In a March 2019 executive order, President Trump made a clear avenue for U.S. military veterans to transition into the Merchant Marine after their military service ends. This is a great thing for the men and women of the U.S. military who want to continue a life of service, but many will wonder what exactly the Merchant Marine is and what serving in it really requires.
During peacetime, the Merchant Marine is not a part of the military, but they do support military operations aboard ships like Kaiser-class replenishment oilers and Hope-class vehicle cargo ships. Its regular mission is the import and export of cargo in and out of the United States. Components of the Merchant Marine are both civilian sailors and government-owned ships. During wartime, the Merchant Marine can be used as the sealift component of the U.S. Naval Reserve.
A Merchant Marine Academy graduation ceremony.
Call them “Mariners”
While the Merchant Marine could go by many names, the preferred term is “mariner.” The terms sailor, seaman, and Marine are used elsewhere, and merchant mariners don’t need to try and be more than they are – they have an illustrious history of their own.
“Look out! Americans!”
It has an illustrious history of its own
So much so, it’s worth mentioning twice. The merchant mariners of the United States have existed in some form or another since the founding of our country, and have distinguished themselves in “getting the stuff to the fight” whenever called upon. Their first action came when a bunch of merchants off the coast of what is now Maine boarded a lumber schooner and sailed out to the HMS Margaretta in the aftermath of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Yes, this is during the American Revolution.
The lightly-armed rabble of merchant seamen not only captured the Royal Navy’s armed sloop of war, they harassed the British for the remainder of the war.
It officially dates back to 1936
In the days leading up to World War II, Congress and President Roosevelt passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, which states:
“It is necessary for the national defense… that the United States shall have a merchant marine of the best equipped and most suitable types of vessels sufficient to carry the greater portion of its commerce and serve as a naval or military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency…
War is not kind to the mariners
When the declaration of war on Japan forced the nationalization of the merchant marine fleet, it was a merger of American government needs and interest combined with the private sector’s means of getting the men and cargo to their destinations – for which the companies received handsome contracts. Weapons and armed guards from the U.S. Navy were then posted on ships.
And while you may think merchant shipping seems like an easy place to ride out the war, you’d be wrong. The merchant marine suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch serving in the war. For every 26 people who served aboard merchant marine ships, one of those would die, at a rate of almost four percent.
Retired Merchant Marine captain Paul Washburn sits on top of a Merchant Marine life boat.
They didn’t get veteran status for 30 years
After all was said and done and American GIs went home and bought houses and went to college, merchant mariners struggled for the same benefits for risking their necks just as much as the guys who fought in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. World War II merchant mariners weren’t afforded veteran status until 1988.
Merchant Mariners who worked in hostile waters during the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Desert Storm are still waiting for veteran status.
Oil tanker, gas tanker in the high sea.
The Merchant Marine never stops
When the treaties are signed, and the troops go home, the U.S. Merchant Marine still has a lot of work to do. Who do you think took all those men and vehicles back to the United States? Or moved occupation troops to Japan? Or hauled cargo for the Marshall Plan in Europe?
Butler was on a mission to clear a building on a partnered mission with the Afghan National Security Forces when his unit was struck. Eleven other members of the Utah National Guard were wounded in the incident but are expected to survive. Butler joined the Utah National Guard in 2008 and went on a Mormon mission trip to Africa as a young man.
“He was an absolute force of nature,” his family spokesman told local Utah media. “Ultimately, what we do is very dangerous business,” his commander Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton said in a statement. “Our hearts are broken when we lose one of our own. We know these people personally, they are our friends, we respect them and it’s very painful.”
Butler is the 10th U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan in 2017, many of whom were killed in the same geographical region fighting the terrorist group. The group controls a relatively small amount of territory but has used it to launch multiple complex attacks on the capital city of Kabul, killing hundreds with its brutal tactics.
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A soldier with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) died Tuesday from injuries he sustained during a live-fire training exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
The Army is not releasing many details until the soldier’s family has been notified, unit spokesman Master Sgt. Kevin Doheny said in a May 11 press release.
Soldiers and emergency services personnel responded to the incident and transported the soldier to Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital on Fort Polk, where he was later pronounced dead, according to the release.
It wasn’t clear if the soldier was shot during the live-fire exercise.
Seaman James “Derek” Lovelace was pulled out of the pool Friday after showing signs he was having difficulty while treading in a camouflage uniform and a dive mask, Naval Special Warfare Center spokesman Lt. Trevor Davids said.
Lovelace lost consciousness after being pulled out of the pool and was taken to a civilian hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Davids said. He was in his first week of SEAL training after joining the Navy about six months ago, Davids said.
A legendary sergeant first class who gave his life to pull fellow soldiers out of a burning vehicle in Iraq 15 years ago has been approved by the Defense Department to receive the military’s highest combat award, a close family member said.
Kasinal White told Military.com that she’d gotten a call from the Pentagon saying a formal request had been made by the DoD to award the Medal of Honor to her brother, Alwyn Cashe.
“We’ve heard that the official request has been made,” White said Tuesday. “We’ve also heard that everyone feels it will be signed [by President Donald Trump] rather quickly. After 15 years, ‘rather quickly’ works for me.”
Cashe, 35, was in Samara, Iraq, on Oct. 17, 2005, when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, puncturing a fuel tank. Drenched in fuel, Cashe nonetheless returned to the burning vehicle again and again, pulling out six soldiers.
He would die Nov. 8 from the burns he sustained in that rescue effort.
The Army posthumously awarded Cashe the Silver Star for his bravery, but obstacles surrounding witness accounts and the circumstances of the rescue stymied momentum to give him the Medal of Honor.
Since then, the lawmakers, including Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Florida; Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas; and Michael Waltz, R-Florida, have successfully passed legislation to waive a statutory five-year time limit from the time of the events for Cashe, clearing the way for his award.
“It’s not every day you read an extraordinary story like Alwyn Cashe’s,” Waltz said in a statement when the Senate passed the waiver in November. “His bravery in the face of danger has inspired so many already — and this is a significant step forward to properly recognize him for his heroism. I’m incredibly proud to see both sides of the aisle, in the House and the Senate, come together to honor Cashe’s legacy and award him the Medal of Honor.”
With the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden weeks away on Jan. 20, there are indicators the process could move unusually quickly, both with Trump’s approval of the medal and the actual award ceremony.
“Christmas just came, I guess,” White said. “I’m beyond ecstatic right now.”
The Pentagon recently released its plan to better integrate transgender troops into the military, providing guidance to service members already in and a road map moving forward for transgender troops who wish to join.
Department of Defense Instruction 1300.28 says that troops who are mentally a different gender than they are physically will start by visiting a military doctor to receive a diagnosis. If the doctor agrees and diagnoses the service member, then the service member alerts their chain of command and begins a process that is tailored to each individual.
To summarize the process in broad strokes, the doctor and service member will agree on a treatment plan that addresses the member’s mental and physical health, and the member will report it to their commander. This plan will include an estimated day when the member’s gender will be officially switched in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.
This official switch in DEERS won’t typically happen until the doctor has asserted that the transition is complete, the commander has signed off on the change, and the member has produced a court order, passport or state birth certificate asserting their preferred gender.
Once the member’s status is changed in DEERS, he or she will — as far as the military is concerned — cease to be their birth gender and will instead be recognized as their preferred gender. This includes uniform standards, physical training tests and all other regulations that refer to gender.
Also, the guidance stipulates that service members should not begin living as their preferred gender on duty until they complete their transition. This is because they will still be expected to conform to uniform and other regulations that apply to their birth gender until they complete their transition.
The DoD Instruction letter lays out guidance for commanders, including when they should delay a member’s transition or specific steps in the process to protect mission effectiveness. Basically, the commander should use the same discretion they have with other aspects of a member’s medical care and, when necessary, order the soldier to delay treatment in order to accomplish a mission.
These delays could be ordered when the transgender soldier is in a mission critical or shortage job, is deploying, or the transition could cause a breakdown in unit readiness at a key time.
Troops who need cross-sex hormone therapy to complete their transition or maintain their preferred gender will receive it within the constraints of their unit missions.
The instructions also addressed the expectation that transgendered people might soon join the military and attempt their transition early in their enlistment or time as an officer.
The instructions strongly deter this, advising commanders that while there is no blanket prohibition on gender transition in the first term of service, the necessities of training troops and preparing them for their overall military career will often preclude the service member’s ability to complete their transition.
So, people who want to transition to another gender and serve in the military should either transition before their enlistment or serve their first contract before beginning treatment.
There are going to be a lot of significant 50-year anniversaries in 2018. This is because 1968 was probably the most tumultuous year in American history since the Civil War. To this day, we still haven’t fully recovered as a country.
The tumult began immediately. Americans were buffeted by watching the Prague Spring roll over Czechoslovakia with the election of reformist Alexander Dubcek on January 5th. He instituted many meaningful reforms that spelled the end of Communism in the country. But the hopes of a peaceful collapse of the Iron Curtain were crushed by August, when Soviet and Eastern Bloc tanks rolled over the same ground.
That was only the beginning. Americans orbited the moon for the first time, Star Trek aired the first interracial kiss, and African-American athletes in the Mexico City Summer Olympics made the most political statement in the history of the games.
The captured crew of the Pueblo.
1. The USS Pueblo is captured by North Korea
The Pueblo was a Navy Signals Intelligence ship. On January 23rd, she was attacked and boarded by North Koreans in international waters. But Pueblo’s crew didn’t go down without a fight. As the ship attempted to evade capture and destroy captured intel, it took two North Korean subchasers, four torpedo boats, and two MiG fighters to stop Pueblo. One U.S. sailor was killed and 83 others were captured and held for the next 355 days. They were beaten and used as propaganda tools the entire time.
South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police, shoots Vietcong officer Nguyen Van Lem, also known as Bay Lop, on a Saigon street on Feb. 1, 1968.
(Photo by Eddie Adams)
2. The Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam
The U.S. was fully engaged in the Vietnam War by 1968 and, although there was evidence of a coming attack, it was not really suspected to come during the Tet holiday. At midnight on January 30th, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces assaulted some 100 towns and cities, catching American and South Vietnamese troops completely by surprise. The next day, they hit the U.S. embassy in Saigon. Although most losses were quickly recaptured, the ancient capital of Hué was held for a full month.
The Tet Offensive, while a technically a battlefield failure, shook much faith in the Americans’ ability to win the war, including reporter and “Most Trusted Man in America,” Walter Cronkite. In February, the execution of Viet Cong Nguyễn Văn Lém by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, a South Vietnamese police chief, as captured by famed photographer Eddie Adams, further turned the U.S. against the war.
Johnson soundly beat Eugene McCarthy’s anti-war candidacy in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire. But just a few days later, Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy and the Democrats were split between pro-war and anti-war Democrats, along with segregationist Democrats from the South. Johnson, unable to unite the party and concerned he wouldn’t survive another term, announced he would not seek another term as president on March 31st.
The president was right about uniting the party. Divided Democrats did not rally to their candidate Hubert Humphrey’s cause and Richard Nixon won the election.
President Lyndon B. Johnson meeting with King in the White House Cabinet Room, 1966
4. Martin Luther King, Jr. is shot and killed
The famed Southern preacher and civil rights leader was killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th. Riots erupted in major American cities, some lasting for days. His assassin, James Earl Ray, was a fugitive from justice who escaped the Missouri State Penitentiary. Ray was apprehended at London’s Heathrow Airport on June 8th.
During the ensuing riots, President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968, The Fair Housing Act, into law.
(Photo by Boris Yaro for the Los Angeles Times)
5. Robert F. Kennedy is shot at the Ambassador Hotel
Kennedy, fresh from his win in the June 4th California primary election, just finished addressing supporters at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. As he walked through the hotel’s kitchen, he was shaking hands with staff members and other supporters when Sirhan Sirhan rushed in and repeatedly shot him with a .22-caliber pistol. He died of his wounds the next day. Sirhan’s motive was Kennedy’s pro-Israel views.
Police and demonstrators clash near the Conrad Hilton Hotel during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
(Bettmann Archive – Getty Images)
6. Democratic Convention protests become a battle with police
From August 22-30, Democrats met to nominate Hubert Humphrey as their candidate for president. Outside, some 10,000 protestors descended upon Chicago’s streets. Mayor Richard Daley met them with 23,000 policemen in riot gear and National Guardsmen. At 3:30pm, police moved to arrest a man who lowered the American flag in Grant Park and began to beat him. The crowd responded by throwing rocks, concrete, and food at them. Violence spread throughout the area and America decided to vote for Richard Nixon.
“We’ve been through it twice before” he said of national devastation, referring to the Korean War and the “Arduous March,” or the famine of the 1990s that killed up to 3.5 million.
“We can do it a third time,” he said.
“A few thousand would survive,” Pak said. “And the military would say, ‘Who cares? As long as the United States is destroyed, then we are all starting from the same line again … A lot of people would die. But not everyone would die.”
“If we have to go to war, we won’t hesitate to totally destroy the United States,” a teacher at an amusement park told Kristof.
But when Western journalists travel to North Korea, they only see and hear state-approved narratives. While officials and official propaganda may unanimously state that North Koreans think they can destroy the US and survive the conflict, regular citizens may not feel the same way.
“This is a government script that everybody studies and repeats,” Kristof told Business Insider of North Koreans’ attitude toward nuclear war. But “people often buy the government propaganda especially if they are in Pyongyang,” said Kristof.
Average North Koreans may or may not believe the official propaganda that they could destroy the US, but their lives revolve around politics and ideology in a way to which the US could never compare.
In Pyongyang, all 16 metro stops are buried deep underground and have been designed to double as bomb shelters. Much of Pyongyang’s infrastructure doubles as bomb shelters, as the memory of the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 — when more bombs were dropped in Korea than in the entirety of World War II — looms large.
The last time the US was attacked by a foreign country was Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The US hasn’t lived in fear of nuclear annihilation since the close of the Cold War in the early 1990s.
The vast majority of US citizens never serve in the military, and many do not even know anyone who has. North Korea has mandatory military service for all men and women.
Even if average North Koreans aren’t as fearless in the face of nuclear exchanges as their top officials are, they have a built-in cultural and psychological advantage in facing down such a conflict.
But the advantage is entirely limited to perspective.
North Korea is still trying to produce a single, credible nuclear missile that can reach the US, and the US has enough nuclear weapons to completely destroy North Korea, China, and Russia in about a half hour.
As the Marine Corps continues to emphasize innovation and experiments with new gear, service officials are getting ready to equip a single infantry squad with an enviable range of equipment, from suppressors to polymer drum mags and special operations-issue hearing protection.
It’s part of an 18- to 20-month experiment that Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade is calling the “Über Squad.”
Wade, the gunner, or weapons officer, for 2nd Marine Division out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, said the plan is for the 13-person unit to keep all the gear for a full training workup and deployment cycle to somewhere in Europe.
The squad will come from Lejeune’s 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, though the originating company has yet to be chosen.
The squad is set to be a miniaturized, weapons-focused version of what the Corps is doing with its “experimental battalion,” 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.
Commandant Gen. Robert Neller announced in 2016 that 3/5 would serve as a testing platform for technologies ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles to robots mounted with machine guns, all while remaining an operational infantry battalion.
The unit deployed to the Pacific this spring. As part of its experimental efforts, 3/5 Marines have been equipped with the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle. The M27 is carried by Marine automatic riflemen, but service officials have discussed the possibility of fielding the weapon as the new service rifle for all or most infantrymen.
Wade has pioneered similar efforts within 2nd Marine Division. He spearheaded an effort last year that put rifle suppressors in the hands of three different companies within 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, to assess how troops fared using them on deployments around the globe.
For this effort, every Marine in the Über Squad will be equipped with an M27; a suppressor; and Ops-Core helmets used by U.S. Special Operations Command with built-in hearing protection systems that muffle noises loud enough to damage eardrums, while magnifying other sounds to maintain troops’ situational awareness.
“This capability protects [Marines’] hearing from high explosives and other loud noises we can’t mitigate in combat,” Wade said. “But digitally, it allowed you to hear ambient sound.”
Experiments to date with suppressors on whole infantry units have shown they work well – so well that a squad leader might not be able to locate his or her own squad by sound on the other side of a hill.
“Not only do we need hearing protection, we need hearing enhancement,” Wade said.
He also plans to fit the section of company-level M240 medium machine guns supporting the squad with suppressors, using equipment borrowed from SOCOM to suppress both barrels of the guns.
Following the kitted-up squad through training and the Corps’ traditional pre-deployment event, the integrated training exercise, or ITX, at Twentynine Palms, California, will give Marines the chance to assess the value of the various gear elements and whether they add net cost or value to the warfighter.
Wade said he is looking forward to seeing his Über Squad contend with Range 400, one of the Corps’ most dynamic ranges and the only one for which overhead fire is authorized.
“For … 30 years, I’ve been running Range 400,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve ever ran it with a maneuver element that is suppressed and a company-level machine gun element that is also suppressed.”
As a bonus, Marines in the squad will be equipped with Magpul 60-round polymer drum magazines. Military.com reported back in January that various conventional and special operations units were testing the drum in small quantities as a substitute for traditional 30-round magazines.
While the drums offer a lot of portable firepower, there’s also a question of weight to consider. Wade said he planned to set the unit up with about 100 of the drums and let each Marine figure out how many he needed to fight effectively.
“What I think I’m going to find is that, with the ingenuity of the lance corporal, everything is going to find its place,” he said. “My assumption is they’re ultimately going to be carrying one [drum].”
The effort to equip this squad will take shape over the next month, Wade said.
While the technology the Marines will carry is not new or experimental the way a gun-wielding robot is, it has never been issued to individual Marines at the squad level.
Wade plans to survey Marines at the start and end of the effort about their personal feelings and perceptions carrying the gear, and will couple those observations with objective data showing how the squad stacks up against other units at exercises such as ITX.
“We want to know what the Marines’ perception is, do the Marines have confidence in [the gear],” he said.
Two B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, marked their first-ever flight with Ukrainian Su-27 Flankers and MiG-29 Fulcrums last week over the Black Sea. At the same time, the long-range bombers also trained in launching the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, known as LRASM, U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa officials said Monday.
“The rise of near-peer competitors and increased tensions between NATO and our adversaries has brought anti-ship capability back to the forefront of the anti-surface warfare mission for bomber crews,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Albrecht of USAFE’s 603rd Air Operations Center.
“LRASM plays a critical role in ensuring U.S. naval access to operate in both open-ocean and littoral environments due to its enhanced ability to discriminate between targets from long range,” Albrecht, also the Bomber Task Force mission planner, said in a release. “With the increase of maritime threats and their improvement of anti-access/area denial environmental weapons, this stealthy anti-ship cruise missile provides reduced risk to strike assets by penetrating and defeating sophisticated enemy air-defense systems.”
Officials recently told Military.com that practicing deploying LRASM is part of a broader Air Force Global Strike vision: As part of its mission “reset” for the B-1 fleet, the service is not only making its supersonic, heavy bombers more visible with multiple flights around the world, it’s also getting back into the habit of having them practice stand-off precision strikes — especially in the Pacific — signaling a dramatic pivot following years of flying close-air support missions in the Middle East.
During a simulated strike, crews “will pick a notional target, and then they will do some mission planning and flying through an area that they are able to hold that target at risk, at range,” Maj. Gen. Jim Dawkins Jr., commander of the Eighth Air Force and the Joint-Global Strike Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, said in an interview earlier this month.
The flight over the Black Sea with Ukrainian counterparts incorporated Turkish KC-135s, in addition to aircraft from Poland, Romania, Greece and North Macedonia for a “long-range, long-duration strategic #BomberTaskForce mission throughout Europe and the Black Sea region,” USAFE tweeted.
The latest integration exercises over Eastern Europe have not gone unnoticed.
Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, chief of the main operational directorate for the Russian General Staff, said U.S. bomber flights alongside NATO partners have “increased sharply” over the last several weeks.
“Strategic bombers flew in April #B1B along Kamchatka, and in May, five such flights were recorded,” the MoD said on Twitter. Rudskoy also noted the first-ever B-1 flight over Ukraine, which prompted a Russian Air Force Su-27 and Su-30SM to scramble and intercept the bombers.
Israel’s air force chief held “professional, open” talks with officials in Moscow in the aftermath of the shoot-down of a Russian warplane by Syria earlier in the week that Russian officials said was caused by Israeli actions.
Major General Amikam Norkin traveled to Moscow on Sept. 20, 2018, to share his military’s findings on the incident in which 15 Russian service-members aboard the Il-20 surveillance plane were killed off the coast of Syria.
Russia has acknowledged that antiaircraft forces of its ally Syria inadvertently brought down the plane, but it also blamed Israel for conducting a fighter jet raid on Syrian forces around the same time.
A statement released by the Israeli military after Norkin’s Moscow visit said that “the meetings were held in good spirits, and the representatives shared a professional, open, and transparent discussion on various issues.”
“Both sides emphasized the importance of the states’ interests and the continued implementation of the deconfliction system,” the statement said.
Israel and Russia have set up an exchange of information between their forces operating in and around Syria to reduce the risk of air incidents.
The Russian plane was shot down by Syrian air defenses on Sept. 17, 2018, after Israeli missiles struck the coastal region of Latakia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli military said its jets had targeted a Syrian site that was in the process of transferring weapons to Iran-backed Hizballah militants.
It added that Israeli planes were already in Israeli airspace when Syria fired the missiles that hit the Russian plane.
Israel insisted it warned Russian forces of its raid ahead of time in accordance with previous agreements.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the Israeli warning came less than a minute before the strike, and it accused the Israeli military of using the Russian plane as a cover to dodge Syrian defense systems.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Russian President Vladimir to express sorrow over the deaths of crew member, blaming Syria and offering to send Norkin with detailed information.
“I told him that we have the right of self-defense,” Netanyahu said on Sept. 20, 2018, adding that “there is also very great importance to maintaining the security coordination between Israel and Russia.”
Russia, along with Iran, has given Syrian President Bashar al-Assad support throughout the country’s seven-year civil war, which began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011.
Russian air support has been particularly crucial in allowing Assad to hold off Islamic insurgents and Western-backed rebels and maintain power.
UrselD: How did the Stan Lee cameo in the Marvel movies thing start?
Born Stanley Martin Lieber almost a century ago in 1922, the man who would become far better known by his pen name, Stan Lee, was born into a family of very modest means with Stan, his brother, and Romanian immigrant parents sharing a single room apartment in New York during the 1930s.
As Lee would recall, “I grew up in New York City during the Depression. My earliest recollections were of my parents, Jack and Celia Lieber, talking about what they would do if they didn’t have the rent money. Luckily, we were never evicted. But my father was unemployed most of the time. He had been a dress cutter, and during the Depression, there wasn’t much need for dress cutters. So I started working when I was still in high school. I was an office boy, I was an usher, I wrote obituaries for celebrities while they were still alive. Lots of jobs.”
Showing an interest in writing from his teens, Lee’s mother was his #1 fan at that time, “She thought I was the greatest thing on two feet. I’d come home with a little composition I had written at school and she’d look at it and say, “It’s wonderful! You’re another Shakespeare!” I always assumed I could do anything. It really is amazing how much that has to do with your attitude.”
Stan Lee in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
In 1939 at the age of 17, Lee landed a job with a company owned by his cousin, Jean Goodman’s, husband, Martin Goodman. The company was called Timely Publications. While the pay wasn’t much, a mere per week (about 7 today), it was potentially a path to a professional writing gig, though not quite the one he originally envisioned for himself.
When I got there, I found out that the opening was in the comic book department. Apparently, I was the only guy who had applied for the job. I figured it might be fun. So I became a gofer — there were only two guys, Joe Simon, the editor, and Jack Kirby, the artist. They were the creators of Captain America, and that’s what they were working on at the time. I would fill the inkwells, go down and buy lunch, and erase pages and proofread.
Two years into the job, he was finally granted a chance to write filler text in the 1941 Captain America #3 comic. Called, Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge, the story, along with being warmly received by fans, introduced the idea of Captain America being able to throw and ricochet his trademark shield, now a defining aspect of the character. It was also the first comic in which Lieber, as he was then known, wrote under the pseudonym Stan Lee. According to Lee, he chose not to write under his then real name since he still hoped to one day write “proper literature” and had dreams of writing the “great American novel”. Thus, he didn’t want his name to be sullied by his work in comics.
Plans changed, however, when he randomly got a promotion to head editor of the comic department at just 19 years old.
[Simon and Kirby] were fired for some reason. Martin had no one to run the department. He said to me, “Can you do it?” I was . When you’re , what do you know? I said, “Sure, I can do it.” Martin must have forgotten about me, because he just left me there. I loved it. I was so young, it was sometimes embarrassing. Someone would come into the office and see me there and say, “Hey, kid, can I see the editor?”
At this point, in order to give the illusion of a large staff, Lee took to using a variety of other pseudonyms as well.
In 1942, a temporary editor was hired while Lee served in the US Army with the Signal Corps. He never saw combat, instead working at repairing communications equipment and later writing field manuals and military slogans as a part of the Training Film Division. Also in that division were the likes of Frank Capra, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), and the creator of The Addam’s Family, Charles Addams.
Despite being in the army, Lee still kept up with his work at Timely as best he could from afar, with weekly letters mailed to him explaining exactly what he needed to produce content for that week. Once he was done, he’d mail it back.
Lee’s service ended in 1945 and he went back to Timely full time.
It was two years later that Lee, with an awkwardness befitting a man who would come to create the characters nerds the world over would grow to love, Lee met and wooed his future wife.
There are conflicting accounts on whether one of Lee’s friends dared him to ask out some red headed model or his cousin set him up on a blind date with said model. Either way, Lee went to her office to see about that date. However, when he arrived and knocked at the door of the modeling agency, the woman who answered was someone completely different — a hat model from England by the name of Joan Boocock. Joan had come to America after marrying one Sanford Dorf, who had been serving in the UK during the war.
Stan Lee in “Doctor Strange.”
Stunned when he saw her, rather than play it cool, instead Lee apparently almost immediately professed his undying love for her, and then followed this awkward exchange up by telling her he’d had her face in his mind and been drawing it since he was a kid… (According to Lee, this wasn’t any sort of cheesy line, but the absolute truth.)
Rather than finding any of this weird or creepy, despite being married at the time, Joan agreed to go out on a date with Lee. As to why, despite by her own admission being in a happy marriage, she found it completely boring. (I guess as you’d expect from marrying someone named Sanford Dorf.)
But Stan Lee, she states, “He wore a marvelous floppy hat and scarf and spouted Omar Khayyam [an 11th/12th century Persian poet] when he took me for a hamburger at Prexy’s. He reminded me of that beautiful man, [British actor] Leslie Howard.”
As for Lee, he said he knew right on his first date he wanted to marry Joan. Two weeks later, not caring in the slightest that she was already married, he proposed and she said yes.
The problem was that she now needed a divorce, which was prohibitively difficult in New York at the time. Where there is a will, there’s a way, however, and she simply moved to Reno temporarily. You see, in Reno, you only needed to live there six weeks before you could file for divorce in the area, and the judges there were much more accepting of such.
However, during her time in Reno, being a beautiful young model and all, suitors flocked to her like the salmon of Capistrano. With Lee back in New York and their relationship not exactly built on a firm foundation, Lee said at one point he got a letter from Joan with the implication being she was thinking of breaking off their whirlwind courtship.
Not going to give her up without a fight, Lee took a trip to Reno and convinced her he was the love of her life and she his. The two then got married in Reno on the same day she got a divorce, and by the same judge who granted it, mere minutes after the divorce papers were signed.
While you might think such a relationship was doomed to end in failure. In fact, the couple spent the next 69 years together, before Joan’s death in 2017 at the age of 95.
Stan Lee in “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
Said Lee of Joan in their twilight years together, “My wife and I are really so close. And yet, I’m not sure if she’s ever read a story I wrote. She’s not into comics at all.”
Going back to Stan Lee’s career, as for Timely’s strategy in those days, it was essentially just copy whatever the competition was doing.
Martin was one of the great imitators of all time. If he found that a company had Western magazines that were selling, he would say, “Stan, come up with some Westerns.” Horror stories, war stories, crime stories, whatever. Whatever other people were selling, we would do the same thing. I would have liked to come up with my own stuff, but I was getting paid.
This all changed, ironically, from copying someone again–
Martin mentioned that he had noticed one of the titles published by National Comics seemed to be selling better than most. It was a book called Justice League of America and it was composed of a team of superheroes… “If the Justice League is selling, he spoke, “Why don’t we put out a comic book that features a team of superhereos?”
At this point in his career, Lee had grown weary of writing comics, seeing the medium as stagnant and devoid of interesting characters. He was, in fact, planning on quitting.
That’s when Joan told him he should take the opportunity in trying to copy the Justice League concept to create the character’s he’d find interesting. Lee says she stated, “Why not write one book the way you’d like to, instead of the way Martin wants you to? Get it out of your system. The worst thing that will happen is he’ll fire you — but you want to quit anyway.”
Simultaneously, Lee states, “[My wife] Joan was commenting about the fact that after 20 years of producing comics I was still writing television material, advertising copy, and newspaper features in my spare time. She wondered why I didn’t put as much effort and creativity into the comics as I seemed to be putting into my other freelance endeavors… [Her] little dissertation made me suddenly realize that it was time to start concentrating on what I was doing — to carve a real career for myself in the nowhere world of comic books.”
Lee then decided,
For just this once, I would do the type of story I myself would enjoy reading…. And the characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to: they’d be flesh and blood, they’d have their faults and foibles, they’d be fallible and feisty, and — most important of all — inside their colorful, costumed booties they’d still have feet of clay.
While this might all seem pretty normal today, at the time in the superhero genre it was groundbreaking. Said Lee, “That’s what any story should have, but comics didn’t have until that point. They were all cardboard figures….”
The product of this was The Fantastic Four. The results surpassed his wildest expectations.
We had never gotten fan mail up until that point… Sometimes we might get a letter from a reader that would say, “I bought one of your books and there’s a staple missing. I want my dime back.” And that was it. We’d put that up on the bulletin board and say, “Look! A fan letter!” Suddenly, with Fantastic Four, we really started getting mail…”We like this… We don’t like that… We want to see more of this.” That was exciting! So I didn’t quit… After that, Martin asked me to come up with some other superheroes… And we stopped being a company that imitated.
With business booming, Lee states, “[We] realized we were onto something. I figured we needed a new name, because we were not the same company we had been. I remembered the first book Martin published when I started there was called Marvel Comics. It had the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, and it was very successful. Why don’t we call the company Marvel? There are so many ways you can use that word in advertising. I came up with catch phrases like ‘Make mine Marvel’ and ‘Marvel marches on!'”
At this point while Martin was open to giving Lee fairly free rein, he still had his limits, which was a problem for Spider-Man, who Lee dreamed up as follows:
The most important thing in those days was the cover. All these books were on the newsstand, and you had to hope your cover would compel somebody to buy the book. And everything depended on the name. A character like Hurricane was a guy who ran very fast. Later on, when I was looking for new superheroes, it occurred to me that somebody crawling on walls would be interesting. I thought, Mosquito Man? It didn’t sound very glamorous. Fly Man? I went down the list and came to Spider-Man. That was it.
The concept of Spider-Man, however, was a little too far out.
Stan Lee in “Spider-Man.”
[Martin] didn’t want me to do it. He said I was way off base. He said, “First of all, you can’t call a hero Spider-Man, because people hate spiders.’ I had also told him I wanted the hero, Peter Parker, to be a teenager, and he said, “A teenager can’t be the hero… teenagers can just be sidekicks” Then when I said I wanted Spider-Man to have a lot of financial problems and family worries and all kinds of hang-ups, he said, “Stan, don’t you know what a hero is? That’s no way to do a heroic book!” So he wouldn’t let me publish it.Later, we had a book that we were going to cancel. We were going to do the last issue and then drop it. When you’re doing the last issue of a book, nobody cares what you put into it, so — just to get it off my chest- I threw Spider-Man into the book and I featured him on the cover. A couple of months later when we got our sales figures, that had been the best-selling book we’d had in months. So Martin came in to me and said, ‘Do you remember that Spider-Man character of yours that we both liked? Why don’t you do a series with him” After that, it was much easier… Whatever I came up with, he okayed. After that, came The X-Men and Daredevil and Thor and Dr. Strange… and the rest. The books did so well that I just gave up all thoughts of quitting.
With business booming, Martin decided to sell the company, with Perfect Film and Chemical aquiring Marvel in the late 1960s. Not long after that, Lee got a promotion,
[They] made me the president and even chairman. But I was never a businessman. I remember when the board asked me to come up with a three-year plan for the company. I said, “Guys, I don’t know how to predict where we’ll be in three years. I don’t even know what I’m going to have for breakfast tomorrow.” I resigned as president after about a year. I mean, I can add and subtract, but I hate to read sheets of numbers. I like to write stories.
This brings us finally to the cameos and how that whole thing got started.
His first cameo of sorts was text only, occurring in an All-Winners comic in 1941 where various characters petition Lee to add more characters. Next up, Wayne Boring and Hank Chapman decided to put their boss in the 1951 Astonishing #4.
Where the cameos really became a thing though started in 1963, when Lee and his long-time collaborator, Jack Kirby, appeared in The Fantastic Four #10 in which the pair are featured on the cover, as well as inside. On the cover, it shows the duo with Lee saying, “How’s this for a twist Jack? We’ve got Doctor Doom as one of the Fantastic Four!!” With Kirby adding, “And Mister Fantastic himself as the villain!! Our fans oughtta flip over this yarn!!”
Stan Lee in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
Beside them, it also states, “In this epic issue surprise follows surprise as you actually meet Lee and Kirby in the story!! Plus a gorgeous pin-up of the invisible girl!”
As for inside the issue, it has Doctor Doom demanding that Lee and Kirby get the Fantastic Four to walk into a trap, which they then do.
Said Lee of this sort of thing, “The artists back then would draw me in as a joke or just to have fun. And I would put some dialogue balloons there and it looked as if I intended it. I didn’t try to do cameos in those days.”
But fans loved it, as well as the chance to get to know the people behind the comics, which were featured in a section of their own as well. The point of all of this, along with the little quips and notes in various areas was, according to Lee, “[For] the reader to feel we were all friends, that we were sharing some private fun that the outside world wasn’t aware of.”
From here the occasional cameo caught on, with Lee stating, “Anything that seemed fun and anything that the readers seemed to enjoy we kept doing and those things brought in a lot of fan mail. And we weren’t doing movies or television, our whole existence depended on comic books, so if you see that something is interesting to the fans you stay with it.”
Since then Lee, and to a lesser extent Kirby (who was notably more camera shy), appeared numerous times across many forms of media. These cameos range from simple background characters in comics bearing Lee’s likeness to full on self-referential roles in Marvel’s numerous works. The most egregious example of the latter is arguably the 1990s Spider-Man cartoon in which Spider-Man is transported to the “real” world via magical comic shenanigans and meets Stan Lee, who reveals that he created Spider-Man and spends some time conversing with his creation before being left stranded on a roof.
Moving on to Lee’s first cameo in video form, this appeared in the 1989 The Trial of the Incredible Hulk where Lee appears in the jury at the trial.
Arguably Lee’s most unusual cameo is one in a property owned by Marvel’s single biggest rival, DC — Superman: The Animated Series. In the episode, Apokolips… Now! Part 2, Lee, along with characters who bear a striking resemblance to members of the Fantastic Four, appear in a brief crowd shot of the funeral of the character, Dan Turpin. Said character’s appearance was largely based on the aforementioned Jack Kirby, who’d sadly died the year earlier. Out of respect for his memory and his contribution to the world of comics, the animators for the episode snuck in a character who looked like Lee along with several other Marvel characters Kirby had helped create. The commitment to accuracy was such that the graveyard shown in the episode was modeled on the one Kirby is buried in, in real life and the crew hired an actual rabbi to read a kaddish that was included in the episode’s audio. Lee’s cameo was removed in the subsequent DVD release of the episode, but he can still be seen in the episode’s storyboards.
Speaking of cameos, a slightly lesser known fact is that Lee’s beloved wife, Joan, who was the inspiration for a few female characters in the Marvel universe, also did voice work for the 1990s Fantastic Four and Spider-Man animated series, as well as a cameo of her own in X-Men: Apocalypse where she appears alongside Stan Lee.
This all brings us to Stan Lee’s final cameo, where he appears as a de-aged hippie alongside a woman who is meant to be a de-aged Joan Lee — very fittingly for them both, this final cameo appeared in Marvel’s Endgame.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Each year 32 young students from the United States are selected as Rhodes Scholars. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mike Kaplan)
According to the trust, Singh is a senior at the Air Force Academy, where he is pursuing a bachelors’ degree in mechanical engineering. Singh‘s research addresses questions of policy, ethics, and the management of military assets and nuclear weapons.