Before he became one of musical comedy’s darkest satirists, musician Tom Lehrer served in the U.S. Army. The brilliant mathematician was an enlisted draftee from 1955-1957, serving at the National Security Agency.
He stood out from all the other enlisted troops. Specialist Third Class Tom Lehrer had a Master’s degree from Harvard at a time when his fellow enlisted troops barely had a high school education. He also had a hit record, one he self-published around Harvard but would become a nationwide hit.
Lehrer even wrote a submission for the Army song that talks about picking up cigarette butts, officers who can’t spell, bad food, and junior enlisted shenanigans.
What he did have in common with his brothers in arms was a fondness for having a few drinks at a party. But the party in question was on a naval base in Washington, D.C. — and no alcoholic beverages were allowed.
So he and a friend went right to work before the big day.
“We wanted to have a little party, so this friend and I spent an evening experimenting with Jell-O. It wasn’t a beverage…” he told San Francisco Weekly, “…so we went over to her apartment and we made all these little cups…”
After a few experiments with gin and vodka and number of different Jell-O flavors, they found that vodka and orange Jell-O worked best.
“I would bring them in, hoping that the Marine guard would say, ‘OK, what’s in there?’ And we’d say, ‘Jell-O.’ and then he’d say, ‘Oh, OK.’ But no, he didn’t even ask. So it worked. I recommend it. Orange Jell-O.”
I wonder what the now 89-year-old Lehrer would think about smuggling alcohol in with mouthwash bottles and food coloring.
Incidentally, Lehrer’s record, a 10-inch LP titled “Songs by Tom Lehrer,” was a dark comedy album, but is considered by many to be one of the most influential of all time. He wrote songs about a Russian mathematician, the periodic table, and Christmas commercialism just to name a few.
In all, Lehrer released 11 albums, with great titles like “An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer” and “The Remains of Tom Lehrer.” He even wrote a song for the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command for the 1963 film “A Gathering of Eagles.”
It’s the summer of 1968 in Vietnam, a sergeant with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines was forced into a position he never could have imagined. He had to lead his entire company through a deadly enemy ambush after the company commander, platoon commander and senior enlisted leadership were wounded in the fight.
These were the circumstances of Retired Marine 1st Sgt. John J. Lord, over half a century ago, during the Vietnam War.
Lord was awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award for combat bravery, during a ceremony at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball celebration in Vancouver, Washington on November 17. The Navy Cross award was an upgrade from a Bronze Star that Lord received in 1975, seven years after he put himself in the crosshairs of the North Vietnamese Army when rescuing his fellow Marines who were wounded.
Lord took over command of the entire company and located one of the only working radios and then started directing air support against the enemy.
Vietnam veteran receives Navy Cross at Marine Corps Ball
The day immediately following the battle, now Retired Lt. Col. Michael Sweeney began pushing for Lord to be awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism and valor during the fight. Even after the Bronze Star was awarded, Sweeney continued to push for the Navy Cross. Finally, forty-three years later, Sweeney’s efforts bore fruit.
According to his citation, Lord’s actions helped turned the tide of the battle. However, he always stayed true to his men and their efforts during the fight.
“Everything on that citation is true except one thing they left off,” Lord said. “They left off the Marines who served with me that day.”
Four of his fellow unit members were in attendance the night of the ceremony, and stood at Lord’s behest to receive a standing ovation from all who were in attendance just like they did for Lord just moments prior. Lord proclaimed how honored he was to serve with these Marines and how important they are to the mission.
“I can only stand here and say how proud I am to have served with you Marines — and corpsman, I won’t forget you too,” Lord said. “I am honored to call you brothers in arms.”
From the time he was a boy, Merian C. Cooper wanted to be an adventurer, a wish that propelled him into journalism, the National Guard, military aviation, two world wars, and the cinematic killing of King Kong. During that time, he took part in historic events, like the hunt for Pancho Villa, and contributed to others, like the Doolittle Raid.
When he was six, he read a book by a French explorer who traveled Africa, and he was hooked on the idea of adventure. In 1916, that led the journalist and Georgia National Guardsman to Mexico, where he took part in the punitive expedition against Pancho Villa.
That only fueled his desire more, so he got a billet at a military pilot school in Georgia and graduated in time to go to France for World War I. He became a bomber pilot, but was shot down over Germany and declared dead until the American officers learned he had survived and been taken prisoner.
But he wasn’t done with Europe, soon heading to Poland as a captain and taking part in the Polish-Soviet War. He formed a new squadron, the Polish 7th Air Escadrille, with volunteers from France. The men saw protracted combat, and Cooper himself was shot down two times. The second time, he was captured by the Soviets and sent (a second time) to a prisoner of war camp.
After two attempts, he successfully escaped and was rewarded for his wartime service with Poland’s highest decoration for valor.
After returning to a peaceful America, he became a movie producer and writer, working on some cinematic classics, including the game-changing King Kong of 1933. He even played one of the pilots in the film.
But war came knocking again when the U.S. entered World War II. So, Cooper returned to service as a colonel and was sent to India where he served as a logistics expert for the Doolittle Raid, the legendary attack by carrier-based bombers against Tokyo itself in 1942. He was even eventually invited to see Japan’s surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri.
The historic piece of art that’s featured in the hilarious meme showcasing three marching Revolutionary War musicians has a long, long history. While it might not date as far back as the Revolutionary War, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone to learn it was inspired by and modeled after drunken American war veterans.
Ohioan Archibald Willard was a Civil War veteran who enlisted with the 86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During the Civil War, the 86th saw action at the Battle of the Cumberland Gap and headed off Confederate General John Hunt Morgan as he made the furthest incursion northward during the war, but it only lost 37 men total — all due to disease. Willard began to draw pictures of the things he saw as he moved with the unit. He and a business partner began to finish and sell the drawings throughout the war.
Archibald Willard, Civil War veteran and creator of “The Spirit of ’76.”
Before moving back to Cleveland, Willard studied art in New York City. He stayed for a number of years, but it was back in his native Ohio that Willard was inspired to paint a humorous picture he called, “Yankee Doodle.” It was the first incarnation of what would become his most famous and celebrated work, with three Revolutionary War musicians marching in tune to their martial music. But this first pass was less of a serious work and more of a funny comic-book painting.
The original featured three natives of Wellington, Ohio — all slightly intoxicated veterans of the War of 1812 — goofing around and creating mock battles with instruments in the town square. He also used Wellingtonians as models to paint the patriots seen in the famous painting. These models included his father, the Reverend Samuel Willard, fellow Civil War veteran Hugh Mosher as the fife player, and a local named Henry Devereaux, a military academy cadet and the son of a local railroad president, as the drummer boy.
Willard drew the original as a comic scene, but a friend who saw his sketch suggested that Willard take it a little more seriously, perhaps draw it up with a patriotic theme. The idea intrigued Willard because it was outside the realm of anything he’d ever done before. He preferred to paint landscapes and comical scenes of everyday life. Thinking back to old stories his grandfather would tell him about fighting in the American Revolution, Willard created an eight-by-ten foot masterpiece, re-titled “The Spirit of ’76.”
“The Spirit of ’76” first went on display in 1876 as part of a celebration of the American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Willard went on to paint several different versions of the painting but there were none so iconic or reproduced in American culture than the original. In the years following the Civil War, years characterized by mixed feelings, resentment, and Reconstruction, “The Spirit of ’76” was a work of art that evoked a shared sense of national unity.
And lived on in many different iterations.
After the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, the original painting was sold to General John H. Devereux, father of the drummer boy in the painting, who took it to his home in Marblehead, Mass. where it remains on display to this day. The drum used by the younger Devereux and Hugh Mosher’s fife can be seen in the Spirit of ’76 Museum in Wellington, Ohio.
On July 20, 1969, the United States won the space race. America had put two astronauts on the moon, secured the ultimate high ground, and put an end to decades of back and forth victories won by American and Soviet scientists. While many Americans saw the space race as a matter of national honor and prestige, many involved in the race for each nation’s government knew the truth: the space race was an extension of the Cold War in every appreciable way, and there was far more at stake than simply bragging rights.
Perhaps it’s because of this struggle for space supremacy, or what felt like the very real possibility that the Soviets might win it, that makes American audiences tend to gloss over the incredible achievements of the Soviet space program. It certainly makes sense not to celebrate the victories of your opponent, but in the grand scheme of things, many of the incredible feats put on display in both Russian and American space programs were victories for the human race, even if the politics of the day made it impossible to appreciate such a concept.
There may be no better example of this idea than the Soviet Venera program that took place between 1961 and 1984. The Soviets’ Mars efforts may have been marred in failure, but many Americans may be surprised to learn that they actually had a great deal of success in sending orbiters and even landers to Venus.
This might be one of the toughest little space robots you’ve ever seen.
(Venera 10 courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)
Over the span of just over two decades, the Soviets managed to put thirteen probes in orbit around Venus, with ten hardened devices reaching the planet’s hell-like surface to send back scientific data and even images of the planet. Because of the Soviet practice of keeping their space-endeavors a secret until it was politically beneficial to announce them, very little was known about these missions for decades, and it seems that much of the data acquired by these landers was lost during the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, but some treasures did manage to survive. Color photos of the Venusian surface taken by Venera 13, for instance, offer us a rare glimpse of what it’s like on the surface of a world many of us may have never thought we’d get to see.
Unlike the arid and cold environment of Mars that allows for the extended use of landers and rovers, Venus’ harsh environment made the long-term survival of any equipment utterly impossible. Instead, Soviet scientists hardened their landing platforms using the best technology available to them with a singular goal: they only had to last long enough to gather some data, snap some pictures, and transmit it all back to earth. If a lander could do that before the extreme atmospheric pressures and temperatures as high as eight hundred and seventy degrees Fahrenheit destroyed it, it was deemed a success.
It took Venera 13 four months to reach the surface of Venus, but once there, it survived for only around 120 minutes. During that time, it sent back fourteen color photos, eight more in black and white, and it drilled for a few soil samples which it analyzed internally. A duplicate lander, the Venera 14, was launched five days later and also managed to reach the surface, but survived only about an hour before succumbing the extreme environment.
Venera 13 lasted around 2 hours on the surface of Venus before the heat and pressure destroyed it.
While other Venera landers reached Venus, no others were able to transmit back color photographs of the environment. A number of them did. however, transmit back black and white images.
The pictures we have of the surface of Venus taken by the Soviet Venera program may not offer the same sweeping panoramic views we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from NASA’s Martian efforts, but they do offer an almost uncanny glimpse into a world that, upon getting a good look, doesn’t appear as alien as we may have expected. In a strange way, seeing Venus makes it feel that much closer, and although these images were captured by the Soviet Union during an era of extreme tension and a world on the verge of conflict, from our vantage point firmly in the future, it’s hard not to appreciate the incredible accomplishment these photos truly represent.
Besides, we did end up winning the space race, after all.
Cargo containers of coronavirus tests being unloaded from a Korean Air flight.
Maryland has National Guard troops and state police guarding coronavirus tests at a secret location because of concerns that they might be seized, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told The Washington Post Thursday.
“We spent about 22 days and nights dealing with this whole transaction with Korea. We dealt with the Korean embassy, folks at the State Department, and our scientists on both sides trying to figure out these tests,” Hogan said. “And then at the last moment, I think 24 hours before, we got the sign-off from the FDA and Border and Customs to try to make sure that we landed this plane safely.”
The Maryland governor said when the Korean Air jet carrying the 500,000 tests flew into Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, it was met by National Guard troops and state police.
Hogan said it landed there “with a large contingent of Maryland National Guard and Maryland state police because this was an enormously valuable payload. It was like Fort Knox to us because it’s going to save the lives of thousands of our citizens.”
Maryland @GovLarryHogan on whether he was concerned that the federal government would seize the tests the state procured from South Korea. He says the tests are being guarded by the National Guard at an undisclosed location. https://youtu.be/PjkMyHbyhro pic.twitter.com/15BhHmLzql
Hogan, who is a Republican, said he had heard reports from other states of the federal government confiscating supplies. He specifically pointed to an incident in Massachusetts.
After 3 million masks purchased for the state were confiscated in New York, state leaders in Massachusetts turned to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to help bring in coveted N95 masks from China on a private plane.
“There were a couple of other states that had similar stories,” Hogan said.
He said the tests were “so important to us that we wanted to make sure that plane took off from Korea safely, landed here in America safely, and that we guarded that cargo from whoever might interfere with us getting that to our folks that needed it.”
The governor added that the test protection was ongoing, saying that “the National Guard and state police are both guarding these tests at an undisclosed location.”
Maryland’s decision to purchase coronavirus tests from South Korea drew criticism from President Donald Trump, who said the governor could have made use of available labs to help boost testing capacity. “I don’t think he needed to go to South Korea. I think he needed to get a little knowledge, would have been helpful,” the president said at a recent briefing.
Hogan later responded on MSNBC, saying that if there had been “an easier way” to get the necessary tests, “we certainly would have taken it.”
Major powers are rushing to strengthen their militaries through artificial intelligence, but the US is hamstrung by certain challenges that rivals like China may not face, giving them an advantage in this strategic competition.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are enabling cutting-edge technological capabilities that have any number of possibilities, both in the civilian and military space. AI can mean complex data analysis and accelerated decision-making — a big advantage that could potentially be the decisive difference in a high-end fight.
For China, one of its most significant advantages — outside of its disregard for privacy concerns and civil liberties that allow it to gather data and develop capabilities faster — is the fusion of military aims with civilian commercial industry. In contrast, leading US tech companies like Google are not working with the US military on AI.
“If we do not find a way to strengthen the bonds between the United States government and industry and academia, then I would say we do have the real risk of not moving as fast as China when it comes to” artificial intelligence, Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan said, responding to Insider’s queries at a Pentagon press briefing Aug. 30, 2019.
Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan.
(U. S. Air Force photo by William Belcher)
Shanahan, the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, said that China’s civil-military integration “does give them a leg up,” adding that the the Department of Defense will “have to work hard on strengthening the relationships we have with commercial industry.”
China’s pursuit of artificial intelligence, while imperfect, is a national strategy that enjoys military, government, academic, and industry support. “The idea of that civil-military integration does give strength in terms of their ability to take commercial and make it military as fast as they can,” Shanahan explained.
The Pentagon has been dealt several serious blows by commercial industry partners. For instance, Google recently decided it is no longer interested in working with the US military on artificial intelligence projects. “I asked somebody who spends time in China working on AI could there be a Google/Project Maven scenario,” Shanahan said Aug. 30, 2019. “He laughed and said, ‘Not for very long.'”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford sharply criticized Google earlier this year, accusing the company of aiding the Chinese military.
Shanahan acknowledged that the relationships between the military and industry and academia that helped fuel the rise of Silicon Valley have “splintered” due to various reasons, including a number of incidents that have shaken public trust in the government. “That is a limitation for us,” he admitted.
“China’s strategy of military-civil fusion does present a competitive challenge that should be taken seriously,” Elsa Kania, a Center for New American Security expert on Chinese military innovation, wrote recently.
“Looking forward, US policy should concentrate on recognizing and redoubling our own initiatives to promote public-private partnership in critical technologies, while sustaining and increasing investments in American research and innovation.”
US soldier provides security during a short halt in Iraq.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stacy L. Pearsall)
The US is not without its own advantages.
One important advantage for the US as it looks at not only what AI is but the art of the possible for use in the military is US warfighting experience, something China doesn’t really have.
Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon that China has “advantage over the US in speed of adoption and data,” but explained that not all data is created equal. “Just the fact that they have data does not tell me they have an inherent strength in fielding this in their military organizations,” he said.
China can pull tons of data from society, but that, Shanahan explained, is a very “different kind of data than full-motion video from Afghanistan and Iraq,” which can be carefully analyzed and used to develop AI capabilities for the battlefield.
The Department of Defense is looking closely at using AI for things like predictive maintenance, event detection, network mapping, and so on, but the next big project is maneuvering and fire.
Shanahan said “2020 will be a breakout year for the department when it comes to fielding AI-enabled technologies,” but what exactly that big breakout will look like remains to be seen.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
NASA Astronaut and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Anne McClain took to Twitter to share the official training astronauts use for living in confined spaces for long periods of time. Afterall, the International Space Station has been operating for nearly 20 years, giving NASA astronauts and psychologists time to examine human behavior and needs when living and working remotely.
They narrowed the behavior skills down to five general skills called “Expeditionary Behavior,” or “EB” because the military just loves a good acronym.
Built from 1998 to 2001, the International Space Station usually holds crews of between three and six people who will spend about six months there at a time, though mission lengths can vary. During that time, the astronauts perform experiments and spacewalks, maintain the space station, conduct media and education events and test out technology.
Also during this time, they are allocated at least two hours a day for exercise and personal care.
According to NASA, the living and working space in the station is larger than a six-bedroom house (and has six sleeping quarters, two bathrooms, a gym and a 360-degree view bay window). Still, six months in a space bucket with two to five other people can give some perspective to anyone feeling confined.
This is the “GoodEB” that helps astronauts:
4/ Skill 1, Communication:
Def: To talk so you are clearly understood. To listen and
question to understand. Actively listen, pick up on non-verbal cues. Identify,
discuss, then work to resolve conflict.
“Share info/feelings freely. Talk about intentions before taking action. Use good terminology. Discuss when your or others’ actions were not as expected. Debrief after success or conflict. Listen, then restate message to ensure it’s understood. Admit when you’re wrong,” McClain tweeted.
It’s common for humans to have strong emotional responses and act on them before they fully understand them. Honest communication is critical in a confined space or during heightened stress.
6/ Skill 2, Leadership/Followership:
Def: How well a team adapts to new situations. Leader enhances the group’s ability to execute its purpose through positive influence. Follower (aka
subordinate leader) actively contributes to leader’s direction. Establish
environment of trust.
“Accept responsibility. Adjust style to environment. Assign tasks, set goals. Lead by example. Give direction, info, feedback, coaching + encouragement. Ensure teammates have resources. Talk when something isn’t right. Ask questions. Offer solutions, not just problems,” urged McClain.
For anyone confined with family or roommates, it can be an adjustment to share personal space and limited supplies for a prolonged period of time. Shifting to a team dynamic can bring a new perspective to everyone’s roles within the home. If you weren’t already doing this, now is the time to share the household chores, the cooking, the supply runs, and, for many families, the education responsibilities.
8/ Skill 3, Self-Care:
Def: How healthy you are on psychological and physical levels, including hygiene, managing time and personal stuff, getting sleep, and maintaining mood. The ability and willingness to be proactive to stay healthy.
“Realistically assess own strengths and weaknesses, and their influence on the group. Learn from mistakes. Take action to mitigate stress or negativity (don’t pass on to the group). Be social. Seek feedback. Balance work, rest, and personal time. Be organized,” suggested McClain.
There’s a quote I’ve always liked that says, “Please accept responsibility for the energy you are bringing into this space,” and it feels especially relevant now. We must each stay in touch with ourselves so we can identify rising stress and mitigate it with self-care.
Self-care can be anything from calling a friend to a work-out session from YouTube to releasing expectations of perfection and taking the time to enjoy some relaxation with a book or movie.
10/ Skill 4, Team Care:
Def: How healthy the group is on psychological, physical, and logistical level.
Manage group stress, fatigue, sickness, supplies, resources, workload, etc. Nurture optimal team performance despite challenges.
“Demonstrate patience and respect. Encourage others. Monitor team for signs of stress or fatigue. Encourage participation in team activities. Develop positive relationships. Volunteer for the unpleasant tasks. Offer and accept help. Share the credit; take the blame,” said McClain.
I’ll really highlight one of these tips from McClain: Monitor team for signs of stress or fatigue. Teaching ourselves this skill will intrinsically build compassion and problem-solving into relationship skills, not just now, but going forward. It’s about looking out for each other and anticipating the needs of others. This is a critical skill for any member of the team.12/ Skill 5, Group Living:
Def: How people cooperate and become a team to achieve a
goal. Identify and manage different opinions, cultures, perceptions, skills, and
personalities. Individuals and group demonstrate resiliency in the face of difficulty.
“Cooperate rather than compete. Actively cultivate group culture (use each individual’s culture to build the whole). Respect roles, responsibilities, and workload. Take accountability, give praise freely. Work to ensure positive team attitude. Keep calm in conflict,” suggests McClain.
Parents are learning how to homeschool. Partners are sharing household responsibilities like cooking and cleaning. More people are sick and being cared for by their roommates.
All the while, we are each learning how to restrict our movements while maintaining our health and vitality. The key points throughout NASA’s Expeditionary Behaviors are to take care of each other and ourselves by working together.
And just remember, Scott Kelly set the record for most consecutive days in space by an American by living for 340 days during a one-year mission aboard the International Space Station, proving that humans are pretty remarkable when it comes to adapting to our environment!
If you need any advice on thriving from home, here are a few We Are The Mighty articles that can help:
The Battlefield series has always been known for its breathtaking graphics and in-depth storytelling about real-life conflicts involving troops. These popular features seem to be continuing with their latest installment, Battlefield V, coming Oct. 19.
The new game will be set in World War 2 and have several modes. The single-player “War Stories” will be brought back from Battlefield 1, which gave each chapter of the story to a different soldier fighting in the war. This opened up many storytelling possibilities that could give each region and troop the respect they deserve.
The multiplayer is also looking just as in-depth. The series is known for its massive 64 versus 64 player matches and it’s being teased that those matches may be even bigger. This even branches off into the “Last Stand” mode where a player is given only one life and that’s it.
Another much welcomed return to video gaming is an extremely interesting co-op mode called “Combined Arms.” In it, a squad of four players will be paratroopers given a mission to sneak behind enemy lines to complete their objective. The squad-based multiplayer is the game’s focus, just as it was in the phenomenal Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
Everything in the game is destructible and players can interact with everything and even build their own fortifications. Not only is being able to clear out buildings standing between you and your opponent coming back, but there’s a return of minor details that make the game feel more realistic. A key example is grabbing a health pack; players have to actually apply it to heal (instead of the gaming norm of just walking over it and magically healing.)
This offers a much more difficult level of game play that is unparalleled — and very welcomed from gamers.
Another popular perk of the game is their discontinuation of a premium or season pass. Every bit of post-launch content will be free to all players. In similar fashion, EA Dice has filled previous content with enough things to do that nearly doubles the game-play content in a matter of months.
Check out the video below to watch the official trailer.
A 23-year-old California native received his first haircut in 15 years to enlist in the US Army.
US Army Pvt. Reynaldo Arroyo of Riverside donated 150 inches of hair to Locks of Love and enlisted in the Army as an infantryman on Aug. 15, 2019.
“I’m just really excited to be enlisting in the US Army,” Arroyo said in a Facebook video. “Hopefully, some lucky little girl’s going to get it.”
Locks of Love is a non-profit organization that donates hair to disadvantaged people with long-term medical conditions resulting in hair loss, such as cancer and severe burns.
Arroyo is scheduled to ship out to Ft. Benning, home of the Army’s infantry school, within the next two weeks, a US Army spokesperson told INSIDER.
US Army Recruit Pvt. Reynaldo Arroyo holds up his donation bag containing his hair.
But Arroyo will not be sporting his fresh haircut for long.
Upon arriving at Ft. Benning, he is expected to receive a buzz cut like all the other male recruits. After graduating and at his commander’s discretion, he may grow out his hair again, so long as it remains “neat and conservative,” according to Army regulations.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Three months ago, Navy SEAL and NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy slogged through the dirt roads of Normandy with a 44lbs rucksack on his back. Captain Cassidy and several dozen other SEALs (myself included) had just swam 11 miles through the English channel to commemorate the pre-D-Day mission of the first Naval Commandos. The 11-mile swim / 25-mile ruck run on the 74th anniversary of D-Day had a purpose: to raise money for fallen SEALs and their families.
It was an act of service for those who had died in service.
Cassidy, who earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan, sweated out this epic charity challenge in the middle of training for another kind of walk — one that will take place at 17,000 miles per hour, 400 kilometers above the earth’s surface. If all goes well, Cassidy will return to space and conduct a spacewalk to make repairs on the International Space Station. But, in the midst of endless days of preparation and training, he took time to honor his military roots — a heritage he shares with a long line of astronauts before him. Captain Chris Cassidy said,
It’s truly been an honor to have a role in our nation’s manned space program. We have had astronauts and cosmonauts living continuously on the International Space Station for the last 18 years which has only been possible because of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. That history is also deeply intertwined with the military. Personally, I love how in both our nation’s space program and military, laser focus on mission success is balanced with detailed planning and operational rick controls. It’s also an amazing feeling to be among such motivated and talented people.
That heritage is one of the centerpieces of the new blockbuster film, First Man, featuring Ryan Gosling starring as NASA Astronaut Neil Armstrong. People know Armstrong as the man who walked on the moon; they often don’t know that Armstrong was a decorated Navy fighter pilot and Korean War veteran.
Neil Armstrong in 1964, while in training to be an astronaut.
The film is largely focused on Armstrong’s life and the mission to get to the moon — but it explores a theme familiar to military audiences: the challenge of maintaining a family while deploying to do dangerous work. The film depicts Armstrong’s family and their sacrifice, particularly that of Armstrong’s wife, Janet. And it shows scenes that any military family has faced: how to speak to your children about the danger of the mission; the enormous stress before the deployment; the uncertainty while your loved one is far away. All of this is shown with raw and real emotion.
What was true then and is true now is that service member families often bear a heavy and overlooked burden during times of conflict. While First Man is primarily a movie about the first moon walk, it’s important to remember that that mission, and the space program in general, was the byproduct of a conflict: the Cold War and the tension between the USSR and the US. The frontlines of the early space race were the frontiers of space, and its foot soldiers were military test pilots who strapped themselves to rockets and ventured into the stratosphere in service of their country.
Apollo 11 astronauts with families, 1969
(Ralph Morse for LIFE)
I had an opportunity to speak with Academy Award-winning director Damien Chazelle (the director behind the smash-hit films La La Land and Whiplash) and ask him about these themes of the connection between military service and the space program:
1. Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind ‘First Man’
After I made Whiplash, I was approached by producers Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner, and Marty Bowen about the idea of doing a movie on Neil Armstrong. I didn’t know much about space travel and didn’t know what my angle would be. But I started reading Jim Hansen’s incredible book, First Man, and started to think of Neil’s story as a story about the cost of great achievement — similar to what I had looked at in Whiplash, only on a much bigger canvas.
What was the toll that the mission to the moon took? I was awed by the sacrifice, the patriotism, the ambition, and the vision that made the impossible possible — and the reminder that it was human beings who did it, ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances and overcoming daunting odds — and even great tragedy — to accomplish something for the ages.
The crewmen of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission leave the Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Manned Spacecraft Operations Building (MSOB) during the prelaunch countdown. Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, ride the special transport van over to Launch Complex 39A where their spacecraft awaited them. Liftoff was at 9:32 a.m.
2. What’s woven through the movie are themes of duty and sacrifice. And as a Navy veteran myself, I could identify not just with the astronauts (especially Neil, Navy pilot), but with their families and what they went through. Can you talk a bit about those themes and how they affected your work on this?
The family aspect was paramount — showing these famous events through the eyes of not just Neil, but his wife Janet and his sons, Rick and Mark. How did they all cope with the demands of the job? Funerals were a normal part of life. Two of Neil’s closest friends died while he was in the program. Neil himself almost died several times. And yet, balanced with the danger and the risk, he and Janet also had to take out the trash, clean the pool, make breakfast for their kids. That combination of the intimate and the epic, and the selfless way Neil and Janet confronted all of it, was extraordinary to me.
But I also think it’s worth remembering, as you note, that Neil had been in the Navy. He was someone who believed deeply in service for country. He risked his life in the Korean War. He became a test pilot to forward our understanding of aeronautics, to contribute to knowledge. He went to space to keep seeking those answers. This is someone who was not acting in his own self-interest, who was not seeking fame or fortune. This is a man who believed, in all aspects of his life, that his duty to the mission came first, and without that willingness to risk it all and to sacrifice it all I don’t believe the moon landing ever would have happened.
3. Can you talk a bit about Janet Armstrong and her role?
Ryan and I were lucky enough to meet with Janet and spend time with her. She was an incredible woman, and the stories she told us and memories she shared with us were invaluable. Like Neil, Janet was tough — she had a grit to her that I think made her uniquely qualified for her role in the space program. It’s worth remembering that astronaut wives like Janet played an enormous part in the overall endeavor of going to the moon: they were the ones to had to find the balance between space and home, between the demands of their husbands’ work with the lives of their kids and the necessities of home. They had to do it all while putting on a smile for the cameras — even when they couldn’t know for sure if their husbands would ever return from space. One of my greatest joys in making this movie was in watching Claire Foy embody Janet’s spirit and resilience and pay tribute to such an amazing person.
The Apollo 11 crewmen, still under a 21-day quarantine, are greeted by their wives, Janet Armstrong, Patricia Collins, and Joan Aldrin.
4. There’s a scene in the film where Neil Armstrong is talking to his boys about what’s about to happen — the mission and the risks. Can you give us a sense of what you were thinking with that scene and what you wanted to convey?
That’s a scene that many families across the country have their own version of: the mom or dad about to go off to work, and the knowledge that he or she may not come back. It again speaks to a willingness to sacrifice in the name of service that I find awe-inspiring. In this movie’s case, the scene at the dinner table between Neil and Janet and their boys Rick and Mark was almost word-for-word what actually happened. Janet insisted to Neil he talk to his kids and explain to them what he was doing and what the risks were; much of the scene was taken verbatim from Rick and Mark Armstrong’s recollections. It was a tremendously important scene for all of us — a moment where the characters have to come to a stop and confront the dangers of what they are doing, and what it all means.
5. The military and the space program have a long joint history. At the simplest, a lot of veterans became astronauts. The SEAL community, which I’m a part of, for example is proud of the fact that there are two astronauts currently in training who are SEALs. Did that joint history play into your research at all, or the end product?
It did, in several ways. First, I liked to think of the film as almost a war movie. The moon mission was initially a product of the Cold War, and the astronauts who risked their lives for their country were all former or current servicemen. The dangers were almost combat-like, too — this was not the glossy, glamorous, sleek-and-easy space travel I grew up seeing in movies. These capsules were like old tanks and submarines; the rockets carrying them out of the atmosphere were essentially converted missiles. The dangers were front and center — and, with them, the immense bravery required to face them.
This photograph of astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Apollo 11 commander, was taken inside the Lunar Module (LM) while the LM rested on the lunar surface.
6. The film’s story and title come from James Hansen’s biography of Neil Armstrong, but I was curious: Did you have any other creative influences that helped you make this — books, films, etc?
Yes, many! As I alluded to, certain war movies were big inspirations: Saving Private Ryan, Paths of Glory, The Deer Hunter. Movies about submarines like Das Boot. I also read as many books on the subject matter as I could — one of my favorites was “Carrying the Fire” by Mike Collins, who flew with Neil on Apollo 11. “Deke!” by Deke Slayton and “Failure Is Not An Option” by Gene Kranz were also key. And, finally, documentaries! The archival material shot by NASA, much of which is compiled in incredible films like For All Mankind and Moonwalk One. Documentaries of the period like Salesman and Hospital and Gimme Shelter. An amazing documentary by Frederick Wiseman, about training at Vandenberg Air Force Base, called Missile. All of these taught and inspired me.
First Man, starring Ryan Gosling, arrives in theaters October 12, 2018.
Kaj Larsen is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared on CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, VICE, Huffington Post, and numerous other outlets. He also served as a US Navy SEAL earning the rank of Lieutenant Commander and completing multiple deployments in the Global War on Terrorism. His family member, Judith Resnick, was the second American woman in space and was killed on launch during the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion.
Imagine turning the key to start the end of the world with a co-worker you may or may not actually like. That’s the job of U.S. Air Force Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Crews. There’s a good chance that after they launch their missiles, an enemy nuke will be on its way (if it wasn’t already). The rest of their life will basically last another full ten minutes.
And they know it.
Blast Doors: The Illusion of Protection.
Of course, the Air Force didn’t tell them that. If all went as planned, once their missile was fired away the airmen didn’t really have anything else to do. At least officially. They would have had just a few weeks worth of food and water to last them through the coming nuclear war. If they couldn’t leave the contained, “protected” area, they would likely die from thirst or lack of air.
If that sounds terrible, remember that the alternative is dying a horrible death on the surface, either from a nuclear fireball or from radiation sickness following the likely nuclear retaliation to come, if it was indeed coming. These troops would have hoped the United States successfully fired off its first-strike capability that the Russians would have no answer for.
We should assume the guy who yelled at the UN with a shoe had an answer for a US first strike.
The reality was that the airmen who fired those missiles fully expected to be vaporized by an 800 kiloton nuclear blast sent from Russia with love. Their best estimate was a life span of roughly 10 to 30 minutes before the Soviet nukes hit them. Even in the middle of nowhere heartland of America, the USSR knew exactly where the American ICBM silos were and had a target painted on each one of them. The moment the U.S. launched, there was a good chance the Soviets would also have launched.
The airmen in the protected underground bunker would have been totally vaporized and buried in their workspace, now their concrete tomb. These ICBM sites were only buried some 40 feet underground, which is not enough to protect them from even the mildest of Soviet nuclear missiles.
The effects of a Soviet ICBM on nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota.
If the Soviets nuked Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. in the 1960s, the largest yield would have been 2.3 Megatons, enough to obliterate the base along with the surrounding area and nearby Rapid City. A surface detonation would have left a sparkling crater that generations later would probably have made a fine national park in the post-apocalyptic United States.
Still, according to Air Force training, the crews had a couple weeks worth of food, water, air, and other supplies. Among those supplies were shovels, so that the surviving crews could dig their ways out of the wrecked tunnels and concrete bunkers to take their new roles in whatever the world looked like after a nuclear exchange. No one actually believed this. Air Force ICBM crews during the Cold War believed they were doomed and (hopefully) lived their lives to the fullest.
Snack time is the best time. At least, that’s how it is around here. From sweet treats to crunchy mid-afternoon nosh sessions, America’s obsession with snacks is as old as America itself. Well, not quite. But many of our favorite snacks did get their start in the military as food for deployed service members.
You might already be familiar with plenty of these snacks if you’ve ever found yourself at ten till nine in the morning in line at the shoppette grabbing breakfast because once again, you’re running a little late. Or maybe your idea of comfort food involves a fresh piece of supermarket, pre-sliced bread to make into a grilled cheese. No matter your go-to snack, we’re sure you’ll find some of your favorite in this list of snacks invented by the military.
Picking up breakfast
You already know that coffee is the number two beverage among service members (ranked after water and beer, respectively), but did you know that the U.S. military helped herald in the age of instant coffee? During WWI, Big Military saw the need to keep service members caffeinated on the go, so they invested heavily in purchasing lots of powdered instant coffee – to the tune of 37,000 pounds of it by the war’s end. Before instant and pre-ground coffee came to market, folks would have to grind beans by hand and then set them to boil in water. After the inclusion of coffee in the earliest MREs, not only did the military embrace the need for caffeine, but so did the rest of America. By the end of WWII, drip coffee was as ubiquitous to American meals as ever.
Pre-made kinds of pasta got their start as lunch items for the American military. During WWII, Big Military tapped a restaurant in Cleveland to produce their canned food as part of military rations, which helped launch what we now know as Chef Boyardee.
As you’re enjoying your pre-made pasta, why not add some Cheetos and Pringles to round out your snack and make it really decadent? Cheetos, America’s favorite bright orange corn-puffed snack, got their start during WWI when culinary industrialists figured out how to make shelf-stable, dehydrated cheese dust. Kraft Foods then sold the product to the Army, who used it on just about everything – pasta, sandwiches, eggs and yes, even potatoes.
The crunchy texture of Cheetos is addictive, for sure, but so too are Pringles. Pringles were born from a project between the Quartermaster Corps and the USDA to develop dehydrated potato flakes. The entire goal of Pringles was to find a way to dehydrate the flakes and then, later on, form them into chips.
Speaking of lunch, what’s a sandwich without sliced bread? Thanks again to a partnership between the Quartermaster Corps and Kansas State, now we no longer have to worry about bakery bread going stale before we can enjoy it. Supermarket bread stays fresh because of bacterial enzymes that tolerate the heat of baking and can live for weeks, helping to keep bread fresh and soft.
Dinners and Sweet Treats
Bomber crews on long overseas flights during WWII needed something to eat, so an Army contractor invented the earliest iteration of what we now know as TV dinners. These nascent iterations were pretty basic and didn’t have much flavor, but they kept the bomber crews from going hungry.
After that TV dinner, why not enjoy a handful of MMs? These candy-coated chocolates were first introduced in WWII, so service members could carry chocolate with them during warmer weather.
These snacks might not be on your go-to meal list for every meal, but it’s still an amazing bit of culinary history to know that many of the snacks we love today got their start as rations for the military.