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The End of a World, September 2, 1945

Mon, 03 Sep 2012 02:10:00 +0000

Listen hereOn September 2nd, 1945, the Second World War ended with the signing of surrender documents by a Japanese government and military delegation on board the American battleship USS Missouri. Military representatives of every Allied power fighting in the Pacific were present, along with members of the press, who reported the sights and sounds of the ceremony to a world eager for peace. From beginning to end, the event lasted 23 minutes. And though most people alive at the time did not realize it, the ceremony also marked the beginning of one world and the end of another. Although history rarely falls into the neat patterns of human expectation, there are dates which clearly mark the beginnings or ends of eras. September 2nd, 1945 marked the end of several eras---cultural, political, and military. It also marked the beginning of the world in which we now live, a world that would be fundamentally different had just a few small events turned out differently in 1945. While most people alive today had not yet been born when the Second World War ended, we live with the aftereffects of that conflagration every day. As the victorious allied representatives stared at the Japanese delegation on the other side of the table holding the surrender documents, some of them had to wonder what they had won. The Soviet officers present were citizens of a nation that had suffered over 23 million military and civilian deaths, although the exact figure will never be known. That number represented 14% of the USSR's population. Only Poland, with nearly six million dead, had a greater percentage of its population killed by the war. For Soviet leader Josef Stalin, the war was far from over. Eastern Europe and the area that would become East Germany were subject to communist reprisals for years after the war officially ended in Europe in May, 1945. Anyone living in an area under Soviet control that had fought with Germany or in any way opposed the Red Army was arrested and either sent to the infamous gulags of Siberia or summarily executed. German prisoners-of-war being held by the Soviets did not go home when the war ended; most of them died during the war years. Those who survived were put to work at various industrial sites inside the Soviet Union and were not repatriated until the mid-1950s. Most of these men were not guilty of war crimes and a majority weren't Nazis; they just had the misfortune of being on the losing side and surrendering to an enemy that did not recognize the Geneva Convention’s rules governing the treatment of prisoners-of-war.Not that being on the winning side helped many Soviet soldiers held by the Germans when the war ended. Almost all of them were imprisoned upon returning to their home country under orders from Stalin, who probably saw them as an embarrassing reminder of how badly he had blundered during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. Some of the Soviet POWs and others, including many Polish soldiers, had no desire to return to areas controlled by the communists because they knew what awaited them. What they did not know, and what the world would not know for another 50 years, was that their fates had already been decided by Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and US President Franklin Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference in February, 1945. One of Stalin’s demands was for the quick return of any Soviet or Eastern European citizen who had ended the war in territory not controlled by the Red Army. Churchill and Roosevelt agreed to this demand, even though they understood the implications. Apologists for both men claim they were ignorant of Stalin’s plans, but history recent to 1945 had shown the Soviet leader to be genocidal and paranoid. The two Western leaders were, by tacit approval, helping to send tens of thousands of men to certain imprisonment or death.The Chinese delegation on board the Missouri that Sunday morning was comprised of representatives of the Republic of China, the legitimate Nationalist government of that nation as recognized by all th[...]

Voyager Begins The Journey, August 20, 1977

Sun, 19 Aug 2012 22:36:00 +0000

Listen hereThirty-five years ago today, NASA launched Voyager 2, a 1,600 pound space probe, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Despite its numerical designation, Voyager 2 was the first of the Voyager probes to be launched. The Voyager twins' mission is to explore our solar system's outer planets and study interstellar space beyond.The idea for the Voyager probes dates back to the late 1960's. Aerospace engineer Gary Flandro of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory conceived a mission (called the Planetary Grand Tour) requiring four probes that would be launched in the mid- to late 1970's. That time frame would take advantage of an alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, an event that would not happen again for 175 years. Two of the probes would fly by Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto. The other two would pass by Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune.After the last Apollo mission in 1972, NASA faced budget cuts that spelled doom for many planned programs, including the Planetary Grand Tour. But money remained for two probes, originally meant to be a continuation of the Mariner Project, which explored the inner solar system. After the probes' design was finalized, it was decided they needed their own name because they were a generation ahead of the Mariner probes. Thus, the Voyagers were born.The Voyager spacecraft, as they came to be called instead of probes, were not the first craft sent from earth to the outer reaches of our solar neighborhood. That honor goes to the Pioneer 10 and 11 missions, which passed by Jupiter and Saturn. Pioneer 11 arrived at Saturn almost a year before Voyager 1 and was used to test the larger spacecraft's route. While the two Pioneers gained valuable data, the Voyager spacecraft carried a wider array of scientific instrumentation and would pass by every planet in the outer solar system with the exception of Pluto, which was still considered a full-fledged planet at that time. The world had never seen Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune like they would see them in the coming years.In December, 1977, Voyager 1 passed Voyager 2, so we will discuss Voyager 1's journey first. After exiting the asteroid belt in September, 1978, Voyager 1 arrived within observation range of Jupiter in January, 1979 and made its closest approach to the planet (217,000 miles) in March of that year. It was during this fly-by that Jupiter's planetary rings, a smaller version of the rings surrounding Saturn, were discovered. Using Jupiter as a gravitational slingshot, Voyager 1 took its last picture of Jupiter in April and began the long journey to Saturn.Voyager 1 arrived at Saturn nineteen months later, in November, 1980. It soon discovered that the planet's massive rings were much more complex than anyone on Earth had imagined; instead of several broad rings, there are dozens of sub-groups of small rings in larger bands. To those of us old enough to remember such things, they looked like the grooves on a record. As Voyager 1 made its way to Saturn, it was decided to alter its mission. Pioneer 11 had earlier detected a significant atmosphere on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. This was an important and surprising find, so Voyager 1's route was changed so it could make a close fly-by. However, this meant that the spacecraft would not be able to visit Uranus and Neptune. So, after a close encounter with Titan, which gravitationally pushed it out of the plane of the ecliptic, Voyager 1 headed for interstellar space.Voyager 2 had a more extensive journey inside the solar system. Making its closest approach to Jupiter in July, 1979, the spacecraft made a surprising discovery: Io, one of Jupiter's many moons, is volcanically active. One of the images Voyager 2 captured was of a giant plume erupting from the moon's surface. This was the first time volcanic activity had been observed on any celestial body other than the Earth. Voyager 2 made its close flyby of Saturn in August, 1981, after a 13-month trip from Jupiter. Almost all the iconic pictures of Saturn we see today were taken during this visit.[...]

The Purple Heart is Born, August 7, 1782

Sun, 12 Aug 2012 20:40:00 +0000

Listen hereOn August 7th, 1782, Continental Army General George Washington issued an order establishing the forerunner to the Purple Heart, the Badge of Military Merit, for “singular meritorious action”. With nearly two million recipients, the Purple Heart is America’s oldest military award. Today, it is conferred upon any person wounded in action while serving in the armed forces of the United States.During the Revolutionary War, only three members of the Continental Army were awarded the Badge of Military Merit. They were all sergeants from Connecticut:Daniel Bissell, William Brown and Elijah Churchill. They received the award at Newburgh, New York on June 10, 1783.Although never officially abandoned, for the next century and a half the Badge fell into disuse. The Medal of Honor, first created and awarded during the Civil War, was the first decoration created after the Badge lapsed into disuse. However, by the third decade of the twentieth century, US military leaders decided it was time to improve the recognition of meritorious service. Thus was the Purple Heart, a re-birth of the Badge of Military Merit, created.The exact timing of the revival was carefully chosen to mark the bicentennial of Washington's birthday. An Army heraldic specialist, Miss Elizabeth Will designed the device in 1931; John R. Sinnock then created a model of the device. It is 1-11/16 inches in length and 1-3/8 inches in width, suspended by a rounded rectangular length, which displays a vertical purple band with quarter-inch white borders. General Washington is shown in profile with his coat of arms, and set in three lines, "For Military Merit," with a space below for the recipient's name. The man who issued the revival order was then-Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur. The Army allowed the medal to be awarded retroactively for those wounded or recognized for meritorious service during the First World War. As a result, over 300,000 soldiers who were veterans of that conflict received Purple Hearts. The first recipient was Douglas MacArthur.In 1943, the conditions under which the Purple Heart were awarded were changed. Congress created the Legion of Merit during the first year of the war, so by Executive Order President Franklin Roosevelt extended the use of the award to all branches of the armed forces but limited its use to the recognition of those who are wounded or die in combat. Since that time, changes have been made as to who is eligible to receive the award, but its purpose has remained unchanged.As was mentioned in the last episode of this podcast, in anticipation of the invasion of Japan, over five hundred thousand Purple Hearts were manufactured, a stock that has yet to be exhausted. Over one million American servicemen and women received the award during World War Two. Three hundred thousand veterans of the First World War were awarded the Purple Heart retroactively. The remaining 500,000 or so have been awarded since 1945, well more than half of that number during the Vietnam War.Noticeable recipients of the Purple Heart include mainstream politicians and anti-war political activists, entertainers, actors, journalists, publishers and TV producers. The list includes the 35th US President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Colonel Ruby Bradley, America's most decorated military woman, former Marine and actor Lee Marvin, Chuck Yeager, the pilot who first broke the sound barrier, film producer Oliver Stone, Ron Kovic, who is depicted in Stone's biopic movie "Born on the Fourth of July", Rod Serling, the creator of the TV Series “Twilight Zone”, actor Charles Bronson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and novelist Kurt Vonnegut. At least one military working dog has been awarded an honorary Purple Heart. The award is a true meritocracy. And because it is always awarded on behalf of the President of the United States, it serves a direct link back to the very first holder of that office.[...]

What Price Victory, August 6, 1945

Tue, 07 Aug 2012 01:31:00 +0000

Listen hereEvery outcome in history has at least one alternative, that path that was not followed. If you've listened to this podcast for a couple of years or more, you have heard a similar version of tonight's episode. This is one of the few times that, instead of exploring just the event as it occurred, we also take a look at the other likely path. Why? Because that other branch of the tree of history was the one that most of the world thought would be the one to play out. The path that was not chosen was also well-planned for by the groups involved because almost all the decision-makers were kept in the dark about one huge fact. This is amazingly rare in modern history.On August 6, 1945, a United States Army Air Corps B-29 bomber named 'Enola Gay' dropped a uranium fission bomb codenamed “Little Boy” over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. On August 9, a B-29 named 'Bock's Car' dropped a bomb with a plutonium core named “Fat Man” on Nagasaki. These two dates remain the only times nuclear weapons have been used for their original intended purpose: to destroy population centers along with an enemy’s ability and desire to wage war. For seven decades, the world has debated the wisdom and morality of the use of these weapons. To better understand the reasoning at work in the minds of Allied leaders and war planners, it is important to look at the events leading up to these August, 1945, dates and consider one of the greatest ‘what if’ scenarios of not just the Second World War, but of all modern military history.By the summer of 1945, the Empire of Japan had ceased being a threat in most areas of the Pacific theater of war. Okinawa, only 340 miles from mainland Japan, was secured by U.S. Army and Marine Corps divisions by the end of June. While significant Japanese ground forces remained active in China and Korea, the Allies had destroyed the Imperial Navy over the course of the previous three-and-a-half years, leaving her coastal cities open to shelling from the battleships and heavy cruisers of the U.S. and British Pacific fleets. The Japanese air force, while numerically still a presence, was all but grounded due to a lack of fuel. Every major city in the Japanese home islands had been at least partially leveled by daily U.S. Army Air Corps bombing raids. The Japanese merchant fleet, once one of the world’s largest, had ceased to exist. The island nation was cut off.Yet, the remains of the once-vast empire fought on. There was a strong belief among the military leaders of Japan that a successful invasion of the four main Japanese home islands would mean the end of the nation as a distinct cultural entity. The hardliners believed that surrender was not an option and that an Allied invasion required the entire population to fight to the point of extinction. There were voices of moderation in Tokyo, one of them being the Emperor of Japan. However, tradition demanded that he remain officially silent. He had made his desire for a negotiated peace clear, however, in private discussions with his ministers. The Emperor wanted the Soviet Union (who was not yet at war with Japan) to act as a mediator between the warring powers in the Pacific. However, he also wanted some sort of concrete victory in order to gain leverage during the negotiations. But by the end of June, 1945, it was clear there would be no great Japanese victory on Okinawa or anywhere else. Furthermore, the Soviets were not interested in brokering a deal of any sort: Josef Stalin had his own plans.Meanwhile, the war in Europe ended in early May, 1945. While the occupation of Germany and Eastern Europe and post-war actions of the Allies had been discussed on multiple occasions since early in the conflict, there were still many details which needed to be sorted out. Beginning on July 17th, leaders of the United States, United Kingdom and the Soviet Union met in Potsdam, Germany to discuss both the issues of occupation and the war in the Pacific. President Harry Truman, who [...]

The Forty-Five Begins, July 23, 1745

Mon, 23 Jul 2012 00:46:00 +0000

Listen hereToday in 1745, a tiny invasion force landed in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland and began an ill-fated military campaign that ended just nine months later in a catastrophic defeat at Culloden, the last pitched battle ever fought on mainland British soil. And yet this second Jacobite Rebellion unleashed a ripple effect that is still driving events today as we head towards the Scottish Independence Referendum planned for 2014.The instigator of the "Forty-five" uprising was the twenty-five year old pretender Charles Edward Stuart (commonly known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie"). But in one sense the real trouble had been caused back in 1603 by his great-great-grandfather James VI, King of the Scots. His ascension to the English throne as King James I had created a personal union of the English and Scottish crowns. This political union persisted and was formalized with the Act of Union of 1707.The prerequisite for recreating an absolute monarchy in Scotland separate from the United Kingdom was the defeat of the reigning monarch, King George II. Although the French had only provided limited support, Stuart's Jacobite army had a reasonable prospect of success because of their choice of timing. The waging of the War of the Austrian Succession at that time meant that most of the English army was deployed in Flanders and the French wanted to arrange the recall of English divisions in order to conquer the Austrian Netherlands. The bitter irony was that had the "Forty-Five" succeeded, then such a victory might well have led to an Hanoverian overthrow that would have also restored the Stuarts to the English crown for a second time.The daring Stuart restoration plan was to gather both momentum and support as they marched south to link up with an invading French army that had not even been dispatched. Initially, progress was promising. As the French privateers carrying the invaders sailed around the southernmost tip of England, the crew aboard HMS Lion fired on and damaged one of the ships before they sailed out of range and then wrongly assumed that the ships were bound for North America. Critically, this incident was not reported to the British Admiralty until much later. Landing at Moidart in Scotland after sailing from the Outer Hebrides, the invaders marched south and the Jacobite standard was raised by a gathering of Highland clansmen at Glenfinnan in the Scottish Highlands. Victories then followed at Prestonpans near Edinburgh and then across the border at Carlisle. By December, the Jacobite Army had reached the east midlands town of Derby, just one hundred miles from the capital city of London.They never got any further than the crossing the Swarkestone Bridge because events now took the oddest of turns. As the Hanoverians began to pack their bags and prepare for their flight to the Continent, English divisions were being recalled from Flanders. And at this precise juncture Charles' commanders warned him that a larger force was defending London. To his utter dismay, his Jacobite army decided to march straight back to Scotland.With the English army now in hot pursuit and resources running critically short, a shipment of French gold meant for the Jacobites was intercepted by the Royal Navy. It was a final nail in the coffin for the Forty-Five's would-be rebellion. Determined to fight sooner rather than later, Charles retreated to Inverness where the final battle was fought at Culloden. His opponent was the Duke of Cumberland, better known to history as "The Butcher". Such was the divisive nature of the struggle that the Jacobite Army included an English unit, and the English army included Scottish troops. After a crushing defeat, Charles fled the field with a nose bleed. Secretly smuggled to safety, he eventually made his way back to France, where he lived the rest of his life with no hope that a Stuart would recapture the throne of England or Scotland.And so the vectors of the Stuart family and t[...]

The Declaration of Independence

Wed, 04 Jul 2012 02:41:00 +0000

Listen here July 4th is a holiday in the United States, a day on which we remember an act of treason against the British Royal Crown in the person of King George III. Between August 2nd, 1776 and January 22nd, 1777, 56 men representing the 13 American colonies signed a document that meant prison or even execution if the War for Independence, then underway for more than a year, went badly for the Americans. Most Americans are familiar with the beginning and the end of the Declaration of Independence. Those paragraphs contain the most soaring statements and the one phrase we know by heart: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But most of us are unfamiliar with the center of the document, the part that spells out why these representatives of the colonies felt it necessary to break ties with Great Britain. With this in mind, I present the Declaration of Independence in its entirety. The wording is stilted in places and some 21stcentury English teachers would cringe at the comma placement, but keep in mind that this document was written, revised, parsed, and debated over because the men who wrote it and signed it knew that it would either serve as a bold statement by a new nation with greatness in its future or as a last cry of indictment against a tyranny that crushed a weak group of colonies before the world could hear their cries for government of, by, and for the people. And so we begin: “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestim[...]

The Battle of Midway Part Two, June, 5, 1942

Tue, 05 Jun 2012 02:56:00 +0000

Listen hereAlthough the battle for Midway atoll would not begin until the morning of June 4th, 1942, US Army Air Force B-17s operating from the island found and attacked the Japanese Second Fleet, the ships tasked with the actual invasion, on the third. The Army pilots’ bombs all missed, but at least part of the Combined Fleet had now been decisively located and identified. At 1AM on the morning of June 4th, a Navy PBY Catalina flying boat successfully torpedoed a Japanese oil tanker that was part of the Second Fleet. This would be the only time during the entire battle that a U.S. air-launched torpedo would find its target. This was due to the Mark 13 aircraft torpedo, which was initially an abysmal failure. It was not until 1944 that a reliable version of the torpedo would be available.Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, in command of the Striking Force of four aircraft carriers, ordered the first raid on Midway launched at 4:30AM on June, 4th. He also launched fighter aircraft to defend his carriers in case the Americans showed up unexpectedly and eight search aircraft to search for the U.S. carriers. He kept half his aircraft in reserve in case the exact location of the American task force was ascertained. This was in accordance with established Japanese doctrine, but the presence of those aircraft on the four Japanese flight decks would become crucial as the battle unfolded.Unbeknownst to Nagumo, U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Army Air Force bombers and dive bombers were on the way to attack his carriers. They had no fighter escort because the few fighters available were need to defend Midway against the incoming Japanese strike. As a result, they were badly mauled without doing any damage to Nagumo's force.On Midway, meanwhile, the Japanese strike did heavy damage but did not take the installation out of commission. As long as the atoll could be used as a base for aircraft, the planned invasion of June 7thwould be in danger. Midway would have to be attacked again. Nagumo ordered his reserve aircraft armed with general purpose bombs fit for a land attack.Forty-five minutes later, a scout plane reported sighting a sizable American naval group to the east but gave no estimate of size, direction, or speed. Nagumo demanded more details, but did not receive a reply for another forty minutes. This time lapse was critical: by the time the Japanese admiral knew the approximate size of the American force, the aircraft he had dispatched for the first Midway strike were returning, low on fuel. Nagumo had several options, none of them ideal. First, he could let the returning strike aircraft ditch in the ocean while his crews re-armed his reserve planes for a naval attack. Second, he could launch his reserve aircraft with the weapons they had and hope the general purpose bombs would do at least some damage to the American carriers; he could then land the returning strike aircraft. Third, he could land the strike aircraft as soon as they arrived, clear the flight decks, then launch his reserve aircraft against the American force. The third option would take the most time but it would allow the reserve force to be properly armed. Nagumo chose option number three, ordering his crews to continue arming his reserve force for a naval strike while they waited for the Midway strike aircraft to return.More than 200 miles away, the American commanders faced their own set of problems. The Japanese carriers had been spotted early on the morning of the 4thand the order to launch an attack came at 6:00AM. One problem after another caused delays, so that the three carriers ended up launching their aircraft at different times. Instead of waiting for the entire force to assemble, Admiral Spruance ordered the aircraft to proceed to their targets as piecemeal squadrons. They would arrive over the Japanese carriers in several groups and from different directions, but this was a risk that ha[...]

The Battle of Midway Part One, June 4, 1942

Mon, 04 Jun 2012 01:31:00 +0000

Listen hereSeventy years ago today, the Battle of Midway began in earnest when forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Midway Atoll, a small group of islands 1300 miles northwest of Oahu. Over the course of the next 72 hours, the course of the Second World War in the Pacific would change. The first five months of 1942 saw an almost unbroken string of victories for the armed forces of the Empire of Japan. Japan's strategic goals in the Pacific had been achieved quickly and at relatively little cost. The Philippines, Malaya (now Malaysia), Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) had been conquered within months of the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. The resources found in those areas were crucial to Japan's economy and war-making ability. With them in hand, the Imperial Army and Navy began to plan the second phase of their offensive. There was much infighting, as the two services had maintained a bitter rivalry for almost two generations. There was also debate within the Navy, with one side being led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Combined Fleet. Yamamoto called for an invasion of Midway, a move that would further demoralize the population of the United States and extend Japan's defensive perimeter in the Pacific. This, he hoped, would drive Washington to the bargaining table in an effort to end the war. On April 18, 1942, sixteen Army Air Corps B-25 bombers took off from the USS Hornet and hit targets in Japan. While the physical damage done by the raid was insignificant, the psychological damage to the government and military of the Empire was immense. This raid, along with Yamamoto's veiled threats of resignation, brought the Imperial Japanese Navy around to the Admiral's way of thinking. Operation Mai was approved.Like most Japanese naval operations during the Second World War, Operation Mai was amazingly complicated and required precise scheduling. In addition to the attack on and occupation of Midway, a naval force would simultaneously occupy the islands of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands. This second invasion was actually successful and resulted in the “Forgotten Battle”, the U.S. Army's retaking of the islands in 1943 under conditions just as brutal as any experienced on the jungle islands and coral atolls of the central and south Pacific. The fleet assigned to Operation MI (Midway) was the most powerful naval force to ever sail the Pacific up to that point. It was divided up into the First Fleet Main Force of 3 battleships, an escort carrier, two seaplane carriers, and escorting destroyers (including Admiral Yamamoto on his flagship Yamato, the world's most powerful battleship), the First Carrier Striking Force comprised of four aircraft carriers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, and escorts, and the Second Fleet, which contained all the ships designated to be involved in the actual invasion of Midway. The Second Fleet contained two battleships, four heavy cruisers, a light aircraft carrier, various escorts and all the transports needed to carry the 5,000 troops which would invade and occupy the atoll.Yamamoto planned to stay several hundred miles behind his carriers and sail in to finish off any American naval forces in the area with his battleships and heavy cruisers after the dive bombers and torpedo planes did their work. This would leave Midway defenseless. Yamamoto had confidence in this plan because he believed there were only two American aircraft carriers in the Pacific which could threaten him: USS Enterprise and USS Hornet. The U.S. Navy had lost the carrier USS Lexington a month before at the Battle of Coral Sea, an engagement fought in the waters southeast of New Guinea. In addition, the USS Yorktown had been severely damaged. The fifth Pacific Fleet carrier, USS Saratoga, was still undergoing repairs at the Bremerton Navy Yard in Washington fro[...]

Thoughts on Memorial Day

Sun, 27 May 2012 17:55:00 +0000

Listen hereSo went a letter from Major Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers to his wife, written a week before the First Battle of Bull Run, the first major engagement of the US Civil War. The Major wrote prodigiously to Sarah and she received more upbeat letters written in the days before and following his July 14th update from Washington D.C. But this letter became his most famous, mainly because of its inclusion in Ken Burns' Civil War documentary series, first aired in 1990. As with many other mementos of wars past, it has come to represent not just a man and the war in which he fought, but a nation's desire to seek something honorable and just from the loss of so many in battle over the past 235 years. This Monday, May 28th, will be Memorial Day in the United States, the day on which we honor those who have given their lives while serving during wartime in our nation’s military. Over the more than 140 years of its existence, Memorial Day has also come to represent the beginning of the summer season.Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in Waterloo, New York in 1866. A decoration day of sorts occurred in Charleston, South Carolina in May 1865 at the site of a former Confederate prison camp, but Waterloo is given most of the credit for creating the day as we now know it. The village was home to General John Murray, who was a friend of General John Logan, the head of a veterans’ organization called the Grand Army of the Republic. Logan pushed for a national observance on May 30th, a date on which no battles took place during the then-recent Civil War. The day was originally intended to honor those who died during that conflict, but was soon extended to include those who paid the ultimate price in all the nation’s wars. The term Decoration Day was used because cemeteries were generally adorned with flags and flowers to honor the fallen. Although the term Memorial Day first appeared in print in 1882, it did not come into common use until around the time of the Second World War.In 1968, Congress moved Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday in May. This created a three-day weekend, doubtless one of the reasons why the holiday seems to have lost its meaning to so many Americans.History is full of stories of men and women who showed unbelievable courage under fire even though they invited their own deaths in the process. While we rightly recognize these heroes, it is also important to remember those whose names have been lost to history but whose sacrifices were no less honorable. By the end of the Civil War in 1865, nearly every American had lost a family member, friend or co-worker. During two world wars, Americans again felt that ultimate sacrifice close at hand; as my father said of the neighborhood in which he grew up during the 1940's, “There were a lot of gold stars hanging in peoples’ windows.”In the past 60 years, the general public in the United States has become increasingly distant from the military. Even with combat taking place in Afghanistan as I write this, many Americans personally know no one serving in the military. Our armed forces are smaller, as a percentage of the population, than they have been since the end of the Revolutionary War and a draft has not existed for 39 years. Yet men and women from every walk of American life die almost daily in war; some of their names will only be remembered by those who love them. While we can debate the merits of any war, those who give their lives fighting in it did so for us and for generations not yet born.Lower Manhattan was still engulfed by smoke and dust in September, 2001, when National Public Radio's news program 'All Things Considered' aired a segment in which American college students were asked if they would consider joining the military to fight in what was not yet being called the War on Terror. One y[...]

The Homestead Act Signed, May 20, 1862

Tue, 22 May 2012 01:08:00 +0000

Listen hereOne hundred fifty years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862. The act gave an applicant ownership of 160 acres of undeveloped federal land located west of the Mississippi River. It is one of the reasons why the western 2/3 of the United States was settled within a generation after the end of the Civil War.As the United States expanded westward towards the Pacific Ocean, any land not under the jurisdiction of a state was considered federal property. This land was mostly empty except for those areas granted to or controlled by Native American tribes. By the fourth decade of the 19thcentury, the government in Washington began to consider ways to encourage Americans to move west of the Mississippi River. The first major legislation to do this was the Preemption Act of 1841, which in part granted preemption rights to individuals who were already settled on federal lands. This meant that squatters were given the opporunity to buy the land on which they had settled before it was offered for sale to the general public. The land was offered at very low prices and many settlers took the government up on the offer. Most settlers in the Kansas and Nebraska territories, which were both opened to settlement in 1854, claimed rights under the Preemption Act to buy their land.A more comprehensive act, entitled the Homestead Act, was introduced and passed by Congress in 1860. However, President Buchanan vetoed the bill and the Repulicans who supported the act did not have enough votes to override the Executive Branch. This first version of the act required settlers to pay twenty-five cents an acre for land. This fee would be dropped when the act was re-introduced in 1862.The act was opposed by Southern Democrats because it limited settlers to 160 acres, an area of land too small for the type of plantation many slave owners imagined for themselves. To them, the act was an attempt to ensure that states created west of the Mississippi River were controlled by non-slave owners and immigrants. After Abraham Lincoln's election in November, 1860, however, southern states began to secede from the Union and took most of their Senate delegations with them. With the removal of the slavery issue from the debate over the legislation, the Homestead Act passed and was signed into law in May, 1862. The new law established a three-fold homestead acquisition process: filing an application, improving the land, and filing for deed of title. Any U.S. citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the United States could file an application and lay claim to 160 acres of surveyed federal land. For the next 5 years, the homesteader had to live on the land and improve it by at least building a 12-by-14 dwelling and growing crops. After 5 years, the homesteader could file for his patent (or deed of title) by submitting proof of both residency and the required improvements to a local land office.Local land offices forwarded the paperwork to the General Land Office in Washington, DC, along with a final certificate of eligibility. The case file was examined, and valid claims were granted patent to the land free and clear for a registration fee of $18. Title could also be acquired after just a 6-month residency and trivial improvements, provided the claimant paid the government $1.25 per acre. After the Civil War, Union soldiers could deduct the time they served from the residency requirements.Some land speculators took advantage of a legislative loophole created when those drafting the law failed to specify whether the 12-by-14 dwelling was to be measured in feet or inches. Others hired phony claimants or bought abandoned land. The General Land Office was under-funded and could never hire a sufficient number of investigators. As a result, overworked and underpaid in[...]

Saigon Falls, April 30, 1975

Wed, 02 May 2012 02:16:00 +0000

Listen here On April 30, 1975, the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, fell to the North Vietnamese Army. This marked the end of the Vietnam War and the end of South Vietnam as a nation. The evacuation of thousands of Americans and South Vietnamese from the city, mainly by helicopter, marked the end of nearly 20 years of US involvement in the region.The Paris Peace Accords, signed in 1973, ended direct US military involvement in Vietnam. The accords also called for a cease-fire between North and South and for reunification of the country to take place by peaceful means. By early 1975, the accords were a bitter memory as the North Vietnamese Army won victory after victory on its way to Saigon. While the United States' Central Intelligence Agency predicted in March that South Vietnam would hold out until 1976, this estimate was generous in the extreme. By April 27th, more than 100,000 communist troops from the North were in position around Saigon, preparing for a final push into the city. The population of Saigon included thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Vietnamese who either worked or had worked for the Americans in some capacity. The general fear was that a North Vietnamese victory would result in the death or confinement of those who had worked for the United States or for the South Vietnamese government. This fear was not unfounded: during the Tet Offensive in 1968, North Vietnamese forces had occupied Hue City for nearly a month. After the city was retaken, mass graves were found containing the bodies of South Vietnamese Army officers, Catholics, educators and businessmen. With this in mind, the Defense Attaches' Office began to evacuate non-essential American personnel in March, 1975.In early April, US President Gerald Ford decided that all Americans in South Vietnam needed to leave the country. While this decision seemed clear on the surface, there were many factors to consider. The US military wanted to evacuate everyone as quickly as possible so as to minimize the risk of casualties. The Ambassador to South Vietnam, Graham Martin, was the senior US official in South Vietnam and was in charge of the evacuation. He vetoed the military's plan in favor of a slower progression out of a fear that the sudden evacuation of Americans would cause mass panic to erupt in Saigon. In the end, President Ford approved a plan in which all but 1250 Americans were to be evacuated. These would remain until Saigon's Tan Son Nhut airport was under threat of takeover by the North Vietnamese Army. This plan was abandoned on April 29th when the airport's runways were hit by artillery and rockets. Anyone leaving the city by air would have to do it in a helicopter.At 11AM local time on April 29th, Operation Frequent Wind was put into operation. This was the fail-safe plan in which American personnel still in the city would be evacuated using the Defense Attache's Office as a landing site for Navy, Marine Corps and Air America helicopters. Personnel would then be taken to the ships of the US Seventh Fleet on station in the South China Sea. The American radio station in Saigon began playing Bing Crosby's "White Christmas", a signal for the evacuees to assemble at pre-arranged locations where they could be picked up by bus and taken to the DAO compound. That afternoon and evening, one helicopter after another landed in the compound and left with American and Vietnamese civilians on board. By 11PM, 395 Americans and more than 4000 Vietnamese had been flown out to the Seventh Fleet. At that hour, the Marines providing security at the compound received orders to demolish the compound and withdraw to the US Embassy. While evacuating people directly from the embassy had not been part of the original plan, several thousand people were stranded there and it was be[...]

ANZAC Day, April 25, 1915

Wed, 25 Apr 2012 02:00:00 +0000

Listen hereAs I record this, it is already Wednesday on the other side of the International Date Line. April 25th is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. The word "ANZAC" is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, a force made up of two infantry divisions which took part in the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. Originally, this day honored those who fought and died in that operation. Since the Second World War, the day has honored all the citizens of those two nations who have given their lives in defense of their homeland.When the First World War began in the summer of 1914, Imperial Russia, which fought on the side of the Allied Powers, found herself isolated. The nation had a large army, but it lacked modern weapons. England and France, both of whom had smaller populations but greater industrial capacity than Russia, wanted to supply their ally with weapons and munitions. However, there was no land route available through Europe and every route by sea was either too far away from the fighting or too close to enemy naval and shore forces to risk a run to Russian ports. By the fall of 1914, the Western Front, which ran through France and Belgium, was at a stalemate. Something had to be done to sap the strength of the German and Ottoman Empire's forces.That something came to be known as the Dardanelles Campaign, named for the narrow waterway that connects the Aegean Sea, and thus the Mediterranean, to the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus and ultimately to the Black Sea. The Dardanelles was controlled by Turkey, part of the Ottoman Empire and thus a member of the Central Powers. The plan was to use British and French naval power in the form of battleships to force open the waterway to Allied shipping. Once secured, this would allow Russia to receive munitions and weapons from her allies and shift the balance of power on the Eastern Front. The Central Powers would have to focus more resources on fighting the Russians, resources that would have to be taken away from the Western Front. The plan was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, who at that time was First Lord of the Admiralty. Responsibility for the campaign would ultimately fall on his shoulders.The naval bombardment of Turkish shore facilities in the area began on February 19, 1915. A second attack on March 18 saw the loss of two British and one French battleship. The loss of three capital warships made the Allies re-think their strategy. It was decided that naval power alone would not be enough to open the Dardanelles. A large ground force was needed to take both sides of the waterway: the Gallipoli Peninsula to the west and the Turkish mainland to the east. It was believed that if a successful invasion could be mounted, the Allied forces could push all the way to Ottoman capital of Constantinople and force one of the Central Powers out of the war.And so the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force was formed. The force was initially comprised of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (two divisions), the British 10th and 29th divisions, the Royal Naval Division and the French Oriental Expeditionary Corps made up of four Senegalese battalions. The Australian and New Zealand divisions were already in Egypt, training for service in France. The rest of the units took more than six weeks to arrive. Egypt was far from a secure location from which to embark on a secret invasion, so weeks before the Allies set sail, Turkish forces knew the strength and the arrival date of the Expeditionary Force. They laid in supplies and waited.The invasion began on April 25th, 1915 with the British 29th Division landing on the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula. The Anzacs (as the Australian and New Zealand divisions were known) landed further to the north on the Aegean side of the penins[...]

The Greenbrier Ghost Murder, January 23, 1897

Mon, 23 Apr 2012 01:50:00 +0000

Listen here On January 23, 1897, Elva Zona Heaster was found dead at her home in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. The court drama that arose from her death is possibly the only time in US history that the testimony of a ghost was accepted at a murder trial.Elva Zona Heaster, known as Zona to her friends and family, was around 23 years of age in October, 1896 when she met a man who was newly arrived in Greenbrier County. His name was Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue and he was a blacksmith by trade. He told anyone who asked that he had moved to this rural part of West Virginia to start a new life. Zona fell in love with Shue over the objections of her mother, who uncharacteristically disliked the man from the start. The two were married by the end of the year.From all accounts, the couple lived a relatively quiet life. That all changed on January 23, 1897, when a local boy discovered Zona's body at her and Shue's home. She was lying on the floor, stretched out with her feet together and one hand on her stomach. There was no one else in the house; Shue was at work. The young boy ran home and told his mother of the discovery, and she in turn ran to get the local doctor, George Knapp. Knapp was also the county coroner, meaning that he had a legal obligation to examine the body in order to determine a cause of death.Dr. Knapp did not arrive on the scene for another hour, by which time Shue had been told of his wife's death and was at home with the body. He had laid his wife's body out in their bedroom and had dressed it for internment. This was the first unusual behavior exhibited by Shue; at that time, it was traditional for local women to wash and dress the body in preparation for a funeral. Shue had dressed his wife in a dress with a stiff collar, which was not unusual for that era. He would not leave his wife's body, even when Dr. Knapp did his examination. Knapp noticed some bruising on Zona's neck, but when he tried to look closer, Shue became so angry that the doctor cut his examination short. He listed her cause of death as "everlasting faint" and then "childbirth". Since he was the only doctor in the area, Knapp had been treating Zona for some time and was aware that she had been experiencing what he euphemistically termed "female trouble" in the weeks prior to her death. Zona was buried the next day, January 24, 1897. Shue tied a large scarf around his wife's neck during the wake and, once again, would neither leave sight of her body or let anyone else near it. Zona's mother, Mary Jane Heaster, began to grow suspicious of Shue. After the wake, she removed a sheet from the coffin and tried to give it to Shue, but he refused it. She took it home, where she noticed it had a strong odor. She washed it, only to find that the sheet had turned pink and that the stain could not be removed. To her, this was a sign that her daughter had been murdered.A month went by, during which time Mary Heaster waited for another sign telling her beyond a doubt that her daughter had been murdered. According to her later testimony, that sign came four weeks after the funeral when Zona appeared to her as a ghostly apparition. She told Mary that Shue had been abusive and had killed her during a fit of rage by breaking her neck. According to Mary, Zona's ghost turned her head completely around in order to illustrate the point.John Preston, the Greenbrier County Prosecutor, was surprised when Mary Heaster arrived in his office and proceeded for the next several hours to try and convince him that the ghost of her daughter had, indeed, proven Shue guilty of murder. We do not know if Preston believed Mary's story or not, but he must have believed at least some part of it because he sent two deputies to conduct interviews w[...]

Flight 19 Disappears, December 5, 1945

Fri, 13 Apr 2012 01:37:00 +0000

Listen hereOn December 5th, 1945, a flight of five US Navy aircraft and 14 crew members disappeared during a training flight off the coast of Florida. In the more than 60 years since the incident, Flight 19 has become the focus of much speculation and has helped fuel the belief that the Bermuda Triangle (an area of the Atlantic Ocean between the endpoints of Miami, Florida, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Bermuda) is home to strange paranormal activities.Flight 19 was supposed to be a routine training flight over water. The trainee pilots were flying TBM Avenger torpedo bombers, the largest single-engine aircraft produced by the United States during the Second World War. The Avenger carried a crew of three: a pilot, a turret gunner and a third crewmen who served as radioman, bombardier and ventral gunner. The leader of the flight was Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor, a pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours under his belt, some of it spent as a combat pilot in the Pacific. Taylor was new to Florida, but the student pilots had all trained at the Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station and were familiar with the area. The flight plan was known as "Navigation Problem 1" and called for the flight to fly due east from Ft. Lauderdale for 123 miles, northwest for 73 miles and then southwest back to the air station. On the first leg, the planes would drop bombs just south of the Grand Bahamas.The planes took off at 2:10 PM local time. The weather was good but the sea state was bordering on rough. Taylor let one of the trainees lead the flight while his aircraft flew in the rearmost position. Based on radio communications with the air station, the first leg of the flight and the bombing practice took place according to plan. Soon after turning to the second leg, however, unknown problems arose and Taylor took over the lead position of the flight. Conversations between the aircraft, which were received by several ground stations, indicated that only Taylor thought the flight was lost. He radioed another instructor who happened to be flying in the area and told him that both his compasses were malfunctioning and that he did not know the direction to Fort Lauderdale. He also said that he believed he was flying over the Florida Keys, a group of islands located a significant distance from the planned route. The instructor told him to turn the flight so that the sun was on their port, or left, wing. This would put them heading in a northernly direction. If Taylor was in the easternmost Keys, then flying to the north would cause the flight to find the coastline of Florida in a short period of time.As the hours ticked by, the weather in the area began to worsen. At 5:16PM, more than three hours after takeoff, an argument was heard between Taylor and one of the trainees. The student was insisting that they turn due west. After the dispute, Taylor ordered a turn to 270 degrees, or due west, saying, "We'll fly 270 degrees west until landfall or running out of gas." No matter where the flight was at this point, this was the right decision to take. If Taylor was in the Florida Keys, flying to the west would eventually place the flight on the Texas-Mexico side of the Gulf of Mexico. If flying in the Atlantic off the east coast of Florida, then flying west would take the pilots back to the Florida coast. Either way, they would end up over land as long as their fuel didn't run out first.At 6:04PM, another communication between Taylor and his flight was heard: "Holding 270, we didn't fly far enough east, we may as well just turn around and fly east again." There was no order in the transmission, just a suggestion. 15 minutes later, another message was received: "All planes close up tight...we'll have to ditc[...]

The Battle of Los Angeles, February 25, 1942

Tue, 10 Apr 2012 02:14:00 +0000

Listen here In the predawn hours of February 25, 1942, anti-aircraft artillery and giant spotlights lit up the night sky over Southern California. The soldiers manning those anti-aircraft batteries were shooting at an object none of them could identify; so began the Battle of Los Angeles. To this day, no solid evidence has been found to explain what so many people claimed they saw that night.Early 1942 was a dark time for the United States and the allies. The three months between the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 and the end of February, 1942 brought the reality of the Second World War home to the American people, and that reality showed the United States was losing ground. In the Philippines, American and Filipino troops were barely holding on at Bataan and Corregidor; the Pacific Fleet was not strong enough to affect a rescue or even a re-supply mission. Less than two weeks before the events of February 25th, the British had surrendered Singapore to the Japanese after six days of fighting; it was arguably the Empire’s greatest military defeat. And as if to add insult to injury, on February 23rd a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast of California near Santa Barbara and shelled an oil refinery. Even though the damage was superficial, it made many Californians believe that an invasion of the mainland was only a matter of time. Local police and Army units began receiving reports of unidentified objects over Los Angeles late in the evening of February 24th. At 2:25AM on the 25th, air raid sirens sounded all over the city and surrounding communities as a blackout was ordered. Air raid wardens moved through the streets, making sure lights were either turned off or covered. At 3:16AM, the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade began firing at an object or objects moving over Santa Monica towards Long Beach. The unit kept up firing until the all-clear was sounded at 7:20AM. They used over 1,400 shells in their attempt to bring down whatever was flying over the metro Los Angeles area. What people observed that morning depends on the witness. Some reported seeing silver planes flying in a “V” formation; the number of aircraft seen ranged from nine to more than twenty-five. Others saw a single, large object in the searchlights, with several people claiming that the anti-aircraft fire hit the unidentified craft several times. By morning, the object was gone and three civilians were dead from friendly fire. As the story of the strange incident spread on February 25th, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox released a statement during a press conference in which he said that the entire episode was a “false alarm” brought on by a nervous populace and trigger-happy gunners. The Office of Air Force History added these details to the story during a 1983 summary of the day:“At the same conference he admitted that attacks were always possible and indicated that vital industries located along the coast ought to be moved inland. The Army had a hard time making up its mind on the cause of the alert. A report to Washington, made by the Western Defense Command shortly after the raid had ended, indicated that the credibility of reports of an attack had begun to be shaken before the blackout was lifted. This message predicted that developments would prove “that most previous reports had been greatly exaggerated.” The Fourth Air Force had indicated its belief that there were no planes over Los Angeles. But the Army did not publish these initial conclusions. Instead, it waited a day, until after a thorough examination of witnesses had been finished. On the basis of these hearings, local commanders altered their verdict and indicated a belief that from[...]

Corrigan's Wrong Way Flight, July 18, 1938

Thu, 05 Apr 2012 03:11:00 +0000

Listen here On July 18th, 1938, Douglas Corrigan arrived in Ireland, having flown there from New York solo in an aircraft that seemed hardly up to the task. The story of his flight lead Corrigan to a life of fame in both the United States and Europe and left him forever remembered as a pioneer in trans-oceanic aviation.Douglas Corrigan was born in January, 1907 in Galveston, Texas. He was 18 when he took his first plane ride, a short trip in a First World War-vintage Curtiss Jenny biplane. A week later, Corrigan signed up for flying lessons and made his first solo flight in March, 1926. Flying would consume his life for the next quarter century.Corrigan was hired at the San Diego factory of Ryan Aeronautical Company right about the time a flier named Charles Lindbergh ordered a custom plane for his attempt at a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Corrigan helped build the aircraft and successfully lobbied for making the wings longer than the design called for in order to increase the plane's lift. Lindbergh's flight from Garden City, New York to Paris took 33.5 hours and made him an international hero. A ticker tape parade was held in his honor in New York City upon his return to the United States and he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1929. Corrigan decided to repeat the trip, but chose Ireland instead of France as his destination.After leaving Ryan, Corrigan gave flying lessons and took jobs as an aircraft mechanic to make ends meet as the nation found itself in the grip of the Great Depression. In 1933, he bought a Curtiss Robin OX-5 for $310 and began to modify it for a trans-Atlantic trip. He installed a larger engine and extra fuel tanks, almost doubling the plane's horsepower and extending her range by hundreds of miles. In 1935, Corrigan applied to the Bureau of Air Commerce for permission to fly from New York to Ireland non-stop. His request was rejected on the grounds that his aircraft was too unsound for transatlantic flight. He was, however, approved for a coast-to-coast flight within the United States.Corrigan repaired, replaced and modified his plane, now named 'Sunshine', over the course of the next two years, but he still could not gain approval to fly across the Atlantic. To make matters worse, his plane was refused a new license because, despite Corrigan's modifications, it was deemed too dangerous to transport even one person safely over land. The plane was grounded for six months.It was most likely during this time that Corrigan decided to make his Ireland journey with or without permission. In early 1938, his aircraft was granted an experimental license. That July, he was granted permission for a cross-country flight from San Diego to New York. He made the trip at 85MPH, the plane's most efficient speed. He crossed the nation in 27 hours, but not without incident: the plane developed a fuel leak, filling the cockpit with fumes and causing concern that he would not be able to complete the trip. When he landed in New York, Corrigan decided that repairing the fuel leak would take too much time, as he needed to take off early in the morning to escape detection by airport officials. He filed a flight plan for a return trip to California, filled up his leaking plane with 320 gallons of gasoline and 16 gallons of oil, and taxied to the end of the runway at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.What Corrigan did next would earn him a place in the history books. After takeoff, instead of heading west to California, Corrigan turned east and headed for Europe. He would later claim that his flight to Ireland was the result of a navigational error caused by low clouds that obscured local landmarks. He also claimed[...]

The Zapruder Film Premieres, March 6, 1975

Tue, 27 Mar 2012 02:18:00 +0000

Listen here On March 6th, 1975, the Zapruder film was shown to the American public on television for the first time. It is the most complete visual record of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which took place in Dallas, Texas, on November 22nd, 1963. The story of the film’s creation, subsequent ownership and virtual disappearance from public view for 12 years has become the stuff of legend and one of the many twisting, turning tales to emerge from that terrible day in Dallas nearly 50 years ago.Abraham Zapruder was the very personification of the American Dream. Born in the Ukraine, he immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1920 during the turmoil of the Russian Civil War. Just 15, he studied English at night and spent his days learning about the garment industry in New York City. In 1954, he co-founded his own clothing company in Dallas, Texas; his office was located in the Dal-Tex Building just east of the Texas School Book Depository and diagonally across from Dealey Plaza. On the day of President Kennedy’s visit to Dallas, Zapruder announced his intention to watch the motorcade as it passed by. He had no intention of filming the proceedings, but went home earlier in the day to get his Bell + Howell Zoomatic movie camera at the insistence of an assistant. Zapruder’s life would never be the same.The film that would one day form so much of our national memory of that day is 26.6 seconds long and without audio. Zapruder caught the President's motorcade as it turned onto Elm Street and passed Dealey Plaza. The fatal shot to the President's head occurred when the car in which he was riding passed almost directly in front of the camera.Zapruder knew immediately that his camera and what it contained were of vital importance. As he walked back to his office, he encountered a local reporter who had contacts in the Secret Service. The reporter told Zapruder that he would send a Secret Service agent to the clothing manufacturer's office. Once he arrived back at work, Zapruder sent an assistant out to find a Secret Service agent in case the reporter failed in his mission. Once Agent Forrest Sorrels of Secret Service arrived at the Dal-Tex building, Zapruder agreed to hand the film over on the condition that it only be used to aid the investigation and not be broadcast or otherwise shared. The agent agreed and the men went to local TV station WFAA to have the film developed. While there, Zapruder was interviewed live about what he had seen. The station could not develop the film, so it was taken to Eastman Kodak's Dallas processing plant. Zapruder kept the original and a copy and gave the Secret Service two copies, which were flown to Washington for analysis.Later that night, Zapruder received a call from a Life magazine editor. The next day, he agreed to sell the magazine the original film and print rights for $50,000. The agreement was amended two days later with Life agreeing to pay Zapruder six annual payments of $25,000 for the television and motion picture rights as well. He donated the first payment to the family of Officer J.D. Tippit, the policemen killed by Lee Harvey Oswald on the day of the assassination. He later added a condition to the sale: that frame 313 of the film be removed from any public showing. That is the frame that shows the fatal shot to the President's head and Zapruder did not want the public to see the horror of the event.Abraham Zapruder went on to testify before the Warren Commission, the first body convened to investigate the Kennedy assassination. A big fan and supporter of Kennedy, Zapruder broke down while testifying before the panel.[...]

The Last Mission of PT-109, August 1, 1943

Fri, 23 Mar 2012 02:44:00 +0000

Listen here On August 1st, 1943, the Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109 put to sea on her last mission. Before sunrise on August 2nd, she would be sunk and her surviving crew would find themselves in danger from both the elements and Japanese garrisons located on nearby islands. The story of their survival over the next six days and the ultimate fate of her commanding officer ensured that PT boats would earn their place in American naval history.Motor Torpedo Boats, or PT boats, were the smallest warships used by the United States Navy during the Second World War. There were several different types, each built by a different boat yard. PT-109 was representative of the boats built early in the war by the Elco Company of New Jersey. She was 80 feet long, almost 21 feet wide and fully loaded weighed in at 56 tons. Unlike other warships of the day, PT boats were built from wood; in PT-109's case, it was 2-inch thick mahogany. For their size, the PT boats packed a mighty punch. On the day of her last mission, PT-109 carried four 21-inch torpedo tubes load with Mark 8 torpedoes, a troublesome model designed during the First World War. She carried a 20MM cannon near the stern, twin-.50cal machine gun turrets on opposite corners of the deckhouse and a 37MM anti-tank gun that the crew had "liberated" from some unknown source and mounted forward of the deckhouse. Field modifications were common on the boats. If the water was calm and her three 1,500HP Packard engines were running right, she could top out at 43 knots, or 48 miles per hour.PT-109 had been delivered to the Navy in July, 1942 and by the first of August of the next year, she had seen more than her share of combat. She had arrived in the Solomon Islands in October, 1942 and spent most evenings trying to stop the Japanese Imperial Navy from resupplying the empire's ground forces fighting desperately on Guadalcanal. The Japanese used destroyers for resupply as well as small barges, both targets for the PT boats. While in theory a PT could handle a destroyer under the right conditions, in truth it was never a fair fight. Destroyers carried more firepower with longer range and could outrun the relatively slow Mark 8 torpedo. Except for parts of the deckhouse, PT boats had no armor; a five-inch shell landing in the engine room often ended a PTs life in one blinding flash.Lieutenant (j.g.) John Fitzgerald Kennedy took command of PT-109 on March 23, 1943. Kennedy was an unlikely naval officer. He had been sickly as a young man and his back was a continual problem. He was only able to secure a position in the Navy through the help of his father, who had been Ambassador to England earlier in the war. According to most sources, Kennedy was eager for a combat assignment, possibly hoping to outshine his older brother Joseph, who became a naval aviator and would die later in the war. Regardless of his intentions, at the age of 25 Kennedy found himself fighting a war in the dark as the commander of a wooden boat in an armor-plated world.From their base on Rendova Island, PT-109 and her sister vessels conducted nightly operations to interdict the heavy Japanese barge traffic resupplying the Japanese garrisons on New Georgia and patrolled the Ferguson and Blackett Straits to give warning when Japanese warships sailed into the straits to assault U.S. forces in the New Georgia-Rendova area.Commanded by Kennedy with executive officer Ensign Leonard Jay Thom and ten enlisted men aboard, PT-109 was one of fifteen boats sent out on patrol on the night of August 1st, 1943 to intercept Japanese warships. A friend of Kennedy, Ensign George H.[...]

The Newburgh Conspiracy, March 15, 1783

Sun, 18 Mar 2012 03:26:00 +0000

Listen here When most people think of the American War for Independence, their first thought is of the Declaration of Independence or one of the war's battles. But on March 15th, 1783, an event occurred that could have unraveled everything that the new nation had gained in nearly seven years of conflict. The actions of one man reversed a dangerous tide of emotion and saved the day. Today, we remember and honor the man, but the day has been all but lost.In March, 1783, the fighting was over but the young United States and the British Empire were still at war. Most of the Continental Army was camped at Newburgh, New York about 60 miles north of New York City, which was still held by a British garrison. Peace talks were underway in Paris, but the Americans were not going to give the Redcoats any last-minute opportunities to reverse the tide of war.Although independence and peace were within reach, there was trouble in the camp. The Continental Army received its payroll from the Continental Congress, which in turn depended upon the good will of the thirteen colonies to support the war effort. Under the Articles of Confederation, the forerunner of the Constitution, Congress could not levy taxes. All financial power rested with the colonies, who had local and regional problems of their own. As a result, all of the officers and men present were owed back pay. Some had not been paid in six years. What's more, in 1781 the officers had been granted a life-long pension of half their active duty pay. Now, it seemed foolhardy to expect the pension would ever be paid. But as long as the Army was still in existence, there was hope. Once the officers and men were mustered out, however, the chances of receiving anything from Congress or the colonies were nil. Many of the officers at Newburgh were in deep personal debt. They had left farms and businesses in the hands of families and friends only to find them mismanaged, sold or destroyed by the British. In some way, economic hardship had visited all of them. Tired of waiting for Congress to act on their behalf, some of the officers began to plan for a war of their own. They sent a message, or memorial, to Congress in which they told of their plight and listed the promises that had been made to them over the years: money, clothing and land grants. In the subtle wording of 18th century gentlemen, they left no doubt that distrust and hostility was growing in the ranks. It did not take much imagination to see what was being hinted at: armed rebellion.Several members of Congress, especially Alexander Hamilton, saw an opportunity in the Army's discontent. They supported the establishment of a strong central government, something that did not exist at the time. They reasoned that the Army could be used to force Congress to become a self-financing body, a necessary first step. Some of the members contacted Washington's generals directly and asked for their help. What they were asking for was essentially a threatened military takeover of the government.Alexander Hamilton had, at one time, been General Washington's aide-de-camp. Washington wrote to Hamilton and said that while he sympathized with his officers and men, the Army simply could not be used to force political change. It could set a precedent so dangerous that the nation's very survival could be at stake. Washington knew he had to act.An officer's meeting was called for March 15, 1783, with Major General Horatio Gates presiding. The officers would be free to discuss their grievances in the hope that the situation could be diffused. As the meeting bega[...]

Executive Order 9066 Signed, February 19, 1942

Thu, 15 Mar 2012 02:05:00 +0000

Listen here On February 19,1942, US President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave federal authorities the right to declare large sections of the United States military areas. Once so declared, these areas could be cleared of any persons perceived to be a threat to the national security of the United States. While the order did not mention Americans of Japanese ancestry specifically, it was aimed squarely at them. What followed was the largest forced internment of American citizens in history.While the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ultimately prompted the issue of the executive order, anti-Asian sentiment in some parts of the United States had existed for generations. Some California farmers publicly supported the internment not for national security reasons, but simply because they saw Japanese-American farmers as a threat to their profitability. As one farmer told the Saturday Evening Post in 1942: "And we don't want them back when the war ends, either."The executive order would result in the removal of 120,000 Japanese and Americans of Japanese descent from their homes in military areas. Most of this land was along the Pacific coast, which also happened to be where most first- and second-generation Japanese-Americans lived. Several thousand Italian and German nationals were also forced to move or were interned as a result of the order, but those of Japanese descent were by far the group most impacted.Of the 120,000 people forced to move from their homes, 62 percent were Nisei; that is, second-generation Japanese-Americans. The remainder were Issei; either first-generation Japanese-Americans or resident aliens. Thus, the vast majority of those forced to relocate were American citizens with the same rights as those whose ancestors came from elsewhere. They were singled out because of their race.10,000 of those forced to relocate were able to move to other parts of the country. The remainder, 110,000 men, women and children, were sent to "War Relocation Centers", internment camps hastily built in remote areas of the country. The War Relocation Authority, the government agency created to oversee the camps, ran 10 such camps in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. The Department of Justice also ran camps, but these were for people actually accused of criminal activity or deemed too dangerous to remain in the other facilities. The buildings in the camps were built from designs meant for army barracks, meaning that families had no private bathrooms, kitchens or living rooms---everything was communal. Some of the camps, such as those in Utah and Wyoming, were not built to protect their inhabitants against the bitterly cold winters. Furthermore, most of the internees did not have winter clothing as they had lived in much gentler climates.The internment program was overseen by Lieutenant General John Dewitt, who repeatedly told West Coast newspapers that "a Jap's a Jap." He, along with some in his chain of command, feared that a significant Japanese fifth column existed in the United States and would one day attack military and industrial targets within the country. They sited the fact that many people of Japanese descent living in the US had received at least part of their education in Japan, where loyalty to the Emperor was a central part of schools' curricula. Almost everyone interred as a result of the Executive Order 9066 lost property,a business, money or a combination of the three. They were given little time to get their affairs in order and many l[...]

The Cooper Union Speech, February 27,1860

Mon, 12 Mar 2012 02:07:00 +0000

Listen hereMost of history's great moments can only be imagined. There are no photos of Roman legions in battle or of Gutenberg as he perfected movable type. Even though photography has been with us for nearly 200 years, many events have nonetheless been lost to us and only remain as the recorded memories of eyewitnesses.But every once in a while the camera is present at a moment in history. February 27, 1860 saw one such moment, for on that day in New York City, a tall, rail-thin lawyer from Illinois sat for a picture, one of the few three-quarters length portraits of him ever produced. The photographer was Matthew Brady, a man who would soon be known the world over for the pictures he and his employees took on the battlefields of the U.S. Civil War. We can only wonder what Brady thought of his subject. Fifteen years earlier a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel named Robert E. Lee had sat for Brady; he would sit for him again in 1865 as a man broken by war. Did he see the fierce determination both men possessed?The lawyer was due to speak at The Cooper Union in lower Manhattan later in the day. The Cooper Union was a college that had only been open for a year. It's main offerings were night classes for adults in subjects like applied sciences and architectural drawing. Anyone could attend the school regardless of race, religion or sex, a policy that was almost unheard of in mid-19th century America. The school's founder, Peter Cooper, was a self-taught inventor and businessman. If you enjoy Jello, you have Cooper to thank----he invented instant gelatin and his wife, Sarah, came up with the idea of adding fruit to it. The Illinois lawyer was, of course, Abraham Lincoln. He had accepted an invitation sent to him in October, 1859 by Henry Ward Beecher to speak at Beecher's church in Brooklyn. By the time Lincoln arrived in New York in February of 1860, the venue had changed and the Young Men's Republican Union had taken over sponsorship of the speech. The Republican Union opposed William Seward, a strong contender for the Republican Presidential nomination. It was hoped that Lincoln, who had still not announced his candidacy, would move to the front runner's position in the party.That evening, the Cooper Union's Grand Hall was packed with a capacity crowd of 1,500. Lincoln was to speak on the topic of slavery, but more specifically, whether or not the federal government should control slavery in the nation's territories and not allow the institution to expand. Lincoln and his party believed the federal government had the right to enforce slave-free settlement of new territories. For weeks before the speech, Lincoln had researched the 39 signers of the Constitution. 21 of them believed as Lincoln did on the issue of expansion of slavery. Thus, according to him, following the path of the Founders, as many southerners claimed to be doing, meant supporting geographical limits on slavery.To the 21st century mind, the logic of Lincoln's argument seems clear. But the United States was a nation bitterly divided over the question of slavery in 1860, so much so that Lincoln spent a part of his speech addressing the people of the South directly. He spoke of how members of the Republican Party, which supported abolition, were considered outlaws south of the Mason-Dixon line. He called for logical examination of the issue, and then proceeded to discuss every instance in which the federal government had somehow limited slavery in a new state or territory. He also accused Southerners of being willing t[...]

The Nome Serum Run, February 2, 1925

Tue, 06 Mar 2012 02:25:00 +0000

Listen here On February 2nd, 1925, a team of tired, cold sled dogs and their equally exhausted musher arrived on Front Street in Nome, Alaska. The cargo the man and his dogs carried helped save possibly hundreds of lives. Theirs was the last leg of a relay race against time that is today recalled as the Great Race of Mercy or the Nome Serum RunNome, Alaska lies just below the Arctic Circle. In 1925, it was a town of about 1400 people, a mixture of American settlers and Inuit natives. During the winter, when daylight was scarce and temperatures could drop to almost 100 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, the only lifeline between Nome and outside world was the Iditarod Trail, a path 938 miles long that began far to the south in the port town of Seward. The trail crosses mountain ranges and drives through the vast and potentially deadly interior region of Alaska. By the 1920's, the first bush pilots were beginning to set up shop in Alaska, hoping to haul mail and other goods to remote towns and villages. This would come to pass in the next decade, but in 1925 airplanes were fragile things that did not take well to severe weather and cold. The only trustworthy way in and out of Nome was by sled.The first sign of trouble in Nome actually came from a nearby village in the form of a young Inuit boy who was brought to the area's only doctor, Curtis Welch. Doctor Welch diagnosed the child as having tonsillitis, but he unexpectedly died the next day. Cases of what was thought to be tonsillitis cropped up in the town and surrounding area over the course of the next month, including four other children who died suddenly. The last of these children was 3-year old Bill Barnett; it was during his examination that Doctor Welch discovered not tonsillitis, but something much more sinister: diphtheria. The town hospital had 8,000 units of expired diphtheria anti-toxin on hand, not enough to handle a full-blown epidemic. Welch and Nome's mayor called an emergency meeting in which they announced a quarantine and put out the call for one million units of the anti-toxin. This would be enough to treat hundreds of citizens. The mayor sent radio messages to the governor of Alaska and to the US Public Health Service in Washington, DC. He told them of the need for anti-toxin, stating that an epidemic of diphtheria was "inevitable." All of northwest Alaska, with a population of about 10,000, was threatened. Without the anti-toxin, the mortality rate for those infected would be near 100 percent.At that time, a railway ran from the southern Alaska coast north to the small town of Nenana. 300,000 units of anti-toxin were brought via train to this northern terminus from Anchorage. It was not enough to stop an epidemic, but it was enough to allow the town to hold on until more units could be brought in from the United States. It was decided that a relay of dog sled teams would carry the precious vials the remaining way to Nome, a distance of 630 miles. The mayor of Nome was pulling for aircraft to make the run, but only three planes were operating in the territory that year, all of them open cockpit biplanes that were crated for the winter. The dogs and the mushers would have to pull through.A relay was quickly organized. The best teams from the interior were tasked with the mission and all of them accepted the risks without hesitation. Some were in the middle of mail runs and were sent back to their stations. A series of handoffs to new teams would allow the anti-toxin to travel both day a[...]

The SL-1 Accident, January 3, 1961

Mon, 05 Mar 2012 01:18:00 +0000

Listen here On January 3, 1961, the United States experienced the first nuclear power plant accident in the nation's history. Because of it, the design of both military and civilian reactors changed. Despite its importance in the development of safe nuclear power, the SL-1 accident remains unknown to most people 51 years after it occurred. The Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One, or SL-1, was an experimental nuclear reactor designed and built for the US Army. It was created to serve as the prototype model for a new class of reactor which was to be deployed at small, remote military bases. Specifically, SL-1 units were to be used to power the radar sites that the United States and her allies operated near the Arctic Circle. The reactors were designed to provide 200 kW of electrical power and 400 kW of thermal heat. The SL-1 prototype was placed 40 miles west of Idaho Falls, Idaho at the National Reactor Testing Station.Almost all reactors in use today are pressurized water reactors. In a pressurized water reactor, the primary coolant, which is in contact with the radioactive fuel, is never allowed to boil. Instead, it's heat is transferred to the secondary coolant by use of a steam generator. The secondary coolant, which is kept at a much lower pressure than the primary coolant, flashes to steam and is then used to turn a turbine and, ultimately, produce electricity. The primary coolant moves in a self-contained loop and is shielded from the outside world by a heavily-built containment building that is often made of reinforced concrete. The secondary coolant is not radioactive, and so poses no radiation danger as it travels outside the containment building.SL-1 was a boiling water reactor. In this type of reactor, the primary coolant is allowed to boil and the radioactive steam is used to directly provide heat or turn a steam turbine. There is no secondary system. This type of design has the advantage of being simpler than a pressurized water reactor, requiring fewer pumps and less piping. While boiling water reactors are still being designed today, the SL-1 came very early in the history of nuclear power. As such, it contained at least one critical design flaw, a flaw that would prove deadly.On December 21, 1960, SL-1 was shut down for routine maintenance. It remained down for the holidays. On January 3, 1961, the reactor was undergoing procedures prior to startup. At 9:01PM, SL-1 went prompt critical, meaning that the number of fission events increased exponentially and rapidly. It was the nuclear equivalent of throwing a lighted match into a room full of gasoline vapors. The heat generated caused the primary coolant to vaporize with explosive force. It was later estimated that reactor power spiked at 20,000 MW, over 30,000 times it's designed output. The entire reactor vessel was propelled upward and the center control rod pushed out of the vessel, pinning one of the operators on duty to the ceiling, killing him instantly. Two other military personnel were killed as well. The three were Army Specialists John Byrnes and Richard McKinley and Navy Electrician's Mate Richard Legg. Fortunately, there was no one else present at the site.A crew of firemen arrived on the scene nine minutes later and, at first, could find nothing out of the ordinary as the reactor building looked normal from the outside. When they approached, however, their radiation detectors spiked and the men retreated. After a medical response team arrived wi[...]

The Mary Celeste Found, December 4, 1872

Fri, 02 Mar 2012 03:08:00 +0000

Listen hereOn December 4, 1872, the Mary Celeste, a 103-foot long brigantine sailing ship, was found abandoned off the coast of Portugal. The crew of seven and the captain’s wife and daughter were missing. Abandoned ships had been found before on the open seas, but the Mary Celeste was different: her sails were set as if a crew was still on board. The mystery that began that day 140 years ago is, today, still unsolved.The Mary Celeste was spotted that December day by the Dei Gratia, a cargo ship loaded with petroleum. Captain Morehouse, her skipper, knew Benjamin Briggs, the captain of the Mary Celeste and had, in fact, dined with him in New York several weeks before. At 37, Briggs was an accomplished sailor and ship’s commander, so when the men of the Dei Gratia noticed the sails of the Celeste grow slack over and over again as if no one was in command, they knew something was wrong. After observing the ship for two hours, Captain Morehouse sent a boarding party to the Celeste.What the boarding party found upon searching the Celeste would become heavy fictionalized in the retelling, but the inquiry that was held later at Gibraltar discovered that there was no good reason why the ship should have been abandoned. Only one of the bilge pumps was working and there was over three feet of water in the bilge, but this was not unusual for a ship left unattended for days at sea. The entire below decks area of the ship was wet, but this was mainly due to the fact that two deck hatches had been left open. There was still six months’ worth of food aboard. The ship’s clock was not functioning and her compass was damaged, but the sextant and all the ship’s papers except for the ship’s log were missing. It was not known how many lifeboats the Celeste carried, but evidence suggested that at least one had been launched purposely and was not torn away by wind or waves. The ship’s cargo, 1700 barrels of alcohol, was intact, although later inspection would show nine of the barrels were empty. The alcohol, used to fortify wine, would become the focal point of investigation in later years.Part of the Dei Gratia crew sailed the Celeste to Gibraltar where a prize claim was made on her. The admiralty court initially suspected the crew of the Dei Gratia of foul play, but no evidence existed to support the court’s suspicions. The court awarded prize money to the crew, but much less than might have otherwise been granted. It has been theorized that this reduced award was a signal from the court that the crew of the Dei Gratia was still under suspicion despite a lack of evidence implicating them in the disappearance. However, this is a pretty thin supposition given the fact that the admiralty court was under no obligation to grant the Dei Gratia'scaptain and crew any money at all.The story of the Mary Celeste may have faded into history had it not been for Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer who introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes. In 1884, Holmes published J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement, a short story based on the tale of the Celeste but with a great deal of fiction added to make the tale more consumer-friendly. As time went by, much of the story’s fiction began to be accepted as fact and helped keep the story alive for later generations.We will probably never know what happened on board t[...]

Butch O'Hare Disappears, November 26, 1943

Mon, 27 Feb 2012 01:22:00 +0000

Listen here On November 26, 1943, Edward “Butch” O’Hare disappeared in the Pacific Ocean near the Gilbert Islands. Thus ended the life and career of one of the greatest naval aviators of the Second World War. O’Hare, and thousands of others like him, formed the core of the pre-war military aviation community in the United States. When the war came, they held the thin line of defense and helped train the raw recruits who would come to dominate the skies all over the world.Butch O’Hare was born in St. Louis, Missouri in March, 1914. He entered the US Naval Academy in 1933 and spent the first two years after his graduation in 1937 as a line officer. He reported for flight training in 1939, the same year that his father was gunned down in Chicago for providing evidence at Al Capone’s tax evasion trial some years before. It was rumored that the elder O’Hare testified against Capone to ensure that his son received an appointment to the Naval Academy, but no documentation has ever surfaced linking the two events.In Spring, 1940, O’Hare was assigned to VF-3, the USS Saratoga’s fighter squadron. His executive officer was John Thach, who would also become famous as a navy fighter pilot. Lieutenant Thach immediately recognized O’Hare’s natural flying skill and became his mentor, teaching him everything he had learned in his more than ten years of flying for the navy. Their routine was one of practice, practice and more practice, for it was clear to the men of VF-3 that the war raging in Europe would soon come to them.O’Hare was newly married and still stationed aboard the Saratoga on the morning of December 7, 1941. Five weeks later, the ship was hit by a Japanese torpedo in the waters near Hawaii, necessitating a trip to California for repairs. O’Hare’s squadron was transferred to the USS Lexington, the ship from which he would first meet the enemy.Today, it is hard to fathom how delicate the position of the US Navy was in the early months of 1942. The Japanese task force that had attacked Pearl Harbor contained six aircraft carriers; that was more than the US Navy had in the entire Pacific at that time. So when the navy’s carriers sailed from Pearl Harbor in early 1942, not only was each ship worth it’s weight in gold, but so were the crews on board. Although new pilots were in the training pipeline by December, 1941, precious few of them had reached the fleet. Thus, the few hundred pilots on US Navy carriers, along with the Pacific Fleet submarines, were all the nation had with which to defend herself and strike a blow at the Imperial Japanese Fleet.The USS Lexington was preparing to strike one such blow on February 20, 1942. The ship and her escorts were 450 miles from Rabaul when radar operators spotted a group of enemy bombers. Fighters were launched from the Lexington and met the bombers. Since O’Hare and his wingman were the last craft off the flight deck and were not engaged, they were the only two in position when a group of eight Japanese bombers appeared on the other side of the task force only 12 miles away. Already outnumbered, O’Hare’s situation grew worse when his wingman announced that his guns had jammed. 27-year old Lt. Butch O’Hare was about to take on 8 Japanese bombers by himself. Years of pre-war gunnery training was put to good use as O’Hare, with only enough ammunition for 34 seconds of firing, went to work on the bom[...]