Regular listeners of the show know we like strange tales (and alliteration), so for our 50th episode, we thought we’d have a little fun with some military murders that just don’t add up. Fair warning! This episode contains some dark humor. So, what caused the untimely deaths of Lt Paul Whipkey, SPC Chad Langford, Lt Kirk Vanderbur, Col James Sabow, Col Yosef Alon, Sgt William Miller, and Cpl David Cox. We may never know what happened to these men, but one thing we know for sure: suicide is always a convenient explanation.
Ryan Kern is a former news anchor and reporter for a Nevada NBC affiliate. Now, as an independent journalist, he is the host/reporter/producer of the Finding Faces podcast. You may remember Chris and Jody talking about Ryan and Finding Faces in Episode 37.
“Finding Faces: The Search for the Missing Pictures of Fallen Vietnam Heroes” is about the hunt for photos of servicemen who did not return home from Vietnam. In 2001, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (the organization running The Wall memorial in Washington D.C.) started collecting at least one photo of all 58,000+ who died in the war. Twenty years later, they’re down to around 100 servicemen who do not have pictures. These photos are all featured on a virtual “Wall of Faces” online. Ryan’s podcast searches for the families of Vietnam servicemen in order to collect the best pictures possible for the Wall of Faces and help investigate or resolve any issues or questions these family members are still dealing with 50-years later.
Finding Faces, Season 1, aired in 2020 from September through December. It was 12 episodes long and about 12 hours of content, but day one of recording the series actually began in February of 2019! So while some episodes were recorded over the span of one week, others covered 17-months…and everything in-between. Season 2 is currently in production and Ryan took time out of his busy schedule to talk to The Digression Podcast Guys!
In 1812, the United States government tried to annex Spanish East Florida by a combination of covert action and direct invasion. Then the plan went horribly wrong.
The “Patriots’ War’” in Spanish East Florida during 1812-13 was an early example of a military disaster caused by a secret, flawed political policy. The characteristics of this fiasco bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the United States’ undeclared wars in the late 20th century—covert paramilitary operations, convoluted chains of command, restrictive rules of engagement, Congress at odds with the president, and increasing public dissatisfaction. As always, the troops paid the highest price for bad policy.
To the mysteries of the sky add the case of the U.S. Navy blimp, L-8. Since the dawn of aviation, aircraft have flown into the clouds never to be seen again. The L-8 disappeared into the clouds all right, but when she reappeared and eventually came back down to earth, she was missing her crew!
During WWII, the L-8 patrolled the California coast near San Francisco looking for Japanese submarines. On August 16, 1942, she took off from the Treasure Island Naval Base on a routine flight with a two-man crew, Lt (J.G.) Ernest Cody and Ensign Charles Adams of Airship Squadron 32. About two hours into the flight, Lt Cody radioed the control tower at the base and told them they were investigating a large oil slick, which could indicate a Japanese submarine was in the area. Neither Cody nor Adams were heard from again. Their ship returned to earth without them.
On April 10, 1963, the USS Thresher, the lead boat of her class of nuclear-powered submarines, went down with all hands 220-miles off the coast of Cape Cod. It was the deadliest submarine disaster in U.S. naval history. The loss of the Thresher was never fully explained and the Navy never released the report on its sinking. That is, until a retired submarine commander sued the Navy, forcing them to come clean! Now we know why she sank…at least what the Navy thinks because analysis of SOSUS data paints a different (and more plausible) picture of events. Still, one thing we do know is the sinking of the Thresher led to sweeping changes in the submarine force that has ensured the safe operating of these vessels ever since.
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Seven and a half hours into their training mission, Major Howard Richardson and his Boeing B-47B Stratojet flight crew finally began to relax after an evening of deploying electronic counter-measures and chaff to evade prowling North American F-86 fighters. The sky was clear and the moon was full. Heading south at 35,000 feet and 495 mph over Hampton County, S.C., their next stop was home. Suddenly and without warning, a massive jolt yawed their aircraft to the left, accompanied by a bright flash and ball of fire off their starboard wing.
An F-86 Sabre fighter jet had collided with the bomber and the impact ripped the left wing off the F-86 and heavily damaged the fuel tanks of the B-47. For safety reasons, the crew of the B-47 jettisoned their payload, a 7,000-pound, 1.86 megaton nuclear bomb, which fell into the Savannah River.
Now, 65 years later, the bomb, which has unknown quantities of radioactive material, has never been found. And while the Air Force says the bomb, if left undisturbed, poses no threat, area residents aren’t so sure…
He’s the most famous sniper you’ve probably never heard of. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock II was a Marine Scout Sniper who served two tours in Vietnam, first in 1966, and returning in 1969. Until the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq he held the record for the most confirmed kills in the United States military. During the course of his two tours in Vietnam he recorded 93 confirmed kills and over 300 unconfirmed kills, building a reputation that was so renowned the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong placed a bounty on his head that was equal to three years pay or approximately $30,000. He was known by the army he hunted as “White Feather” for the single white feather he kept tucked in a band on his bush hat. His exploits against such deadly adversaries as “The Apache,” “The Cobra,” and “The General” were the stuff of legend!
What drives military members to murder? Maybe it’s the violent nature of the work; or some childhood trauma; or a psychological disorder; or maybe they’re just bad people. Maybe it’s all of these things or a combination or none of them. The truth is we often don’t know what compels someone to kill. If you’re looking for answers, you’re not going to get them here. What you’re going to get are six stories of military murder that will leave you shaking your head: The Infidelity Solution Murder; The Hi-Fi Murders; The ‘How Far Can I Get’ Murder; The Proposition Murder; The Coward Contractor Murder; and The Canadian Panty Thief Murders. And although it’s not a murder story, we chat about the Air Force’s ‘Master Solution’ to a missing finger mystery and how it backfired.
Ever since the American occupation of the Marianas, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, the main Japanese islands had been under constant bombardment by long-range bombers of the United States. The city of Tokyo and many other cities on the Japanese mainland were leveled by day-and-night firebomb raids. As Italy and Germany had already done, Japan was paying the price for its grandiose plans for world conquest. But the island nation wasn’t ready to surrender.
Then the United States unveiled the biggest surprise in the history of warfare. It was the deadliest weapon ever designed–the atomic bomb. And although the initial test detonation at Trinity was several times more powerful than scientists had predicted, U.S. officials questioned if it would be enough to compel Japan’s surrender.
On August 6, 1945, “Little Boy” provided an answer.