Category Archives: Modern

The Wilson Desk

The Wilson Desk

The Wilson Desk

Or at least sort of.

Above is a recreation of the Oval Office from the GR Ford Presidential Museum and is very accurate in almost every detail. The one detail that we are going to look at here is the desk.

The Wilson Desk, as it is known, served both Presidents Nixon and Ford. Nixon chose it because it had supposedly been used by President Woodrow Wilson. It is mahogany and was purchased between 1897 and 1899 for use in the US Capitol.

During the time that the desk served President Nixon, it saw some things.  The desk saw the Vietnam War spiral out of control and come to an end. It saw a man sit at it that had not been elected to his position. It saw numerous policy decisions that we are still seeing effects of today. Most importantly, it also saw a number of recording devices being installed into it.  Devices that would cause one if its occupants to leave the office before his time.

Coming from the Vice Presidents room at the Capitol it saw use by some major names before being called up to the big leagues. Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry S. Truman, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey among others.

When Carter took over the office, the desk was returned to the Capitol where it has served every VP since.

Oh yeah. The name.

No one has a clue. While Nixon thought it had been used by Woodrow Wilson, that was certainly wrong. For a time it was believed that the desk had been used by President Grant’s VP Henry Wilson. Later that was disproved as he had been VP almost twenty years before the desk was purchased. So the actual origin? Who knows, maybe it should have had the recording devices put in sooner.


Movie Review: War Machine

Poster for War Machine 2017
The tag line sums the movie up well, just remember it is not a comedy.

Movie Review: War Machine

War Machine is a Netflix original movie that is centered around the conflict in Afghanistan. It is not a comedy, but not quote a drama, definitely not a documentary, but more in the real of satire. There in lies the problem with the movie. It does not quite know what it wants to be and makes for a very uneven experience.

In the movie Brad Pitt plays General Glen McMahon, who is sent to Afghanistan to wrap up the then eight year war in that country. This character is strongly based on Gen. Stanley McCrystal that was sent to do the same thing in real life. As always, Pitt shines and inhibits the character, from speech to mannerisms that makes the character complete. He comes into his new post with the intention of “winning the war” and is well-meaning, almost jingoistic, in his philosophy. McMahon is a soldier through and through and truly believes in what he is doing.

The conflict, and what makes this movie fascinating, is that almost no one that he answers to really wants the war won, just over.  Which to a man like McMahon is just makes no sense. Why fight if you are not supposed to win. How do you protect the people you are there to protect if your hands are constantly tied. That phrase though becomes key as it pertains not just to the civilians, but to the young men that the general orders into the teeth of the monster. It is a reality of what war has become when it is fought in the political realm first and the on the battlefield second. welcome to modern war.

The supporting cast is phenomenal.  Anthony Micheal Hall and Topher Grace are standouts. Tilda Swinton and Ben Kingsley, in the little screen time they do have make an impact. The most props though need to go to Meg Tilly who plays the general’s wife. She will be recognizable to anyone with a spouse or parent that is or has served in the military.

The Grain of Salt

One thing I want to make clear before offering my recommendation. Though it may seem like this would end up being a typical Hollywood anti-war movie, it really is not. It does not get “political” even when it plays politics. It would have been too easy for it to come out and condemn the war and the warriors, but at its heart it just asks the valid question of “why are we fighting here in the first place?”

Do I recommend it? Yes, it is well worth a watch on Netflix. There is humor and poignancy, a good mix for a somber subject. The scene where McMahon is explaining to his staff that, “you can’t help them and kill them at the same time” makes it worth watching alone.


The Army You Have…

On December 8, 2004 US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was visiting Camp Buehring Kuwait. The 2003 invasion of Iraq had been going on for almost a year and there was a problem. The actual war had been won as the Iraqi military was defeated and rendered useless as a cohesive force. However that did not mean that the Iraqis were done fighting.

Using guerrilla and insurgent tactics the opposition forces were proving to be more than a thorn in the side of the occupation forces.  Roadside bombs (IEDs), RPG teams and snipers made even carrying out every day duties deadly for the American forces. What was not helping was the fact that their primary vehicles, from the ubiquitous Humvee to the LMTV trucks were sorely under armored for this kind of warfare. So much so that troops began covering their vehicles in improvised armor whenever possible. This armor was made up of scrap metal, spent ballistic glass, Kevlar vests and even sandbags. Anything that would add to their protection.

As Rumsfeld was talking to the troops that day a soldier asked him a question:

“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles? And why don’t we have those resources readily available to us?”

Rumsfeld answered:

“It isn’t a matter of money. It isn’t a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, ah, you go to war with the army you have — not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time. You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and (still) be blown up…”

An uproar occurred based on these words as  many started to question the government’s commitment to their troops safety. President Bush spoke out on the subject and the contractor that provided armored Humvees was asked to increase its production. In the mean time actual Up Armor kits were developed and sold to the military to try to increase the protection. Sometimes civilian organizations would even purchase these kits and send them to the front lines.

The picture above shows a panel up Up Armor that would be bolted onto the Humvee for an extra layer of protection.

A Few Tidbits About Memorial Day

Yes, the holiday has passed, but now with all the hubub dehubed we can take a look at a few interesting tidbits on the holiday.

In 1868 General John Logan, acting on behalf of the Grand Army of the Republic, established Decoration Day as a day to remember Union soldiers of the Civil War and as a time to decorate their graves with flowers. The day decided upon was May 30.

Interesting enough, Logan actually was actually “borrowing” from a similar tradition started in the South three years earlier to commemorate the graves of Confederate soldiers.

Decoration Day morphed into Memorial Day in 1882, though both names were used until after WWII.

In 1967 a Federal law was passed officially naming the holiday Memorial Day.

They weren’t done however as in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which moved four holidays from their traditional dates to a specific Monday in order to create a three-day weekend. So once the law took effect at the Federal level in 1971 the tradition May 30th Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday of May.

Since then the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Sons of the Unions of the Civil War have been lobbying to get the date changed back to the May 30th traditional date. In fact from 1987 up to his death in 2012 Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii introduced such legislation every year, never gaining much ground.

Traditional events that occur on or very near Memorial Day weekend include the Indianapolis 500, Coca-Cola 600, as well as numerous and many parades to commemorate the day.

In 2000 Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act which asks people to spend a moment of silence at 3:00PM on Memorial Day to remember the actual reason for Memorial Day. Thank goodness we have the Federal Government to legislate that for us.


A Simple Letter

Though the focus of the blog is US Military History, some times you run across little pieces of history that just need to be called out. In this case, the letter above is the actual resignation letter that President Richard Nixon sent to the Secretary of State, thus ending his tenure as President.

Even today the actions of President Nixon that lead to the resignation are polarizing. Many how lived during the time saw him as the face of government corruption, a man who used his station to try to cover up illegal acts committed by people on his staff. To others he was a man who tried his best to protect people in his employ that did something stupid.

In the days after Nixon resigned faith in the government stayed at an all time low, and no one really paid the price for that more the Gerald Ford, who didn’t help that general feeling much when he pardoned Nixon of the crimes he was accused of. Many believe that Ford paid the price in the 1976 election that he lost to Jimmy Carter.

As fascinating as it is, over forty years later, that trust in government has never really been rebuilt and for the most part we have had a number of men sit in the White House that have committed even worse offensives than what Nixon did. (At this point you can start rattling off offenses as you see fit, I am not getting into that.) As we look at the political divisions of the country today it seems you can draw a line from here all the way back to that letter above.

Hot Racking

Ah the US Navy. So many young people join up expecting to see the word, new and exotic places and people. However there may be something left out of most of the “travel brochures.” In the photo above you see racks, also known as bunks from a US Navy warship, in this an aircraft carrier.  Three beds in a fairly small space. See during you time stationed aboard the ships that tiny space is your home and your personal space. The beds lift for storage for your personal items and you have the little curtains, so maybe not so bad right?


Or maybe not.

See on some ships, smaller ones for sure, submarines for certain, that bed you see. Well, odds are good you share that with at least one, maybe two other people. Not at the same time of course.

It is called hot racking (or hot bunking) and it is the process where multiple people share a single berth. While one person is on watch (working) someone is sleeping in the bed. When when the shift is over the one returns to the rack that is probably still warm from the person that just got up to go and enjoy their day of work. Wash, rinse repeat, for six months. Yes, that also means that you could be sharing a bed with someone who you have never actually met. What would your mother say?

Don’t feel bad though. They do the same sort of things in prisons sometimes.


The M60 Machine Gun and Congress

Pictured above is the M60 machine gun. 7.62MM, belt fed, gas operated, air cooled, iron sights and can fire 500-650 rounds per minute. The standard 100 round ammunition belt consists of four ball rounds followed by a tracer round allowing the gunners to “walk” the fire onto the targets.

Since it was officially introduced in 1957 it has served with every branch of the American armed forces and with many countries around the world. Sixty years later it is still being produced even with newer models entering active service.

And it almost never was…

The M60 was based on some of the more popular German WWII machine guns namely the MG42 which in a modified version was seriously considered as the official replacement to the Browning M1918 and M1919A6. But there was a problem. Congress had placed serious restrictions on the army that demanded preference being give in to domestic manufacturers for all contracts. While on the surface this may seem like an effort to stimulate domestic production, the true source of this requirement was out of a desire to not have to pay licensing fees to foreign manufactures, thus saving a buck. This sometimes led to superior weapon designs being left on the table in favor of cheaper, but domestically produced weapons systems.

Luckily it has proven over time to be one to best weapons systems developed and though many different revision have come out during its history the basis of the system has stayed in place. Seriously who could imagine Rambo tearing through the jungle with anything else. All because Congress wanted to save a buck.

To the Moon…

A View from the Moon

To the Moon…

That is a picture of a picture that was made into a mural on the wall at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan. While this may not fit directly into the Military History theme of the blog, it does fit around the edges.

The race to moon started as far back as the first time that someone looked up and say it hanging in the sky, and wondered “I wonder what’s up there?” Early Science Fiction writers came up with many different scenarios of what is there and how we can find out. It was not until the chaos of WWII that the idea finally looked like it would be a reality.

Above is a V2 from an earlier post. The first guided missile that the Germans used to effect against England. The German engineers that came up with that became one of the great prizes of WWII.  The Americans, British and Russians all looked to claim their brains. That race itself has had books written on them, so I won’t go into a lot of detail, to read more about it go here.

The Great Race

And thus the ground work for the Space Race was laid. When the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957 the marathon became a sprint. The desire to reach the moon became a national obsession. President Kennedy made his famous challenge at Rice University in 1962. In the speech he explained why we had to go to the moon.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

With those words a new gear was reached in the development of the technology that was needed to reach that goal. In 1969 with Apollo 11 we finally reached the moon and a new place in the human epoch.


M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System

The M26 is a shotgun accessory for the M16 or M4 rifle. Yep, this little baby can attach to the underbelly of M16 or M4 and provides soldiers with increased capabilities. The shotgun can be used with solid rounds to blow locks off of doors, buckshot and slugs for anti-personal applications and can even fire tear gas canisters. Best yet with the additional pistol grip and folding stock it can be a stand alone weapon.

The shotgun is a 12 gauge caliber and is a straight pull bolt-action, the bolt handle can be placed on either side of the mechanism. Originally in development in the 1990’s it started being used in the field during the 2003 Iraq War where it was used by engineers and military police. With initial testing being  successful is looks to be on pace to replace the Mossberg M500 pump shotgun that has been in service since 1961.

It used to be that soldiers in the field would be forced to chose one weapon or another, or else be weighted down with a ton excess equipment. Making a modular system like this, and there are other attachments that can be added to the M16/M4 chassis, give the soldiers more flexibility and less weight. Advances like this are what will take the US military into the conflicts of the future. Until then this is by far one of the most effective skeleton keys available to the troops.

The M40 Series Field Protective Mask

The M40 Series Field Protective Mask has been the protective mask of choice for the US military since 1992. It can protect the user from fifteen nerve, choking and blister agents as well as two different blood agents. It works by using an external C2  canister which can be attached on either side of the mask unlike the older M17 model which used internal filters. It also contains voicemitters to help with communication and a drinking system in case you needed to leave the mask on for a long period of time.
Ready for a little trivia?

The first gas mask has been traced back to 9th Century Iraq and was used to protect workers in polluted wells.

During the Middle Ages a variation of a gas mask was used to protect doctors from the plague. The masks had long bird like beaks that stored different herbs and other preventatives. (Also sort of helped with the smell of all the dead people.)

Masks with primitive respirators were used in Prussia in the late 18th Century for mine workers.

On April 22, 1915 though the true a terrible of the gas mask was finally found. On that day in the  village of Ypres on the Western Front of the quickly spiraling WWI the German Army used poison gas for the first time against Canadian and French colonial troops. At the time only cotton mouth pads were available for protection. With no sign that gas was going to leave the battlefield the war became a race to develop the best protection.

The M40 above is a direct ancestor of the masks developed all those years ago. The M40 is now being replaced by a new model, the M50. Protection must always evolve against the potential threats.