Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

On September 20, 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. arrived at the Blumstein’s department store in Harlem, New York for a book signing. His new book “Stride Toward Freedom” chronicled the Montgomery bus boycott that began when Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a public bus to a white passenger. The boycott had come to a close in December of 1956, when the Supreme Court ruled that the segregation of public buses was indeed unconstitutional. It was a watershed moment for both the Civil Rights movement and for America itself.

As a crowd formed in the shoe section of Blumstein’s, King took his seat behind a roped-off section of the store. Soon, eager readers were lining up to catch a moment of the influential figure’s time and his signature for their book. He exchanged brief pleasantries with each person as they approached the table, and as a 42-year-old woman in a stylish outfit and sequined cat’s eye-glasses took her turn, King’s demeanor was no different.

“Are you Martin Luther King?” The woman reportedly asked through a notable southern accent.

“Yes,” King replied, but before he could go on any further, the seemingly ordinary woman threw herself at the table and the man behind it, plunging a seven-inch pen knife into King’s chest.

Bystanders responded by pulling the woman away from King and pinning her on the floor as she shouted, “I’ve been after him for six years. I’m glad I done it!”

King, a man who was no stranger to threats, seemed somehow stoically calm, despite the serious bleeding from his chest. As his fans and supporters surrounded him, ushering him toward medical help, he was heard counseling them, soothing their collective anxieties as though he knew everything was going to be okay.

“That’s all right. Everything is going to be all right,” King was heard saying.

Of course, King couldn’t know it would be all right. Maybe it was just in his nature to ease the burden on others. With the knife still in his chest, King was lifted in his chair and carried out to an ambulance that would rush him to Harlem Hospital. Shortly thereafter, the police would march the same dangerous woman back into King’s company. This time there were no books to sign. The police wanted him to confirm that the women they had in custody was indeed his attacker. When they’d placed her under arrest, they also recovered a loaded .25 caliber pistol from her bra.

Related: THE STUNNING COMBAT HISTORY OF THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN

Despite the terrible attack, King was lucky. The seven-inch knife had punctured his chest just a fraction of an inch away from his aorta, or the main artery that carried blood from his heart to the rest of his body. King, who remained conscious and soothing throughout the ordeal, had only narrowly escaped death, but the risk hadn’t passed. He was rushed into surgery, where he had two ribs removed from his side to allow the knife to be pulled out without causing further damage.

“The X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery,” Dr. King later said in his famed ‘I’ve been to the mountaintop’ speech.

“And once that’s punctured, you’re drowned in your own blood — that’s the end of you.”

He would leave the hospital days later with a new scar in the shape of a cross over his heart. Despite the brutal attack, he was resolute when questioned by the press: He bore no ill will toward the woman who had stabbed him and reaffirmed his position that non-violence is the only way to manifest the type of positive change he sought for his country.

The attacker, whose name was Izola Curry, didn’t look like the sort of person most would expect to attack Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Curry was a fashionable middle-aged Black woman, but beneath her polished exterior laid a turbulent and troubled mind. Curry was a paranoid schizophrenic who had struggled with her mental health for years. In her confused state, she’d grown convinced that King and the NAACP were conspiring with communists against her. To King, however, the attack was a symptom of a greater illness than even Curry’s schizophrenia.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

“A climate of hatred and bitterness so permeates areas of our nation that inevitably deeds of extreme violence must erupt,” he said at the time.

“The experience of these last few days has deepened my faith in the relevance of the spirit of nonviolence, if necessary social change is peacefully to take place.”

King would continue to change the world for another decade, before yet another act of violence would rob him of the remainder of his life. It could be argued that, as of that fateful day in 1958, he was acutely aware of the risk his efforts posed to his safety. If he did feel fear somewhere beneath the obvious empathy he felt for the woman who attacked him, however, it never showed. King did not shy away from his work, nor his beliefs, no matter the risk.

Related: 3 BLACK SERVICE MEMBERS WHO HELPED SHAPE HISTORY

Now, as we prepare to honor the memory and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. some 63-years after his death, the story of the near fatal attack offers some uncomfortable parallels with today’s America. As rhetoric about race, mental illness, and the danger of radicalized beliefs permeate our national discourse today just as it did in 1958, we could all learn something from King’s ability to find a catalyst for positive change in even the darkest of places.

In King’s final public speech, he recalled the 1958 attack and how close he came to death… but even amid telling the story, King’s focus was not on his own mortality, but rather on the goodness he found in others as a result of the experience, and the progress he envisioned for America to come.

He told the story of a 9-year-old white girl who wrote to him to say that she’d read that if he had sneezed while the blade was in his chest, he almost certainly would have died.

“And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze,” King recounted.

King went on to echo the young girl’s sentiment, using it to remind the audience about the important steps the Civil Rights movement had made in the years that followed. King didn’t recount these events like he was listing his own victories, but there was an air of pride about his statements. King, like so many great Americans before him, saw each victory and failure as another part of the struggle that has defined America since its very inception. America, he knew, has always been defined by the aspiration for a better tomorrow, the drive to become a more perfect union.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
(Public Domain)

“If I had sneezed — If I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.

I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.”

For all of his philosophical wisdom, King was, at his heart, a pragmatic man. He saw the complexity, the hate, the love, the anger, and the joy all woven into the fabric of his nation. He knew his goals were grander than one man, no matter his eloquence and empathy. He knew that the progress he helped usher in was delicate, and that the fight for our nation’s soul was far from over. King knew America would never be perfect… but importantly, he knew that it was in the effort, in the aspiration, that America’s true greatness had always, and will always, lie.

Related: GENERAL CHARLES “CQ” BROWN CONFIRMED AS AMERICA’S FIRST BLACK SERVICE CHIEF

In a way, it’s deeply tragic that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to look out over the crowd of supporters that had gathered on that April day in 1968 and know that he wouldn’t be there to see America embrace the equality he longed for… but King was a great American. Like our Founding Fathers, King knew that a society grows great when men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. Progress, like a tree, needs time to take root.

Today, our nation continues to struggle with some of the same issues it faced during King’s days of fighting for equality, as well as daunting new ones that stretch beyond the horizon. America has always been imperfect, but our greatness doesn’t lie in what we are. The real America has always been found in what we, its people, strive to become.

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

SEAL boss to depart after 2 years; officials say there’s no indication he was forced out

The Navy admiral who has led the service’s most elite special operators during a string of high-profile scandals will leave his post in September, Military.com has confirmed.


Rear Adm. Collin Green will wrap up his term as head of Naval Special Warfare Command after two years in the position. The move, first reported by The Intercept last weekend, follows several high-profile controversies involving the command that, in part, prompted a full review of U.S. Special Operations Command’s ethics and culture.

A Navy official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the flag officer’s move, said “there is no indication he has been asked to leave early.”

“He’s leaving at the two-year point, which is a normal command tour,” the official said. “It’s premature to say he’s retiring.”

It’s not immediately clear in what position Green would serve next or who would replace him. The Intercept reported that Rear Adm. H. Wyman Howard III, a Naval Academy grad serving as head of Special Operations Command Central, will be nominated to replace Green.

Howard previously served as a commander with SEAL Team 6, which carries out some of the military’s most covert missions. The Intercept reported in 2017 that Howard gave his operators hand-made hatchets and told them ahead of missions and deployments to “bloody the hatchet.”

Green has led the Navy SEALs since September 2017 after assuming command from Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, who spent two years in the position. Of the last four flag officers who led the command, three left after two years.

Szymanski’s predecessor, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, led the command for more than three years.

The Intercept reported that Green’s tour had been set to last three years, but “the stress from his reform efforts, as well as personal issues, have taken a toll.”

Green sent a letter to his commanders in July telling them “we have a problem,” and ordering leaders to help restore discipline in the ranks. The two-star followed it up the next month with a memo to the force announcing a return to routine inspections, discipline trackers, and strict enforcement of all Navy grooming and uniform standards.

The four-page memo said the problems in the command would be met with “urgent, effective and active leadership.”

“This drift ends now,” Green wrote.

The Navy SEALs have made headlines over murder charges, allegations of rape and drinking in the war zone, and lengthy legal battles.

Some of those incidents caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who at one point ordered Green’s command to “Get back to business!” after the admiral considered stripping a former SEAL of his coveted trident pin.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

If you look at the enlisted ranking system put in place by every branch of the United States Armed Forces, everything makes a good deal of sense. You start at the bottom — generally at E-1, but there are ways to get in at a higher pay grade — and work your way up to a certain point where you become an NCO. Officers have their own linear path, starting at O-1, and warrant officers are half way between the two.

But the Army has its very own conundrum with the E-4 ranks. Years ago, the hierarchy of ranks looked a little different: it went private first class, then corporal, then sergeant. Today, both specialist (the highest junior enlisted rank) and corporal (the lowest NCO rank) share the same pay grade. This means that, in a sense, being a specialist is just like being a corporal — only without the NCO benefits.

To understand the specialist rank we know it today, you’ll have to look back at the Army’s long-gone specialist ranks.


Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

The same insignia that would later be used for private first class.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Felicia Jagdatt)

In 1920, there was a consolidation that distilled 128 different rank insignia and titles into just seven. The results of this consolidation left us with something similar to what we use today — with a few key differences.

Since warfare involves much more than just general “infantrymen,” there was a need to identify the support soldiers, those who were specialists in their given field of expertise. Back then, it was assumed that all 5th-grade soldiers (corporals) fully understood what their job entails, but there needed to be a way to offer a little incentive to a privates to become known as a “private/specialist,” which was the name of the MOS at the time. That incentive came in the form of bonus pay — despite being paid more, a private/specialist was still officially of lower rank than a private first class.

The insignia of the private/specialist was a single chevron with a single rocker.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Think of the difference like today’s version of a master sergeant and a first sergeant. Same pay grade, same respect, but two very different positions and mentalities.

(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

The next major overhaul came in 1942 when a need arose to differentiate between those who earned their rank because of how good they were at their job and those who earned it because of leadership abilities. And so the “technician” ranks were created, ranging from technician fifth grade (or “tech/5”) up to technician third grade (or “tech/3”).

They were distinguished from their peers by placing a ‘T’ under their chevrons. For all practical purposes, a technician third grade and a staff sergeant were on equal footing — same pay and same respect — but the staff sergeant was in a leadership position while the tech/3 was more of an instructor.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

The joke used back then was “the NCOs may have been the backbone of the Army, but the specialists were the brains.”

(National Archives)

The final shakeup came in 1955 when these two previous iterations of separating specialists in their given field from general leadership culminated an entirely new ranking system — the specialists. This took the original insignia of the 1920s private/specialist, inverted it, and added the Army Eagle to it. Promotions within the specialists meant adding another rocker to the top instead of a chevron.

A young private could prove themselves ready to enter the non-commissioned officers as a corporal — or they could focus on their MOS as a specialist. Between the years 1959 and 1968, it was entirely possible to make it all the way to E-9 as a specialist. Throughout the years, the highest achievable rank dwindled down and down until 1985, when only the Spec/4 remained.

Since all other grades of specialists were obsolete, the rank is now just called “specialist.” In essence, the rank holds the same meaning as it did in the 1920s — except now it’s more of a holdover rank before most E-4s make sergeant.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Triple Nickles: The all-Black airborne smokejumping unit that parachuted into forest fires

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t the only time the Japanese struck U.S. soil during World War II. In response to the Doolittle Raid — the successful penetration of Japanese airspace and the bombing of strategic targets in Tokyo from the allies — the Japanese executed their revenge. The date of the launch was chosen for the birthday of former emperor Meiji, Nov. 3, 1944.

However, instead of using airplanes, the Japanese used fusen bakudan, or balloon bombs, that each carried four incendiaries and a 33-pound, highly explosive anti-personnel fragmentation device. The Fu-Go balloon bombs traveled 7,500 miles along the Pacific Ocean jet stream at altitudes between 20,000 and 40,000 feet. Witnesses described these large, white balloons as “giant jellyfish” floating in the sky. Their main objective was to start forest fires, create security doubts among the civilian populace, and cause upheaval.


The all-black Triple Nickles battalion was ultimately responsible for combating the slow-moving, round balloon bombs, which had no escort or protection and had been spotted by the U.S. Navy patrol off the coast of California only two days after their initial launch. The patrol alerted the FBI, and investigations were conducted to find the origin of these mysterious flammable balloons traveling over the Pacific Northwest and into Canada.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

A Japanese Fu-Go balloon with its payload of charges suspended below. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions suffered heavy casualties in the European Theater (ETO) during the Battle of the Bulge and the courageous siege of Bastogne; they were in a desperate need for replacements. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, or the “Triple Nickles” as they became known, trained to fulfill this capacity. However, as with other all-black units of the time, African-American soldiers weren’t treated equally. “We were relegated to serving in menial units such as truck drivers, port companies (loading ships), mess halls (waiting on tables) and guard duty,” wrote Walter Morris, a Triple Nickle veteran.

Although no Triple Nickles completed a combat jump or deployed to Europe, these trendsetters provided another example of how an elite all-black unit could be employed in a combat or peacetime environment. The Triple Nickles participated in a top-secret project fighting forest fires as the U.S. military’s first smoke jumping paratroopers over the Pacific Northwest.

The Triple Nickles, a name derived from the parachute regiment’s designation, was created in the winter of 1943 and consisted of 17 of the original 20-man platoon from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division. These men were hand-selected to create the first “colored test platoon.” A few months into 1944 saw newly minted paratroopers who completed training jumps at Fort Benning, Georgia. The first all-black parachute infantry battalion in history had formed but were still brand-new and lacked manpower. The paratroopers honed their skills and became experts in small-unit tactics.

The Inspiring Story of the Triple Nickles

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Several went to the best schools the U.S. Army had to offer. Some became riggers and jump masters while others learned the metrics in communications, the skills to navigate difficult terrain as pathfinders, and the intricacies in demolitions.

They were the cream of the crop — college graduates, professional athletes, men of high character and extraordinary intellect. One Triple Nickle veteran, “Tiger” Ted Lowry, entered the ring to face world champion boxing legend Joe Louis, who came to Lowry’s base in 1943. He was accompanied by Sugar Ray Robinson — who Muhammad Ali coined as “the king, the master, my idol” — when the duo toured military camps to entertain soldiers. “Stay in the middle of the ring,” Robinson advised Lowry, “don’t let him get you on the ropes.” Lowry already had 70 fights to his name and somehow survived the three-round exhibition with one of the greatest boxers in history.

“You can’t imagine what that did for my ego,” Lowry reflected. “I had just been in the ring with the champion of the world, the greatest fighter in the world, and he was unable to knock me down. My confidence was inflated.” His fighting days halted when he joined the Triple Nickles but resumed when he faced Rocky Marciano, the Brockton, Massachusetts, undefeated heavyweight champion. Not only did he stun Marciano, but he shocked crowds of hometown Italian-Americans by going the distance twice with the Brockton Blockbuster, the only fighter ever to do so.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

The men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment march in the New York City Victory Parade on January 12, 1946. Maj. Gen. Jim Gavin ensured the “Triple Nickles” not only marched in the parade, but wore the insignia of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

When World War II was nearing a close and as the Germans were losing ground, the Triple Nickles’ focus shifted from Europe to the homefront. The Triple Nickles were the size of a “reinforced company” but expected to reach battalion size by 1945. The threat from the Japanese balloon bombs was imminent, and they were diverted to Pendleton, Oregon, and Chico, California, under secret orders to the 9th Services Command.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) received help from the U.S. Army when 400 paratroopers from the Triple Nickles were tasked with the difficult job. They turned in their rifles, hand grenades, and rucksacks. In that equipment’s place they donned football helmets with wire face masks, equipped 50 feet of nylon rope for lowering themselves from trees, and packed firefighting tools such as axes and handsaws on their person for parachute jumps.

The smoke jumping program was in its sixth firefighting season, but the war dwindled their resources, and the Triple Nickles provided a welcome skillset. Pilots flying C-47s needed no additional training and had prior results in properly managing smokejumper assets in remote regions where fires were often inaccessible by roads. The response and defensive strategy against the Japanese balloon bombs was a little-known secret called Operation Firefly.

Later reports suggested that the Japanese launched over 9,000 helium balloons. Damage from these balloons was rare but noteworthy. One balloon exploded after it hit high-tension power lines that were connected to a plutonium plant in Hanford, Washington. It caused a temporary blackout to the community, and the plutonium plant was ironically responsible for developing the fuel for the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Triple Nickle member Jesse Mayes prepares to jump from a C-47. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Vincent “Bud” Whitehead, a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, used to track and chase the balloons in the air from his plane. In March 1945, a balloon had landed on the ground but didn’t ignite. “They sent a bus up with all of this specially trained personnel, gloves, full contamination suits, masks,” Whitehead said in an interview with the Voices of the Manhattan Project. “I had been walking around on that stuff and they had not told me! They were afraid of bacterial warfare.” Biological and bacterial warfare fears were not exaggerated because it was later revealed that the Japanese had scrapped an operation at the end of the war for weaponizing the bubonic plague.

Another notable tragedy that involved these balloon bombs was the devastation of almost an entire family while they picnicked near the Gearhart Mountain in Bly, Oregon. On May 5, 1945, Reverend Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife, Elsie, and five children from their Sunday School class were victims of the balloon’s lethality. The children went to investigate the strange object that had floated to the ground, but they got too close and were killed when the balloon did what it was designed to do. Archie Mitchell was the only survivor.

The Triple Nickles went to work to prevent additional American civilian casualties. First Lieutenant Edwin Willis, a brilliant planner and training specialist, put his paratroopers through a three-week crash course to learn proper firefighting knowledge and techniques. Willis received assistance and guidance from USFS smokejumpers and forest rangers as well.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Frank Derry, Parachute Instructor-Rigger, instructing prospective smoke jumper in the use of the “drop rig.” Simulates landing from chute caught in a snag or other obstacles by use of landing rope. Lolo National Forest, Montana. Photo by W.J. Mead, courtesy fo the National Archives and Records Administration.

This course included “demolitions training, tree climbing and techniques for descent if we landed in a tree, handling firefighting equipment, jumping into pocket-sized drop zones studded with rocks and tree stumps, survival in wooded areas, and extensive first-aid training for injuries — particularly broken bones,” said Morris.

Frank Derry, a master civilian parachutist, issued the Triple Nickles his “Derry-chute,” which was known for its maneuverability and steering capabilities. “Snag trees, those were the worst. I didn’t like those dudes at all,” Derry said, referring to the nuisances found in their path. “But landing in the trees was just as soft as landing, better than landing on the ground. The thick trees […] you just come into them like sitting down on a pillow, nothing to it.”

The Triple Nickles were also assisted by demolition experts from the 9th Services Command and USFS rangers. “Learning the touchy business of handling unexploded bombs, as well as how to isolate areas in which a bomb, or suspected bomb, was located,” Morris wrote. The incedinaries and chemicals were an additional pucker factor to their already challenging task.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Then-1st. Sgt. Walter Morris, right, prepares for his first jump with the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

The Triple Nickles also learned to live off the land and avoid costly mistakes that could derail their mission. “They could walk up the hills like a cat on a snake walk,” Morris wrote, discussing the expertise of USFS rangers. “They taught us how to climb, use an axe, and what vegetation to eat. At the same time, we underwent an orientation program with Forest Service maps. And, above all, our morale and spirit of adventure never sagged in the face of this unusual mission.”

The Triple Nickles became fully operational smokejumpers, but the numbers on how many fires and fire jumps they completed have been skewed over the years. Chuck Sheley, the editor of Smokejumper Magazine, states they completed 460 to 470 jumps on an estimated 15 of 28 forest fires, while they drove or hiked into the other fires. The National 555th Parachute Infantry Association consensus estimates the Triple Nickles answered 36 fire calls with 1,200 individual jumps across seven Western states.

Private First Class Malvin Brown was the only casualty of the Triple Nickles. Brown was a critical component of the team because of his medical expertise. Any injuries, accidents, or potential concerns went through the fire medics. When 15 Triple Nickles paratroopers boarded their C-47 on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Brown wasn’t supposed to be there. However, he volunteered to replace another medic who was sick. Hours later he jumped into a fire in Umpqua National Forest in southern Oregon’s Cascade Range and landed in a tree. Moments later he slipped and fell more than 150 feet to the ground below. He died instantly.

Brown’s fellow smokejumpers changed their mission from fighting the fire to bringing home their teammate’s body. After an arduous search in rocky terrain, they located him and carried him more than 3 miles through the backcountry. Their first sign of civilization was a trail, but it took another 12 miles for them to find a road to get help.

The soldiers of the Triple Nickles weren’t respected while they were in service, but their contributions in a long lineage of elite all-black units are remembered as if they were legends. The Triple Nickles disbanded after World War II, but many of the soldiers continued to serve, including Lieutenant Colonel John Cannon, who was a combat medic during the Korean War. John E. Mann served as an Army Special Forces advisor in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, three Legions of Merit, and a Distinguished Flying Cross. Mann served in the military for 33 years and later authored four detective novels.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army is really amping up its laser weapon technology

The time has come! Long anticipated, missile-blasting, hole-frying, zip-zapping laser weapon technology is upon us. Yep, the U.S. Army officially has a 60-kilowatt-class blaster thanks to Robert Afzal, who leads Lockheed Martin’s advanced laser systems program, and his team.


Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Straight out of an H.G. Wells novel, the blaster is the most powerful laser weapon on the planet; its targeting dome, laser generator, and power and control hardware are reliable and light-weight enough to be mounted on tactical vehicles. This means the Heat-Ray – I mean blaster – is built for war.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
Heat-Ray in action, but you already knew that, you lover of classical literature, you! (Artwork for a 1906 Belgian edition by the Brazilian artist Henrique Alvim Corréa of the book The War of the Worlds.)

Afzul spent a large part of his career leading the development and integration of lasers into space probes at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center before beginning to work with Lockheed in 2008. Among his many contributions, he notably developed the flight lasers for the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System on the ICESat Mission and designed the laser on Mercury Laser Altimeter on the MESSENGER mission — and, perhaps most importantly, he helped develop the Alexandrite laser for tattoo removal (thank the Gods!).

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
Laser tattoo removal: It won’t cure a hangover, but it can help…

Needless to say, it is no surprise that Azful is the man to finally bring all of our science fiction fantasies to life.

The first laser was created in the 1960s by Theodore H. Maiman, a physicist at Hughes Research Laboratories, by using a cylinder of synthetic ruby with silver coated ends and a high power-power flash lamp. Since then, laser technology has made leaps and bounds. We can now scan, print, cut, weld, and illuminate our way through life via laser technology but it wasn’t until recently that an actual “Death Ray” style weapon was disclosed to the public invented.

Thwarted efforts have primarily been due to three itty-bitty details: the need for very large solid-state batteries, impractical assembly dimensions, and light diffusion — beam quality is the difference between bright lights and explosions. #Science.

Also read: Watch this high-energy laser weapon shoot down 5 drones

The difficulty in turning lights into weapons is making sure that the laser’s level of horsepower can melt metal at a relevant distance. Even though chemical lasers could do the trick, they call for cumbersome and awkward mixtures. Meanwhile electrically powered solid-state lasers don’t have enough power.

At least, they didn’t until some telecommunications industry engineers found that fiber-optic cables could enhance the light beam’s energy. Expanding on this, Afzal discovered that by grouping numerous fiber-optic lasers, enough energy and beam quality could be created to get the job done – ta-da!

The door to the future of laser technology has been blasted (you know… like with a blaster…) wide open; I’m just glad our Army is the one who owns it!

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 awesome pirate crews who plundered the Seven Seas

So, after sitting through weeks of military transition classes, you’ve decided, “screw it! I’ll just turn to a life of crime!” Congrats! You’re joining a long tradition — a tradition mostly limited to privateers in the 17th and 18th centuries, sure, but a tradition nonetheless.

So, how about piracy? It’s glamorous, it’s profitable, and it’s exciting (also brutal, uncomfortable, and morally repugnant — but don’t get wound around the axle). Here are seven awesome pirates and their crews who turned their seafaring skills into fun, usually short careers in sea vessel re-appropriation:


Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

The face of a blacksmith who will absolutely start a crime syndicate and use it to topple an empire.

French Pirate King and American hero Jean Lafitte

Jean Lafitte was a French blacksmith who expanded his business into smuggling and piracy until he, his brother, and their men controlled a fleet in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, that was stronger than anything the U.S. Navy had in the area. During the War of 1812, Great Britain decided that it would be way easier to buy their way into New Orleans through him than fight for it.

So they offered him ,000 and a captaincy to help them, but he apparently loved America and told Louisiana instead. Authorities didn’t believe him and imprisoned him until then-Gen. Andrew Jackson pointed out that the British would totally do that. Lafitte and his men fought on Jackson’s side during the Battle of New Orleans and were granted full pardons. They later returned to piracy, focusing on Spanish ships because screw those guys.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Madame Cheng was known for her *ahem* humble roots and her ability to cut your fleet to shreds, fool.

The prostitute pirate Madame Cheng

Cheng was a pirate king looking for love when he fell in with a prostitute and married her. She took the name Cheng I Sao and, when her husband died in 1807, turned his pirate fleet from a successful operation into possibly the largest pirate fleet in history. She overhauled the command structure and rule of law in the fleet, captured vessel after vessel, and made enemies of every European power in China at the time.

But when the Chinese Navy came to stop her, she stomped them so hard that the Chinese military was crippled. They then allied with the Portuguese and British fleets to come after her again, and she stomped them so hard that she ended the battle with more ships and men than she started it with. Finally, China offered her an amnesty and noble title to end the fighting.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Captain Bart Roberts captured 400 ships, including one filled with the Portuguese king’s personal jewels from the middle of a 44-ship fleet.

Black Bart’s buccaneers on the Royal Fortune

Black Bart was born John Roberts (and likely was never called Black Bart while he was still alive). He was forced into piracy in 1719, but was so good at navigation and assessing enemy ships strengths that he was elected commander only six weeks later when the captain was killed.

His flagship was generally named Royal Fortune, and the crews of his ships did very well for themselves when they weren’t attempting to mutiny. Bart’s crews once stole the best ship out of the Portuguese treasure fleet of 44 ships, including two man-of-wars. Onboard were 40,000 gold coins and a cross covered in diamonds destined for the King of Portugal. Black Bart and his men stole another 400 ships during their short career from 1719 to 1722.

Unfortunately, Bart pushed it too far, constantly pushing off his retirement until a British man-of-war forced the issue with grapeshot through his neck.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Benjamin Hornigold was known for his antics as well as his fuzzy features and thin ankles.

(Public Domain)

Blackbeard’s mentor, Benjamin Hornigold

Benjamin Hornigold began his pirate career in 1713 as the head of a small gang of men in canoes, but he quickly built up a fortune and a fleet, eventually leading 350 men in the 30-gun Ranger, possibly the most heavily armed ship in the Bahamas in 1717. In one awesome incident, they stopped a merchant ship and boarded it. Instead of stealing the cargo and ship, though, they said that they had all lost their hats the night before and needed to take the crew’s.

But his men were annoyed that Hornigold never allowed them to attack British ships, so they mutinied. Hornigold fled to Jamaica and received the king’s pardon for his piracy, then became a pirate hunter. No honor among thieves.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Henry Every stands on shore while his ship fights an enemy vessel. Not sure why Every is waving his sword around while hundreds of meters from any action, but whatever.

Henry Every and the Fancy’s successful retirement

Henry Every began his life at sea as a boy and, by 1693, he was an experienced seaman. He took a slot as first mate on a privateer vessel named Charles II. But the vessel sat in port for months and the crew went without pay, so Every stole that ship and renamed it the Fancy.

And the Fancy had a stunning career. Every led the crew to the coast of Africa where they preyed on European merchant vessels and put together a fleet of pirate ships that stole the flagship of India’s Grand Mughal as well as 325,000 British pounds in gold and silver. Then, he cleverly retired. Few of his men faced justice and the rest disappeared wealthy.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Capt. Jack Rackham got his nickname, “Calico Jack,” for his wardrobe. You’d think the fact that he helped a woman escape from prison and potentially got her pregnant while she was on his crew would be what he was known for, but nope. Calico.

(George S. Harris Sons)

Calico Jack Rackham

John Rackham was known for his calico clothing and for stealing the Ranger from then-Captain Charles Vane. He used the Ranger to plunder a series of merchant vessels, but then took the King’s pardon for a seemingly peaceful life. A peaceful life that involved an affair with the wife of a pirate informant. And then he voided his pardon to break said wife out of jail, and they started a new pirate crew and ship.

Rackham had another few months of successful piracy but then partied a little too hard. Capt. Jonathan Barnet was sent to capture Rackham and found him and most of his crew too drunk to defend themselves. Rackham was executed, but the two women in his crew, the aforementioned informant wife, Anne Bonny, and another woman, Mary Read, were pregnant and allowed to live.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

William Kidd, pimp and traitor

William Kidd and his motley traitors

William Kidd was commissioned as a privateer, and he and his men were sent to the West Indies in 1696 where it didn’t go well. They couldn’t find good targets, so, in 1697, they went to Madagascar and started preying on Indian vessels. Then, in 1698, they spotted the Quedagh Merchant, a 500-ton ship loaded with treasures.

Kidd and his crew stole it, making off with a massive boatload of gold, silk, spices, and other goods. Unfortunately for them, one of the owners of the ship was a senior member of the Indian government and put pressure on the English government to turn Kidd over. Kidd tried to escape to America, but he was caught, bundled to England, and hanged on May 23, 1701.

Articles

This combat controller kept taking it to the enemy after he was shot in the chest

Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez had accompanied top special operators in some of the most dangerous missions of the War on Terror, including the Battle of Shok Valley. He was a combat controller assigned to Army Special Forces, calling in attack runs from aircraft supporting the Green Berets.


In 2009 he was tested like never before when, during a raid to capture a high-level Taliban leader, Gutierrez was shot in the chest. The round passed through his lung, collapsing it and ripping a chunk out of his back.

Gutierrez had seen this kind of wound before and estimated he had three minutes left to live.

“I thought about [my job], what I would do before I bled out,” Gutierrez told Fox News while discussing the raid. “That I would change the world in those three minutes, I’d do everything I could to get my guys out safely before I died.”

He stayed on the radio, calling in strikes from aircraft to help the team escape alive. At one point, enemy fighters were lined up on a wall only 30 feet from him. Gutierrez called in three A-10 danger close gun runs against the fighters. The rounds struck so close to Gutierrez that his ear drums burst from the explosions. After the first of the three runs, he allowed an Army medic to insert a needle into his lung, relieving some of the pressure that was forcing his lungs closed. It was the only time he came off the radio despite his injuries.

In fact, through all the chaos of the fight, Gutierrez remained so calm and clear on the radio that the pilots supporting the operation didn’t realize he was injured until he was removed from the battlefield.

“He said he would be off of the mic for a few to handle his gunshot wounds,” Air Force Capt. Ethan Sabin told Business Insider. “Until that point he was calm, cool and collected.

Gutierrez was medically evacuated from the battle after nearly four hours of fighting and losing over half of his blood. No American lives were lost in the raid, a success credited largely to Gutierrez’s extraordinary actions. He recovered from his wounds and was awarded the Air Force Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor for valor awards.

Watch the ceremony below

MIGHTY HISTORY

This pilot in his pajamas shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it’s hot on the work site, it’s important to stay cool. If it’s hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army’s aircraft on the ground.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol’ martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A’s fuselage.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
(U.S. Air Force photo)

MIGHTY TRENDING

NATO warns about Russia’s ‘resurgence’ and urges vigilance

U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, has warned that the alliance will not be “dominant” in certain areas in five years if it fails to modernize and adapt to the growing threat from Russia.


“I certainly have concerns with respect to Russia,” Scaparrotti told a press conference in Brussels on Jan. 17 following a meeting of top NATO defense officials.

“I think that, as an alliance, we are dominant. There are domains within this that were challenged. I think cyber is one of those. They are very competent in that,” he also said, referring to Russia.

“There are others where because of the modernization you noted, while we are dominant, we will not be in five years per se if we aren’t adapting like this to include our structure but also within the nations, our capabilities, across the military functional areas as well as our domains.”

Addressing the session of the Military Committee, the alliance’s highest military authority, Scaparrotti said earlier that “a resurgence of Russia as a strategic competitor, growing unrest, and instability in Africa and the Middle East, as well as terrorism, [are] reshaping our strategic environment.”

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
The Military Committee, NATO’s highest Military Authority, met in Chiefs of Defense Session on 17-18 Jan 2017, at the NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium. The Joint Press Conference with opening statements by Chairman of the Military Committee, General Petr Pavel, by Supreme Allied Commander Europe – General Curtis M. Scaparrotti and by Supreme Allied Commander Transformation – General Denis Mercier, followed by QA session. (Image from DoD)

Relations between Moscow and the West 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.

Amid growing tensions, NATO stepped up its defenses in Eastern member nations near Russia.

Speaking alongside Scaparrotti at the press conference, Czech General Petr Pavel, chairman of the Military Committee, called Russia an “obvious security challenge.”

“We characterize Russia as a peer competitor and we obviously follow closely all the development and modernization and taking all the measures that are necessary to be ready for any contingency,” he added.

Also Read: Why NATO should use Russia’s massive wargame as an intel dump

Ahead of the meeting, NATO said the top defense officials would discuss “the challenging security environment on NATO’s southern flank and the alliance’s contribution to its stabilization” and would review NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and the international coalition against the extremist group Islamic State.

They also held separate talks with top defense officials from Ukraine and Georgia on “the security situations on the ground, defense reform progress, and the way ahead.”

After the meetings, Pavel told reporters that the defense officials “noted the challenge for Ukraine of achieving security and defense reforms alongside reestablishing Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”

They also “stressed their commitment on furthering the capability and interoperability of the Ukrainian armed forces,” he added.

On Georgia, Pavel said the defense officials “stressed continued support” to the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package to enhance the country’s defense readiness.

MIGHTY CULTURE

VA wants to know if your alcohol habits are healthy

A new study finds that consuming alcoholic beverages daily — even at low levels that meet U.S. guidelines for safe drinking — appears to be “detrimental” to health.

The researchers found that downing one to two drinks at least four days per week was linked to a 20 percent increase in the risk of premature death, compared with drinking three times a week or less. The finding was consistent across the group of more than 400,000 people studied. They ranged in age from 18 to 85, and many were veterans.


Dr. Sarah Hartz, a psychiatrist at the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System, led the study. It appeared in November 2018 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical Experimental Research. She’s not too surprised by the findings, noting that two large international studies published this year reached similar conclusions.

“There has been mounting evidence that finds light drinking isn’t good for your health,” says Hartz, who is also an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

(Photo by Alan Levine)

Study considered a range of demographic factors

The study results don’t necessarily prove cause and effect. People who tend to drink more may indeed end up having shorter lives — but not necessarily because of more alcohol consumption. It could be, for example, that those people have harder lives all around, with more stress, which takes a toll on health and longevity. But the researchers did control for a range of demographic factors and health diagnoses to try to tease out the direct effects of alcohol.

Another limitation of the study is that it relied on in-person self-reports of alcohol use. Researchers believe this method may lead to under-reporting, compared with anonymous surveys.

But relative to some past studies that found health benefits from light-to-moderate drinking, the new study looked at a much larger population. This allowed Hartz’s team to better distinguish between groups of drinkers, in terms of quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption.

“We’re seeing things that we didn’t before because we have access to such large data sets,” she says. “In the past, we couldn’t distinguish between these drinking amounts. The larger the data set, the more statistical power you have and the easier it is to make conclusions.”

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

(Photo by Heather Hammond)

94,000 VA outpatient records part of study

The researchers reviewed two data sets of self-reported alcohol use and mortality follow-up. One set included more than 340,000 people from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The other contained nearly 94,000 VA outpatient medical records. Health and survival were tracked between seven and 10 years.

According to the findings, people who drank four or more times a week, even when limiting it to only a drink or two, had about a 20 percent greater risk of dying during the study period.

As part of the study, Hartz and her team specifically evaluated deaths due to heart disease and cancer. For heart disease, they found a benefit to drinking, specifically that one to two drinks per day about four days a week seemed to protect against death from heart disease. But drinking every day eliminated those benefits. In terms of death from cancer, any drinking was “detrimental,” she says.

Current CDC guidelines call for alcohol to be used “in moderation — up to two drinks a day for men and up to one drink a day for women.” The guidelines don’t recommend that people who do not drink should start doing so for any reason.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Gold Star wife brings husband’s legacy to life through their toddler

A military kid is learning about her dad’s life and experiences through the eyes of her mom.

Ever since Britt Harris first met her husband, Army Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, eyes have played an important part of her story.


Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Chris and Britt Harris. Courtesy photo.

From the beginning, she couldn’t help but notice his baby blues, so different from her own hazel eyes. The North Carolina natives fell in love and married in October 2016. A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, Chris deployed to Afghanistan the next summer.

Then came the eyes of the nation on her when her 25-year-old husband was killed in a vehicle explosion on August 2, 2017, making her a Gold Star wife. Just one week earlier, Britt thrilled him with the news that they were expecting their first child.

Unit connection

Britt’s grief felt all-encompassing, but she still wanted to feel connected to her husband’s unit. She included them in her gender reveal, shipping confetti poppers with the appropriate color to Afghanistan. The men and women celebrated amidst a shower of pink in a now-viral video.

When her daughter, Christian Michelle, arrived on March 17, 2018 — the day Chris’ unit returned — Britt knew the story wasn’t over. So she arranged for a photoshoot featuring Christian, herself and Chris’ fellow soldiers.

With the same otherworldly blue eyes as her father, Christian quickly captivated millions. The moment wasn’t just for show, however; the men and women who served alongside Chris (he and Britt are only children) are viewed as family.

“We still see each other. We get lunch, or send texts, or social media,” says Britt, 28. “It makes me feel like I’m still part of the group even though I don’t have Chris anymore.”

Yet thanks to Christian’s uncanny resemblance to Chris — especially his eyes — Britt still does, in a way. Christian loves doing handstands now, the result of toddler gymnastics classes.

“She does them everywhere we go,” Britt laughs. “She dances all day, every day.”

Pageant platform

Living as a single mom in Moore County, North Carolina, was never Britt’s original plan. But she has plenty of new accomplishments to list since her world came crashing down in 2017, including hiking Kilimanjaro in Africa and starting a PhD program in psychology at Liberty University.

“My husband was really adventurous and he was always the person to push me to do something new,” Britt says. “When he passed away, I didn’t have anyone to push me anymore, so I started pushing myself to try new things.”

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

And in going after those firsts, Britt now holds the title of Mrs. North Carolina Universal 2020. Though this year’s national pageant fell victim to quarantine, she still plans to compete in 2021. Her platform will be bringing awareness to families of the fallen.

“A lot of people don’t even know what Gold Star means,” Britt said. “I’ve met veterans who don’t know what Gold Star is.”

The publicity that pageants offer could majorly change that, giving Britt a wider audience to educate on the definition and needs of Gold Star families, perhaps even affecting future related legislation.

“The pageant world isn’t really a place where widows go,” she said. “I’m hoping out of curiosity people will read up on Gold Star or ask when I give my interviews so I can speak more about it.”

Road trips

Besides getting ready to eventually compete in a national pageant, 2020 has held another rookie experience for Britt and Christian: being the recipients of a Gold Star canine training program.

Ridgeside K9 Carolinas recently boarded Atlas, the Harris’ one-year-old Blue Heeler, and professionally trained him to be a well-behaved family dog. The Harrises were the first selected for this free service for families of the fallen.

“Atlas is a very high-energy dog that was by no means a ‘bad dog,’ but I certainly needed help teaching him obedience,” Britt said. “He’s very patient and well-behaved now. He listens and the stress of chasing him and him avoiding and ignoring my calls and demands is long gone!”

Now, Atlas could happily join Britt and Christian on their road trips to places where Chris visited. Britt documents each trip in photos.

“I want to show the re-creations of her in the places Chris went, to walk where he walked, to feel close to him,” she says. “I want her to feel connected to him and the things he enjoyed.”

As a Gold Star wife, Britt understands that Chris is physically absent. But he — and those blue eyes he passed on to the daughter he never met — will always be a part of their lives.

Follow Britt at https://www.instagram.com/britt.m.harris/ to keep up with her and Christian’s future adventures.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what it was like to train right next to North Korea

With things starting to look up on the peninsula, it’s hard to believe that, in 2014, we were sitting around waiting to see what, exactly, was going to be the straw to break the Korean camel’s back reignite the (technically still-ongoing) Korean War. Thankfully, the North was wise enough to know not to f*ck with a Marine Corps infantry battalion. Regardless, we kept training for the worst.

We don’t have to tell you it’s cold on the Korean peninsula; you can read about that elsewhere. No, what you’re here for is to know what it was like for a Marine to be sitting three miles from the Korean Demilitarized Zone for a month and a half.


Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
We took the training more seriously at the time.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

Scary at first…

Yeah, it was. At the time, of course, we continuously called NK’s bluff because they did bark a lot for decades following the Armistice, but they’re enough of a loose cannon that some of us didn’t want to get complacent. It was better to assume that they were going to do something and we would be the first on the scene.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
We went on a DMZ tour and found out just how close it actually was.
(Photo courtesy of the author)

Of course, we didn’t realize how close we were to the DMZ until North Korea launched a few missiles. My company had been out on a range, police calling in the middle of the night when we noticed a couple of shooting stars streak across the sky. It was a beautiful site. That is, until we went back to base and saw that they were definitely missiles…

It didn’t help that the base didn’t have any ammunition for the first couple of weeks. We were basically sitting ducks, and if North Korea had known any better, it could have been huntin’ season.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
The biggest training challenge was the temperature.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb T. Maher)

…then it was boring…

After the edge wore off, we became super bored. It didn’t help that we were on a base that was small enough for you to be able to throw a rock from one end and hit some POG working on a Humvee on the other. The training itself wasn’t bad. It was all easy stuff. But it was the heavy amount of downtime that really threw us for a loop.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
Seriously, so much Friends.

External hard drives containing anything from games to movies to adult entertainment were passed around the platoon. Cigarettes, smoked all the way to the butt, were deposited into the butt can at least five times per day (more when the temperature was above 50 degrees). In fact, we probably broke the record for how many times you can watch Friends from beginning to end in a single week.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
The ROK Marines were honestly pretty cool.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ryan Mains)

…until the ROK Marines showed up.

It was a major snoozefest up until the Republic of Korea Marine Corps showed up. Then it quickly turned into a dog-and-pony show on top of the snooze fest. Then, training became much more frequent, so it quelled our boredom. We ended up forgetting that North Korea existed during that time, you know, except when our Battalion Commander reminded us during every formation.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit
My platoon before a major training op that was called off because the range was set on fire.

All in all, training next to North Korea was hyped up beyond what it actually was. There was a lot of anxious excitement at first and then it was just, “what show are we watching today?” For a first deployment, I definitely expected a lot more, but, thankfully, it wasn’t any more exciting than it was because, you know, fighting in the cold would suck.

So, that’s what it’s like to train next to North Korea.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Survivor recalls 48 hours in Moscow during October 1993 crisis

It has been 25 years since the culmination of the so-called Russian constitutional crisis, when the country’s president, Boris Yeltsin, sought to dissolve the parliament and then ordered the military to crush opposition led by the vice president at the time, Aleksandr Rutskoi, and the chairman of parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov.

I was working in Central Asia when the crisis broke out in September 1993, and heard bits and pieces from Radio Mayak every now and again from the Uzbek village I was working in at the time.

I traveled regularly to Moscow for my job — heading a Central Asian sociology project for the University of Manchester and the Soros International Fund for Cultural Initiative — to hand over material from our Central Asian colleagues, pick up their salaries, and restock my own household supplies for the next period of village life.


By chance, I arrived in the Russian capital on October 1. Friends there explained the rapidly changing situation. (I was more interested in the party that some friends told me was set for the Penta Hotel on Saturday night, October 2.)

I had my first look at the Russian parliament building, known as the White House, on the way to the Penta. It was surrounded by trucks, the Soviet-era tanker trucks that had big letters on the sides showing they carried moloko (milk) or voda (water), or something. There was also barbed wire around the building. Small groups of people were milling about on both sides of the barricade.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Boris Yeltsin.

Sunday, October 3, was shopping day for me. There were always too many people at the Irish store on the Arbat on the weekend, but there was another Irish store on the Ring Road. There was a smaller selection but I was only looking for basic products, like toilet paper.

‘Some snap drill’

Just before I reached the store, a convoy of Russian military trucks full of soldiers drove by. They were moving rather fast. I didn’t think too much of it. I’d seen military convoys drive through cities before, especially in Moscow. “Some snap drill,” I thought.

I hadn’t been back at my accommodation long when the phone rang. It was an Italian friend, Ferrante. He was doing business in Russia and lived not far from the flat I stayed in when I was in Moscow. We knew each other from parties and had seen each other at the Penta on Saturday night.

Our conversation went something like this:

“Are you watching this?” he asked.

“Watching what? I just got back,” I replied, “What’s going on?”

“There’s shooting at Ostankino,” Ferrante said in reference to the TV tower. “It’s on CNN. Come over.”

Now I knew what the military trucks were doing. I hurried over to Ferrante’s place and sat down to watch.

“Here,” Ferrante said, handing me a shot of vodka.

We both downed the shot and watched, then downed another shot, and watched.

We were also listening to a local radio station, and Ferrante was getting calls from people around Moscow. It was clear Ostankino was not the only place where serious events were unfolding.

Ferrante poured us both another shot. We downed it and Ferrante started speaking.

“You know,” and he paused. It seemed like a long pause, then he said exactly what I was thinking: “I always wished I was here in 1991,” a reference to the events that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. “Something big is happening. Let’s go out and see.”

Ferrante called his Russian driver to come over and get us, and we headed to the parliament building just as the sun was setting.

And then it got weird

We had trouble reaching the area. Some streets were blocked off. Once, our car turned a corner and there was a group of around 50 men marching toward us carrying sticks and crowbars. “Go back,” Ferrante yelled, though the driver was already trying.

We parked by the Hotel Ukraina, across the Moscow River from the parliament building. The bridge across the river was barricaded on the side near the parliament building but pedestrians could pass easily enough. We walked around watching apparent supporters of Rutskoi and Khasbulatov turn over those tanker trucks, light fires, and rearrange the barbed wire.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Aleksandr Rutskoi.

There was lots of drinking everywhere.

The crowd was growing. Men in military uniforms had arrived carrying a Soviet flag, and they were trying to form a column of several hundred of the seemingly hard-drinking supporters of Rutskoi and Khasbulatov. It was clear things were about to get ugly.

We noticed and were already talking, in English, about departing. I lit a cigarette, and a Russian man who had obviously had a few shots of vodka himself approached me and asked for a light. After I lit his cigarette, he stared at us and said, “Well guys, are we going, or are we going to sit here taking a piss?”

“Sit here taking a piss,” I replied immediately. “Sorry, we’re foreigners and this isn’t our fight.”

That was enough for him, and he left.

So did we. Back across the river to the Metro, which, amazingly, was working. It was packed, but we were easily able to make it to Tverskoi Boulevard, where the pro-Yeltsin side was assembling. They were drinking, too, but there were places where the atmosphere was more party than political upheaval. I remember a truck lay overturned and there was a guy on top of it playing the accordion and singing with a voice like iconic balladeer Vladimir Vysotsky. A lot of people were just sitting around on the street, drinking and talking.

I got back to my apartment at about 3:00 a.m. “What would daylight bring?” I wondered.

The phone woke me up on Monday, October 4. It was Ferrante again.

“I just got back from the center. I was on the bridge when the tank fired at parliament,” he said quickly.

A lot to digest

It was a lot for me to digest, first thing out of bed. There was an assault on the parliament building, a lot of shooting, people killed…

As I sat at the table drinking tea, more calls came in from friends. Did I know what happened? Had I heard? What had I heard? They told me what they heard.

Several people called just to see where I was, since they knew I was in Moscow but I had not answered the phone all Sunday night.

I remember best the call from my friend Samuel. “Where were you last night?”

When I told him I had been out roaming around in both camps, he screamed, “Are you totally stupid? People are getting killed out there.”

The call ended with me promising I wouldn’t leave my apartment. And I would have kept that promise if I had not run out of sugar for my tea.

I figured the odds of finding someone selling sugar were probably not so good in such times, but I don’t like tea without sugar, so I headed out and got on the subway, which was still running, and went to the Arbat stop.

There was no traffic on the road. I tried walking to where the Irish store on the Arbat was located, but that side of the street was blocked off. On the other side of the street, there was a long line of people behind metal barriers, so I crossed to see. The crowd stretched all the way down the road in the direction of the Moscow River until the about the last 100 meters from the intersection where the Aeroflot globe was. The other side of the intersection was the road that sloped down to the parliament building.

There were several thousand people behind this barrier, and I made my way toward the intersection, where eventually I could see four armored vehicles parked in the center of the road.

I made it to where Dom Knigi (House of Books) used to be. Across the street was that massive block of stores that included, at the time, the Irish store, the Yupiter furniture and appliance store, the Aeroflot office, and dozens of other businesses. Some of the windows were shot out. On top of the building, in plain sight, were OMON, the elite Interior Ministry troops, in their black uniforms gazing down at the streets. There were a lot of police and OMON troops on the other side of the road, at street level also.

Snipers, tracer rounds

But behind the waist-high metal barricades on my side of the street it was a carnival atmosphere. People were talking about snipers where the intersection was, but no one seemed particularly concerned. At least until a sniper finally did take a shot at the armored vehicles.

One of the armored vehicles turned in the direction of a building on the cross street and unloaded. The tracer rounds could be seen flying toward it and dust was kicked up off the side of the building from the bullets.

The crowd roared like it was a sporting event. “Give it to them!” people yelled.

The shooting stopped, the crowd calmed, and then a thoroughly inebriated, shirtless young man jumped over the metal barrier and danced around with his arms outstretched.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

Burned facade of the Russian White House after the storming.

Two OMON troops jumped over the barrier on the other side of street, ran to the drunken dancer, and beat him with their clubs, each grabbing one of the now-unconscious drunk’s ankles and dragging him over the curb to their side of the street.

Another shot at the armored vehicles, another volley of return fire, and more cheering from the spectators on my side of the street.

About that time, I was thinking this was too bizarre and decided to leave. But just as I was making my way back, a roar went up from the direction I was headed and the ground started rumbling. A column of armored vehicles, including many tanks, was making its way up the road toward the intersection.

People were calling to the soldiers: “Be careful!” and “There are snipers there.”

I took one last look at the intersection. Two of the armored vehicles were peppering a building with bullets.

The Metro train I took was on a line that briefly emerged from underground to cross a bridge, and everyone looked out the window at the White House, whose upper floors were on fire.

I got my sugar, went home, and had tea. I went to Ferrante’s place that evening to drink more vodka. There were many people there, some with spent shell casings they had gathered after the raid on the parliament building. Everyone had a story to tell.

I packed my bags the next day and by October 6 I was safely back in Central Asia.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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