WATCH: Where do retired aircraft end up? - We Are The Mighty
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WATCH: Where do retired aircraft end up?

Ever wonder where planes go to die? After their last mission, Air Force aircraft doesn’t just disappear. They retire to Arizona. And, if they’re salvageable, the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) makes sure they get recycled. If you were to fly over the Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona, know what you’d see? The resting place of thousands of retired aircraft. Davis is nicknamed “The Boneyard” for good reason – the base houses nearly 2,600 acres of aircraft, many of them retired and disassembled.

Why Arizona?

AMARG Air Force Graveyard’s location in Arizona has very good reasons. The desert climate is perfect for storing this vast quantity of aircraft. The risk of corrosion or other damage from the elements is low.

Parked at The Boneyard are more than 4,000 aircraft. If they were still in use, this number of planes would make up the second-largest air force in the world. Pretty wild to think that they’re all just sitting at the Boneyard, aging gracefully. Some of the aircraft are full-on retired, ceremony and all. But the rest are in storage. Sometimes those aircraft get repurposed for training and other uses.

Retired Aircraft Save Taxpayers Money

The US Air Force, along with most other US government agencies, sends their retired aircraft to this Arizona location to be “recycled.” They are either disassembled for parts to use in other aircraft or sold as scrap metal.

The goal of this program is to save taxpayers money. We’ve been doing it this way since WWII. For every dollar that is spent on AMARG’s mission, almost $11 is returned to the national treasury. That’s a pretty solid return.

The Boneyard is Full of Military History

Not long after WWII ended, the surplus of aircraft around the globe was astounding. Some of them still had use for parts or scrap, while others, entire fleets even, became obsolete. Then there are also the planes that simply needed regeneration and storage until their next use. The problem was, there was nowhere to put all these aircraft. That’s when they started ferrying them over to Arizona.

Since 1962, Davis Monthan AFB has been the complete storage facility for all government aircraft. This includes Coast Guard, NASA, Border Patrol, Marine, and Navy aircraft, plus Reserve and National Guard units.

For the aircraft historian, Davis presents a bounty unlike anything else. The variety, age, and rarity of aircraft calling the Boneyard home is astounding. So many a budding historian will eventually find themselves walking the lanes, exploring the aircraft.

These days, our aircraft production isn’t nearly what it used to be. So fewer types of aircraft are produced. At some point, the Boneyard might not exist, – all the more reason for aircraft and military history buffs to get their fill in now.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 people in military history who were the hardest to kill

When Prince Felix Yussupov went to murder Russia’s “mad monk” and advisor to the last Tsar, he wanted to make sure the job was done. He wrote that he had poisoned Rasputin’s wine with cyanide. When that didn’t do the trick, he then shot the monk at least six times. Refusing to die, he was then beaten, stabbed, and, finally, his body was tossed in a freezing river.


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If Russia had an army of Rasputin-like unkillable Hulkamaniacs, they could have poured over the German lines and ended World War I in a hurry.

They didn’t, but there were other nations who grew their own tough-as-nails hardasses who did join the military.

7. Adolf Hitler

People were trying to kill this guy well before he ever kicked off World War II. On the Western front of World War I, Hitler was hit by a British mustard gas attack near Ypres in 1918. Then, he admitted to stumbling in front of a British sharpshooter, who allegedly saved his life.

Related: This British soldier may have spared Hitler’s life during WWI

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After the First World War, Hitler’s own bodyguards tried to blow him up in a beer hall. German officers also failed to blow up his plane. Then, of course, there was the Valkyrie conspiracy. It’s like the guy walked around with an anti-explosion field around him.

6. George Washington

Washington’s invincibility must have really come from a cheat code because this dude didn’t even get hit. During the 1755 Battle of the Monongahela, Washington rode ahead against a French onslaught to boost the resolve of his collapsing lines. As he did, his horse was shot out from under him. When he remounted to resume command, that horse was shot, too.

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As if twice surviving horrific possible injuries like the one that crippled Superman wasn’t enough, he also found four bullet holes in his coat after the battle.

5. Gabriel Garcia Moreno

Moreno was the President of Ecuador in the middle of the 19th century. Although elected, he ruled like a dictator, launching religious and scientific reforms that earned him some enemies. After being elected to a third term as president, those enemies took action.

As he left a cathedral in Quito, they hacked off an arm, a hand, parts of his brain and skull, and embedded a machete in his neck – and when they were done, he was still standing.

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Eventually, someone decided to unload a revolver into him. After he finally fell, he gave his last words. Some say he spoke them, others say he used his dying breath to scrawl it on the ground in his own blood. The message was clear: “God does not die.”

4. Steven Toboz

Petty Officer Toboz is a Navy SEAL who went in search of a missing U.S. troop in Afghanistan with about two dozen others. Toboz and 11 more were injured, six were killed. The first bullet Toboz took hit him in the right calf, which shattered his ankle and foot. He refused pain-numbing drugs so he could stay sharp and support everyone until they were extracted.

Once he was in a hospital, doctors had to give him three liters of blood to replace what he had lost. And when he realized he would heal faster if doctors amputated his leg, he ordered them to do it.

To top it all off, once he was healed, he went back to Afghanistan with an advanced prosthetic. Why? Because “Neal Roberts was my closest friend.” These days, he trains SEALs.

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3. Charlie Beckwith

What do the North Koreans, Chinese, North Vietnamese, Russians, Leptospirosis, Iranians, an exploding C-130, and a .50-cal bullet to the stomach have in common?

They all failed to kill the founder of Delta Force, Charles Beckwith.

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Read More: The founder of Delta Force was nearly impossible to kill

2. Blackbeard

The British Navy hunted Edward Teach, a pirate known as “Blackbeard,” who had a freaking fleet and 200 men under his command. He was known to light his beard on fire in combat to intimidate his enemies. But by the time he was cornered near Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, he was down to one ship and a handful of men.

The British lured his party into boarding a ship where they were horribly outnumbered. The pirate was shot at least five times and stabbed another 20 and he still fought on.

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Robert Maynard, the British commander, broke his sword off in Blackbeard. It wasn’t until they cut his freaking head off that Teach finally stopped pirating.

1. Josip Tito

Tito began his epic survival story as a partisan against the Nazis in World War II. When the war ended, he came out on top, and he would rule Yugoslavia until his death… but when would that be? Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin wanted it to be sooner rather than later.

And if Stalin wanted someone dead, they usually ended up that way.

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Stalin sent so many assassins to kill Tito that he had to write a letter telling him to stop. It read,

“Stop sending assassins to murder me… if this doesn’t stop, I will send a man to Moscow and there’ll be no need to send a second.”

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Just a few years later, Stalin died of a sudden, massive heart attack. Tito lived on for almost thirty more years.

Articles

This is what happened when the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is sometimes referred to as “Russia’s Vietnam.” The decade-long occupation cost the Soviet Union a lot of men and money but wielded very little in return. In 1978, the Soviets backed a pro-communist coup lead by Nur Mohammad Taraki against the government in power in Afghanistan. However, in 1979, Hafizullah Amin, a Muslim leader who did not look at the Soviet influence with a good eye, staged a counter-coup, deposing Taraki. In retaliation, in December 1979, the Soviets sent troops and tanks into Afghanistan. They overthrew the government and killed Amin, replacing him with a KGB-trained man named Babrak Karmal.

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Mujahideen in Afghanistan, 1987 (Wikimedia Commons)

Jihad

After some early victories, the Soviets anticipated a quick triumph. However, they faced relentless resistance from some of the locals, particularly the Muslims. The Afghan rebels declared a jihad (a “holy war”), against the communist government and the Soviets supporting it. The mujahideen, “holy warriors” who lead the jihad began a guerilla-style campaign against the Soviets, harassing and sabotaging them at every turn. They were armed and financed by countries from the other side of the Iron Curtain, such as the United States and Britain, as well as Muslim countries sympathetic to a government closer to their own beliefs. China, despite being a communist country as well, also chose to side with the mujahideen.

The invaders struggled to contain the well-armed rebels. According to some estimations, the Soviets could have lost as many as 15,000 soldiers during the decade-long invasion. The cost of lives and resources brought important division in the Soviet Communist Party at the time. The invasion also brought the already tense relationship between the Soviet Union and the USA near breaking point.

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Soviet soldier in Afghanistan, 1987 (Wikimedia Commons)

Total recall

After a decade of frustrating fighting, the Soviet Union, incapable of truly seizing power in Afghanistan, decided to recall its troops. The withdrawal started in April 1988 and spread over several months. The last Russian soldiers left in February 1989.

Although this was a notable win for the mujahideen, peace still eluded the country. The Soviet Union still supported the communist government through financial means, helping them resist the rebels. It led to a long and bloody civil war. The Soviets only withdrew their support in 1991, after internal political turmoil forced them to cut off the aids to their allies. By spring 1992, the Muslim fighters were able to overrun the weakened Afghan army, storm Kabul, and overthrown the government.

However, Afghanistan was unable to receive much-needed peace. Whether differences of beliefs or desire for personal power, the various mujahideen factions began turning one against the other. Without a common enemy, they perpetuated the ongoing civil war. The conflict gave rise to the Taliban in 1994, a military organization of radical Muslim students. They were unhappy that the Muslim law had not been established throughout the country after the fall of the communist government. The group, in possession of many weapons supplied by various Western and Middle-Eastern countries during the Soviet invasion, was able to progressively conquer territories. By 1996, they controlled about three-quarters of the country and established the Sharia law in all the territories they controlled, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. By 1998, they controlled over 90% of the country.

Echoes of the past

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Taliban religious police beating a woman in August 2001 (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan)

In 2000, the United Nations Security Council denounced the strict application of Sharia Law that infringed on people’s basic human rights and accused the Taliban of radicalizing and training terrorists, issuing important sanctions against their government. Then, in October 2001, in retaliation for the 9/11 terror attacks, the USA joined forces with the Afghan resistance and invaded Afghanistan to try and root out terrorism. By the end of 2001, the Taliban government had been overthrown and most of the country was under the control of the coalition. After losing their last stronghold, Kalahar, the Taliban dispersed. However, they never surrendered.

Moving factions of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIL have since worked to harass and sabotage the Afghan government and the American troops supporting the anti-terrorist effort. Pakistan, accused of supporting the terrorist organizations, was also invaded.

However, guerrilla fighting presents many challenges, making it difficult to achieve a definite victory. The metamorphosing, secretive structure, and foreign financing of the various extremist organization make it difficult to eradicate them. When the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan, they inadvertently created the modern terrorist.

Feature image: Russia Informational news Agency via Wikimedia Commons

MIGHTY HISTORY

This command post flew 24 hours a day for 29 years

We’ve all seen the movie where a well-funded group of terrorists makes a threat against the U.S. government then all hell breaks loose until one man or woman steps up and saves the day by defeating the bad guys. These films often make our defensive capabilities appear powerless versus these fictional villains.

Although these storylines are entertaining, our government’s ability to protect us goes well beyond some smart computer hacker, especially in the event of a nuclear war.

The nuclear war strategy of the U.S. relies upon its capacity to communicate with and control its nuclear forces under the most hazardous of conditions. For close to 30 years, this vital defense plan was laid in the hands of 11 different converted EC-135Cs code-named “Looking Glass.”


 

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Operation Looking Glass was introduced by the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Command on Feb. 3, 1961. It was prepared to take over all operational control of nuclear forces if the ground-based command centers were destroyed or rendered unusable.

If that devastating nuclear event occurred, the general officer serving as the Airborne Emergency Action Officer (AEAO) aboard the “Looking Glass” would be required by law to assume the authority of the National Command Authority and directly command execution during a nuclear attack.

 

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To avoid any potential enemy threat from jamming the unique aircraft’s signal, the specialized planes came equipped with high-frequency antennas located on the wings. Along with the AEAO, a crew consisting of approximately 15-20 airmen would man their solitary post for several hours a day.

Since its maiden flight in 1961, there has always been a “Looking Glass” plane flying somewhere above the United States in case of an emergency, 24-hours a day.

On June 1, 1992, Operation Looking Glass was grounded from service and replaced.

Check out the video below to witness just how special this flying beast was to national security.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War II’s most decorated woman was a housewife-turned-spy

French-born Odette Sansom was a sickly child. She wrestled with a slew of childhood illnesses, including a bout with polio that left her blind for three years. The adversity she overcame as a youth was good preparation for what she would do as an adult: joining the British “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.”


Sansom’s accomplishments in World War II earned her the Order of the British Empire, a knighthood of the French Légion d’Honneur, and she was the first woman to be awarded the George Cross for “acts of the greatest heroism.” Her life foreshadowed the fortitude she would require as she was tortured by the Gestapo, to whom she would never give any information.

Her exploits are detailed in an exciting new book by Larry Loftis, Code Name: Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy. Loftis’ detail of Sansom’s life reads like a spy thriller but with the research of a nonfiction narrative, covering one of the best stories of clandestine heroism during the Second World War.

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Sansom after the war.

(Imperial War Museum)

Sansom’s wartime story begins in 1941, as the British Admiralty was looking for native-born recruits they could send to Nazi-occupied France. Odette Sansom was a French-born woman who initially responded to the office’s request for photos of the French coastline — except she accidentally sent her photos to the War Office instead of the Admiralty. Soon, the Special Operations Executive, the department responsible for infiltrating Hitler’s Fortress Europe, would recruit her for much, much more.

After less than a year of training, Sansom found herself on a boat headed to France, landing near Cassis in 1942. She was picked up by a spy ring run out of Cannes, where she would work as a radio operator for her group leader, Peter Churchill, relaying secret information back to London. This was always a very dangerous task as the Gestapo were always looking for outgoing radio signals.

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Sansom and Churchill.

(Imperial War Museum)

For more than a year, Lise, Sansom’s code name, kept one step ahead of the Gestapo. Along with her radio work, she acted as a courier for all of Southern France, sending messages between resistance cells and SOE operatives. Her skill and professionalism kept her alive, but accidents happen to even the best of operatives, and for Lise, it would be her undoing.

An agent riding a train fell asleep while carrying a list of 200 SOE agents operating in France in 1943. Eventually, that list fell into the hands of Nazi counterintelligence agents. A German double agent calling himself “Colonel Henri” infiltrated the group and betrayed them all. Colonel Henri was really Hugo Bleicher, the notorious Nazi spy hunter.

Sansom and Churchill were arrested and sent to Frenses Prison near Paris. The two were tortured and sentenced to death – a sentence that would never be carried out. While Churchill had no relations with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, his famous name saved both their lives.

Ravensbu

Sansom told the Nazis that Churchill was related to the Prime Minister and that she was the younger Churchill’s wife – and that she was also his boss, and not the other way around. This served the dual purpose of keeping the pressure off of Churchill, even though the Nazis only tortured Sansom even more, while keeping the two alive.

But while Sansom and Churchill survived the torture and execution orders, they spent much of the rest of the war in solitary confinement and suffering cruel, brutal treatment at the hands of her SS captors in the Ravensbrück concentration camp until it was liberated by the Red Army in 1945. But Sansom wasn’t liberated by the Russians. The camp commander drove her to an American position and surrendered himself to the U.S., with a “Churchill” as a bargaining chip.

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Ravensbrück was a primary camp for women and political prisoners.

Though she physically came out of the war an emaciated shadow of her former self, the treatment left her with no ill will towards anyone. She would testify against the Nazis who imprisoned and tortured her during the Nuremberg Trials, but her main activities after the war involved helping ease the suffering of those affected by the war.

“How strong the reserves upon which you draw you never realize until you need them, but believe me they do not fail you,” she once said.

Articles

These Japanese men went from captives to war heroes

Approximately two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the war department to relocate thousands of Japanese and force them to live in internment camps — reportedly one-half were already U.S. citizens.


In Hawaii (which wouldn’t become an American state until 1959), more than one-third of the island’s population were first and second generation Japanese. They faced similar scrutiny as those living in the continental United States.

High ranking military advisors expressed concern with the Japanese currently serving in the armed forces because they believed their allegiance was with the enemy. This ideology caused many Japanese men and women to be relieved of their military duties.

Back in the States, many second-generation Japanese men, known as Nesei, detained in the internment camps wanted to show their devotion to the U.S. and decided to volunteer for military service.

Related: How the WW2 bomber Memphis Belle got its wings back

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Nisei men swearing in for military service.

Impressed with the Japanese volunteers, the war department created an all-Nisei combat unit — the 100th infantry battalion. After a year of intense infantry training, they first deployed to North Africa and then took part in attacks on enemy forces in Monte Cassino, Italy.

In 1943, the 100th was reorganized and became part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which included Nisei volunteers from Hawaii. The next year, they moved to the battlefields of France where they fought in eight major campaigns, and played a pivotal role the rescue the Texas 36th infantry division known as the  “Lost Battalion.”

The following year, the proud unit helped liberate the Jews from the first established Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany.

In the Pacific, several Nisei troops worked as Japanese translators and were frequently mistaken for enemy combatants.

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A Nisei troop discusses terms of surrender with a Japanese officer.

Also Read: This is how the first Asian-American Marine officer saved 8,000 men

Sadly, in the two years of their combat effectiveness, 700 members of the original 13,000 were killed or labeled as missing in action.

After their war had ended, the proud men returned home and were celebrated by President Harry Truman for their devoted service.

“You fought not only the enemy but you fought prejudice, and you won,” Truman addressed to the Nisei during a ceremony. “Keep up that fight, and we will continue to win.”

Altogether, the men received 9,486 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars, and 21 Medals of Honor.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What the Korean War can teach us about the future

While often labeled “the forgotten war,” the Korean War left a distinct stain on the collective memory of the American military community.

The short, but extremely bloody, conflict saw hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians die from combat and non-battle causes—forcing America to reevaluate how it had approached the war. The first war in which the United Nations took part, the Korean War exposed discrepancies between calculated diplomacy, a nation’s moral imperative, military readiness, and the innate complexities of warfare—all issues that T.R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War examines in detail.


Fehrenbach’s book has been regarded as essential reading by military-minded leaders in America, including Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, a Marine Corps Reserve lieutenant colonel who served in Afghanistan, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. While North and South Korea seem to have found some kind of peace as they recently agreed to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, Fehrenbach’s work—as a definitive and cautionary tale about the promises and perils of military action—is still a particularly timely perspective.

Read on for an excerpt from This Kind of War,which offers a blow-by-blow account and analysis of America’s past military action in the Korean Peninsula.

This Kind of War

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More than anything else, the Korean War was not a test of power—because neither antagonist used full powers—but of wills. The war showed that the West had misjudged the ambition and intent of the Communist leadership, and clearly revealed that leadership’s intense hostility to the West; it also proved that Communism erred badly in assessing the response its aggression would call forth.

The men who sent their divisions crashing across the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950 hardly dreamed that the world would rally against them, or that the United States — which had repeatedly professed its reluctance to do so—would commit ground forces onto the mainland of Asia.

From the fighting, however inconclusive the end, each side could take home valuable lessons. The Communists would understand that the free world—in particular the United States—had the will to react quickly and practically and without panic in a new situation. The American public, and that of Europe, learned that the postwar world was not the pleasant place they hoped it would be, that it could not be neatly policed by bombers and carrier aircraft and nuclear warheads, and that the Communist menace could be disregarded only at extreme peril.

The war, on either side, brought no one satisfaction. It did, hopefully, teach a general lesson of caution.

The great test placed upon the United States was not whether it had the power to devastate the Soviet Union—this it had—but whether the American leadership had the will to continue to fight for an orderly world rather than to succumb to hysteric violence. Twice in the century uncontrolled violence had swept the world, and after untold bloodshed and destruction nothing was accomplished. Americans had come to hate war, but in 1950 were no nearer to abolishing it than they had been a century before.

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U.S. Marines move out over rugged mountain terrain while closing with North Korean forces.

But two great bloodlettings, and the advent of the Atomic Age with its capability of fantastic destruction, taught Americans that their traditional attitudes toward war—to regard war as an unholy thing, but once involved, however reluctantly, to strike those who unleashed it with holy wrath—must be altered. In the Korean War, Americans adopted a course not new to the world, but new to them. They accepted limitations on warfare, and accepted controlled violence as the means to an end. Their policy—for the first time in the century—succeeded. The Korean War was not followed by the tragic disillusionment of World War I, or the unbelieving bitterness of 1946 toward the fact that nothing had been settled. But because Americans for the first time lived in a world in which they could not truly win, whatever the effort, and from which they could not withdraw, without disaster, for millions the result was trauma.

During the Korean War, the United States found that it could not enforce international morality and that its people had to live and continue to fight in a basically amoral world. They could oppose that which they regarded as evil, but they could not destroy it without risking their own destruction.

Because the American people have traditionally taken a warlike, but not military, attitude to battle, and because they have always coupled a certain belligerence—no American likes being pushed around—with a complete unwillingness to prepare for combat, the Korean War was difficult, perhaps the most difficult in their history.

In Korea, Americans had to fight, not a popular, righteous war, but to send men to die on a bloody checkerboard, with hard heads and without exalted motivations, in the hope of preserving the kind of world order Americans desired.

Tragically, they were not ready, either in body or in spirit.

They had not really realized the kind of world they lived in, or the tests of wills they might face, or the disciplines that would be required to win them.

Yet when America committed its ground troops into Korea, the American people committed their entire prestige, and put the failure or success of their foreign policy on the line.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This comic book legend fought Nazi panzers and earned a Bronze Star

Born Jacob Kurtzberg, the most influential comic book artist known to the world as Jack Kirby penned many of the most beloved superheros in today’s society.


The young Kirby found his calling at then Timely Comics, later known as Marvel Comics, by drawing in superheros. He and Joe Simon created a new patriotic hero and drew the iconic cover to what will be synonymous with comics in World War II. Captain America knocking the Hell out of Adolf Hitler in March 1941.

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Duty called Kirby into the U.S. Army on June 7, 1942. He had created an inventory to be published in part of his absence, kissed his wife goodbye, and headed to Camp Stewart for Basic Training.

Being a small Jewish kid from New York, he had met people from across the country. People who had never traveled outside their family farm, Texans who never rode a horse, and everyone from every corner of the country. He did encounter antisemitism, but he credits working and living together as the moment that opened their eyes to how diverse the country really is.

Related: This is how the Army teaches you to ‘see green’ -not brown, black, or white

His unit, the Fifth Infantry Division, landed in Liverpool where he saw the devastation of the German Stukas. He was now ready to land on Omaha Beach ten days after D-Day.

And ready for his Marvel co-creator, Stan Lee, to give one of his best Cameos.General Patton got word that his unit was killed and arrived personally with replacements. Patton was livid when he learned that the outfit had just arrived just fine. The mix-up came about because of an error in the maps, so Kirby’s Lieutenant saw to correcting it. His lieutenant learned his soldier drew Captain America and many other comics and assigned Private Kirby the unenviable task of being a scout to draw the maps.

Kirby would create new maps or draw on existing maps locations of enemy and friendly activity. His markings of Axis’ 88 anti-armor cannons were used to clear the way for troops.

Kirby’s unit crossed much of Northern France and took heavy casualties. Sketching in a notepad was the only thing that could keep his nerves intact while he mapped out enemy locations. His unit even liberated a remote factory, turned concentration camp. This was one of the first provable concentration camps the U.S. came across.

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Kirby and his wife, Roz, whom he wrote every day.

His maps would play a crucial role in the Battle of Metz, which he also personally fought in. Frozen by Himmler’s Panzers, he still fought them, referring to himself as a “Human Road Block.”

It was the unforgiving winter that sent him home. His feet had become purple with jungle rot and frostbite. It was so bad that he was rushed back to Paris and the doctors considered amputation. He was discharged in 1945, but not before being awarded a Combat Infantryman Badge and Bronze Star for all that he did in Europe.

Much of the information for this article can be found from The Kirby Museum and Ronin Ro’s Tales to Astonish, Jack Kirby’s Biography.

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This awesome ‘trench broom’ terrified Germans in both World Wars

A single weapon used predominantly in World War I and with a limited deployment in World War II was so effective and so terrifying that Germany lodged a diplomatic protest against its use by American forces. It wasn’t the flamethrower or the machine gun. It was shotguns, especially the Winchester Models 1897 and 1912.


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A World War II Marine carries a Winchester Model 1897 shotgun. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons)

The two shotguns were first entered into combat after America realized how brutal trench warfare really was. The soldiers and Marines serving on the Western Front needed a way to clear attackers from the American trenches as well as to quickly clear defenders from enemy trenches during assaults.

The spread of a shotgun was perfect for this mission, but the Americans didn’t stop at just buying off-the-shelf weapons. The War Department contracted for standard, trench, and riot versions of most shotguns.

Standard shotguns were civilian versions of the weapon, often with a sling added for easy carrying. Riot guns were similar but with shorter barrels. The most heavily modified versions were the trench guns which featured shorter barrels — usually 20 inches or shorter, heat shields, and bayonet lugs.

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The Trench Winchester Model 1897 shotgun features a cut-down barrel, sling, heat shield, and a bayonet lug. (Catalog Illustration: Public Domain)

The Model 97 quickly became one of the most popular shotguns issued, partially because of how well it stood up to the rigorous conditions on the Western Front. Operators could quickly clean mud and water from the weapons and get them ready to fire after a mishap, and the weapon continued to function even if it was dropped or slammed against trenchworks.

But the big reason that the Model 97 became so popular was that it could be “slamfired.” Typically, an operator readies a pump-action shotgun by pumping it to feed a round into the chamber and eject any empty casing currently in it. Then, they pull the trigger while aimed at their target to fire. Repeat.

But when slamfiring, they keep the trigger held back while pumping the weapon. When the new round feeds into the chamber, it will automatically fire. This meant the weapon could be fired as quickly as the operator could pump the handle.

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A standard pump-action Winchester Model 1897 lacks military features like the heat shield and bayonet lug. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Model 97 held six rounds of 00 buckshot, each shell of which held nine pellets. A trained soldier slamfiring could fire all six rounds, 54 total lead pellets, in approximately two seconds. At the close ranges in many World War I trenches, the effect was devastating.

Shotgunners would rapidly clear German trenches, cutting away the defenders. The tactic was so effective that Model 97s picked up the nicknames “trench brooms” and “trench sweepers.”

The German government lobbed an official protest against the weapon, saying that the weapon inflicted unnecessary cruelty. America responded that the claim was hollow coming from the nation that introduced chemical weapons and flamethrowers into warfare.

There are even reports that American soldiers skilled in skeet shooting were placed along the front trenches to shoot enemy hand grenades from the air, deflecting or destroying the devices before they could hurt American troops.

The Winchester Model 97 and Model 1912 would go on to serve similar functions in World War II, again clearing German defenders from trenches and bunkers as well as operating in the Pacific. The two Winchester shotguns were deployed to Korea and Vietnam, though the U.S. was slowly transitioning to newer shotguns by that point.


Feature image: US Army photo

Articles

This Marine earned two medals of honor by age 19

Vietnam-era Marine and Hue City veteran John Ligato once remarked that the most ferocious fighting machine the world has ever seen is the 19-year-old pissed off Marine. In the case of John J. Kelly, he couldn’t be more right.


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Look at this handsome Devil… Dog.

Kelly joined the Marines in May 1917, just one month after the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany. The Chicago native was soon in France with 78th Company, 6th Regiment, 2d Division. That’s where he would earn the Army and Navy versions of the Medal of Honor — at the same time.

In October 1918, Kelly was in Blanc Mont Ridge in France, which the Germans occupied since 1915. The French were joined by two divisions of the U.S. Army and Major General John Lejeune’s 2d Division of Marines — including Pvt. John Kelly.

At the start of the near-monthlong battle, Kelly ran through no-man’s land, 100 yards ahead of an allied artillery barrage — straight toward a machine gun nest.

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Kinda like that, with less shield. (DC Films/Warner Bros.)

He chucked a grenade into the nest, killing one of the Germans. Then he took out the other using his sidearm.

Private Kelly returned to his line — again through the artillery barrage — but this time he brought back eight German soldiers at gunpoint.

The American advance at St. Etienne turned the tide of the Battle of Blanc Mont against the Germans. By Oct. 28, the area they occupied since the very start of the World War was now firmly in Allied hands.

Kelly was awarded both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor by General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, in 1919. With the war over, Kelly left the military and returned to civilian life.

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Kelly receiving his Medal of Honor

He returned to his native Illinois, where he died in 1957.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here is why the Redcoats were coming to Lexington and Concord

Just about everyone knows about the Battles of Lexington and Concord. It was from this stage that “the shot heard `round the world” echoed out and it was here that Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride. But do you know why the British were coming to Lexington and Concord? The answer to that question may surprise you.


In 1775, tensions between British forces and the colonists in Massachusetts were on the rise. Disputes over taxation without representation and payment for tea destroyed in 1773’s Boston Tea Party had led colonists to begin stockpiling weapons. The British figured that by capturing some of the colonists’ leaders, Samuel Adams and John Hancock among them, they could put the potential insurgency down.

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The Minute Man, a statue by Daniel Chester French erected in 1875 in Concord, Massachusetts, depicts a common member of the militia.

(National Park Service photo)

The troops also had another set of orders, though: confiscate colonial arms and disarm the insurgents. Prior to Lexington and Concord, General Thomas Gage’s troops had carried out at least one similar operation, seizing over 250 half-barrels of gunpowder. That didn’t go over well with the colonists, who protested the seizure.

In quick response, colonists developed intelligence networks to warn of future raids. As a result, many disarming efforts were thwarted because arms and supplies were hidden ahead of time. However, in April, 1775, Gage discovered the location of a major supply depot for the colonists in Concord, Massachusetts. Gage ordered about 700 troops to raid this stash.

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After a brief skirmish on Lexington Green, British troops arrived in Concord. There, things went badly for them.

(Amos Doolittle and Ralph Earl)

The rest, as you know, is history. After the Battle of Lexington, where a small detachment of colonial militiamen were brushed aside by the British, and a somewhat successful operation in Concord (some cannons were disabled), British troops exchanged fire with colonists at the North Bridge in Concord. That sparked a running battle, during which the militia used guerrilla tactics to inflict serious casualties on the British.

Afterwards, the British were bottled up in Boston by colonists. It was the start of a long war that, eventually, resulted in the United States of America becoming an independent nation. A war that was started by an attempt to disarm the American colonists.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This terrifying disease started in World War I Europe

Encephalitis lethargica is a disease that seems to belong in a horror movie, complete with brain damage that causes victims to sleep for years or to hack away at their own bodies — and it all started in Europe during World War I.


It was first described by World War I pilot and noble, Constantin von Economo, who switched to a career in medicine at the request of his parents after family members died in the war. As a physician, he served both civilians and the Central Powers, and his historical significance comes from being the first to describe a neurological disorder that popped up during the war.

His first patients reported constant exhaustion despite constantly sleeping, leading some people to call it the “sleeping disease” or “sleepy sickness.” This wasn’t exactly correct, though, as many patients never truly slept. They remained aware of their surroundings even when seemingly in deep sleep. As the disease progressed, patients also began exhibiting symptoms like abnormal eye movement, delirium, headache, or paralysis.

The paralysis and other symptoms were sometimes limited to one side of the body, giving off the surreal result that one side of the face and body became sluggish and tired while the other side remained relatively alert and functional.

From here, patients’ symptoms would progress in a couple directions. 5 million people were afflicted with the disease from 1917 to 1928. Approximately a third died, a third survived, and the final third were trapped in endless sleep. But the scary part for survivors was that symptoms could return years later — or they could suffer from Parkinson’s brought on by the disease.

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Dr. Oliver Sacks, a physician famous for his work with encephalitis lethargica patients who slept for decades before awaking for a short period.

(Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0)

And that endless sleep thing wasn’t a euphemism or anything. Some patients went to sleep for decades, only coming out of their near-endless rest when given an anti-Parkinson’s medication in 1969 through an effort led by Dr. Oliver Sacks. Unfortunately, Sack’s treatment with L-DOPA only provided a temporary relief of their symptoms. All patients eventually regressed back to permanent sleep or a catatonic state.

Oddly enough, those afflicted with long-term catatonia did get one benefit: They aged much more slowly than people awake.

But while encephelitis lethargica has plenty of terrifying traits for adults, it was much worse in children and adolescents, among whom it caused psychosis. In one extreme case, a young girl pulled out many of her teeth and gouged out both of her eyes. Patients also often inflicted serious violence, sexual and otherwise, against others with no regard for age, gender, or nearly any other factor.

People attacked members of their own family, authority figures, or random passersby, often with little visible emotion afterwards.

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Encepheilitis lethargica could strike people of any age, and it often caused long-term Parkinson’s in the months or years after a patient had seemingly recovered from the condition.

(British Medical Journal 1925, Gullan)

Obviously, for troops in the war and returning veterans, the idea that exhaustion could be a sign of their imminent demise was terrifying, and the fact that their families could be afflicted by this mysterious disease was terrifying, but another outbreak pushed the sleepy sickness to the back of most people’s minds.

The Spanish flu pandemic broke out in 1918 and eventually killed between 20 and 50 million victims of the roughly 500 million people affected.

Today, we still don’t know the cause of encephelitis lethargica, but new cases fortunately fell off a cliff in 1926 and continued to dwindle in the 1930s. Now, new cases are extremely rare, but the exact symptoms of encephelitis lethargica were so varied that it’s hard to even be sure that new cases are from the same cause.

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The title page of Constantin von Economo’s 1931 description of encephalitis lethargica.

(Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0)

There does appear to be an auto-immune element to the disease with nearly all sufferers showing damage to the brain stem consistent with it coming under attack from the body’s immune system. This, combined with the disease’s first appearance around the same time as the flu pandemic, has led to speculation that it comes from the body’s overreaction to a virus. But that’s still not certain.

Analysis of other influenza and viral outbreaks, both before World War I and after, show some connection between viral outbreaks and the onset of encephelitis lethargica.

It’s still possible that the world could see a sudden resurgence of encephelitis lethargica, especially if there’s a new influenza outbreak, but our luck has held for over 70 years — fingers crossed.

popular

4 surprising things North Korean spies have to learn

North Korea and the United States don’t have a lot in common. What they do share is a need for gathering intelligence — typically about each other. While the United States’ intelligence agencies might have a difficult time penetrating the North’s rigid class system and meticulous tracking of its citizens, the Hermit Kingdom can exploit the open societies of the West to plant its operatives – and it does.


Kim Hyon-hui was one of those operatives. The daughter of a high-level North Korean diplomat during the Cold War, she trained rigorously in the North as an intelligence operative. She went on a number of missions, including the infamous 1987 bombing of Korean Airlines flight 858, which was personally ordered by President Kim Il-Sung to frighten teams from attending the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Much of her training would not surprise anyone, but some of it might.

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Japanese national Yaeko Taguchi was kidnapped after dropping her kids off at school at age 22. She’s been training spies ever since.

Japanese

There’s a special school for North Korea’s spy agents, located outside the capital city of Pyongyang. There, they learn the usual spy stuff we’ve all come to expect from watching movies and television: explosives, martial arts, and scuba diving. What’s most unusual is not just that this school also teaches its agents Japanese, but who teaches it to them.

For the longest time, North Korea denied ever having abducted Japanese citizens for any reason. But a number of defectors, including the captured spy, Kim Hyon-hui, described learning Japanese from a native speaker, Yaeko Taguchi. North Korea has been accused of abducting a number of Japanese citizens to put them to work for similar reasons. The North’s disdain for Japan dates back to World War II, owing to the atrocities committed on Koreans by Japanese troops. North Koreans like Japan as much as they like the United States. Maybe less.

North Korean spies
Image by tragrpx from Pixabay

Supermarkets

It may or may not surprise you to learn that North Korean grocery stores are very much unlike any Western grocery stores. Most of the time, North Koreans don’t actually go to supermarkets, no matter how much food is available to them. North Korea doesn’t have supermarkets as we know them.

North Korean spies
Image by Free stock photos from www.rupixen.com from Pixabay

Credit Cards

The idea of using plastic instead of hard currency was a huge surprise to Kim. She had to be trained not just to use a credit card, but how credit cards work in general, considering much of the technology used to create this system of payment wasn’t available to North Korea back then (and still isn’t, but that’s by choice).

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It somehow took practice to dance like this

Nightclubs

The nightlife of North Korea seems like something from the pre-sexual revolution 1960s. While beer and soju are widely consumed in Pyongyang, even in the capital there are no obvious bars or nightclubs. Many North Koreans spend their evenings with their families at the dinner table or by going to concerts and family fun parks, small carnivals that stay in the same place all the time. To go to a European disco and party like a Westerner required training.


-Feature image by Ryan McGuire via Pixabay

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