American History

The Soviet Naval Challenge in the Cold War with John Lindstedt

Mark speaks with John Lindstedt, who was a junior officer serving aboard a nuclear submarine in the Cold War years. They discuss the qualifications and training involved, the constant readiness, and the differences between U.S. and Soviet vessels. They also highlight the ever-present threat of the Soviet Navy in the Mediterranean aided by the treachery of John Walker and his career of passing classified information to his masters in the Kremlin.

Photo: This is the Ben Franklin class submarine-nuclear that John was on, the USS Kamehameha SSBN-642. (King Kamehameha IV was King of Hawaii when the Civil War started and proclaimed Hawaii’s neutrality in August 1861.)

WWII Pilot Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa: Naval Hero

WWII pilot, Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa, became a naval hero fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. Author, Ted Edwards, joins Mark to discuss his biography of Swede, Seven at Santa Cruz. The fighter pilot ace dive-bombed and helped sink the first aircraft carrier lost by Japan. The next day, he took off from USS Yorktown and out-flew and out-gunned three Japanese Zeros. We get a close up look at the battles of Santa Cruz and Coral Sea and learn how “Swede” Vejtasa became the only dive bomber pilot to be awarded Navy Crosses for both bombing and aerial combat.

Author Ted Edwards

Author Ted Edwards is a frequent contributor to the Naval Aviation News and uses his experience as a historian and author on other World War II aviators to capture the straight-forward fighter pilot that was at the core of Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa’s personality. In all, Edwards collects information from not only secondary resources, but also from primary sources such as letters, after-action reports, official records in the national archives research, and 11 interviews conducted by the author, to include an interview with Vejtasa himself. The combination of historical records and personal interviews throughout the book, combined with the ease of reading the material, help to present both a factual and personal account of Vejtasa and naval air operations in the Pacific theater.

This biography follows World War II fighter pilot ace Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa from his Montana home, through numerous World War II aerial battles, to his post war service as the Air Boss on USS Essex (CV-9) and Captain of USS Constellation (CV-64).

This work is the first biography on Vejtasa and clearly fills a void in previous literature. Anyone interested in learning about the pragmatic and sometimes abrasive fight pilot ace Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa, or about World War II naval aviation, would be well rewarded for the time spent reading this thoroughly researched and well written book.

Buy a copy of Ted Edward’s riveting Seven at Santa Cruz at the Naval Historical Foundation>>

Abraham Lincoln: Youth to Civil War

President Abraham Lincoln fell victim to an assassin’s bullet on Good Friday, 14 April 1865 and died the next morning. Mark and Professor Gerald J. Prokopowicz discuss Lincoln from his youth and early career to the presidency and Civil War. They delve into some of the popular questions readers ask about the sixteenth president and explore other facets of Lincoln’s life that may be more obscure.

 

Replica of Lincoln's birthplace near Hodgenville, Kentucky

Replica of Lincoln’s birthplace near Hodgenville, Kentucky

 

March Events: French and Indian to Civil Wars

Mark covers some key historical events that took place in March, the month that comes in “like a lion” and goes out “like a lamb.” We see that this may depend upon where and when. George Washington in 1777, may have felt threatened by the British lion. Or the British soldiers in the French and Indian War had a rough St. Patrick’s day at Fort William Henry ten years earlier. In the Civil War, one might say Nathaniel Banks went into his Red River Campaign thinking he was a lion, but definitely finished as a slaughtered lamb.

Photo: “The Death of General Wolfe” by Benjamin West

Winter Events in History

Mark reviews some significant events that occurred at during winter in history. We go from the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century to Europe’s worst winter in history in 1940. The Civil War was brewing as the states of the Deep South seceded to form the Confederacy in 1861 and the last battle of the War of 1812 that took place right downriver from the city of New Orleans. We see Finland stand up to the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution and we even share a few notes about collaboration and treachery.

Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

Joel Bius’s new book, Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em: The Rise and Fall of the Military Cigarette Ration, is a treatise on the relationship between the American Military-Industrial complex and the cigarette. Mark and Joel discuss the story of how the cigarette and the soldier relationship evolved, developed and devolved during the twentieth century—and the consequences.

About Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

The American military-industrial complex and accompanying culture are most often associated with massive weapons procurement programs and advanced technologies. Images of supersonic bombers, strategic missiles, armor-plated tanks, nuclear submarines, and complex space systems clog our imagination. However, one aspect of the complex is not a weapon or even a machine, but one of the world’s most highly engineered consumer products: the manufactured cigarette.

Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em describes the origins of the often comfortable, yet increasingly controversial relationship among the military, the cigarette industry, and tobaccoland politicians during the twentieth century. After fostering the relationship between soldier and cigarette for more than five decades, the Department of Defense and fiscally minded legislators faced formidable political, cultural, economic, and internal challenges as they fought to unhinge the soldier-cigarette bond they had forged.

Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em is also a study in modern American political economy. Bureaucrats, soldiers, lobbyists, government executives, legislators, litigators, or anti-smoking activists all struggled over far-reaching policy issues involving the cigarette. The soldier-cigarette relationship established by the Army in World War I and broken apart in the mid-1980s underpinned one of the most prolific social, cultural, economic, and healthcare related developments in the twentieth century: the rise and proliferation of the American manufactured cigarette smoker and the powerful cigarette enterprise supporting them.

From 1918 to 1986, the military established a powerful subculture of cigarette-smoking soldiers. The relationship was so rooted that, after the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report warned Americans that cigarettes were hazardous to health, a further 22 years were needed to advance military smoking cessation as official policy, and an additional 16 years to sever government subsidies providing soldiers low-cost cigarettes. The role of wars and the military in establishing and entrenching the American cigarette-smoking culture has often gone unrecognized. Using the manufactured cigarette as a vehicle to explore political economy and interactions between the military and American society, Joel R. Bius helps the reader understand this important, yet overlooked aspect of 20th century America.

Christmas In Wartime

Christmas during wartime, just as in life, shines with a different glow than that in more peaceful years. Luxuries are often non-existent and even basics are scarce but soldiers and civilians find ways to celebrate. This week on History with Mark Bielski, I look at the holidays in difficult times from the crowning of William the Conqueror in 1066 to USO Shows for American soldiers.

Lewis & Clark

Image: Statue of Sacajawea in Portland, OR

We reprise the story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Historian Hal Stearns. Recorded at Fort Clatsop near Astoria, Oregon, it gives a detailed narrative overview of that incredible explorative journey. But first Mark responds to a comment from a listener about General George B. McClellan; then as an added attraction, we close with a short history quiz and prize for the first with correct answers.

Louisiana Cabin

Louisiana Cabin

November Events in History

We review some significant November events in history from WWI to the American Revolution as well as the American Civil War and WWII. We include the First Battle of Ypres in 1914 and the 1918 Armistice that ended the bloodshed of WWI as well as the last action of the Civil War with the surrender of the CSS Shenandoah and a brief glimpse at one of the Confederate government’s most interesting characters. For WWII we have the scuttling of the French fleet in 1942 while the Germans watched their potential prize of warships sink to the bottom of the sea.

Photo: Marshall Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander during World War One.

CSS Shenandoah

CSS Shenandoah destroying Union whaling vessels in the Pacific.

Autumn Events in History

On this week’s podcast, I take a look at some events that happened in autumn during WWII and the Civil War, as well as WWI and the American Revolution. I discuss the 1918 Meuse-Argonne offensive by the America Expeditionary Forces and the French army. Launched against the Germans on the Western Front, this final campaign led to the Armistice. I also look at the momentous events that took place at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. Again, with the aid of the French, this battle proved to be the final military blow for the British in the American war for independence.

Photo: By John Singleton Copley – First Foot Guards, Public Domain