military history

USS Pueblo still held hostage by North Korea as Trump, Kim meet

The USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the Navy, sits in Boston, revered by sailors and history buffs. The second-oldest ship, the USS Pueblo, floats at a river dock in Pyongyang, still a hostage more than 50 years after North Korea seized it in a January 1968 raid in the frigid waters of the East Sea off the Hermit Kingdom’s northeastern coast. Calls from the surviving crew to bring the ship back have amounted to naught. The Colorado legislature, protective of the ship named after one of its cities, also weighs in every year with a resolution calling for the ship’s return. After one version passed 10 years ago, a state lawmaker got a postcard, featuring a photo of a North Korean soldier smashing his rifle butt against the head of a Western-looking man in a blue uniform. The card had a North Korean postmark and on it, in flawless English, the writer urged the politician to “come and take it, you dirty American.” That’s actually the polite version of what was written, according to Republican state Sen. Bob Gardner from Colorado Springs, one of the sponsors of the “bring home the Pueblo” resolution this year. Mr. Gardner still marvels at the perfect, idiomatic English written on the unsigned card. “But it proved that someone in Korea was watching our resolution even if no one in America does,” Mr. Gardner said. As President Trump meets with in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, the possession of the USS Pueblo remains a sticking point between the two nations. The Pentagon declined to comment on any efforts to get the Pueblo back, and referred all questions to the White House. The White House, in turn, did not respond. Yet it wouldn’t be completely out of left field for Mr. Trump to mention the Navy ship, given the anniversary of its seizing in what the U.S. still insists was open ocean but North Korea says were its own territorial waters. “This year marks the 50th anniversary of North Korea’s seizure of the USS Pueblo and I like many others in our state want to see the ship returned home,” Republican Rep. Scott Tipton wrote President Trump last month. “The historic summit that is to be held… presents a rare opportunity to directly make this request.” The Pueblo was a spy ship, assigned to monitor North Korean communications and laden with top secret intelligence reports and machinery. The North Koreans detected it and sent a flotilla to surround it, assisted by MiG fighters overhead. They demanded surrender, and sent a boarding party which raked the bridge and decks with gunfire, wounding the captain and several others, and killing one crew member, Duane Hodges. Capt. Lloyd Bucher ordered his crew to smash the intelligence equipment and burn or shred the documents. There was so much that they even began to dump documents overboard, according to the USS Pueblo Veterans Association. The U.S. insists the Pueblo was in international waters at the time. North Korea says it was inside the country’s boundaries, and seized the ship and crew, who were held and tortured for 335 days. The Cold War crisis was finally resolved in vintage Hollywood fashion two days before Christmas 1968 when the gaunt prisoners walked, one by one, across the Bridge of No Return in the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. They were finally released after the U.S. signed an apology of sorts – then quickly rescinded it once all the American personnel were safely returned. A National Security Agency analysis, declassified in 2012, described the scope of the intelligence disaster, saying North Korea was able to figure out which codes the U.S. had broken, which telecommunications systems the U.S. was able to monitor, and who in the North Korean hierarchy was of interest to the U.S. The Pueblo’s capture was such a coup for North Korea that to this day the ship is a tourist attraction in Pyongyang, currently floating in a berth along the Botong River, and it is replete with the kind of totalitarian English the postcard writer eschewed. “The myth of the mightiness of the U.S. was shattered again by the heroic Korean people,” reads some of the propaganda, which also calls the Pueblo “a witness of history and trophy” of the “century after century the crimes of aggression committed by the U.S. imperialists against the Korean people [sic].”

Hopefully, President Trump WILL raise the issue of returning the USS Pueblo with Kim Jong Ding Dong, when he meets him only hours from now.  For more, click on the text above.

Researchers find wreckage of lost WWII warship USS Indianapolis

Naval researchers announced Saturday that they have found the wreckage of the lost World War II cruiser USS Indianapolis on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, 72 years after the vessel sank in minutes after it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The ship was found almost 3 1/2 miles below the surface of the Philippine Sea, said a tweet from Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, who led a team of civilian researchers that made the discovery. Historians and architects from the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, District of Columbia, had joined forces with Allen last year to revisit the tragedy. The ship sank in 15 minutes on July 30, 1945, in the war’s final days, and it took the Navy four days to realize that the vessel was missing. About 800 of the crew’s 1,200 sailors and Marines made it off the cruiser before it sank. But almost 600 of them died over the next four to five days from exposure, dehydration, drowning and shark attacks. Nineteen crew members are alive today, the Navy command said in a news release. The Indianapolis had just completed a top secret mission to deliver components of the atomic bomb “Little Boy” to the island of Tinian. The bomb was later dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. In a statement on its website, the command call the shipwreck a “significant discovery,” considering the depth of the water. “While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming,” Allen said in a statement. His research vessel, Petrel, has state-of-the-art subsea equipment that can descend to depths like those at which the ship was found. The cruiser’s captain, Charles Butler McVay III, was among those who survived, but he was eventually court-martialed and convicted of losing control of the vessel. About 350 Navy ships were lost in combat during the war, but he was the only captain to be court-martialed. Years later, under pressure from survivors to clear his name, McVay was posthumously exonerated by Congress and President Bill Clinton.

I had the distinct privilege of meeting one of the survivors of the USS Indianapolis about 16 years ago.  He gave a presentation to the Army unit I was assigned to at the time.   To read the rest of this article, and see some photos, click on the text above.    🙂

Crime scene declared after looting at Virginia battlefield

Virginia’s National Park Service says a portion of the Petersburg National Battlefield has been declared a crime scene after looting. Chief of interpretation Chris Bryce said Saturday that park officials are in the process of assessing the damage. He said there were a number of places where the ground had been dug up earlier this week. Petersburg National Battlefield is a 2,700-acre park, about 26 miles south of Richmond, that marks where more than 1,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died fighting during the Siege of Petersburg 151 years ago. There are a number of locations on the battlefield where someone has gone in and actually dug and upturned the soil by several inches, Bryce said. Unfortunately, he said, people will sometimes go into national parks or to battlefields and dig up relics in search of buttons from uniforms, bullets, artillery shells and other historic items. They often sell their loot online because there is a market for Civil War relics. “When this happens, it’s not just a loss for Petersburg National Battlefield, it’s a loss for the American people,” he said. The timing of the looting could not have been worse, he said, because it comes right before Memorial Day. “And now we’re having to deal with a situation where someone has essentially come in and has desecrated the park on the eve of a very important weekend for us in terms of commemoration.” Digging up national parks and battlefield in search of historic memorabilia is a violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, which carries a penalty of up to two years in prison and a $20,000 fine, he said. The battlefield remains open to visitors, he said, but a portion of it will be marked off limits as a result of the looting.

Let’s hope they find these punks who did this, arrest them, and throw them in jail for a couple years, fine them, and then make them restore what they’ve damaged. Awful…

Secret atomic role of WWII-era aircraft carrier revealed

A team of underwater archaeologists has pieced together information from declassified government documents and a shipwrecked World War II-era naval vessel to understand the secret role played by one of the most historic U.S. aircraft carriers: the USS Independence. The Independence (CVL 22) was one of 90 vessels assigned to Operation Crossroads — the atomic bomb tests conducted at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands — but it was deliberately sunk, or scuttled, in 1951 and little was known about its career after the atomic bomb tests. After discovering the location of the Independence shipwreck last year, researchers were able to compare sonar images of the wreck with declassified documents to uncover the carrier’s use as a radiological laboratory and nuclear waste receptacle from 1946 to 1950. “Now we not only know what shape she’s in and where she lies, but also exactly what happened to the Independence,” said lead researcher James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Independence was among the first vessels that were converted to light aircraft carriers following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. It operated in the central and western Pacific from November 1943 through August 1945, said Delgado. Following the war, the Independence was assigned to Operation Crossroads, where it was placed among a fleet of vessels within about 1,700 feet of the “ground zero” blast from the atomic bomb tests to examine the effects of shock waves, heat and radiation. While 21 ships sank outright during the Bikini Atoll tests, the Independence survived, heavily damaged, and was returned to the United States. Using the declassified documents, Delgado’s team found that the ship was then used for decontamination studies. A memorandum to the Chief of Naval Operations from the Bureau of Ships and the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery notes that, “the intensity of the radioactive contamination acquired at Bikini has decreased during the intervening three years, so that many parts of the ship are now below the tolerance level established for peace-time industrial operations.” Yet, the government decided to establish the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory on the ship and hauled more contaminated materials aboard for study, Delgado told Live Science. The laboratory provided the first training and teaching platform for the how to deal with the waste from the aftermath of an atomic explosion, Delgado said. Radiation levels were constantly monitored, and in 1949, four boilers, condenser units and steam turbines were removed from deep inside the ship’s hull to clear more room for depositing radioactive waste, he added. Additionally, the documents reveal that sinking the Independence served multiple functions for the U.S. Navy. The aircraft carrier was too old and too vulnerable to potential espionage to be used any further, explained Delgado. And when the decision was made to sink the ship, waste from other Operation Crossroads vessels and the University of California Radiation Laboratory was also removed to the Independence “for ultimate sinking with that vessel because of lack of adequate storage facilities,” according to one of the memorandums. The Navy used two precisely placed torpedo warheads close to the ship’s keel area, away from where the waste was stored, to sink the ship in January 1951. A memorandum from the Radiological Safety Officer to the Commander of the Task Group noted that all radiological safety precautions had been followed as per orders, and that “all surfaces that had been exposed to possible contamination were scrubbed clean.” “Independence, by the time it was sunk, was at about a level that you would get with an average X-ray,” Delgado said. Anything that might potentially be an issue was enclosed in steel and concrete drums deep inside the ship, he explained, and seeing that the wreck was still intact underwater was reassuring, although the researchers would like to continue monitoring the Independence because of its radiation legacy. “This remains one of the most compelling frontiers in science, given not only the size of the oceans but what rests within them,” Delgado said. Details of the expedition and declassified documents were published online April 21 in the Journal of Maritime Archaeology.

Fascinating!!    🙂

Navy tug, lost for nearly a century, found in waters off California

Nearly 100 years ago, a Navy tugboat with 56 officers and sailors aboard was heading from California to the American Samoa when it disappeared without a trace. A massive air and sea search around the Hawaiian islands for the USS Conestoga turned up nothing and two months later, a battered lifeboat was spotted with the C on its bow off the Mexican coast. It was the last U.S. Navy ship to be lost without a trace in peacetime and became one of the top maritime mysteries in Navy history. Now, that mystery has been solved. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Navy announced Wednesday that they had found the Conestoga in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary off San Francisco – some 95 years after it disappeared. “After nearly a century of ambiguity and a profound sense of loss, the Conestoga’s disappearance no longer is a mystery,” Manson Brown, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and deputy NOAA administrator, said in a statement. “We hope that this discovery brings the families of its lost crew some measure of closure and we look forward to working with the Navy to protect this historic shipwreck and honor the crew who paid the ultimate price for their service to the country.” The first breakthrough came in 2009 when the NOAA Office of Coast Survey, as part of a hydrographic survey near the Farallon Islands off San Francisco, spotted a possible, uncharted shipwreck. Five years later, they confirmed it was indeed the Conestoga. “Thanks to modern science and to cooperation between agencies, the fate of Conestoga is no longer a mystery,” Dennis McGinn, the assistant secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment, said. “In remembering the loss of the Conestoga, we pay tribute to her crew and their families, and remember that, even in peacetime, the sea is an unforgiving environment.” Originally built to tow coal barges for the railroad, the Navy purchased Conestoga in 1917 for World War I service. The tug operated on the Atlantic coast and off the Azores, performing convoy and other duties before being assigned to harbor service in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1919. Ordered to duty in American Samoa, Conestoga steamed from Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California at 3:25 p.m. on March 25, 1921, headed for Pearl Harbor. After leaving the Golden Gate, the tug, possibly towing a barge, disappeared. While the cause of the disaster remains unresolved, weather appears to be a critical factor. Weather logs around the time of Conestoga’s departure indicated that wind in the Golden Gate area almost doubled to 40 miles per hour, and the seas were rough. A garbled radio transmission from Conestoga relayed later by another ship stated the tug was “battling a storm and that the barge she was towing had been torn adrift by heavy seas.” Based on the location and orientation of the wreck in 189-foot-deep water, NOAA believes Conestoga sank as officers and crew attempted to reach a protected cove on the island. “This would have been a desperate act, as the approach is difficult and the area was the setting for five shipwrecks between 1858 and 1907,” according to NOAA’s report on the Conestoga discovery. “However, as Conestoga was in trouble and filling with water, it seemingly was the only choice to make.” Video, from cameras mounted on remotely operated vehicles used to explore the wreck site, shows the wreck lying on the seabed and largely intact. The size of the wreck and many of its features – the four-bladed, 12-foot 3-inch diameter propeller; the steam engine and boilers a large steam towing winch with twisted wire on the drum; two porcelain marine heads; and a single, 3-inch, 50-caliber gun that was mounted on the main deck in front of the pilot house – helped NOAA confirm this was the Conestoga. No human remains, however, were discovered at the site.

Civil War Trust wins preservation for Battle of Brandy Station’s Fleetwood Hill

On a wide grassy knoll in Northern Virginia 152 years ago, about 20,000 soldiers armed with rifles and sabers charged at one another on horseback, regrouped and charged again and again in a daylong, pitched battle of the Civil War — the largest clash of cavalries in North America’s history. It was the Battle of Brandy Station, and Virginia officials on Monday announced the successful end of a preservation campaign for the battlefield’s Fleetwood Hill. Since 2013, a nationwide campaign to restore the site by the nonprofit Civil War Trust collected $3.6 million in donations from trust members and matching funds from the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund and the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, state and trust officials said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Brandy Station in Culpeper County. “The preservation and restoration of Fleetwood Hill is a first-class example of the conservation successes the Commonwealth can achieve through public-private partnerships,” Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell said during Monday’s ceremony. “Working with groups like the Civil War Trust, Virginia has been able to preserve thousands of acres of hallowed ground that serve as living memorials to those who wore the blue and the gray.” Mr. Howell was joined by state Sen. Bryce Reeves, Delegates Michael Webert and Ed Scott, and trust President James Lighthizer, among others. As many as 200 people attended Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, organizers said. “The trust has saved more land at Brandy Station than at any other battlefield in the country,” Mr. Lighthizer said. “Along with the trails we’ve already opened at St. James Church and Buford’s Knoll, it is especially gratifying to have restored such a key landmark of this battle to its wartime appearance and to be interpreting Fleetwood Hill for the public.” In restoring the 56-acre battlefield to its Civil War glory, preservationists had to remove two houses, a garage, a pair of in-ground pools and a pool house. They relied on historic photos, topographic maps and digital imaging to re-create the area’s wartime look, trust officials said. What’s more, the preservation effort included a paved, “interpretive” trail with markers to give visitors historical information about the battle and its place in the war. The Battle of Brandy Station marked a turning point because it was the start of the Union’s Gettysburg offensive that eventually led to the end of the Civil War. Though it ended mostly in a stalemate, the battle bolstered Union cavalrymen who had long been outmatched by their Confederate counterparts. Led by Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, about 11,000 Union troops surprised an encampment of about 9,500 Confederates, led by Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, on Fleetwood Hill on June 9, 1863. In the ensuing battle, a total of more than 1,400 men were killed, wounded or missing in action. Union forces pitched camp at Fleetwood Hill in the winter of 1863-1864. The Civil War Trust now is raising funds to acquire and preserve a 10-acre plot near Fleetwood Hill. “The continued restoration and enhancement of these lands help draw thousands of people who learn of the events that occurred during the Civil War, while visiting local attractions and Virginia Main Street communities,” said Paige Read, director of economic development and tourism for the city of Culpeper.

Very cool!! 🙂

Inside The Army’s Spectacular Hidden Treasure Room

Remember that ending scene out of Indiana Jones where the Ark of the Covenant is boxed up and wheeled through an endless government warehouse? Did you know that that place actually exists? It is called the Center of Military History. It is located 30 minutes outside Washington, D.C., at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. The building itself is very nondescript…

Click on the text above to see photos of what all is inside.   VERY cool!!    🙂