vanished without a trace during the flight and, by 1939, both Earhart and Noonan were declared dead.
But the new photo, which shows figures that appear like Earhart and Noonan, could challenge the common theory that the plane crashed somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Photo from US National Archives
Shawn Henry, former executive assistant director for the FBI, told NBC News that he’s confident the photo is legitimate and pictures Earhart sitting on the dock.
“When you pull out, and when you see the analysis that’s been done, I think it leaves no doubt to the viewers that that’s Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan,” said Henry. Her plane appears to be on a barge in the background being towed by a large ship.
Photo from US National Archives
According to NBC News, the team that uncovered the photo believes that the photo demonstrates that Earhart and Noonan were blown off course. The latest photo could suggest that Earhart was captured by the Japanese military, experts told NBC News.
While current Japanese authorities told the news outlet that they had no record of Earhart ever being in their custody, American investigators insisted that the photo strongly suggests that Earhart survived the crash and was taken into captivity.
“We believe that the Koshu took her to Saipan [the Mariana Islands], and that she died there under the custody of the Japanese,” said Gary Tarpinian, the executive producer behind the History project.
Now you can do the Mario saves Princess Peach workout on a daily basis, thanks to Boston-based computer programmer Ian Albert and Mental Flossmagazine. After a reader asked the magazine how many miles the Italian duo had to run, jump, and swim to get to the Princess, they were actually able to calculate it using some simple standard measurements.
There are some ground pounders out there who probably do harder workouts for fun.
Not to take anything away from your childhood or anything.
Mental Floss’ Nick Green took the maps created through Ian Alberts screenshots of the game, calculated how large Mario and Luigi would be as normal human beings – that is, using their pre-mushroom growth hormone size – a human with their feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, an average of 26 inches.
Then, using no bonus areas or warp tunnels, Green calculated the distance from Mario’s starting point to saving the princess, relative to that 26 inches between his feet. The final tally comes to 17,835 feet – 3.4 miles. Barely more than running a 5K fun run, though this number increases to 3.7 miles if you also calculate running all the bonus areas.
Super Mario PT will not be coming to your console anytime soon.
If we were going to make this a partial triathlon, then calculating the swimming distance would be 371 feet, roughly eight laps in an Olympic-sized pool, and another 344 feet with the bonus areas, so around 15 laps.
Keep in mind this is just running and swimming straight through, without calculating the physical toll of jumping, climbing stairs, crawling in tubes, and murdering birds and turtles or of running in a lava-filled enclosed castle. There’s no doubt that rescuing the princess would be a little more difficult than we’re making it out to be, but the Princess Rescue Workout would still be short work for many military members.
Military equipment is notoriously cheap and can sometimes fall short of expectations when in the hands of the dirt-eating grunts who use them the most. But, every once in a while, a company comes by and makes something that not only lives up to its potential, but manages to make its way into the hearts of troops everywhere (things as wonderful as the M27 are few and far between). So, when DevTac developed the Ronin Kevlar Level IIIA Tactical Ballistic Helmet, we wondered how effective it really was.
Thankfully, Dr. Matt Carriker, a veterinarian and fellow gun enthusiast, put the helmet to the test on his YouTube channel, Demolition Ranch. We’ve covered a previous video of his where he tested Army helmets, seeing just how bulletproof they really are, but does this Boba-Fett-looking helmet stand up to the test?
Let’s find out!
Before the test, Dr. Carriker goes over some of the basic features of the helmet to provide a baseline of what to expect. Some of those features include armor plating — some parts Level II, others Level IIIA. Allegedly, the helmet is able to withstand most bullets shot from a pistol.
Dr. Carriker starts off easy and light, hitting the helmet with a .22 LR fired from a suppressed pistol, then moving onto a .22 Hornet round fired from a Taurus Raging Hornet. The results for both are the same — some chipped paint but no penetration, which is what we hoped would happen given such a small bullet.
Next, he hits it with a .410, shooting a Charles Daly Defense Honcho. The lenses are supposed to stop a shotgun blast, and they do, but they get shot out. Afterwards, like a true, red-blooded American, he double fists a pair of Maxim 9s to hit the helmet with 9mm rounds. Still no penetration.
After seeing that 9mm ain’t going to cut it, Dr. Carriker goes on to test a .357 magnum round shot from a Desert Eagle. After that, he picks up a .44 magnum and then, later, a .45-70 Government round shot from a revolver. The results for all three, despite doing significant damage to the helmet, were the same: no penetration.
If you don’t believe it, check out the video below and see the action for yourself:
Alvin “Bob” River was born on December 25, 1920. A Missouri native, he once traveled with his family by wagon at 12 years old when they moved from one town to the next. His middle name is actually Edward, but he got the nickname “Bob” from a memorable childhood indiscretion. In the first grade, a girl sitting in the desk directly in front of him had long hair and one of her curls kept ending up on his desk. Tired of it, as only a six year old could be, he cut it off. Thoroughly punished and forced to apologize profusely, the deed was done and the nickname stuck. He would be “Bob” for the rest of his life.
His family made their living farming, something his oldest brother took on when he was old enough. World War II had other plans for Bob – he was drafted into the Army in 1944. Deployed to Frankfurt, Germany – he was responsible for the upkeep of the motorpool. “They kept all of the jeeps going for all of the generals,” Betty shared. He spent two years overseas, seeing and experiencing things he rarely discussed with his family. He returned back to Missouri in 1946 and began building a life after war.
Bob found himself at a basketball game fundraiser for Polio not long after getting home. Unbeknownst to him, his future wife was there too. “He was standing by the door as I was leaving the game and my sister ran back to ask him if he’d be my date to the dance we were going to. He said yes,” Betty said with a smile in her voice. Soon after that dance, they began dating in earnest. Betty shared that they loved to go to the local skating rink together. They were eventually married. Bob and Betty have now been married for 66 years.
A good natured man, Betty shared that he was always kind to everyone. He lived his life by the creed of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. They had two children together and now boast two grandchildren, 3 great grandchildren – with one more on the way. Betty said that they always “ran around” with a younger crowd, staying busy and never letting their age stop them from adventure. When Bob turned 99, he began to slow down and forget some things.
Dementia started a decline that eventually led to “sundowners syndrome,” a pattern of confusion, agitation, paranoia and fear. In April of 2020 Betty went with Bob to their daughter’s home for help but after two weeks and a bad fall, they knew it was time for outside assistance. Bob was taken to the Harry S Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. Doctors there told Betty what she knew, he could no longer remain at home for care. Although devastated, the family recognized that it was the best thing for him.
As COVID-19 continued to create havoc throughout the world, the VA home closed its doors to protect its residents. But Bob wasn’t alone, for the staff there immediately fell in love with him just like everyone else. The maintenance staff in particular loved him dearly, adopting him as their own. Although he was initially going to transfer to a different hospital to be closer to family, the VA home begged to “keep” him. Seeing how adored he was and how happily settled he was becoming, the family made the choice to keep him where he was.
When the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved, Bob was the first resident to receive it.
On Christmas Day, Bob will turn 100 years old. The family is giddy with excitement because they’ve been granted approval to come on his birthday to sing to him and be together for the first time since the pandemic started. With restrictions on socializing still in place, there isn’t much he can do to stay busy. It is their hope that they can shower Bob with birthday cards and letters, to show him how much he is loved.
It will also show him that he hasn’t been forgotten.
Bob is one of the last of his generation of World War II veterans. Their stories of courage and sacrifice will soon be gone and lost forever. Take this holiday season to remember them and truly recognize what they did for America. A true “thank you” for their service lies not in words, but in action and how you live your life. Do it in a way that honors them and all veterans, every single day.
To mail Bob a letter or card for his 100th birthday, send it to the address below:
When you think about turrets, you likely think about the big ones. Like those on Iowa-class battleships that hold three 16-inch guns, or even the twin five-inch mounts found on cruisers, destroyers, and carriers. Well, in this case, you’d be thinking too big.
Toward the end of World War II, the Navy was deploying a unique turret meant for the legendary PT boats. The purpose was to make them even more lethal than they proved to be in the Philippines and the Solomons.
PT boats had become more than just a means of torpedoing enemy ships. By the end of the Solomons campaign, they were being used to attack barges — not with torpedoes, but with a lot of gunfire. Field modifications soon gave PT boats more powerful weapons, but there was a problem: PT boats didn’t have a ton of space.
The solution to that problem was an electric turret called the Elco Thunderbolt. Elco was one of two companies that made the fast and lethal PT boats (the other was Higgins — yes, the makers of a crucial landing craft made PT boats as well). In addition to making PT boats even more lethal, this new turret would help a number of ships add firepower and reduce manpower.
One early version of this turret featured two Oerlikon 20mm cannon and six M2 heavy machine guns. Other mixes were tested, including four Oerlikon cannon and two M2s or just the four Oerlikons. No matter the loadout, though, these turrets only required one person to send a huge wall of lead at an incoming enemy.
By the time the war ended, the turret found its onto PT boats and some of the older battleships. Afterwards, it faded into history. Today, the Navy uses somewhat similar mounts for the Mk 38 Bushmaster, a 25mm chain gun. Still, the Thunderbolt showed some very interesting possibilities during its brief, but potent lifespan.
U.S. forces are establishing observation posts in Northeast Syria to further deny escape routes to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told Pentagon reporters today.
The spokesman said the observation posts will be set up to deter ISIS fighters that try to flee the middle Euphrates River valley into Turkey to the north.
Army Col. Sean Ryan, speaking via teleconference from Baghdad, updated reporters on ongoing operations in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis speaks.
(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
“These observation posts will provide additional transparency and will better enable Turkey’s protection from ISIS elements,” Ryan said.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced the observation posts last week in a press briefing with Pentagon reporters.
The move follows close consultation and collaboration with Turkey, both at the military and State Department levels, according to a DOD News report.
Also in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces arrested a senior ISIS official accused of involvement in the assassination of Sheikh Bashir Faysal al-Huwaidi, an Arab chieftain in Raqqa, Ryan said.
“This targeted operation undermines the enemy’s ability to operate in the shadows, and allows the SDF to ultimately eliminate sleeper cells that continue to threaten civilians and prolong their demise,” the spokesman added.
The U.S.-led coalition and its partners will continue to fight the terrorists and degrade their capabilities, he said.
“It’s important to take the fight to the enemy [and] we must continue to consolidate our considerable gains,” Ryan said.
Near Manbij, the alliance between Turkish and U.S. forces in the Combined Joint Patrols allows forces to continue to deny terrorists access to the area, he added, and noted that over time, it has become a community that is thriving.
“This stability is the direct result of the focus of our NATO ally Turkey and through cooperation with local officials from Manbij,” the spokesman said.
ISIS remnants are fortifying their positions and digging in for a protracted campaign, Ryan said.
“We should remain patient [because] fighting will continue to be intense as we continue to pressure the enemy into smaller and smaller spaces,” he said. “This is the last real physical terrain held by enemy forces, and they will continue to wage a resistance as they steadily lose relevance.”
This Militia is Threatening American Troops in Syria | NYT – Visual Investigations
Along the Syria-Iraq border, the 8th Iraqi Army Division continues to reinforce border security by engaging and repelling ISIS militants as they try to flee the offensive in the middle Euphrates River valley, Ryan said.
“Iraqi units continue to conduct coordinated strikes even as ISIS elements probe border positions with vehicle-borne [improvised explosive devices], motorcycles, small-arms fire and mortars,” he added.
The Iraqi air force on Nov. 20 launched two airstrikes targeting an ISIS weapons facility and a building that housed 30 ISIS fighters, Ryan said, adding, “This operation also signifies the ability of the Iraqi security forces to protect its border and uproot cells.”
In Mosul, Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air support carried out a security operation in Menkar village that resulted in five enemy fighters killed.
“[This] operation demonstrated ISF are strengthening their intelligence gathering to disrupt enemy operations and protect the Iraqi citizens from bombings and kidnappings,” the spokesman said.
Another successful ISF operation resulted in the death of an ISIS senior leader, code-named Katkut, Ryan said, adding that the operative was known to have planned and conducted attacks in Hadr, southwest of Mosul. He was killed in Saladin province after fleeing from the scene of an attack earlier in the week.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDOD)
Ahhhh! Fall is officially here — even for you stationed in the South, still sweating away the Autumn months. Even if in theory, it’s a time for longer sleeves and cooler weather, and a season where we’re hopeful for regularly scheduled football games. So breathe it in, that crisp fall air, and take a look at some of our favorite fall-centric memes that the military has to offer.
You don’t see too many planes flying over Walt Disney World, but that will change on April 6 when the U.S. Navy Blue Angels make two flybys over the Magic Kingdom.
This isn’t the first time the performance squadron has graced the skies above Mickey’s place. The Blues did a flyby back in 2015, when six F/A-18 Hornets flew right over Main Street and performed a Delta Break in which they split into six different directions. The two planned flybys on April 6 will happen between 9:30 a.m.-10 a.m., according to the Disney Parks blog.
The Blue Angels are set to perform at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Florida. They practice at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport on April 6 and April 7 and have performances on April 8 and April 9.
While they are based in Pensacola, the Blue Angels are making their first Florida appearance of the year. Their Air Force counterparts, the Thunderbirds, have already made two of their three planned air show appearances for 2017 ,having just performed at the Melbourne Air Space Show the weekend of April 1.
A highlight of that was the transportation of 87-year-old Buzz Aldrin, who can now say he’s walked on the moon and flown in a Thunderbird. They earlier performed at the TICO Warbird Airshow in Titusville, Florida, and had their own flyby of an American icon, when they took to the skies over Daytona International Speedway ahead of the Daytona 500.
The Thunderbirds finish their Florida schedule for 2017 with a stop up in the Panhandle for the Gulf Coast Salute at Tyndall Air Force Base on April 22-23.
The Blue Angels will make three more stops in the state stretching into November: the mid-summer Pensacola Beach Air Show on July 8, a two-day performance at Naval Air Station Jacksonville on Nov. 4-5 and the Homecoming Air Show at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Nov. 11-12. Air shows held at military bases are free.
The Sun ‘n Fun will also feature the French Air Force’s Patrouille de France Jet Demonstration Team, which this year is making its first U.S. appearances in 30 years.
On May 12, 1862, a gentleman named Robert Smalls was aboard a Confederate transport ship pretending to be doing his normal duties. In reality, he was preparing to take a risk that could cost him his life.
Smalls was a pilot for the Confederate Navy’s military transport, CSS Planter, and picked up four captured Union guns, over 200 rounds of ammunition, and other supplies. The Planter was a lightly armed ship that skirted up and down the coast and down rivers and allowed the Confederate military to move troops, supplies, and ammunition while staying away from the Union blockade that was set up a few miles out to sea. It also laid mines to keep the Union fleet away from the harbor.
When the ship got back to its dock, the three officers on board left Smalls in charge and went to their homes to sleep. They had no reason to think that Smalls or the crew would do anything crazy.
Around 3 a.m. that night, Robert and the crew cast off. Instead of heading for their intended destination, they had to backtrack into the harbor. They made one stop where they onboarded several women and children and started off again. The Planter wasn’t exactly quiet. Literally anyone standing watch would hear and see her coasting along the harbor. Robert knew this from his years of experience piloting the boat.
He put on his captain’s spare uniform and a straw hat that was made to look like his captain’s. Along the way, the Planter passed by several Confederate lookout posts. As they approached each one, Robert would give the passcode and salute in the same mannerism as his captain. By 4:30 a.m., the ship was passing Fort Sumter. The old Union Fort was the site of the beginning of the war and full of Confederate soldiers guarding the harbor against the United States Navy.
As they passed the imposing walls of the Fort, Smalls being as cool as a cucumber, took off his hat and waved it. At the same time, he sounded the ships whistle with the correct number of blows.
A Confederate sentry yelled, “Blow the damned Yankees to hell, or bring one of them in.” Robert simply replied, “Aye Aye” and continued on.
As if the night wasn’t already stressful enough, Robert now headed straight to a Union blockade in a ship flying both the Confederate Stars and Bars as well as the South Carolina State Flag.
He ordered the flags lowered and a white flag raised. But there were two problems. It was still too dark to clearly see, and the morning fog came in pretty thick. It would be a tragedy to come all this way just to be blown out of the water. The Planter headed toward the USS Onward, which by now had taken sight of the ship and prepared its guns to sink it, at first assuming it was trying to attack the blockade.
As the Union shouted warnings at the Planter, they noticed the white flag and its occupants celebrating on the deck while gesturing furiously and cursing at Ft. Sumter.
As the Planter pulled alongside the Onward, the Union captain started looking for the presumed Confederate captain. A man in a Confederate captain uniform came forward, took off his hat, and proclaimed, “Good morning, sir! I’ve brought you some of the old United States guns, sir! That were for Fort Sumter, sir!” Shock registered across the Union sailors’ faces as they finally cast eyes on the Planters “captain.”
Robert Smalls was a slave.
His entire crew was also slaves, and their families were aboard too. A bunch of slaves had just escaped from bondage by stealing a Confederate Naval vessel, and sailing right passed the Rebel’s own eyes!
The Union realized that not only did they get a ship and its cargo, but a trove of valuable intelligence. On board was a book with all the Confederate passcodes as well as a map detailing the layout of mines in Charleston harbor, and Smalls own detailed knowledge of which forts were manned, gunned and their supplies.
As news spread Northward, the press took the story and ran with it. Smalls was an instant celebrity in the North. In the South, there was considerable embarrassment that a slave would be able to steal a naval vessel. Slaves had previously escaped by using hand made canoes and rafts as a means to get to the Union blockade. But to have slaves steal a ship of the Confederate Navy was too much. The three officers who left the ship were court-martialed. They claimed they wanted to spend time with their families, although many suspected they never fathomed that slaves would be smart enough to steal the ship.
They obviously didn’t know their pilot very well.
Robert Smalls was born in Beaufort, South Carolina to a slave mother and her owner. When he was 12, he was loaned out to work in the shipyards of Charleston. The practice was that slaves would work in urban areas in skilled positions, and the master would collect the wages for himself. Slaves in this position would be able to move around the city from their lodging to their place of work. Some even were able to save money on their own. Smalls worked his way up from a longshoreman to being a pilot of boats that traveled up and down the coast. From age 12 to 23, Smalls mastered the art of piloting ships and absorbed everything around him; the harbor, fortifications, passcodes, whistle codes, and when the war started, all the military intelligence he would learn.
When he was 17, Smalls married a slave that worked in a local hotel. By the time of his escape at 23, he had a family that he was worried about. He was conscripted into the Confederate Navy, but he knew with the war going the way it was at the time there was a chance the Rebels could win. He also was under constant duress that his wife and kids would be sold at a whim, never to be seen again. He knew at some point he had to do something, and on the morning of May 13, he sailed his way into history.
You would think at this point, with his family and his freedom that Smalls would be content to just relax and enjoy his celebrity status.
Robert Smalls had only just begun to fight.
Smalls traveled to D.C. as part of an effort to convince Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, and through him, President Abraham Lincoln, of the need to allow blacks to serve in the United States military. Smalls own daring escape was one of the examples used, and soon after, Lincoln allowed units to be formed consisting of escaped slaves and freedmen.
Smalls then became a civilian contractor in the Navy. The captured Planter was valuable because of its shallow draft and his combination of pilot skills and knowledge of mine placements made Smalls a valuable commodity. He later was transferred to the Army when ships like the Planter were deemed more suitable for Army operations. He ended up seeing action in 17 Civil War engagements.
In one engagement, the Planter came under heavy Confederate fire. The Captain of the ship ran from the pilothouse down to the coal room expecting the ship to be captured. Smalls, knowing that black crew members would be killed if captured, decided that surrender wasn’t exactly in his best interest. He took control of the ship and piloted the Planter through a heavy barrage and into safety. For this action, General Quincy Adams Gilmore gave him the rank of captain, making him the first African American to command a U.S. ship. (After the war, the military contested the rank saying it wasn’t a true military rank. Smalls fought them on this, and eventually earned the pension of a Navy captain).
In 1864, Smalls was then picked to be one of the freedmen delegates to the Republican National Convention. It was to be held in Philadelphia that year. While in Philadelphia, an incident happened that would motivate Robert Smalls for the rest of his life. While on a trolley car, he was ordered to give up his seat to a white man and move. He instead got off and protested his treatment as a war hero. The city was embarrassed, and local politicians began a concentrated effort to desegregate public transportation in Philadelphia. They succeeded in 1867.
After the war, Smalls returned to Beaufort. He purchased the home of his old master, which was seized during the war. He allowed his old masters family to live on the premises while he started out on his new life. One of the first things he did was learn to read and write. Intelligence had already been seen in Smalls, but he knew he could do more.
And he did.
He opened a store, started a railway, and began a newspaper. He also invested heavily in economic development projects in Charleston. Smalls spoke with a Gullah accent, and this made his extremely popular with local African Americans as he was one of them but had become very successful. Smalls took the opportunity to get involved in politics.
Smalls was a die-hard Republican once saying it was…”the party of Lincoln…which unshackled the necks of four million human beings” and “I ask that every colored man in the North who has a vote to cast would cast that vote for the regular Republican Party and thus bury the Democratic Party so deep that there will not be seen even a bubble coming from the spot where the burial took place.”
Smalls knew that post-war, newly freed slaves would bear the wrath of Southern Democrats and got heavily involved in politics. He first served in the South Carolina State Legislature from 1868 to 1874.
In 1874, he took his talents to Washington D.C. as a newly elected member of the House of Representatives. He served until 1887. Along the way, his career was hampered by Southern Democrats’ furious efforts to gerrymander districts, stop African Americans from voting, remove Federal troops from the South, and personal assaults. His career effectively came to an end when he was accused by Democrats of taking a bribe (a charge he was later pardoned for).
After his national career was over, Smalls remained active as a community leader. He most famously stopped two African American men from being lynched. He died in 1915 at the age of 75.
On his tombstone was a quote from his political career.
“My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be the equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”