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WAR STORIES

“[History is a] mixture of error and violence.”—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations.”—David Friedman

“If it’s natural to kill, why do men have to go into training to learn how?”—Joan Baez, singer/songwriter

“I think war might be God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”—Ambrose Pierce

I’ve read in a couple of different places that during the last 3,500 years, the world has had around 230 years when there were no wars. I can’t confirm those numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were 230 days. Or hours, even. War seems as inevitable as death and taxes—with war making those two even more inevitable. The stories in this chapter focus less on the heroes, winners, and losers and more on the overall weirdness that goes on when humans fight.

The Soccer War

Also known as the Football War or the 100-Hours War, this battle was fought by El Salvador and Honduras in July 1969. Tensions were already high between the two countries (border disputes, among other things) when their respective national soccer teams met during a qualifying round for the 1970 World Cup; however, when Honduras beat El Salvador in the Honduran capital on June 8, things went downhill quickly. First, an eighteen-year-old Salvadoran girl, despondent over the loss, shot herself. She quickly became a martyr and the national soccer team even attended her funeral. Then, after two more games, both of which El Salvador won, diplomatic ties were severed and war broke out. After four days, fighting ceased, and though El Salvador gained some concessions from Honduras, their team lost all three games at the World Cup without scoring a goal.

Washington’s Gamble

One morning in 1776, British troops in Boston woke up to a surprising sight: Washington’s troops and cannons on top of the city’s hills preparing to attack. The British counted the cannons and realized they needed to retreat against such a demonstration of firepower. They evacuated the city as quickly as possible and Boston was freed without firing a shot. And it was a good thing for Washington that it went down the way it did, because it was all a total bluff. Sure, Washington’s troops had loads of cannons and guns, but they didn’t have the gunpowder to use them. If the British had attacked, the patriots would have been able to shoot off a few cannons before running for their lives.

Patton’s Stagecraft

By the spring of 1944, Hitler knew Allied Forces were going to create a second front in Europe … but where exactly? One good location would be East Anglia and southeast England, where troops could threaten the Port of Calais in France. And that’s just what it looked like was happening. General George Patton was there, and so were thousands of troops, tanks, trucks, aircraft, and more. This massive buildup forced Hitler to keep troops stationed at Calais, even as the Allied invasion of Normandy, more than one hundred miles away, began. So what about Patton’s massive army? Well, one morning, a British farmer in East Anglia woke up to find a column of American tanks on his land. He noticed one of his bulls size up a tank and then lunge for it. The farmer, expecting a sad end for his bull, was more than surprised when, after impact, the tank started hissing and deflating. All the tanks were fake. So were the aircraft, trucks, and most of the troops. It was all part of Operation Quicksilver—an imaginary army group of set designers, artists, and actors pretending to prepare for attack. The tanks were inflatable rubber, the airplanes were canvas, and the soldiers were made out of wood. Soldiers (real ones) even used rolling tools to create fake tread and tire marks on the dirt roads. Quicksilver was so convincing (including hours and hours of fake, scripted radio traffic) that Hitler kept his panzer divisions in place across from the fake army long after the Allies stormed Normandy on June 6.

Operation Mincemeat

Here’s another World War II deception that actually worked. It was 1943 and the Allies were planning to invade Sicily, but wanted the Germans to think they were planning to invade Sardinia and Greece instead. Hmm … what to do … what to do? Well, the British decided to find a dead body, give it a Royal Marine’s uniform, chain a briefcase full of top-secret documents to its wrist, throw it from a submarine off the coast of Spain … and then hope for the best. Sure enough, the body washed ashore, the briefcase was opened (they found money, love letters, and a cryptic letter outlining an invasion of either Sardinia or Greece), and the Germans bought it. They pulled thousands of troops from Sicily to defend Sardinia and Greece, and the British parachuted into Sicily.

SIDE NOTE: The British were actually pretty good at this deception business. In North Africa in August 1942, they placed a corpse in a blown-up scout car with a map showing the locations of nonexistent British minefields. The Germans found the map and routed their panzers to a new location where they got bogged down in sand.

A Wing and a Prayer

General George S. Patton and his Third Army were bogged down in Belgium, plagued by rain, flooding, and fog. It was early December 1944, and the Battle of the Bulge was upcoming. Patton, desperate for some good weather, called headquarters and asked if anyone had a good prayer for weather. The man who answered the call, Chaplain James H. O’Neill, wrote a prayer, and under the general’s orders had 250,000 copies of the prayer printed and handed out to the whole Third Army.

What happened next during the Battle of the Bulge sounds best coming directly from the chaplain: “On December 20, to the consternation of the Germans and the delight of the American forecasters who were equally surprised at the turnabout, the rains and the fogs ceased. For the better part of a week came bright clear skies and perfect flying weather. Our planes came over by tens, hundreds, and thousands. They knocked out hundreds of tanks, killed thousands of enemy troops in the Bastogne salient, and harried the enemy as he valiantly tried to bring up reinforcements. The 101st Airborne, with the 4th, 9th, and 10th Armored Divisions, which saved Bastogne, and other divisions, which assisted so valiantly in driving the Germans home, will testify to the great support rendered by our air forces. General Patton prayed for fair weather for battle. He got it.”

O’Neill received a Bronze Star from Patton for his prayer.

Seeing Double

Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest of the Confederate Army had surrounded the well-manned and heavily fortified Union earthwork at Athens, Alabama, on August 24, 1864. Forrest sent a demand for surrender, but the Union commander, Colonel Wallace Campbell, refused to acquiesce unless it could be proven that he was up against a superior force. Forrest happily obliged; however, as Campbell reviewed the Confederate troops, Forrest had the men whom Campbell had already counted quietly move to the back of the line to be counted again. Campbell counted nine thousand men and twenty-four cannons. Forrest actually only have around 3,500 men and eight cannons. Campbell surrendered without a fight.

Civil War Math

The Civil War split the United States in two and was fought along many fronts—even in children’s textbooks. Young boys and girls going to school in the South learned math from Lemuel Johnson’s An Elementary Arithmetic, Designed for Beginners textbook. Here are two problems the children had to solve:

 A Confederate soldier captured eight Yankees each day for nine days. How many Yankees did he capture in all?

 If one Confederate soldier can whip seven Yankees, how many Confederate soldiers can whip forty-nine Yankees?

Not to be outdone, children learning their ABCs on the northern side of things could read from The Union ABC (published in 1865), which was printed in red, white, and blue and taught grammar to preschoolers. Like today’s alphabet books, it presented a word from each letter in the alphabet. Here’s a sample:

A is America, land of the free. [So far so good.]

B is a Battle, our soldiers did see.

C is a Captain, who led on his men.

N is for Negro, no longer a slave.

T is a Traitor, that was hung on a tree. [Oh, dear.]

U is the Union, our soldiers did save.

Chew on That!

General Hideki Tojo was the Japanese Prime Minister during World War II, and he was the one who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, Tojo was soon captured (not before attempting suicide). After recovering from his injuries, he was moved to a prison in Japan where an American dentist, Jack Mallory, was ordered to make him a new set of dentures. Apparently Tojo loved his sweets. The dentist, however, loved his country and secretly engraved a note to Tojo in Morse code on the teeth. The note read: “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

At first, Mallory kept his prank a secret, but a friend of his wrote about it in a letter. The story then reached a local radio station, and it wasn’t long before Stars & Stripes and newspapers around the world carried the story. In order to avoid any further trouble, Mallory visited Tojo once again, borrowed the dentures, and ground away the message. Tojo was executed for war crimes on November 12, 1948.

The War of the Oaken Bucket

In 1325, soldiers from the Italian city-state of Modena invaded the city-state of Bologna to steal a bucket. The raid was successful, but not without hundreds of Bologna citizen casualties. Bologna declared war and the two city-states fought on and off for twelve years. Bologna never got their bucket back and to this day it’s stored in a bell tower in a Modena cathedral.

Rest in Pieces

 In 1838, the president of Mexico, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, had to have his leg amputated after being hit by cannon fire. He ordered a full military burial for the leg.

 In 1664, Dutch colonist Peter Stuyvesant also had to have his leg amputated after battling the Spanish in the Caribbean. His leg had a proper Christian burial with full military honors.

 Confederate general Stonewall Jackson lost his arm in a friendly-fire incident after the Battle of Chancellorsville. If you visit Chancellorsville, Virginia, you can find where his arm was buried. The grave marker says ARM OF STONEWALL JACKSON, MAY 3, 1863.

 Here’s another story of missing limbs from the Civil War: Union general Daniel Sickles lost his right leg to a cannonball during the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead of burying the leg, however, Sickles preserved the bones and donated them to the Army Medical Museum (now known as the National Museum of Health and Medicine) in Washington, DC. The bones were presented in a small coffin-shaped box along with a card that said, “With the compliments of Major General D.E.S.” Sickles was said to have visited his leg bones every year on the anniversary of the amputation. No word if he visited General Henry Barnum’s bullet-riddled hip, which also went on display at the museum after Barnum’s death.

The Pork and Beans War

British Canada and the United States fought a war during the winter of 1838–1839 over a boundary dispute between Maine and New Brunswick (then a British territory). Troops amassed on both sides of the border, and then … nothing. The war got its name from the food troops sat around and ate while waiting for cooler heads to prevail.

The Pig War

The Pork and Beans War wasn’t the only unusually named war between the United States and Great Britain over boundary issues in Canada. In another such war, the disputed area was the San Juan Islands, which lie between Vancouver Island and the US mainland. With both countries claiming and inhabiting the islands, on June 15, 1859, an American farmer named Lyman Cutlar shot and killed a big black pig that had invaded his garden. The pig was owned by Charles Griffin, who worked at Britain’s Hudson’s Bay Company. Cutlar offered $10 for the pig. Griffin demanded $100, and when Cutlar refused, British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar. Some accounts attest to this exchange taking place:

Cutlar: “It was eating my potatoes!”

Griffin: “It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig.”

Tensions mounted, and before you could say “ham and cheese,” nearly five hundred American troops were stationed on the island and ready to face off against five British warships. Neither side was given permission to fire first, so the two armies exchanged many insults, hoping to goad the other side into action. No shots were ever fired, negotiations brought about an agreement to share the island (which is what they were doing in the first place), and the only casualty was the pig. Today, the San Juan Islands belong to the United States.

Out the Window

It’s always fascinating to look back and attempt to ascertain the beginning of certain wars. The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) was one of Europe’s bloodiest wars with more than ten million dead (25 percent of the population of central Europe), and its beginnings can be tied to a bunch of guys throwing a bunch of other guys out a window. In May 1618, a group of Protestants, angered over not being allowed to build churches and hence not being allowed to practice their religion, bribed their way into Hradcany Castle where Catholic regents were meeting. Three men were then tossed out a third-story window. According to the Catholics, either angels or the Virgin Mary magically appeared and cushioned their fall. According to the Protestants, the three men lived because they fell in a dry moat that was filled with manure. Either way, the men lived, but the Defenestration (which means throwing someone out a window) of Prague, which started out as a fight between two religions, soon engulfed Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic), Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Netherlands, and France.

Incidentally, this is known as the second Defenestration of Prague. The first happened in 1419. Prague has a thing about enemies and windows, I guess.

Frozen Assets

General Jean-Charles Pichegru was a distinguished French general during the French Revolution. In 1794, Pichegru led his forces in an invasion of the Netherlands. Upon entering Amsterdam, his scouts learned that the Dutch fleet was stationed nearby. This would normally cause great consternation for the general, but for one fact: The entire fleet was frozen in the bay. Pichegru dispatched a cavalry brigade, which simply marched onto the ice and surrounded the entire fleet.

Turning a Blind Eye

Lord Horatio Nelson was an officer for England’s Royal Navy in the late 1700s to early 1800s. He’s known for many victories, especially during the Napoleonic Wars. He was also known for his valor and bravery—especially since his many battles had taken a personal toll. He was wounded several times over the years and had lost an arm and his sight in one eye. And at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, he used his disadvantage to gain a tough victory against the Danish fleet.

With the battle going badly for the British as they advanced into Copenhagen Harbor, Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, who was holding back in case reinforcements were needed, saw how poorly the fight was going and sent a signal to Nelson to withdraw. Nelson was told of the signal and turned to his flag captain and said, “You know, Foley, I have only one eye. I have a right to be blind sometimes.” He then raised the telescope to his blind eye and said, “I really do not see the signal.” After a costly battle and lengthy truce negotiations, Nelson emerged victorious. And hence was born the expression, “turning a blind eye.”

Holy Toledo!

Did you know Ohio and Michigan once went to war? Known as the most bizarre and least deadly altercation on American soil, the Toledo War of 1835 was over a poorly drawn boundary line. The boundary situation was allowed to simmer for a while until Michigan applied for statehood in 1833. After failed negotiations with Ohio governor Robert Lucas, the nineteen-year-old, hot-headed, territorial governor of Michigan, Stephens T. Mason, sent militia to the contested boundary. Lucas did the same, and it seemed a major battle would ensue. Except for one thing: Both armies got lost in the swamps at the boundary, and for one week simply couldn’t find each other. The dispute was resolved in 1836. Michigan lost Toledo, but gained statehood. Plus, Congress gave them the Upper Peninsula, which, in retrospect, is a much better piece of land than Toledo.

Ironic Elephants

John Sedgwick is known more for his famous last words than for any of his exploits as a Union general during the Civil War. At the beginning of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in 1864, Sedgwick and his troops were scouting artillery placements while Confederate sharpshooters about a thousand yards away were taking pot shots. While members of his staff flinched at the sound of shots, Sedgwick said, “What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” When his men continued flinching, Sedgwick continued, “I’m ashamed of you, dodging that way. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distan—” They could, though, and Sedgwick died of a bullet wound below his left eye.

The 335 Years’ War

Known as one of the world’s longest wars, the 335 Years’ War was between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly (located off the southwest coast of the United Kingdom). Two points of interest here: No shots were ever fired, and a peace treaty was finally signed in 1986. The ambassador to the Dutch Embassy in London joked that it must have been scary to the Scillonians “to know we could have attacked at any moment.”

The Great Emu War

In 1932, Australia declared war against a bird. Or to be more precise, they declared war against twenty thousand or more emus (think ostrich but a tad shorter). Farmers in Western Australia were complaining about the great number of emus, which were moving into settled areas and destroying crops because of drought and food shortages. A military operation under the command of Major Meredith of the Royal Australian Artillery was undertaken in November. He, along with two soldiers with machine guns and ten thousand rounds of ammunition, set out to engage the emus, but it wasn’t as easy as it sounded. The emus ran away at the sound of gunfire, and even the few that the soldiers were able to hit simply ran off. Ornithologist Dominic Serventy put it this way: “The machine gunner’s dreams of point-blank fire into the serried masses of emus were soon dissipated. The emu command had evidently ordered guerilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic.”

After a few days, the Defense Minister ordered a complete withdrawal. The emus had won.

The Original Foo Fighters

Although most people would say that the Foo Fighters is a rock band, the term actually goes back to World War II. During the war, many Allied pilots reported seeing mysterious orbs of light that would follow them on their missions and keep pace with each maneuver. These flying objects were spotted both in the Pacific and European theaters of operation and appeared from 1941 until the end of the war. Eyewitness accounts describe these lights as “a strange globe glowing with greenish light,” “a large cylindrical object that traveled thousands of miles per hour,” “two fog lights flying at high rates of speed that could change direction rapidly,” and more. Allied pilots began calling these glowing balls Foo Fighters (foo was a popular nonsense word at the time and the terms flying saucer and UFO weren’t used yet). The Foo Fighters never attacked, and at times seemed almost playful in their ability to keep pace with the planes and then suddenly shoot off into the sky. After the first sightings, Allied forces investigated whether or not these lights were some sort of secret German weapon. They soon learned, however, that Japanese and German pilots also reported seeing the same weird glowing balls. Were Foo Fighters optical illusions, electrostatic discharges, ball lightning … or aliens watching the humans destroy one another? No satisfactory explanation has ever been offered.

Sticky Bomb

During World War II, the British, in dire need of a weapon to combat tanks (due to their lack of antitank guns), came up with the Anti-Tank No. 74, also known as the sticky bomb. It was actually a hand grenade that consisted of a glass sphere containing nitroglycerin. The sphere was covered in a strong adhesive and surrounded by a metal casing. The user simply had to pull the pin to remove the casing and then throw or place the grenade, which would stick to the enemy tank. Sounds reasonable, yes? Home Guard member Bill Miles recounted an unexpected problem with the grenade: “It was while practicing that an HG bomber got his stick(y) bomb stuck to his trouser leg and couldn’t shift it. A quick-thinking mate whipped the trousers off and got rid of them and the bomb. After the following explosion the trousers were in a bit of a mess, though I think they were in a bit of a mess prior to the explosion.”

Belle of the War

Maria “Belle” Boyd was a seventeen-year-old debutante in 1861, when an incident at her house in Front Royal, Virginia, turned her into one of the best-known spies of the Civil War.

Rumors abounded that her home was flying one or more Confederate flags. A few drunk Union soldiers went to check it out. Belle’s mother got angry and one of the soldiers pushed her aside to get to a flag. At that point, Belle interjected her own opinion into the matter by pulling out a pistol and shooting the pushy soldier to death. She was exonerated (her actions were declared self-defense), but sentries were posted around the house. She charmed one of the sentries into revealing military secrets. She later wrote, “To him I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and last, but not least, for a great deal of important information … I must avow the flowers and the poetry were comparatively valueless in my eyes.” Belle made sure those secrets got into the right Confederate hands, and a spy was born.

One of her more famous excursions occurred in May 1862. Upon hearing that a Union general and his staff were gathering at a local hotel, Boyd hid herself in the room just above where they were meeting and listened in through a knothole in the floor that she may have enlarged earlier in the day. She learned that part of the Union army was heading east, leaving their position at Front Royal weak. She relayed this information, and when the Confederate army attacked a few days later, Boyd ran across enemy lines to greet Stonewall Jackson’s army, yelling, “The Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all!” That’s just what Jackson did, and that very evening he sent her a note that said, “I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today.” She was also awarded the Southern Cross of Honor and made both a captain and an honorary aide-de-camp. Another memento of her bravery that day was the skirt she wore, which was now filled with bullet holes from her dangerous jaunt.

She continued spying, even though she was captured and imprisoned three separate times. (The first time her boyfriend turned her in.) She sailed for Britain in 1864, supposedly to deliver some letters from Jackson. The ship was captured by the Union Navy, but she was allowed to escape by a Union sailor named Lieutenant Samuel Hardinge. He had fallen in love with her, and they later met up in Britain and married. Boyd gained much fame as a spy. French newspapers called her “la Belle Rebelle,” and Boyd used her notoriety to get into acting.

The Turkey Tactic

Alvin Cullum York was born in 1887 in a log cabin in Pall Mall, Tennessee. A wild youth and expert shot, he converted to Christianity after a friend was killed in a bar fight. He joined a church that forbade violence, and when he was drafted in 1917 for World War I, he wrote on his draft notice, “Don’t want to fight.” Yet fight he did.

He was sent overseas, and during a battle in the Argonne Forest in France, he and sixteen other soldiers were sent behind German lines to capture machine gun positions and a rail line. They captured a bunch of German soldiers eating breakfast, but then the machine guns turned around and started shooting at them. Six of York’s comrades were killed and two were wounded, and York found himself in charge. York, reminded of the turkey shoots back home, “began to exchange shots with them. In order to sight me or to swing their machine guns on me, the Germans had to show their heads above the trench, and every time I saw a head I just touched it off.” Growing up, York had learned that the best way to hunt geese was to shoot the birds in the back of the row first so the others didn’t scatter. He did the same thing when a group of six Germans rushed at him—knocking off the ones in the back before shooting the ones up front.

The Germans had seen enough and surrendered. York and the seven remaining Americans had more than eighty prisoners on their hands, but they were still behind enemy lines. York put a German major at the head of the line of prisoners, held a gun on him, and began to escort them back to the American side. By the time they got there, they had more than 130 prisoners. It was determined that York had single-handedly killed twenty-eight Germans.

He received the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross, as well as France’s Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor. The Supreme Allied Commander said, “What York did was the greatest thing accomplished by any soldier of all the armies of Europe.” York was played by Gary Cooper in a movie about his heroic deeds.

Public Relations 101

Pharaoh Ramses II (aka Ozymandias) was soundly defeated by the Hittites at the Battle of Kedesh in 1288 BCE. Afterward, Ramses built a memorial to his amazing triumph. Huh? That’s right, Ramses II returned to his empire and declared victory, even though he was ambushed by the Hittites and forced to retreat. The Hittites are gone. All eyewitnesses are gone. Ramses’s memorials to his “victory” remain, and it has only recently been unearthed by archaeologists that Ramses was fibbing.

The Drunken War

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Moldova (located between Romania and Ukraine) declared itself an independent state. It sought closer ties with Romania, but the area of the country closest to Russia and Ukraine broke away in 1990 and named itself Transnistria. The two sides battled on and off from March till July 1992, when a ceasefire was declared. But it seems there were plenty of ceasefires every evening—when combatants on both sides of the conflict would put down their weapons to drink together.

Yankee Doodle Diddy

The song “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was written by a British surgeon during the French and Indian War to ridicule the colonial militiamen who were fighting alongside British soldiers. As the American Revolution drew near, the song became a popular insult the British soldiers used—often making up new verses that mocked the colonists.

On April 19, 1775, as British troops marched toward Lexington and Concord, Redcoats played the song on fife and drum and sang it heartily. However, as rebels battled with the British, eventually turning them back, the Redcoats were surprised to hear the colonists singing “Yankee Doodle.” One British soldier later said, “Damn them, they made us dance it till we were tired.”

From that moment on, the colonists sang the song in battle, taking delight in the self-mockery. They even played it while the British surrendered at Saratoga and Yorktown. British Lieutenant Thomas Anburey wrote: “… the name [Yankee] has been more prevalent since the commencement of hostilities … The soldiers at Boston used it as a term of reproach, but after the affair at Bunker’s Hill, the Americans gloried in it. Yankee Doodle is now their paean, a favorite of favorites, played in their army, esteemed as warlike as the Genadier’s March—it is the lover’s spell, the nurse’s lullaby … it was not a little mortifying to hear them play this tune, when their army marched down to our surrender.”

SIDE NOTE: The term Yankee may have come from the Dutch word jahnke, which was used to describe an uncultured person. The word doodle referred to uneducated farmers and backwoodsmen—hicks. Meanwhile, macaroni referred to certain young foppish British men and women who at the time wore outlandish clothing and spoke Italian in an affected way to show that they were cultured. They were called Macaronies.

An Army of Two

During the War of 1812, Abigail and Rebecca Bates, daughter of Captain Simeon Bates, prevented an attack by the British on their town. Their father was the keeper of the lighthouse in Scituate, Massachusetts, a fishing village about thirty miles from Boston. During the summer of 1814, the girls saw two barges from a British ship filled with soldiers. With no time to call an alarm, the girls grabbed a fife and drum from the lighthouse, hid behind some trees, and began playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” as loudly as possible. The British thought the sounds were coming from a regiment of American soldiers and retreated.

The Luckiest Man Alive

In 1918, during a World War I dogfight, British flying ace Reginald Makepeace of the No. 20 Squadron went into a steep dive to dodge German gunfire. Captain J. H. Hedley, who was in the back seat of the cockpit, was thrown from the plane. As the plane leveled off several hundred feet below, Hedley landed on the tail of the plane and hung on for dear life as the plane landed safely.

Calvin’s Ruse

In 1942, Calvin Graham enlisted in the US Navy. He was quickly shipped out to the Pacific, where he joined the crew of the USS South Dakota as a gunner. During the Battle of Guadalcanal, he was seriously wounded while helping fight a fire aboard the ship. For all his efforts, he was dishonorably discharged, stripped of his medals, and put in the brig. Why? After he received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, Calvin’s mother revealed Calvin’s secret: he was only twelve years old. After a couple of months in the brig, Calvin went back to seventh grade. He spent much of his adult life trying to clear his record and get his medals and disability benefits back. He was finally awarded an honorable discharge in 1978 and he received disability and back pay in 1988. Rick Schroder played him in a TV movie of his life.

Ask, Tell

Let’s travel back to 371 BCE and the Battle of Leuctra. The famed Spartan army was defeated by armies of the city-state Thebes—effectively ending Sparta’s dominance over Greece. The key point of the battle came when an elite Theban unit known as the Sacred Band led a breakthrough against Spartan defenses. These three hundred soldiers were fierce, brave, committed … and gay. The unit was composed of 150 gay couples, and the thinking of the band’s organizer, Gorgidas, was that each man would fight his best to protect his lover, who was fighting alongside him. The band remained undefeated for more than thirty years, until, surrounded by Macedonian forces, they fought to the death (while other Theban troops retreated). A giant stone lion resides at the burial site of the Sacred Band in the town of Thebes.

Weapons of Mass Destruction, Old School–Style

Archimedes, master mathematician, inventor, and all-around genius, nearly single-handedly fended off a powerful Roman force that was attacking the city of Syracuse in 213 BCE. Although the Roman fleet commanded by Marcus Claudius Marcellus was impressive, their siege, which had been estimated to take a week, lasted nearly two years. As military advisor to the king of Syracuse, Archimedes developed several weapons that helped keep the Romans at bay. One such weapon consisted of several mirrors, which Archimedes used to direct the sun’s rays onto the Romans’ ships, setting them ablaze. Other inventions included catapults that could hurl a ton of stones onto the ships, mousetrap-like mechanisms that sent rocks down onto siege ladders, and a giant grappling claw, called the Claw of Archimedes, which lifted ships by the bow and dropped them against the rocks, sinking them. The Romans finally succeeded in breaching the city’s defenses, and although General Marcellus ordered Archimedes not to be harmed, a Roman soldier killed him.

General Buck Naked

During the First Liberian War in 1992, General Joshua Milton Blahyi would lead his troops wearing only his shoes. He says the devil telephoned him at age eleven and told him that running into battle naked would make him impervious to bullets. Sometimes he and his soldiers would also don colorful wigs and dainty purses. He’s still alive, so I guess it worked. The devil also said it would be a good idea to practice human sacrifice and cannibalism to increase his power. Blahyi admits to sacrificing a small child or teenager before battles, including sometimes cutting out the heart and eating it. Today he is the president of the End Time Train Evangelistic Ministries, and he has repented his sins, blamed the devil for his actions, and expressed a willingness to be tried for war crimes.

Battle Fatigue

 The British had actually buckled to demands and lowered tea taxes before the Boston Tea Party.

 An OSS staff psychologist came up with an ingenious (or idiotic) plan during World War II that he believed would send an already unhinged Hitler over the edge. He theorized that Hitler would suffer a mental breakdown if tons of pornography were dropped in and around his home. The Royal Air Force refused to carry out the plan.

 At the start of the Civil War, Confederate Robert E. Lee owned no slaves. Union general Ulysses S. Grant did.

 Spain declared war against the United States on April 24, 1898. The United States then had the date of its own declaration set at April 21, even though they actually declared war on April 25.

 Henry Kissinger and Yassir Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize. Gandhi didn’t.

 The shortest war on record was fought between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar on August 27, 1896. It lasted around forty minutes, with Britain whipping the Zanzibaris with a massive bombardment that disabled Zanzibar’s defenses.

 The D in D-Day doesn’t stand for deliverance, doom, or even debarkation. It doesn’t stand for anything. The D is derived from the word day, and the term D-Day, (or Day-Day) was used for many different operations, even if it’s only remembered today as the name for the invasion of Normandy.

 Arlington National Cemetery, the military cemetery for US armed forces, was established during the Civil War on land “appropriated” from Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Confederate army.

 “Dixie,” the unofficial anthem of the South during the Civil War, was written in 1859 by Daniel Decatur Emmett, a northerner who was loyal to the Union.

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