Wild War Stories That Deserve Their Own Movies
Despite what you may have heard, war is, in fact, not good for absolutely nothing, as it is a great source of stories. The ones we're about to share with you today left us wondering why we hadn't all heard of them already because they seem like the sort of plots movies were invented to tell ...
The 12-Year-Old Who Enlisted During World War II
Let's say you're watching a movie set after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It features a naval ship under attack, and along with all the hardened seamen, you see a pre-teen scampering about and operating the guns. Clearly, this would be a ridiculous detail thrown in, sacrificing accuracy in the name of making a more dramatic movie. Or maybe he's about to burst into a song because you mistakenly walked into a musical, and you have mere seconds to escape the theater before it's too late.
Except, one kid that young actually did fight in the Pacific Theater during World War II -- Calvin Graham, who decided to join up when he was 11. Graham started shaving, though he had nothing to shave, reasoning that if he looked like he just shaved, he'd look older than he was. At 12, he successfully enlisted by lying about his age. A fair number of young men lied about their age back then, so the recruiter probably realized something was amiss, but it was usually, say, 15-year-olds saying they were 16, not 12-year-olds.
Graham went to basic training, telling his mother he was visiting relatives, and then he was assigned to the USS South Dakota. So, did this kid wind up some kind of mascot, who hung around in the kitchens but never did any actual military stuff? Not exactly. He took part in a couple of different battles loading the ship's guns, and during one of these, he got wounded in the face. Even after being wounded, he managed to save fellow men who had fallen overboard. So, his time at sea earned him a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
His tween military career only ended because his mother spotted him in a newsreel and so realized what he was doing. When the ship returned to America for a couple of weeks, Graham slipped away to attend his grandmother's funeral, and his mother took the opportunity to file a complaint to get him relieved from duty. Called out on their error, the Navy had a good laugh and ... sentenced Graham to three months in the brig. Hey, you pretend to be an adult, you get punished like an adult. That's the law! (Maybe; we didn't look it up.)
When A Reporter Broke That Germany Invaded Poland, She Held A Phone To The Tanks To Prove It
In 1939, The Daily Telegraph was looking to send more reporters into Poland as things seemed to be getting a tad tense. They decided to hire Clare Hollingworth, a freelancer who'd been in Warsaw recently, helping thousands to escape the country by getting them British visas. Just a couple days into her new job, Hollingworth was driving back into Poland after going to Germany on a booze run, and the valley she was passing through happened to have giant cloth screens blocking whatever was happening behind them. Then the wind blew one screen away. Behind it was thousands of German soldiers.
So, that was kind of a big deal, and for a little while, her report about Germany building up troops at the border was the biggest story in the world. But that was soon to be overshadowed by the logical next move, which came three days later: Germany invading Poland outright. Hollingworth was staying in a flat right at the border at the time, so she was the first reporter to hear the planes coming over. Her first call was to the British Embassy in Warsaw, who refused to believe her since they thought Britain was currently smoothing things over between the two countries. To convince them, she held her phone out the window, so the sound of the tanks could travel along the phone lines.
That sort of scene is cheesy and unbelievable enough in a movie when, say, it's a talent scout trying to convince the music label about the amazing new band they've discovered by making them listen to them live -- but a war reporter using it to argue about tanks is another level. Hollingworth next called her paper, who called Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to let them know they were being invaded. The press officer didn't believe it, but the British embassy had also been passing Hollingworth's news along, so, during the call itself, an air raid siren sounded.
Between then and when she died at 105, Hollingworth had plenty of other adventures. When she was in Romania, and all reports were subject to the censors' scrutiny, she'd frequently get one story officially approved by the government and send a completely different one to her paper. The authorities came to arrest her for this, and she held them off by ... taking off all her clothes. "You can't possibly arrest me, I'm naked," she said, and this bought her enough time for a friend to come and get her to the embassy.
That Time A Solar Storm Set Off A Bunch Of Vietnam Mines
Let's talk about a slightly different kind of movie now, one shot by the inimitable Michael Bay. We start on a plane patrolling over the water, an A-4 Skyhawk belonging to a Task Force 77 aircraft carrier. It's flying near Hon La, an island in North Vietnam, and the pilot says a bunch of stuff into his radio that doesn't really matter but sounds very authentic and cool. Then, in the bay, dozens of mines detonate all at once. These are American mines, dropped during Operation Pocket Money, and there's no sign of what or who set them off.
We cut next to a flashing command center, where a bunch of panicked scientists are pointing at screens. "These readings are off the charts," says one. "This would be a level 17 on the flare index. We've never had that before. Our orbital detectors are picking up gamma radiation for the first time. 16 hours in, and X-ray emissions are still elevated--"
"In English, please," says the broad-shouldered military man leaning on the table. The scientist adjusts his glasses. "The detonation signal," he says. "It came ... from space."
Yeah, that happened. The year was 1972, and those mines blew up thanks to a solar storm. The military went on to research new alternatives that could not be set off by sunspots belching out plasma. While the public would not learn about the premature detonators for decades, the storm had plenty of other more known effects. Radios went out across the whole side of the Earth facing the Sun. Elsewhere, auroras appeared, bright enough to cast shadows. Power grids went nuts. Along with the mine incident, the military was shaken up because their equipment readings made them think someone had set off a nuke.
The flare was strongest in space itself, of course, and this meant damage to satellites. One defense satellite mission failed, a bunch of satellites instantly had a few years stripped from their lifespans, and imaging satellites spat out weird patterns of light that proved the existence of angels, maybe. And this was the '70s, when satellite tech was in its relative infancy. A story like that today would be a hell of a lot worse. And if we get an even bigger storm, like the famous one from 1859, we can say goodbye to civilization as we know it. We'll probably still get a movie chronicling the event, but the moving pictures will have to be oil on canvas.
Crow Scout Becomes A War Chief By Stealing Nazi Horses
It's been said that war never changes. That's completely untrue. War changes all the time, and as we keep updating our methods for waging war, the old standards for what qualifies you as a badass soldier fall apart. You know there must be whole warrior cultures who had rules about honorable and dishonorable hand-to-hand combat, all of which were rendered meaningless the first time they saw a gun. And the old-fashioned glory of individual soldiers racking up huge body counts stopped making sense as soon as militaries got the power to wipe out entire cities instantly.
For the Crow people of Montana, becoming a war chief traditionally meant completing four tasks: leading a war party, stealing an enemy's weapon, a counting coup (striking an enemy non-fatally and then escaping unharmed), and stealing an enemy's horse. Which might have made sense in colonial times or whatever, but it's kind of impossible to do all that on the battlefield in the age of guns and planes, right? Except not for Joe Medicine Crow, who was born on the Crow reservation and was working on his doctorate when World War II broke out. He joined the 103rd Infantry Division and managed to do all four tasks fighting against the Germans in WWII.
He led a seven-man party easily enough. His squad carried explosives, and he led them to attack Germans on the Siegfried Line. Another time, he collided with a German soldier, fought him hand-to-hand, and got him to surrender and yell for his momma. He left the soldier and took the man's rifle as a trophy, so those were tasks two and three crossed off his quest log.
Stealing an enemy's horse would seem to be the trickiest one since horses weren't quite the preferred mode of transport during the Second World War. But they were a mode of transport. So near the end of the war, Joe tailed a group of SS officers on horseback and waited till they camped for the night. And so he made off with fifty of the enemy's horses, leaving them stranded as he sang a victory song to himself. Joe was the last Crow to become a war chief, and there will presumably never be another, both because those tasks will be even harder to complete in the future and because America will never again formally declare war.
Top Image: US Navy