Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication - We Are The Mighty
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Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Pigeons are one of the most annoying and disgusting parts of living in a city these days. But did you know that those winged rats were once well-decorated war heroes?


The World Wars had dramatically increased the pace of technological advancement and gave rise to early forms quick communication, such as radio and telephone. But radio was easily intercepted and telephone wires were obvious to the enemy. Pigeons, on the other hand, had a surprising 95 percent efficiency and could carry longer-form messages than those sent by telegraph.

Communications between squads and battalions were typically delivered by a runner — a troop that moved across the battlefield carrying a message. For higher level communications, signal troops would write messages on tiny pieces of paper that would then be rolled up and attached to pigeons. Pigeons have natural magnetoreceptors and an instinct to return home, both of which they use to send a message on its way.

These birds can travel great distances in a (relatively) short amount of time. Princess the Pigeon, for example, managed a 500-mile flight during World War II when she carried vital information about the British troops fighting in Crete to RAF in Alexandria, Egypt.

 

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
Not all pigeons in England are terrible. (Imperial War Museum)

 

Pigeons weren’t just sent as messengers. As early as World War I, innovators attached cameras to the birds who would then fly about the battlefield as the camera automatically snapped photographs.

As you’d expect, most photos came out terribly but, on occasion, you’d get a photo that would prove the idea wasn’t as terrible as it sounds.

 

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
(Imperial War Museum)

The most well-known story of the war pigeons is that of Cher Ami (which translates to “dear friend” from French). On October 3, 1918, 195 American troops of the Lost Battalion were trapped behind enemy lines. Their position was surrounded on every side by German forces. To make matters worse, American artillery had started raining down on their position. Maj. Whittlesey affixed a message to Cher Ami and let her lose.

The message read, “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”

Cher Ami was spotted by the Germans and shot down. Despite her wounds, she managed to take flight again and complete her 25-mile journey in just 25 minutes. She did this after taking a bullet to the chest, being blinded in one eye, and nearly losing the leg to which her crucial message was attached. Thanks to Cher Ami, all 195 men survived.

She was patched up and sent back home to the U.S. by Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing himself.

 

Feature image: Imperial War Museum

MIGHTY TRENDING

Google billionaire Sergey Brin has a secret charity that sends ex-military staff into disaster zones on a superyacht

Sergey Brin, Google’s cofounder and the eighth-richest person, has a secret disaster-response team, according to The Daily Beast.

The Daily Beast’s investigation found Brin was the sole donor to a disaster charity called Global Support and Development (GSD). The Daily Beast identified Brin as the company’s sole donor through a California court filing.


The company’s staff, almost half of whom are ex-military, arrives at disaster areas on a superyacht called Dragonfly to clear debris and use high-tech solutions to assist victims. GSD is headed up by Grant Dawson, an ex-naval lieutenant who was on Brin’s personal security detail for years.

The idea for GSD was apparently sparked in 2015 when the yacht’s captain was sailing past Vanuatu, which had just been hit by Cyclone Pam. The captain contacted Brin to ask if anything could be done to help, and Brin then got in touch with Dawson.

Dawson said in a speech in 2019 about GSD: “So I grabbed a number of Air Force para-rescue guys I’d been affiliated with from the security world, and a couple of corpsmen out of the Seal teams … We raided every Home Depot and pharmacy we could find and on about 18 hours’ notice, we launched.”

The Daily Beast reported that GSD now has 20 full-time staffers, plus about 100 contractors working for it.

The Daily Beast said that like at Google, GSD’s employees enjoy perks, including strawberry ice cream and fresh laundry aboard the superyacht while working in disaster areas. In addition to military-trained staff, the charity has access to sophisticated technology including drones and sonar mapping.

Since 2015, GSD has assisted during several disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic activity. Now the company says it is lending a hand during the coronavirus pandemic by helping set up testing in California.

“GSD provided operational support to stand up the first two drive-through test centers in California and planning and logistic support for other test centers as they opened across the state,” GSD says on its website. “Our paramedics and support staff also partnered with the Hayward, California Fire Department to perform more than 8,000 swab tests at their drive-through test site and local eldercare facilities.”

Rob Reich, the codirector of Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, told The Daily Beast that disaster relief is good work, but it shouldn’t be secretive.

“There should be an expectation of transparency to understand how his charity interacts with existing efforts at disaster relief, and so we citizens can examine whether it’s consistent with what democratic institutions want to accomplish,” Reich said.

GSD did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, and the news organization was unsuccessful in trying to contact Brin personally. GSD did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Featured

This Green Beret invented a flag that can’t – and won’t – burn

When 10th Group Special Forces soldier Kyle Daniels returned from his last combat deployment, he was frustrated by what he saw. He understood that he’d been fighting for America’s freedom, including the important freedom to protest. But he didn’t like seeing the American flag burned.

So he did something about it.


Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Daniels designed and developed a flag that will not burn. Now, after two years of research and hundreds of prototypes, on Sunday, June 14 – Flag Day 2020 – the Firebrand Flag Company will launch its first product: A first-of-its-kind, official, fire-retardant U.S. Flag made in America from the same kevlar and nomex fabric that keeps our service members and first responders safe.

Daniels has big ambitions for his flag company. “I want Firebrand Flags to be the official flag company of the U.S.A.,” he said. “I want every home, business and government building in America to proudly fly one of our flags. And, if, for some reason, one of our enemies got ahold of one of our flags, it wouldn’t be much use as a propaganda tool. They would have to go to extreme lengths to destroy it, much like they do when they are face to face with an American service member. Old Glory can now defend itself.”

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Early on, Daniels shared his vision with his former Green Beret commander, Jason Van Camp. Van Camp immediately invited Daniels to join his Warrior Rising incubator. Warrior Rising helps veteran entrepreneurs find mentors who can help realize their business goals and transition to the private sector. “I’ve known Kyle since the Special Forces Qualification Course. I believe in Kyle. He was a perfect fit for Warrior Rising,” Van Camp explained. “He had passion and zeal for making a flag that would literally dominate the narrative about flag burning but needed to evolve a new set of business skills to realize his vision.”

The mission wasn’t going to be easy. To make a flag that would look, feel and fly like a real flag but that wouldn’t burn, Daniels needed to engineer new materials and design a manufacturing process that previously didn’t exist. There were plenty of roadblocks along the way. The process to make the flag required entirely new cutting machines and the largest purchase of Kevlar fabric outside of the U.S. military. But Daniels applied the resilience he learned in the military to his business. As Daniels put it, “You have to adapt, overcome and do whatever needs to be done to accomplish the mission.”

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

At a Warrior Rising event, Kyle met yet another ex-Green Beret, Chase Millsap, the Chief Content Officer at We Are The Mighty. We Are The Mighty is a publisher and content studio focused on the military and veteran communities. Millsap loved the Firebrand mission from the outset. “We tell stories that celebrate service. Kyle’s unburnable flag is an awesome product with an amazing story.” It took Milsap no time to convince his colleagues to jump on board and the two companies have formed a partnership to bring the Firebrand Flag to market. WATM is the proud media partner of Firebrand Flags.

Get your unburnable flag today. The first 150 orders before June 26 save , and get free shipping (a value). All orders placed by June 26 are guaranteed to arrive in time for the 4th of July.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

FIREBRAND FLAG COMPANY – Founded by Green Beret veteran Kyle Daniels, Firebrand Flags is the 1st company to develop a 100% made in America, fire retardant officials U.S. Flag.

WARRIOR RISING – A 501c(3) which empowers U.S. military veterans and their immediate family members by providing them opportunities to create sustainable businesses, perpetuate the hiring of fellow American veterans and earn their future.

WE ARE THE MIGHTY – Launched in 2014, We Are The Mighty (WATM) was created to give military veterans a voice to tell the most authentic, entertaining and inspirational stories about the military and by the military.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 ways your first year in the military mirrors freshman year

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and crust adorns your bright eyes as you open them to your earliest taste of freedom. Your room is decked out according to how you want it and what mommy and daddy say or think is no longer the deciding factor in what you will or won’t do for the day.


This day could easily belong either to Private Joe from Anytown, America or Johnny Freshman in any university dorm. There are some surprising similarities between those earliest days in the military and the typical freshman year of college.

Related: 8 reasons being in the military is like being in a sorority

7. You’re beyond lost

When you first encounter military instructors, as a military member, it is anything but pleasant.

Go this way! Go that way! Pick it up! Put it down!

Add that to the fact that you have zero idea where you’re going (and sometimes even where you’re coming from) and confusion is the only real outcome.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
Pictured: The inside of a first-year service member’s mind (Photo from The Odyssey Online).

6. You have no idea what to do now that you’re away from home

The first time away from home can be extremely frightening for many. Even if your parents and/or guardians empowered you with freedom and responsibility, chances are that going to college or joining the military is your first time being away from home in a real way.

This isn’t taking a break for a few days or weeks, you have left the nest and flying solo can be scary.

Newness is very exciting but it also carries a certain measure of suck.

5. Boot camp is like pledging a fraternity/sorority

No disrespect to any fraternity or sorority, but actual military boot camp is one of the toughest things anyone will ever do, but there are similarities to rushing. There is information cramming, adapting to a new culture, an embarrassing haircut, frowned-upon hazing, and the list goes on.

Truthfully, the brotherhood of arms is very much a fraternity for some and a sorority for others. Our letters aren’t Greek but they do all start with “U.S.”

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

4. Dorm rooms

The only way to avoid time in a dorm room is getting married but, chances are, being fresh to the military means you aren’t ready for marriage. That doesn’t stop many young troops from walking down the aisle, but I digress…

Regardless of which service you join, the early stages of your enlistment will involve some type of dorm life. You simply can’t avoid it.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
The look you make when you thought you got your own dorm room. Should’ve joined the Air Force. ( Photo from YouTube | Jon Richie)

3. The “freshman 15”

Besides the Marines, no other service as a whole just stays in shape. Every single service has physical training programs, sure, but not every branch will ride you and expect you to stay in the same shape you achieved in basic/boot.

This makes gaining weight too easy. Even if you adhere to the same standards training-wise, the availability of good eats can lead to a military version of the infamous “freshman 15.”

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
Trust me, it’s not that hard to get out of shape (Photo from Gawker).

2. Underage drinking

Yes, as a military member, you end up shouldering a lot of weight that most civilian teenagers wouldn’t. There is no denying that.

There is also no denying that a dorm party in the military looks a lot like a dorm party in college. There are kegs, there are guys and girls, there are food platters, and there are a lot of people alternating between throwing up and turning up. You know what there isn’t a lot of, though? Anyone checking identification!

Although it’s a rampant and completely normalized part of early enlisted life, underage drinking is 100% illegal in America and is a punishable offense.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
A little early for a drink, Timmy (Photo from The Telegraph)

Also Read: 6 reasons being E-4(ish) mafia is the best

1. Growing up

Eventually, you learn your way and you become who you’ll be. Now, I’m not saying this happens by the end of that first year, but it does happen after some time. Until then, life is basically a series of hard knocks, adaptations, and semi-pleasant surprises.

It works out for most of us… well, for some of us.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
You’ll get there, hopefully, one day (Photo from Minnesota National Guard).

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the 4 inmates on the military’s death row

Every service member knows the result of not living up to the expectations placed upon them by donning the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States. Most will never receive a punishment beyond Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, non-judicial punishment. For repeat offenders, the threat of “turning big rocks into little rocks” at Fort Leavenworth looms large.


Actually being sent to the Kansas-based U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth is, in reality, a tall order. The facility houses only the worst offenders. It’s the only maximum-security facility in the U.S. military and hard time there is reserved for commissioned officers, enlisted personnel with sentences longer than ten years, and those who are convicted of crimes related to national security. It’s reserved for the worst of the worst — which includes those on the military’s death row.

Since the end of World War II, the facility has executed some 21 prisoners, including more than a dozen Nazi German prisoners of war convicted of war crimes. The last time an American troop was executed for his crimes was in 1961, when Army Pfc. John Bennett was hanged for the rape and attempted murder of a young Austrian girl after spending six years on death row. There are currently four inmates awaiting execution at Leavenworth, but these four will not face the gallows.

Executions for military personnel will likely be by lethal injection and performed at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Ronald Gray

In 1986 and 1987, then-Specialist Ronald Gray was a cook stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., when he committed the series of crimes that landed him on the military’s death row. Gray raped and murdered four women, both on Fort Bragg and in the area around nearby Fayetteville. He was sentenced to death in 1988 and his execution was approved by President George W. Bush in 2008. He has since filed a petition to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was turned down, meaning Gray might soon be the first prisoner executed by the military in over 50 years.

His first victim was 27-year-old civilian Linda Jean Coats and his second was also a civilian, 18-year-old Tammy Cofer Wilson. He next turned his attention to female soldiers, abducting, raping, and murdering 18-year-old Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay. Vickery-Clay’s body was discovered a block from her home on Fort Bragg. He then raped and attempted to kill 20-year-old Pvt. Mary Ann Lang Nameth, stabbing her in the throat after entering her barracks room, but leaving her alive. She was able to identify him as her attacker when Gray was arrested for another crime.

Just three days later, he raped and murdered another civilian, 23-year-old Kimberly Ann Ruggles. It was this crime that would lead to his capture and conviction. Ruggles was a taxi driver dispatched to pick up a “Ron” at Gray’s address. Her body was discovered later that night near her empty cab. Police identified the gag on Ruggles’ body as one belonging to Gray after holding him for another crime just hours before. Gray’s fingerprints were all over the cab and Ruggles’ prints were on money Gray was holding during his arrest.

Gray was tried and convicted in both civil and military courts in 1988. Civilian courts sentenced Gray to eight consecutive life sentences. His military court martial sentenced him to die. He is currently the longest-serving death-row inmate at Fort Leavenworth.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Hasan Akbar

In March, 2003, just days after U.S. troops initially crossed into Iraq, Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar was at Camp Pennsylvania, a rear-staging area for the invasion of Iraq, located in Kuwait. In the early morning hours, Akbar lobbed fragmentation and incendiary grenades into the tents of sleeping officers, then assaulted other members of his unit with his issued M-4 rifle. He killed Army Capt. Christopher Seifert and Air Force Maj. Gregory L. Stone. and wounded 14 other service members.

Even though his defense team cited repeated attacks and insults on his Muslim faith from fellow soldiers as a primary motivator for the attack, it was later discovered that Akbar decided to plan and execute the attack once he was in Kuwait, writing in a journal on Feb 4, 2003:

“As soon as I am in Iraq, I am going to try and kill as many of them as possible.”

Hasan was convicted of two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted premeditated murder. The commander of the 18th Airborne Corps affirmed the death sentence and an appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals is pending.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Timothy Hennis

In 1985, a mother and two of her children were found murdered in their Fayetteville, N.C. home. Kathryn Eastburn was stabbed to death with two of her three daughters while her husband, an airman, was training in Alabama. The family was getting ready to move away from the country and put an ad in the paper to sell their dog. Timothy Hennis was a Fort Bragg soldier who admitted to police he responded to the ad. An eyewitness identified Hennis as a man who left the Eastburn home in the early morning hours after the killings would have taken place.

Hennis was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die in North Carolina civilian courts but that verdict was later overturned and Hennis was acquitted in a retrial. As a free man, Hennis returned to the Army and retired as a Master Sergeant in 2004. But the Army wasn’t done with the Hennis case. Semen samples taken from Kathryn Eastburn’s body were analyzed as DNA evidence that wasn’t available in the original case.

The Army again charged Hennis with the crime, this time framing the evidence to the matching DNA samples. In 2010, A military court finally found Hennis guilty of the crimes, stripped him of rank and pay, and sentenced him to death.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Nidal Hasan

Also known as “The Fort Hood Shooter” Hasan was an Army officer, a psychiatrist stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas. On Nov. 5, 2009, Hasan entered the Soldier Readiness Center, pulled a handgun, and, for 10 minutes, began shooting at the personnel there. He killed 13 people and injured another 30 before being shot himself by Fort Hood’s Army Civilian Police. The gunfight rendered Hasan paralyzed from the waist down.

The Army charged Hasan with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder, with the Army announcing early on that Hasan was eligible for the death penalty and that the Army would seek that sentence. Hasan defended himself at the trial and in doing so was found guilty of all charges. He was unanimously sentenced to Fort Leavenworth to await execution.

Articles

5 stunning photos that show how a crippled Marine Hornet made it to safety

On a November 9, 2016, two US Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets collided during a routine training flight off the coast of California.


As reported August 10 on Military.com, one of the aircraft erupted in flames — the pilot safely ejected — and the other was damaged but still able to fly home to Naval Station North Island, San Diego.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

USMC photo

An investigation into the incident concluded the pilots failed to see that they were on a collision course, a failure attributed in part to inexperience and not getting enough flying time.


Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Despite all that, the pilot who landed this aircraft got high praise from Col. William Swan, the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 11, who reviewed the report.”[The pilot] displayed exceptional airmanship when he successfully landed [the aircraft] after significant portions of its flight control surfaces were destroyed,” Swan wrote.

The pilot himself, whose name was redacted on the investigation, was understated about his own accomplishments.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

“I … realized we were on a collision course and I immediately pushed the stick full forward in a last-ditch effort to miss his aircraft. Our left wings struck each other in a low-to-high merge,” he wrote of the mishap.

He saw an explosion from the other aircraft, he said, and pieces falling off — it wasn’t clear from which of the two fighter jets. He assessed the damage to his own plane and saw that the “entire outboard section” of the left wing was gone. All the while, he kept a lookout for the other Hornet to see what happened to the pilot.


Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

The pilot called in to base and had his commander read the procedures for controllability checks, allowing him to ensure the aircraft was still good to fly. Then, on advisement from the skipper, he made contact with another aircraft, which flew in to inspect and confirm that the other pilot, who had ejected from his Hornet, had successfully deployed his parachute:

“After inspection, I selected flaps half and could feel the jet change configuration but had no indication of flap position on my display. Next selected the gear down. With 3 down and locked indication, I continued to slow the jet in 10-knot increments and determined the jet was stabled at 180 knots at 15,000 feet. However, due to some light turbulence down low and the feel of the jet I made my approach at 200 knots. [The other aircraft called in] coordinated an arrested landing for me on Runway 36 at [Naval Air Station North Island, Halsey Field]. We discussed our hook-skip game plan and commenced approach. I utilized a 3-degree descent on approach for about 13 [nautical miles] straight in. At approximately 12:40 [Lima] I made a successful arrested landing which concluded the event.”
MIGHTY MOVIES

Iranian state TV used a photo of an actor from ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ to spread a wild theory that a senior CIA official was killed in a plane crash in Afghanistan

Iran’s state TV broadcast a photo of an actor from”Zero Dark Thirty” to illustrate a claim that the CIA officer that inspired the character had been killed.


On Monday, the US military confirmed an E-11A surveillance plane crashed in Ghanzi, eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban, who control the region, say several top CIA operatives were killed, and have since denied access to the crash site.

One of those CIA operatives was Michael D’Andrea, state TV said, according to BBC Monitoring, which first reported the claims made on Iranian TV.

Iranian TV did not provide any evidence for its claim that D’Andrea was killed Monday.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

But instead of airing a photograph of the real D’Andrea, Iran’s Channel One chose to show the face of Fredric Lehne, a US actor who played a character inspired by D’Andrea in the 2012 movie “Zero Dark Thirty.” The movie is a dramatization of the US assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.It is not know if the choice of photo was an error, or a last resort due to a lack of available photographs of D’Andrea.


Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

The network also said D’Andrea “had a key role in killing Iranian general Qasem Soleiman,” according to BBC Monitoring.

The movie details the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

The real D’Andrea is the head of the CIA’s activities concerning Iran, according to The New York Times.

The CIA declined to comment on Iranian TV reports when contacted by Business Insider.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Preparing future generations for leadership and military service

The children are our future. Isn’t it time to talk to them about leadership and military service? Today’s children are the future leaders and military personnel of our country. They are the ones that will one day take that oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The reality that today’s youth are the future of our country and our military is why it is so important that we have programs in place to mold, teach, and prepare them to be the strong leaders of tomorrow. The military branches have had programs in place for decades to aid in this preparation of today’s youth. These programs include: the Sea Cadets, the Young Marines, and the ROTC.


Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

The US Naval Sea Cadet Corps is sponsored by both the Navy and the Coast Guard. They are designed to promote interest and skill in naval disciplines while also instilling strong moral character and life skills through leadership and technical programs. The main goals of the Sea Cadets are: developing an interest and ability in seamanship and seagoing skills, instill the virtues of good citizenship and strong moral principles in each cadet, demonstrate the values of an alcohol-free, drug-free, and gang-free lifestyle, expose cadets to the prestige of public service and a variety of career paths through hands-on training with our nation’s armed services.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

The Young Marines set out to build tomorrow’s leaders today. They promote the mental, moral, and physical development of each of their members. The Young Marines program focuses on the values of leadership, self-discipline, and teamwork. They strive to strengthen the lives of America’s youth, and they do so by teaching the importance of self-confidence, academic achievement, honoring our veterans, community service, and living a healthy drug-free lifestyle. The Young Marines aims to mold today’s youth into productive members of society.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

The Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, or ROTC, as it is more commonly known, is designed to give young people invaluable experiences while still in school. ROTC is different because it is a program that is a part of a school or university. Each branch has its own ROTC program, so students can choose which path they want to take. Through the ROTC program, students can begin a military career in health care, aviation, finance, engineering, chemistry, law enforcement, and transportation, among others. ROTC is designed to mold them and prepare them for officer programs and careers in the armed services.

No matter what program the youth of today chooses to join, they will be taught valuable skills and learn how to become the strong leaders the future of our country depends on. They will be taught structure and discipline, while being molded into productive members of society. Whether or not they choose to go into a career in the military, the experiences they receive in these programs will follow them through the rest of their lives. They will learn invaluable lessons that will aid them in any career path they choose, and they will make memories that will last a lifetime.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Meet Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)

Ada Lovelace, daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, has been called “The first computer programmer” for writing an algorithm for a computing machine in the mid-1800s.

Here’s how that program impacts us — and our military — today.

Nicknamed the “Enchantress of Numbers,” Lovelace was born Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, on Dec. 10, 1915. Her mother, Annabella Byron, was referred to by Lord Byron as “Princess of Parallelograms,” and she insisted on an education for her daughter that included mathematics and science. Some suggest that Lady Byron hoped to quell the Byron tendency toward imagination and moodiness, but Lady Byron also described their daughter as “chiefly exercised in connection with her mechanical ingenuity.”

On June 5, 1833, at a party, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, the famed mathematician and mechanical engineer who originated the concept for the first automatic digital computer. There, he spoke of a “Difference Machine,” an invention of his that served, essentially, as an automated calculator — the first of its kind.


Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2

www.youtube.com

Though the prototype was incomplete at the time, Lovelace went to his home a few days later to see the device in person. The two began a profound correspondence that would last nearly twenty years.

When Babbage began exploring a new design for what he called the “Analytical Engine,” Lovelace contributed her own notes and translations in extensive detail. Her translation of a paper written by Luigi Federico Menabrea on the machine elaborated the original writings from eight thousand words to twenty thousand, which was published in 1843.

Her paper is still considered one of her greatest contributions to computer science, distinguishing it from the science of mathematics. One of her notes within the piece included a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers. Known as “Note G,” it is considered the first computer program in history.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Lovelace’s diagram from ‘Note G’ from Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage by Luigi Menabrea with notes by Ada Lovelace

“The science of operations, as derived from mathematics more especially, is a science of itself, and has its own abstract truth and value,” Lovelace wrote.

Biographer James Essinger, author of A Female Genius, said of Lovelace: “Ada is here seeking to do nothing less than invent the science of computing, and separate it from the science of mathematics. What she calls ‘the science of operations’ is indeed in effect computing.”

Computer science has grown exponentially since Babbage and Lovelace first began to imagine complex automated algorithms specifically designed for machine implementation. Her groundwork contributed to the development of advanced computing machines that would change the very face of warfare — and our world today as we know it.


MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the Presidential traditions around the Army-Navy game

Throughout the years, the meeting between the two largest rivals in college football has been known as “The President’s Game” because of how intertwined the game is with the Commander-in-Chief.


Many of the traditions surrounding the game — and perhaps the game itself — are owed to President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1893, after first four Army-Navy games, football was deemed “too unsafe” by President Grover Cleveland and future games were prohibited. After all, players were bloodied, fights broke out between fans, and, at one point, an Army General and Navy Admiral nearly dueled to the death over a game.

It wasn’t until 1897 that President Roosevelt — undeniably the manliest president America has ever seen — wrote a letter urging the reinstatement of the game. In 1899, it returned, but was as dangerous as ever. Later, President Roosevelt also saw to revamping the rules of the game. He made sure pads and gear were worn, adding safety but maintaining the sport’s intensity. Roosevelt attended the game in 1901 and laid down traditions for future presidents to emulate.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
Roosevelt crossing the field, sparking a new tradition. (Image via Library of Congress)

Presidential Attendance

To date, only nine sitting presidents have attended the game: Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, Truman, Kennedy, Ford, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. Last year, then President-elect Donald Trump attended, making him the only President-elect to watch the game in person. President Truman holds the record at seven games, followed by President George W. Bush at three. Presidents that attend are usually asked to perform the coin toss at the start of the game.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
Bush also started the tradition of giving both teams a pep talk before the game. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tommy Gilligan)

President Eisenhower was the only President to ever play in the game, but never attend while in office. President Carter, despite having gone to the Naval Academy, never attended while in office. Between 1924 and 1945, no sitting President went to “The President’s Game.”

There was another gap in attendance starting in 1963, when President Ford came to cheer for both teams on for the 75th anniversary of the rivalry, and 1995. Since then, Presidents have made an appearance regularly.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
Kennedy was a major fan of the game, which is why the game was played just two weeks after his death. The almost 28 year gap was because of Presidential safety concerns. (Image via Kennedy Library)

Switching Sides

Another tradition started by President Roosevelt is walking across the field at half-time. This symbolic gesture shows good will and faith between both teams and the President. Even Presidents who had served in the Navy or Army, like Kennedy and Ford respectively, put their histories aside for the sake of tradition (although they both started on their service’s side).

The only President to not do this was the seven-time attendee Truman, who stayed comfortably on one side. Don’t worry, he switched sides for the next game.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
You can’t fault Truman for sticking to one side. He DID attend more games than any other President. (Image via Truman Library)

MIGHTY HISTORY

How ‘Hail to the Chief’ became the Presidential anthem

The song that many of us identify uniquely with the President of the United States has a surprisingly controversial history. Chester Arthur hated it, Ronald Reagan thought it was a necessary tradition for the office, and President Trump enters a room to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA more often than not. But this essential piece of Presidential entrance music is almost as old as America itself.


During the President’s Inauguration, “The President’s Own” Marine Corps band plays Hail to the Chief after 45 seconds of four Ruffles and Flourishes. The song is also most traditionally played when the President of the United States enters an official event, but there are no real rules for the song outside of the inauguration. The Department of Defense only asks that the song isn’t played for anyone other than the sitting President.

You wouldn’t know it from the orchestral renditions, but the song actually has lyrics, written in 1900 by Albert Gamse:

Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,
Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all.
Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call.
Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander,
This you will do, that’s our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!

The song itself can be traced all the way back to our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. At the time, the song was pop music, much like Greenwood’s song is to President Trump today. The Marine Band played it at the opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1828, an event attended by President Adams. The first time it was played in honor of the Commander-In-Chief was for Andrew Jackson, at a similar canal event the next year.

Martin Van Buren was the first President to hear the tune played for his inauguration in 1837. John Tyler, who ascended to the Presidency after the sudden death of William Henry Harrison, was much derided during his term for the unelected way he came into power. To remind people who was in charge, First Lady Julia Tyler ensured the song was played whenever he arrived at events. The same was done for James K. Polk, who was a short guy. His wife Sarah wanted to make sure everyone knew when he arrived so he wasn’t overlooked.

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Hail to that mullet, President Polk.

By the time Chester Arthur came to office in 1881, he hated the song so much, he opted to replace it with another song. Luckily for him, the leader of the Marine Band just happened to be the “American March King” John Philip Sousa. He commissioned Sousa to write a replacement, which the band leader did.

How well did that replacement go over? If you’ve never heard of Presidential Polonaise, you’re in good company — because most of America hasn’t either. The Presidents quickly went back to using Hail to the Chief.

By 1954, the Department of Defense made the song the official music of the President. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have to use the music. The President is the boss, after all.

He isn’t really bound by law or tradition to have the song played for him on every occasion. President Gerald Ford asked the U.S. Marine Corps Band to play his alma mater’s — the University of Michigan — fight song, Hail to the Victors, instead. Jimmy Carter preferred the tune Jubilation by Sir Arthur Bliss. Ronald Reagan, however, felt the office required more tradition and reinvoked Hail to the Chief.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the War of Independence was won in the trenches

When you picture the Continental Army — as commanded by General George Washington — you see scrappy colonials in ragtag uniforms, made as much of buckskin as breaches, lining up to trade musket volleys with orderly squadrons of Redcoats. You picture young, frostbitten officers fending off ice blocks in the Delaware River.


You picture this:

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

And this:

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

What you probably don’t picture is this:

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

You don’t really picture Minutemen grunts grovelling in groundhog holes or Washington commanding from behind a berm. But, at the climactic battle of the War of Independence, that’s exactly how it went down.

The engagement that ended the Revolutionary War —- the 1781 Siege of Yorktown — hinged on the disciplined execution of an early version of trench warfare. It’s a surprising historical tidbit.

We tend to associate trench warfare with World War I and the terrible mechanisms of death dealing shunted into that conflict by the Industrial Revolution. But as early as the Renaissance, siege tactics for breaching fortifications with artillery were designed around the clever engineering of trenches to great martial, as well as psychological, effect.

Before gunpowder and artillery, besieging a fortress was an arduous proposition. If you were really in a hurry, you’d bust out the siege towers and battering rams, doing your best to dodge hailstorms of rocks, arrows and boiling oil.

If that seemed unsavory, and you were happier killing time than your own soldiers, you’d simply blockade the fort and starve out its defenders. No muss, no fuss, but slow.

The explodey stuff changed all that. Cannons (once the diabolical death mongers had managed to dial them up to 11) made mincemeat of castle walls the world over: witness the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The defensive architects responded with burlier walls, but given enough time, nothing made of stone could keep out a cannon ball. Trenches became essential for buying your bombardiers time to operate.

At Yorktown, British Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis and 7,000 Redcoats were dug in behind a series of redoubts and batteries, waiting for reinforcement. Washington, joined (and thoroughly out-monikered) by the Marquis de Lafayette and the Comte de Rochambeau, had Cornwallis surrounded by land and sea.

Showing the tactical facility that made him America’s only six-star general, Washington initiated an artillery-enabled siege protocol by digging a first parallel, or bombardment trench, just out of range of British musket fire. From that position, he was able to blast the relentless crap out of the British encampment.

Under this continuous fusillade, American engineers dug a zigzagging trench forward to within 150 yards of the British earthworks fortifications and then dug a second parallel. From this position, their artillery would make rubble of the two redoubts that stood between Washington and victory.

But even before they began their next barrage, the psychological impact of the American advance impelled British soldiers to begin deserting in large numbers. Washington’s disciplined encroachment through his trench system bore with it the air of inevitability.

Also read: This may be one of the most important Revolutionary War generals you never heard of

By Oct. 15, 1781, both redoubts had been captured and Yorktown was in check. Cornwallis capitulated on Oct. 19, effectively ending hostilities and signalling the beginning of autonomous nationhood for the United States. And all because of Washington’s willingness to get his hands dirty.

From groundhog marauder to Founding Father, the man was put on this Earth to shake it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The fascinating history behind the US President’s nuclear football

The “nuclear football” is guarded by a senior military aide-de-camp and kept in close proximity to the US president whenever he is away from the White House. Following World War II, nuclear weapons were a new reality of the world’s superpowers, and when the US and Soviet Union squared off in the Cold War these superweapons were strategic methods for deterrence. After the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, President John F. Kennedy questioned whether there was a need for a doomsday weapon capability that could allow its operator to order a nuclear strike from anywhere in the world.

“What would I say to the Joint War Room to launch an immediate nuclear strike?” he asked, according to declassified reports. “How would the person who received my instructions verify them?”

The solution was a 45-pound aluminum-framed black leather briefcase, officially called the Presidential Emergency Satchel. It became more commonly known as the nuclear football because the nuclear plan was code-named Operation Dropkick — it needed a “football” to complete the sequence. The most common misconception about the nuclear football is that the president flips a switch or hits a big red button and the world ends moments later. If that were the case, the world should be very concerned. Fortunately, it verifies the identity of the president and connects him to the Pentagon, which is responsible for carrying out the military strike. 

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
White House military aide Gen. Chester Clifton carrying the football, with President John F. Kennedy and David Powers, approaching the “cottage” at Hyannis Port, May 10, 1963, where Kennedy was about to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson. Photo courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

In 1980, Bill Gulley, the former director of the White House Military Office, wrote a tell-all book, Breaking Cover, describing the shady money deals under four different administrations — those of Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. The Washington Post gave Gulley, who even disclosed the different components of the nuclear football, the unflattering title of the “mercenary snitch.” 

“There are four things in the Football,” Gulley writes. “The Black Book containing the retaliatory options, a book listing classified site locations, a manila folder with eight or ten pages stapled together giving a description of procedures for the Emergency Broadcast System, and a three-by-five inch card with authentication codes [which the president usually carries separately from the football].”

Carter later found these retaliatory options super complicated, so he started the process of simplifying the nuclear codes, or “the biscuit.” Air Force Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson, a senior military aide-de-camp responsible for President Bill Clinton’s nuclear football, explained the refined codes were similar to a “Denny’s breakfast menu” because “it’s like picking one out of Column A and two out of Column B.” On the day when the Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal hit the national press, the president forgot where he had put the nuclear football.

“I was floored — and so was the Pentagon,” Patterson recalled. “It had never happened before.”

Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication
Football carrier Lt. Cmdr. T. Stephen Todd, a naval aide, with President Gerald Ford leaving the White House, May 5, 1975. Photo courtesy of A4417—13A, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

Although Clinton once lost the nuclear football and then left it behind at a NATO meeting on another occasion, he wasn’t the only president guilty of misplacing the highly sensitive and secret world-ending capability. Carter lost the biscuit when he left the card in his suit and it was sent to the dry cleaners. When President Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt in 1981, his biscuit was thrown away in a trash can in the George Washington University Hospital. 

The most recent ordeal involving the nuclear football came in 2017 when President Donald Trump visited China. A scuffle between Chinese security officials and the US Secret Service ensued after the nuclear football wasn’t allowed inside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. 

“Then there was a commotion,” Axios reported in 2018. “A Chinese security official grabbed [Chief of Staff John] Kelly, and Kelly shoved the man’s hand off of his body. Then a U.S. Secret Service agent grabbed the Chinese security official and tackled him to the ground.”

Since the nuclear football was first photographed on May 10, 1963, it has become the focus of the media, a concern for foreign governments, and a token of strength and military might for the US government. It was even replicated by the Soviet Union, which created its own version called the Cheget.

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

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