Group hunts Pacific jungles for remains of WWII fighters, planes
  • Silt covers partially tail wheel of World War II Hellcat found during BentProp dive. (Flip Colmer/BentProp Project)

A search team of dedicated volunteers is reporting a startling discovery in the murky waters of Palau in the South Pacific: two wreck sites that may contain the remains of three World War II American airmen missing for 70 years.

The nonprofit BentProp Project found the sites last month. For years they have been searching crash sites for hundreds of American servicemen shot down by the Japanese over Palau in 1944 and 1945. Before now their searches helped locate and recover the remains of eight MIAs.

“It doesn’t take long to realize the real importance of what we’re doing, to completely buy-in to the mission, and to find these guys after 70 years is pretty satisfying, ” long-time BentProp member Reid Joyce told

The group has been flying to Palau to conduct a month-long search for MIAs every year since 1999.

This year the group is getting some high-powered help.

“Somewhere in the waters of Palau, or deep within its marshy jungles, lie the answers some families have been waiting generations to hear.”- Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Wednesday that he and the first lady will travel to Palau Saturday to assist BentProp’s mission. It was unclear whether Wednesday’s shootings at Fort Hood, in which an Army specialist killed three, wounded 16 and then fatally shot himself at the Fort Hood military base in Killeen, would affect his plans.

“Somewhere in the waters of Palau, or deep within its marshy jungles, lie the answers some families have been waiting generations to hear,” Perry said.

Perry said he will be joined on the 12-day trip by World War II vet Romus Valton “R.V.” Burgin, who saw action on Palau, and Marcus Luttrell, the ex-Navy Seal who wrote “Lone Survivor” about a doomed mission in Afghanistan to find Usama bin Laden. He said the trip is not being paid by taxpayers.

BentProp uses World War II maps, GPS and Google Earth to find wreck sites.  More than two dozens sites have been indexed so far. Help on searches also comes from the from University of Delaware’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Advanced Underwater Robotics program at Stockbridge High School in Michigan.

The group landed in Palau for this year’s search March 15. The team found the first crash site nine days later using an autonomous underwater vehicle that Scripps Institution brought to Palau.

Joyce said the wreckage was from a General Motors TBM Avenger that crashed in the ocean after a mission to bomb a power plant. The plane was flying so low that when the bomb went off, the explosion rocked the plane and caused the crash. Japanese soldiers captured the pilot and immediately executed him. The plane’s two other occupants went down with the plane.

“Nine years ago a Palauan showed us a wing of an Avenger deep in a mangrove swamp,” BentProp’s Flip Colmer said from Palau, in reporting on the search.  “The mangrove trees had grown enough to lift the entire wing up out of the water.”

But no other parts could be found and previous searches came up empty.

“Then a Palauan friend of BentProp’s told us a few years later that her father told her of watching the airplane get hit and crashing off the coast,” Colmer said. “She even pointed to the area where we eventually found the aircraft. ”

Four days later Colmler and other members of BentProp’s diving team found the second wreck site in 80 feet  of water. The wreckage was from a Grumman F4F Hellcat.

Colmer, a retired Navy Lt. Cmdr., described the difficult diving conditions at the time of the discovery.

“Sometimes, the visibility went down to just a couple of feet due to the silt suspended in the water,” he said. “We would swim into and out of these white-out areas.”

Joyce said the Hellcat was shot down by enemy ground fire. He said it hit the water so fast the pilot never had a chance to get out.

He said the group had a rough idea where the Hellcat went down, based on the after-action report from the mission.

Joyce said BentProp will document the two crash sites and let the Defense Department’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command recover any remains and make the identification.

“We try not to disturb a site any more than is necessary to identify it,” Joyce said.

The group was founded by Dr. Patrick Scannon, a biotech company exec in San Francisco. He got the idea to search for MIAs after a diving trip to Palau in 1993.

The islands of Palau are 500 miles from the Philippines and figured prominently in the war’s outcome. The U.S. bombed the island for six months in 1944 before troops landed and fought it out with Japanese for months.

Scannon says many airmen lost their lives during the bombing runs over Palau and the fates of hundreds who perished are still unknown.

Joyce, a 72-year-old retired research psychologist, said the cost to send the team to Palau of the 2014 expedition is more than $15,000. Funds come from team members who pay their own way and donations.

He agreed it is expensive. “Just gotta chalk it up to something that I have to do. Not exactly an obsession, but an altruistic calling that all of us share,” he said.

Joyce also said that one of the 13 members of this year’s team is Casey Doyle, a Marine.

His grandfather, Jimmie Doyle, was the nose gunner on a B-24 that was shot down in Palau in September 1944. Seven others on the plane were also killed.

BentProp found the crash site in 2004. JPAC identified the remains of all eight.

All were interred at Arlington in 2010.

Ghosts in the sun: Hitler’s personal photographer at Dachau, 1950


A series of photographs at the Nazi concentration camp Dachau document a decaying, sunlit place full of bad memories and restless ghosts. See the full gallery at

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Behind the walls

Do places have memories? Do buildings where people did terrible, bestial things to other human beings somehow retain an echo of that savagery within their walls, their floors, their foundations? (Hugo Jaeger — The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Noah’s ark: Did Hollywood get it right?

Digging History

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    Noah’s Ark under contruction with its master builder, Noah (portrayed by Russel Crowe), and his son in the new Paramount Pictures film “Noah.” (PARAMOUNT PICTURES CORP.)

In Darren Aronofksy’s forthcoming epic “Noah,” the vessel by which the biblical hero saves himself, his family, and pairs of animals from the apocalyptic flood appears like a huge shipping container standing some 50 feet tall and 500 feet long.

The design was inspired by “going back to what God tells Noah in the Bible,” Aronofksy said in a behind-the-scenes featuretterecently released by Paramount.

The problem is, Russell Crowe’s Noah might have gotten the wrong instruction manual.

Photos: Noah’s Ark in its Many Forms

‘A round boat makes perfect sense in Mesopotamia where round boats are likely to have been used on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.’

– Elizabeth Stone, an anthropology professor at New York’s Stony Brook University

The original Noah’s Ark was a giant round vessel, says a script on an 3,700-old clay tablet now on display at the British Museum in London.

Found in the Middle East in the late 1940s by Leonard Simmons, who then passed it to his son Douglas, the cracked, smartphone-sized tablet consists of 60 lines in cuneiform. It was translated by Irving Finkel, curator of the British Museum’s 130,000 Mesopotamian clay tablet collection.

The tablet turned out to be a detailed construction manual for building an ark with palm-fiber ropes, wooden ribs and coated in hot bitumen to make it waterproof.

The vessel, however, was round.

“The Babylonians of around 1750 believed the ark in the flood story was a giant version of the type of coracle that they actually used on the rivers,” Finkel told Discovery News.

Tsunami-Proof Ark Floats Our Boat

The coracle described in the tablet was “the largest the world had ever dreamed of, with an area of 3,600 square meters, and 6-meter high walls,” Finkel said.

“A round boat makes perfect sense in Mesopotamia where round boats are likely to have been used on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It would not have made much sense in the Levant where you don’t have rivers like that,” Elizabeth Stone, an anthropology professor at New York’s Stony Brook University, told Discovery News.

Indeed, a waterproofed coracle would never sink.

“Being round isn’t a problem — it never had to go anywhere: all it had to do was float and keep the contents safe: a cosmic lifeboat,” Finkel wrote in his British Museum blog.

Over the centuries, the ark has been depicted in many ways. Although the Bible specifies its dimensions — 300 cubits (about 450 feet) long, 50 cubits (about 75 feet) wide, and 30 cubits (about 45 feet) high — it doesn’t provide any clue about what it looked like.

Biblical creationists imagined Noah’s Ark like a large, box-like vessel similar to the version shown in Aronofksy’s $130 million epic movie. Other designs added a sloping roof and matched the ships of the day, from square-rigged caravels to long vessels with pointy bows.

The most elaborate depiction of the ark was produced in the 17th century by the German Jesuit scholar and polymath Athanasius Kircher. He calculated the number of animals that could fit in the ark and conceived a three-storied box with a double-pitched roof, a door and a window. He placed quadrupeds on the bottom, birds and humans on the top and serpents in the bilge, while food and water were stored in the middle.

Moses’ Red Sea Parting Explained by Computer Model

His design fit popular imagination and set the standard for children’s story books. There, the ark is often depicted as a large house on a boat, with a pair of giraffes sticking out of the roof.

According to Genesis, after the flood killed nearly everything on Earth, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat in Eastern Turkey.

Despite innumerable expeditions to find the biblical vessel, none has been successful.

“I do not believe the ark really existed,” Finkel said.

“I think that the flood story echoes the memory of a real devastation but that the ark is a component of the mythology that developed to avert the fear of its happening again,” he concluded.

Maryland man finds possible photos of Lincoln’s funeral procession
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    This photograph is believed to show President Abraham Lincoln’s catafalque moving past Grace Episcopal Church in New York on April 24 or 25, 1865, according to The Washington Post. (MATHEW BRADY/THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES)

A Maryland man says he’s discovered lost photos of President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession in New York City in 1865.

The Washington Post reports that Paul Taylor, a retired federal government accountant, found the photos believed to show Lincoln’s catafalque moving past Grace Episcopal Church on Broadway on an Archives Flickr photo-sharing website.

“I was just struck by the scene,” Taylor told the newspaper. “That is not your normal scene in front of church. There’s just people everywhere: the streets, the sidewalks, the roof. They’re in the trees. This is not your normal Sunday.”

The series of photos by famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady show a crowd waiting for, and then apparently to be paying homage before, a horse-drawn hearse. The photos were taken April 24 or 25, 1865, just days after Lincoln’s assassination, The Post reported.

The photos appear to have been taken from an upper window of Brady’s studio, which was across the street from the church. Taylor said he matched the church in the photographs to Grace Episcopal and e-mailed his findings to the Archives on March 3.

“I’m looking at it, and that was it,” he told The Post. “I had it.”

Experts at the Archives told the newspaper that while Taylor’s theory sounds good, there may be other explanations and there is no way to prove it decisively.

“It’s a big deal,” said Richard Sloan, an expert on the Lincoln funeral ceremonies. “What makes it even a bigger deal is to be able to study the people. Even though you can’t see faces that well, just studying the people tells a story.”

A half-million people lined the procession route in New York, which was part of a two-week funeral tour that included stops in over a dozen major cities.

Click here for more from The Washington Post.

Self-penned obituary earns Korean War vet last laugh from grave
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    As a final request, Walter George Bruhl Jr. asked mourners to celebrate his life in their own way, suggesting that raising a “glass of their favorite drink” would be an appropriate act. He preferred Jack Daniels, seen here. (AP)

A Korean War veteran who wrote his own heart-warming and hilarious obituary now gone viral gave himself a perfect sendoff, one of his grandchildren told

Walter George Bruhl Jr., of Delaware, who died at early Sunday at 80, in Florida, poked fun at society, his wife and most of all himself in the 679-word obituary, originally posted online by his grandson, Sam, last week after Bruhl’s family discovered it. In the first line, Bruhl aptly describes himself as “a dead person,” and goes on to note his wife of 57 years, Helene, will “now be able to purchase the mink coat” he always denied her because “only minks should wear mink.”

Bruhl’s granddaughter, Kalla, said the obituary was vintage Walter Bruhl.

“It was perfect for him, because he’s always been like that.”

– Kalla Bruhl

“It was perfect for him, because he’s always been like that,” she told “He’s funny.”

The obituary has made the rounds on Twitter and Facebook, generating positive reviews from folks who never knew Bruhl, but know they would have liked him. Amid the self-deprecating lines and tender memories is the story of a man from humble beginnings who fought for his nation, loved his family and enjoyed an occasional adult beverage.

Here’s the obituary in its entirety:

Walter George Bruhl Jr. of Newark and Dewey Beach is a dead person; he is no more; he is bereft of life; he is deceased; he has rung down the curtain and gone to join the choir invisible; he has expired and gone to meet his maker.

He drifted off this mortal coil Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Punta Gorda, Fla. His spirit was released from his worn-out shell of a body and is now exploring the universe.

He was surrounded by his loving wife of 57 years, Helene Sellers Bruhl, who will now be able to purchase the mink coat which he had always refused her because he believed only minks should wear mink. He is also survived by his son Walter III and wife Melissa; daughters Carly and Paige, and son Martin and wife Debra; son Sam and daughter Kalla. Walt loved and enjoyed his grandkids.

Walt was preceded in death by his tonsils and adenoids in 1935; a spinal disc in 1974; a large piece of his thyroid gland in 1988; and his prostate on March 27, 2000.

He was born in Philadelphia, Pa., April 20,1933 at 10:38 p.m., and weighed in at a healthy seven pounds, four ounces, and was 22 inches long, to Blanche Buckman Bruhl and Walter George Bruhl.

He drifted through the Philadelphia Public School System from 1937 through 1951, graduating, to his mother’s great relief, from John Bartram High School in June 1951.

Walter was a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War, having served from October 1951 to September 1954, with overseas duty in Japan from June 1953 till August 1954. He attained the rank of sergeant. He chose this path because of Hollywood propaganda, to which he succumbed as a child during World War II, and his cousin Ella, who joined the corps in 1943.

He served an electronics apprenticeship at the Philadelphia Naval Yard from 1956-61; operated Atlantic Automotive Service Stations in Wilmington during 1961-62; and was employed by the late great DuPont Co. from 1962-93. (Very few people who knew him would say he worked for DuPont, and he always claimed he had only been been hired to fill a position.)

He started at the Chestnut Run Site as a flunky in the weave area of the Textile Fibers Department, and then was promoted to research assistant, where he stayed from 1963-72. In 1972 he accepted a position as an equipment service representative with the Photo Products Department at the old DuPont Airport site (now Barley Mill Plaza).

In 1973 he was promoted to manufacturing engineering technologist and was employed in that capacity until, after 31 years with The Co., he was given a fine anniversary dinner and a token gift and then “downsized” in December 1993. He was rehired as a contract employee in June 1994, doing the same job that he had been “downsized” from, and stayed until July 1995.

He started his own contract business and worked at Litho Tech Ltd. from 1996-99.

There will be no viewing since his wife refuses to honor his request to have him standing in the corner of the room with a glass of Jack Daniels in his hand so he would appear natural to visitors.

Cremation will take place at the family’s convenience, and his ashes will be kept in an urn until they get tired of having it around. What’s a Grecian Urn? Oh, about 200 drachmas a week.

Everyone who remembers him is asked to celebrate Walt’s life in their own way; raising a glass of their favorite drink in his memory would be quite appropriate.

Instead of flowers, Walt would hope that you will do an unexpected and unsolicited act of kindness for some poor unfortunate soul in his name.

A memorial luncheon in Walt’s honor will be held Saturday, March 15, at 1 p.m., at Deerfield, Newark.

Man known as kissing sailor in WWII-era picture dies

Associated Press
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    July 31, 2007: In this photo, Glenn McDuffie holds a portrait of himself as a young man, left, and a copy of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic Life magazine shot of a sailor, who McDuffie claims is him, embracing a nurse in a white uniform in New York’s Times Square, at his Houston home. (AP)

HOUSTON –  A man who became known for claiming he was the sailor kissing a woman in Times Square in a famous World War II-era photo taken by a Life magazine photographer has died. Glenn McDuffie was 86.

McDuffie died March 9 in a nursing home in Dallas, his daughter, Glenda Bell, told The Associated Press.

A mail carrier and semi-professional baseball player after he returned from World War II, McDuffie’s life became more exciting about six years ago when Houston Police Department forensic artist Lois Gibson was able to identify him as the young man leaning over the woman in his arms to kiss her.

By taking about 100 pictures of McDuffie using a pillow to pose as he did in the picture taken Aug. 14, 1945, by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, Gibson said, she was able to match the muscles, ears and other features of the then-80-year-old McDuffie to the young sailor in the original image.

“I was absolutely positive,” Gibson said of the match. “It was perfect.”

The identification remained controversial, partly because other men also claimed to have been the sailor in the image, but also because Life magazine, whose photographer had died years earlier, was unable to confirm that McDuffie was in fact the sailor, noting Eisenstaedt had never gotten names for those in the picture.

Yet for McDuffie, Gibson’s word was enough. A well-respected forensic artist who was in the 2005 Guinness Book of World Records for helping police identify more suspects than any other forensic artist, Gibson said McDuffie was ecstatic when she told him the results he had waited 62 years to hear.

And so began a whirlwind lifestyle of going to air shows, gun shows, fundraisers and parties to tell his story. Women would pay $10 to take a picture kissing him on the cheek, Gibson said.

“He would make money and kiss women,” Gibson said. “He had the most glamorous life of any 80 year old.”

McDuffie had told the AP he was changing trains in New York when he was told that Japan had surrendered.

“I was so happy. I ran out in the street,” said McDuffie, then 18 and on his way to visit his girlfriend in Brooklyn.

“And then I saw that nurse,” he said. “She saw me hollering and with a big smile on my face. … I just went right to her and kissed her.”

“We never spoke a word,” he added. “Afterward, I just went on the subway across the street and went to Brooklyn.”

Gibson’s daughter, Bell, said on anniversaries of the war’s end her father would recall that moment and the air of excitement in Times Square.

For years it bothered him that he wasn’t identified as the man in the photo, she said, and he turned to Gibson for help to clear it up.

“He wanted to do it before he died,” she said.

McDuffie is survived by his daughter and two grandchildren. His funeral will be held March 21 at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.

Historians unravel mystery behind cryptic Lincoln note

Associated Press
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    This photo provided by Papers of Abraham Lincoln project shows a note written by Abraham Lincoln. (AP)

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. –  The cryptic note penned by Abraham Lincoln identifies its recipient only as “my dear Sir” and has a small section carefully clipped out.

Who was he writing to and why was a key piece of information later removed so meticulously?

Historians believe they have unraveled the mystery and uncovered a bit of political intrigue in the process.

Researchers at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project concluded Lincoln was writing to an ally to ask him to maintain a secret relationship with a political insider during the 1860 election campaign.

Lincoln asked his cohort to “keep up a correspondence” with the person, a phrase that gave researchers their best clue. They ran it through a searchable database of Lincoln’s papers and found several matches.

One was in a letter to Lincoln from fellow attorney and Republican Leonard Swett of Bloomington, Ill.

The two men, it turns out, were conspiring to keep tabs on a New York political figure. The mystery note was Lincoln’s response to Swett’s letter, the researchers surmised.

“If you can keep up a correspondence with him without much effort, it will be well enough,” Lincoln wrote to Swett. “I like to know his views occasionally.”

Swett’s earlier letter also had a clue about who the political insider was. It referred to “our friend TW of Albany,” who researchers concluded was Thurlow Weed, a Republican newspaper editor and political boss of New York state.

Lincoln was seeking Weed’s support in New York, even though Weed had been backing front-runner William H. Seward for the Republican presidential nomination. Lincoln got his way, ultimately winning Weed’s support. Seward later became his secretary of state.

But Lincoln couldn’t be seen as close to Weed during the campaign so he recruited Swett to be a secret go-between. That also explains why Swett clipped Tweed’s name from Lincoln’s note.

A New York City manuscript dealer recently contacted the Papers of Abraham Lincoln for help solving the riddle.

The group of researchers is trying to identify, transcribe and publish all documents written by or to Lincoln. Project Director Daniel Stowell said Saturday that solving the mystery behind the note points to the project’s value.

“To be able to identify the date, recipient and subject of such a brief letter is a remarkable achievement,” he said.

Einstein’s WWII-era letter to US soldier on sale for $40G
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    The soldier’s original letter to Albert Einstein, dated April 17, 1945, has been published and remains in the Einstein Papers at Jerusalem University. Researchers had assumed Einstein simply never replied.

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    Einstein, writing on letterhead from the Institute for Advanced Study at the School of Mathematics, where he worked after settling in New Jersey following his exodus from Europe in 1933, explained that the main question in his mind at the time was whether the properties of space has four variables or eight. (Courtesy: The Raab Collection)

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    The previously-unpublished letter, dated May, 11, 1945, contained the world-renowned scientist’s response to a group of soldiers with the 26th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron who interpreted Einstein’s recent article in Science Digest to suggest that instead of the four-dimensional universe he had postulated in 1915, there were in fact perhaps as many as eight. (Courtesy: The Raab Collection)

Nearly 70 years ago, a group of American soldiers puzzled by a scientific article they read while in the Philippines during World War II sought to clear up their confusion with the help of none other than Albert Einstein.

Less than a month after Sgt. Frank K. Pfleegor dashed off a letter to the 20th century’s greatest mind came a reply: A typed, one-page letter from Einstein himself. In the letter, now being offered for sale by Pfleegor’s survivors for $40,000, Einstein humbly clarified his position and explained that “space should be looked at as a four-dimensional continuum.”

“Dear Sir: I see from your letter of April 17th that the attempt of my last publication was not reported in an adequate way,” Einstein wrote in the previously-unpublished letter, dated May 11, 1945. “I have not questioned there that space should be looked at as a four-dimensional continuum. The question is only whether the relevant theoretical concepts describing physical properties of this can or will be functions of four variables.”

Einstein’s letter enlightened Pfleegor and his pals in the 26th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron who had interpreted a late 1944 article in Science Digest to suggest the physicist was rethinking his 1915 theory of a four-dimensional universe to say there were as many as eight. Writing on letterhead from the Institute for Advanced Study at the School of Mathematics, where he worked after settling in New Jersey following his exodus from Europe in 1933, Einstein admitted he, too, was still puzzled by the weighty concepts of space and time.

“The question is only whether the relevant theoretical concepts describing physical properties of this can or will be functions of four variables.”

– Albert Einstein, May 11, 1945

“I have investigated the possibilities of this kind in the last years but my respective results seem to me not very encouraging,” the letter continues. “For the time being I have returned to ordinary differential equations [from General Relativity] with dependent variables being simply functions of the four coordinates [space-time]. What the future has in store for us nobody can foretell. It is a question of success.”

The original letter to Einstein, dated April 17, 1945, has been published and remains in the Einstein Papers at Jerusalem University. Researchers had assumed Einstein simply never replied; the letter’s existence was known only to the Pfleegor family, which has put it up for sale through the Pennsylvania-based historical document specialists The Raab Collection.

The collection’s vice president, Nathan Raab, told he expects a great deal of interest in the “important piece of scientific history” showing a personal side of the 1921 Nobel Prize winner.

“Anything of Einstein that’s scientific in nature is uncommon,” Raab said Thursday. “When you take that to include his theories of space-time, the four dimensions of space and how that wraps into his later research, you’re dealing with something that’s very, very uncommon.”

Pfleegor’s correspondence with Einstein was noted in a 1945 issue of the military’s “Stars and Stripes” publication, saying that “no less a figure that the great Albert Einstein” had replied to the soldier’s inquiry.

“In our tent we usually spend our evenings discussing various scientific topics,” Pfleegor wrote. “Tonight we attempted to tackle a problem from the Nov. 1944 issue of Science Digest, entitled ‘Einstein’s At It Again.’”

Science Digest’s original article, according to Pfleegor’s letter, was “not very enlightening,” so he asked for further clarification.

“Some of us stick by the single four-dimensional space,” it read. “The rest say it is made up of two spaces of four dimensions. Why not three of four dimensions etc.? We would appreciate an answer.”

Pfleegor’s heirs wish to remain anonymous, said Raab, who added that it is common for families of people who corresponded with famous historical figures to not realize that the letter is, in fact, a lost or unknown historical treasure.

“The condition is such that it’s very clear they cared for it, it was a meaningful piece for them,” Raab told “It’s a powerful piece. I expect a great deal of interest, not only from buyers but also from the scholarly community. This is a touching story, it shows a different side of Einstein.”

16th-century artillery manual shows illustration of ‘rocket cat’ weaponry

Associated Press
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    March 4, 2014: An illustration from a manual by 16th century artillery master Franz Helm at the University of Pennsylvania library in Philadelphia. The manual on artillery and siege warfare depicts a cat and dove strapped with bombs to set fire to a castle or city which you cant get at otherwise. (AP PHOTO/MATT ROURKE)

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    In this Tuesday, March 4, 2014 photo is an illustration from a manual by 16th century artillery master Franz Helm at the University of Pennsylvania library in Philadelphia. The manual on artillery and siege warfare depicts a cat and dove strapped with bombs to “set fire to a castle or city which you can’t get at otherwise.” (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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    March 4, 2014: An illustration from a manual by 16th century artillery master Franz Helm at the University of Pennsylvania library in Philadelphia. The manual on artillery and siege warfare depicts a cat and dove strapped with bombs to set fire to a castle or city which you cant get at otherwise. (AP PHOTO/MATT ROURKE)

PHILADELPHIA –  You’re a 16th century German prince plotting to crush a peasant rebellion, or perhaps you’re leading an army against the Ottoman Empire or looking to settle the score with a rival nobleman. What’s a guy looking for a tactical edge to do?

Bring on the rocket cats!

Fanciful illustrations from a circa-1530 manual on artillery and siege warfare seem to show jet packs strapped to the backs of cats and doves, with the German-language text helpfully advising military commanders to use them to “set fire to a castle or city which you can’t get at otherwise.”

‘It clearly looks like there’s some sort of jet of fire coming out of a device strapped to these animals.’

– Mitch Fraas, a historian and digital humanities expert at the University of Pennsylvania library

Digitized by the University of Pennsylvania, the unusual, full-color illustrations recently caught the attention of an Australian book blog and then found their way to Penn researcher Mitch Fraas, who set out to unravel the mystery.

“I really didn’t know what to make of it,” said Fraas, a historian and digital humanities expert at the Penn library. “It clearly looks like there’s some sort of jet of fire coming out of a device strapped to these animals.”

So were these unfortunate animals from the 1500s really wearing 20th-century technology?

Fraas’ conclusion: No. Obviously.

The treatise in question was written by artillery master Franz Helm of Cologne, who was believed to have fought in several skirmishes against the Turks in south-central Europe at a time when gunpowder was changing warfare.

Circulated widely and illustrated by multiple artists, Helm’s manual is filled with all sorts of strange and terrible imagery, from bombs packed with shrapnel to missile-like explosive devices studded with spikes — and those weaponized cats and birds.

According to Fraas’ translation, Helm explained how animals could be used to deliver incendiary devices: “Create a small sack like a fire-arrow. If you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw it will be ignited.”

In other words, capture a cat from enemy territory, attach a bomb to its back, light the fuse and then hope it runs back home and starts a raging fire.

Fraas said he could find no evidence that cats and birds were used in early modern warfare in the way prescribed by Helm.

A good thing, too.

“Sort of a harebrained scheme,” Fraas said. “It seems like a really terrible idea, and very unlikely the animals would run back to where they came from. More likely they’d set your own camp on fire.”

Oldest-known Holocaust survivor dies at 110
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    Photo dated July 2010 made available by the makers of the Oscar nominated documentary The Lady in Number 6, in which she tells her story, of Alice Herz-Sommer, believed to be the oldest-known survivor of the Holocaust, who died in London on Sunday morning at the age of 110. Herz-Sommers devotion to the piano and to her son sustained her through two years in a Nazi prison camp. (AP)

Alice Herz-Sommer, believed to be the oldest-known Holocaust survivor, died Sunday morning in London at the age of 110, a family member said.

Herz-Sommer recently appeared in an Oscar-nominated documentary, reported.  The film, “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” is nominated for best short documentary at the Academy Awards.

Herz-Sommer’s devotion to the piano and to her son sustained her through two years in a Nazi prison camp. She died in a hospital Sunday morning after being admitted Friday, daughter-in-law Genevieve Sommer said.

An accomplished pianist, Herz-Sommer, her husband and her son were sent from Prague in 1943 to a concentration camp in the Czech city of Terezin — Theresienstadt in German — where inmates were allowed to stage concerts in which she frequently starred.

An estimated 140,000 Jews were sent to Terezin and 33,430 died there. About 88,000 were moved on to Auschwitz and other death camps, where most of them were killed. Herz-Sommer and her son, Stephan, were among fewer than 20,000 who remained alive when the notorious camp was liberated by the Soviet army in May 1945.

Yet she remembered herself as “always laughing” during her time in Terezin, where the joy of making music kept them going.

“These concerts, the people are sitting there, old people, desolated and ill, and they came to the concerts and this music was for them our food. Music was our food. Through making music we were kept alive,” she once recalled.

Though she never learned where her mother died after being rounded up, and her husband died of typhus at Dachau, in her old age she expressed little bitterness.

“We are all the same,” she said. “Good, and bad.”

Herz-Sommer was born on Nov. 26, 1903, in Prague, and started learning the piano from her sister at age 5.

As a girl, she met the author Franz Kafka, a friend of her brother-in-law, and delighted in the stories that he told.

She also remembered Kafka saying, “In this world to bring up children: in this world?”

Alice married Leopold Sommer in 1931. Their son was born in 1937, two years before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia.

“This was especially for Jews a very, very hard time. I didn’t mind, because I enjoyed to be a mother and I was full of enthusiasm about being a mother, so I didn’t mind so much,” she said.

Jews were allowed to shop for only half an hour in the afternoon, by which time the shops were empty. Most Jewish families were forced to leave their family apartments and were crammed into one apartment with other families, but her family was allowed to keep its home.

“We were poor, and we knew that they will send us away, and we knew already in this time that it was our end,” she said.

In 1942, her 73-year-old mother was transported to Terezin, then a few months later to Treblinka, an extermination camp.

“And I went with her of course till the last moment. This was the lowest point in my life. She was sent away. Till now I don’t know where she was, till now I don’t know when she died, nothing.

“When I went home from bringing her to this place I remember I had to stop in the middle of the street and I listened to a voice, an inner voice: ‘Now, nobody can help you, not your husband, not your little child, not the doctor.”‘

From then on, she took refuge in the 24 Etudes of Frederic Chopin, a dauntingly difficult monument of the repertoire. She labored at them for up to eight hours a day.

She recalled an awkward conversation on the night before her departure to the concentration camp with a Nazi who lived upstairs and called to say that he would miss her playing.

She remembered him saying: “‘I hope you will come back. What I want to tell you is that I admire you, your playing, hours and hours, the patience and the beauty of the music.”‘

Other neighbors, she said, stopped by only to take whatever the family wasn’t able to bring to the camp.

“So the Nazi was a human, the only human. The Nazi, he thanked me,” she said.

The camp’s artistic side was a blessing; young Stephan, then 6, was recruited to play a sparrow in an opera.

“My boy was full of enthusiasm,” she recalled. “I was so happy because I knew my little boy was happy there.”

The opera was “Brundibar,” a 40-minute piece for children composed by Hans Krasa, a Czech who was also imprisoned in the camp. It was first performed in Prague but got only one other performance before he was interned.

“Brundibar” became a showpiece for the camp, performed at least 55 times including once when Terezin, which had been extensively spruced up for the occasion, was inspected by a Red Cross delegation in June 1944.

The opera featured in a 1944 propaganda film which shows more than 40 young performers filling the small stage during the finale.

Herz-Sommer’s life inspired two books: “A Garden of Eden in Hell” (2006) by Melissa Mueller and Reinhard Piechocki, and “A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor” (2012) by Caroline Stoessinger.

In 1949, she left Czechoslovakia to join her twin sister Mizzi in Jerusalem. She taught at the Jerusalem Conservatory until 1986, when she moved to London.

Her son, who changed his first name to Raphael after the war, made a career as a concert cellist. He died in 2001.

Funeral arrangements weren’t immediately available.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.