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45 Everyday Words that Mean Something Different to WWII Navy Veterans

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For most folks, the abdomen is the part of the body between the chest and the pelvis. For a generation of men who took to the seas during World War II, though, abdomen is also a 5.3-mile long uninhabited chunk of rock sitting somewhere in the middle of Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain, a place called Samalga Island.

During the first and second world wars, the Allied armies, navies, and air forces used a vast array of simple common words as code words for various places, operations, conferences, equipment, tactics, and people in order to protect their communications from enemy eyes and ears. Generally, they tried to use words that had no obvious connection to what they were naming, so the code couldn’t easily be deduced. According to the Office of Naval History, “There was no reason why duckpin identified General Eisenhower, nor why zootsuit referred to Auk, New Britain, nor why opium was the transfer of a Marine regiment to Samoa. Someone picked these words out of a dictionary and someone in a higher echelon applied them to a particular person, place, or action.”

This leaves a strange disconnect between the word and whatever thing it’s referring to and, I like to think, might have led to a few funny double takes among returning seamen getting used to hearing these words in a civilian context again. Here are some of our favorites from the U.S. naval code words list used during World War II, provided by the Office of Naval History and the Historian for Naval Administration. (Some of these words were recycled and meant different things at different points in the war; this list gives just the first meaning listed by the Navy).

1. Abnormal - Advance on Yeu, Burma

2. Absurd - Shinko, Formosa (what we now call Taiwan)

3. Abusive - Remote-controlled expendable pilotless aircraft used as guided missiles

4. Acidity - Gavutu Island, Solomon Islands

5. Amoeba - Goodenough Island, New Guinea

6. Aniseed - Planned amphibious raid on Lussinpiccolo (a town on the Adriatic coast, part of Italy during the war, now part of Croatia)

7. Anklet - Allied raid on the Lofoten Islands, Norway in 1941

8. Anvil - Allied operations in the Mediterranean targeting southern France in 1944

9. Archery - British raid on the Norwegian coast to destroy enemy shipping equipment and shore batteries in 1941

10. Awkward - Cape Masas, New Britain (an island now part of Papua New Guinea, used as a Japanese base during the war)

11. Banana - Doke Doke Island, part of the Solomon Islands

12. Baptism - Air reconnaissance coming from North Russia looking for the Tirpitz (one of two German Bismarck-class battleships used in the war) in 1944

13. Baseball - England-to-Russia air shuttle

14. Bashful - Moscow, U.S.S.R.

15. Biped - The British

16. Bloodsucker - Romania (This is one of a few code words that does seem to give itself away: Transylvania, home of Bram Stoker's Count Dracula, was a historical region in what is now central Romania.)

17. Breakfast - Arafura Sea, Australia

18. Broomstick - Operations to counter any enemy advances through the English Channel

19. Butterballs - "Attack at night expected"

20. Choochoo- Witnari, New Britain

21. Colleen - Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Navy and Chief of Naval Operations.

22. Compost - British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden

23. Crossword - The surrender of German and Italian forces in the southwest Mediterranean in spring 1945

24. Demon - The United States Navy

25. Destiny - The United States Army

26. Divorce - Amphibious training for the U.S. Army and Marines on the West Coast

27. Eclipse - Plans and preparations for operations in Europe in the event of German surrender after the invasion of Normandy

28. Fireplace - Occupation and construction of an airfield on Adak Island in the Aleutian Islands

29. Glyptic - Premier Joseph Stalin (this one is maybe not so “everyday”)

30. Kudos- The U.S. bomber force stationed in East England

31. Lilac - Brazil

32. Marshmallow - "Torpedo track sighted”

33. Menace - Plan to establish Free French Forces under General De Gaulle at Dakar, Senegal in 1940

34. Monkeypuzzle - Japan

35. Mozart - The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

36. Neptune - Landing operations of the invasion of Normandy

37. Nipple - Magulata Point, Trobriand Islands (now part of Papua New Guinea)

38. Numbskull - Kapiura River, New Britain

39. Oatmeal - Allied occupation of the Archipelago of the Azores in the North Atlantic, 1943

40. Pandemonium - Aleppo, Syria

41. Pantaloon - Naples, Italy

42. Peepshow - The Suez Canal

43. Sandwich - Proposed invasion of Southern Thailand by the British to protect it from the Japanese, 1941

44. Scram - The surrender and handing over of German warships to the Russians, 1945-1946

45. Wetblanket - Champagny Island, Australia

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12 Solid Facts About New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain
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On May 3, 2003, the craggy rock face known as New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain tumbled to the ground in spectacular fashion. For a landmark that had been in the state's DNA for generations, its collapse was like a death in the family to some. The day after it fell, people left flowers at the base of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park as a sort of funeral tribute, and plans were immediately launched to create a longer-lasting memorial. So what was so great about the Old Man of the Mountain, pre- and post-crumble? Read on for the stone-cold facts.

1. THANKS TO NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, THE OLD MAN WAS ALSO KNOWN AS “THE GREAT STONE FACE.”

Although not explicitly named, it’s widely believed Hawthorne based his 1850 short story "The Great Stone Face"—which was set in an anonymous state that happens to look like New Hampshire—on the Old Man. At that time, the mountainous figure was already a tourist draw to the Granite State. Hawthorne described it as an “enormous giant, or a Titan,” with a “broad arch of the forehead,” a long-bridged nose, and having “vast lips.” Eventually Hawthorne’s nickname stuck, along with other loving titles like “Old Man” and “the Profile.”

2. THE "FACE" WAS ACTUALLY A SERIES OF LEDGES.

These granite cliff ledges, 40 feet tall and 25 feet wide, when viewed from the north at certain angles looked like a jagged face. Hawthorne corroborated this, writing in “The Great Stone Face”: “If the spectator approached too near, he lost the outline of the gigantic visage, and could discern only a heap of ponderous and gigantic rocks ... Retracing his steps, however, the wondrous features would again be seen; and the farther he withdrew from them, the more like a human face, with all its original divinity intact, did they appear."

3. HE COULD HAVE BEEN 12,000 YEARS OLD.

An 1856 postcard of The Old Man of the Mountain
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Old Man was first discovered and recorded in 1805 by road surveyors Francis Whitcomb and Luke Brooks, which put the landmark at nearly 200 years old by the time it fell. But it likely first formed when water inside cracks in the granite bedrock froze and thawed following the retreat of glaciers about 12,000 years ago. (This freezing and thawing process was what hastened its eventual collapse.) According to geologist Brian Fowler in a research report by the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund, the lower ledge—or chin—of the Old Man is assumed to have fallen first. Once that support was gone, the rest of the rock fell in formation.

4. CANNON MOUNTAIN WAS SO NAMED BECAUSE IT LOOKS LIKE ANTIQUE ARTILLERY.

The Old Man jutted from a cliff in Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, within Franconia Notch State Park. Originally named Profile Mountain, it took on a new name since its granite dome resembles a cannon from select vantage points. There are even three sub-peaks, nicknamed “The Cannon Balls.”

5. SOME OF THE STRONGEST SURFACE WINDS EVER IN THE U.S. WERE RECORDED ON TOP OF CANNON MOUNTAIN.

The gusts measured 199.5 mph on April 2, 1973. While impressive, they were likely even higher since 199.5 mph was the limit of what the researchers' instruments could record at the time. The highest surface wind gust in the U.S. still belongs in-state, though, with New Hampshire's Mount Washington recording 231 mph winds in 1934.

6. A SERIES OF TURNBUCKLES AND IRON TIES WERE PLACED WITHIN ITS FACE TO KEEP IT TOGETHER.

By 1916, as it became clear the Old Man might not live forever, the first efforts to protect the rock formation were made. By the 1920s, a crack in the Old Man’s "forehead" was clearly noticeable, and residents who were worried about its safety used chains, turnbuckles, and iron ties to keep the crack from separating. Many of those metal rods used to hold the Old Man together were still attached to the mountain years later.

7. THE STATE EVENTUALLY SPENT A SMALL FORTUNE TRYING TO SAVE IT.


Julius Hall, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1957, the New Hampshire state legislature passed a $25,000 appropriation for the necessary repairs to slow the Old Man's deterioration. These steps included quick-drying cement and steel rods meant to fill in and fortify cracks. The rocky Band-Aids were maintained every summer.

8. THE CARETAKERS’ MAINTENANCE ROUTINES WERE METICULOUS.

One longtime caretaker, Niels Nielsen, took great pains to keep the Old Man clean since 1965. Nielsen would spray bleach on the rock face and in its cracks, then carefully remove moss and lichen in an effort to prevent cracks from spreading further. He would even clean out the Old Man’s ear with a garden hoe. When Nielsen retired, he passed the job on to his son, David. The face continued to be groomed until its collapse.

9. NIELS NIELSEN SAW THE OLD MAN AS A GIFT FROM GOD.

According to Yankee Magazine, Nielsen was rather enchanted by the rock formation. “I had sailed around the world as a merchant seaman, yet I had never seen anything like the Old Man," he said. "I don’t believe anyone can be up there and not feel the presence of God."

10. BUT EVEN NIELSEN KNEW IT MIGHT FALL SOME DAY.

Nielsen was asked by Yankee what would happen if the Old Man ever fell. “The Lord put him here, and the Lord will take him down," Nielsen replied. Research concluded its collapse was natural—that the freezing-thawing process and subsequent erosion over time caused its downfall.

11. YOU CAN STILL "SEE" THE OLD MAN.


Rob Gallagher, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The image of the Old Man has lived on as a state emblem since 1945, appearing on highway signs, on the back of drivers licenses, and on the reverse of the state quarter. But residents weren’t done with honoring the now-deceased rock face. At Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza and Historic Site in Franconia, special viewfinders and steel “profilers” at vantage points near Profile Lake offer a glimpse of what the formation used to look like.

12. THERE’S EVEN AN OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN FLOWER.

Old-Man-of-the-Mountain, or tetraneuris grandiflora, is found in the Intermountain Regions and Rocky Mountains in states like Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. It’s sometimes called an alpine sunflower and got its common name from the wooly hairs that cover its leaves.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Take a Closer Look at the $17 Billion 'Holy Grail of Shipwrecks'

Feast your eyes on these new images of the treasure among the wreckage of the Spanish ship San José, often called the "holy grail of shipwrecks." When it sank on June 8, 1708, it was carrying gold, silver, jewels, and other precious cargo worth roughly $17 billion today. Now, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is revealing the major role it played in the 2015 expedition to find the San José.

The three-masted, 62-gun Spanish galleon exploded and sank at the hands of the British during the War of the Spanish Succession. It was carrying its riches to the Colombian city of Cartegena to finance the war. Archaeologists had been trying to find the San José for decades before it was finally located on November 27, 2015, during an expedition organized by Colombia, Maritime Archaeology Consultants (MAC), and WHOI. The multibillion-dollar treasure, which still sits nearly 2000 feet below the surface of the ocean near Cartegena, is just now being revealed.

WHOI's autonomous underwater vehicle REMUS 6000 was responsible for finding the elusive wreck. REMUS has been with the project since the beginning: The machine created the first side-scan sonar images of the site. After that, REMUS journeyed to a point 30 feet above the site and captured high-resolution photos of the ship's distinctive bronze cannons, which are engraved with dolphins. REMUS's documentation of this defining feature allowed scientists to positively identify the wreck as the fabled San José. (Thanks to whoever had the idea to put dolphins on the cannon in the first place.)

WHOI also released REMUS's photos of the wreckage, which show details of the horde, including ceramics and those famous cannons. "This constitutes one of the greatest—if not the biggest, as some say—discoveries of submerged patrimony in the history of mankind,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said back when the treasure was discovered.

The San José's treasure is the subject of a legal battle for ownership between Colombia and U.S. salvage company Sea Search Armada, which helped look for the wreck. In 2011, four years before the San José was even found, the court ruled that the booty belongs to Colombia, but the dispute is ongoing. Because of the legal drama, the exact location of the wreck remains a government secret.

Below, check out the newly released pictures for a closer look at cannons, teacups, and other ceramics.

cannons from the San Jose
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

pots from the San Jose
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

teacups from the San Jose
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

REMUS 6000
REMUS 6000
Mike Purcell, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


A mosaic of images taken by the REMUS 6000 depicts the whole site.
A mosaic of images taken by the REMUS 6000 depicts the whole site.
Jeff Kaeli, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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