323BC: Death of Alexander the Great (b.356BC). The young King of Macedon initiated a series of conquests that spread Hellenic civilization essentially throughout the known world of his day. He was never defeated in battle, but died at age 32 in Babylon, in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, just prior to beginning a planned campaign against Arabia.
70AD: Roman legions, under the command of Titus, breach the middle wall of Jerusalem and commence to destroy the city.
632: Death of the Arab warlord prophet Muhammad (b.570).
1661: The young student Isaac Newton begins his studies at Trinity College.
1664: Nieu Amsterdam is renamed New York.
1692: Port Royal, Jamaica is destroyed by a three minute earthquake that kills 1,600 and leaves over 3,000 injured, with huge sections of the city sinking beneath the water. Many attribute the disaster as a divine retribution for the venal depths to which the pirate-run city had culturally sunk: “Wine and women drained their wealth to such a degree that… some of them became reduced to beggary. They have been known to spend 2 or 3,000 Pieces of eight in one night; and one gave a strumpet 500 to see her naked. They used to buy a pipe of wine, place it in the street, and oblige everyone that passed to drink.” –Quoted of Charles Leslie in his History of Jamaica.
1755: Birth of Nathan Hale (d.1776), who famously gave his one life for his country, hanged by a British noose for espionage. DLH Recommendation: For a gritty and well-presented look at this slice of the American Revolution, I highly recommend the Netflix series “Turn- Washington’s Spies” for your next binge watching period. It’s based on the book titled Washington’s Spies; The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose (2006). It’s a fantastic story, with characters drawn from life, that will give you a real feel for the tension and danger inherent in our revolt against the Crown. The humanization of George Washington is particularly well played.
1756: Birth of John Trumbull (d.1843), the American painter who created some of our most memorable images of the American Revolution.
1776: Virginia delegate Richard Henry “Lighthorse” Lee rises to submit to the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, a resolution calling for independence from Great Britain. The stirring text of his message still carries force today:
“That these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.”
A lively debate ensued and the Congress agreed to two propositions:
1) A committee would be appointed to draft a formal declaration of independence, and;
2) A vote on Lee’s resolution would be delayed until July 1st.
1789: Virginian James Madison submits to the Continental Congress twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution. By 1791, ten of them are ratified by the states as the Bill of Rights. One more is finally ratified by the Several States in 1992, to become the 27thAmendment- prohibiting changes in Congressional pay and benefits without an intervening election.
1794: The first six captains of the United States Navy are appointed to superintend construction of the Six Ship Navy earlier authorized by Congress. Those of us with salt water in our veins will recognize the names of: John Barry, Samuel Nicholson, Silas Talbot, Joshua Barney, Richard Dale and Thomas Truxtun. They did good. Multiple USN ships bear or have borne their names.
1947: At Harvard University, Secretary of State George Marshall lays out his plan for the European Economic Recovery Program, eventually known world-wide as the Marshall Plan. Over the course of its existence, 1947-52, the United States invested over $13 billion (1948 GDP of $258b) in re-organizing the economies and industrial base of western Europe along the American model. The plan was offered as well to Russia, who rejected it, and by extension forced its rejection by the eastern European countries under Soviet occupation.
1809: Death of Thomas Paine (b.1737), one of the intellectual fathers of the American Revolution, whose 1776 broadside, Common Sense, laid down in clear rhetoric the foundation for the Colonies making a complete break with the United Kingdom. Paine followed up with another incisive series of pamphlets called The American Crisis. You may recognize these words:
“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.” In 1789 Paine became an early enthusiast for the French Revolution and was in fact “elected” to the French Assembly, even though he spoke no French. As an ally of Robespierre, he eventually fell into disfavor and was imprisoned in 1793. While in prison he penned The Age of Reason, which excoriated the teachings of the Church in favor of “free rational inquiry” into any and all subjects, in addition to opening a stinging criticism of George Washington. After prison, Paine returned to the United States around 1803, where he lived out the rest of his life essentially persona non grata as the result of his enthusiasm for Revolutionary France and his criticisms of Washington.
1918: First day of the first U.S. offensive in the Great War. Led by the Second “Indian Head” Division of the US Army, the Battle of Belleau Wood rages for three weeks and generates 10,000 U.S. casualties. German General Ludendorf resists with a furious onslaught of machine guns, artillery and poison gas but the American force presses forward to eventually drive the German army from its key salient in the Western Front. Of particular note for DLH purposes was the inclusion of the 4th Marine Brigade* alongside the Army’s 3rd Infantry Brigade, all of whom operated on a front adjacent to the famous 3rd Army Division- “The Rock of the Marne.” The ferocious fighting also gives rise to some memorable language: German soldiers, un-used to the preternatural tenacity of the Marine Corps, dubs them Teufelshund- “Devil-Dogs” a moniker you will still hear today. The battle also gave us the stirring battle cry (provenance sometimes disputed, but it falls in the category of ‘if it isn’t true it ought to be’): “Come on you bastards! Do you want to live forever?”
1918: Birth of Robert Preston (d.1987), the versatile stage and screen actor immortalized as The Music Man.
1924: Death of George Mallory (b.1886), the British explorer and mountaineer who, with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine, attempted an ascent to the summit of Mount Everest this day and never returned. Irvine’s ice axe was discovered in 1933, but no trace of either man was found except for a cryptic Chinese report of finding “an English dead” on the north face above 26,000 feet. Mallory’s body was eventually found during a dedicated search mission in 1999, although the question of whether he and Irvine actually achieved the summit remains one of mountaineering’s great mysteries.
1942: On the heels of their disaster at Midway, Japanese forces successfully complete their concurrent invasion and occupation of Attu and Kiska Islands in the Aleutian chain. 25 Americans are killed and the remaining residents are herded into concentration camps. The islands will be liberated a year later in a bitter and usually overlooked three week campaign.
1944: Major League Baseball cancels all games this day in honor of the Normandy invasion.
1949: Publication of British author George Orwell’s dystopian* novel of life in a socialist paradise, Nineteen-Eighty-four, the work that brought us the unnervingly persistent** idioms of the Thought Police, Big Brother, Ministry of Truth, “War is Peace,” “We’ve always been at war with Oceana,”
1966: One of two prototype North American XB-70 Valkyrie supersonic bombers is destroyed in a mid-air collision with an F-104 chase aircraft during a photo shoot. Both crews are killed, and the XB-70 program is cancelled shortly thereafter. The remaining Valkyrie is on display at the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio.
1967: After months of Arab diplomatic saber-rattling and concurrent military buildup on its borders, the state of Israel launches a preemptive strike on Egyptian forces in Sinai. The attack expands into a decisive six-day rout of Arab armies on three fronts. Israel essentially tripled the land area under its control, taking all of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. The Egyptian Air Forces loses over 300 of their 450 Soviet-built planes and the Syrians lose 2/3 of their air force as well.
1967: The US Navy intelligence gathering ship, USS Liberty (AGTR-5) is bombed and strafed in a coordinated Israeli air attack. 34 crew members are killed and 17 wounded.
1968: Senator Robert Kennedy, stepping off the stage from his victory speech in the California Democratic primary, is shot and killed by Palestinian radical Sirhan Sirhan. After receiving the death sentence, Sirhan’s penalty is changed to life imprisonment. Despite several clemency hearings Sirhan remains imprisoned to this day.
1975: Eight years after its closure, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat re-opens the Suez Canal.
1975: Sony introduces the BetaMax video cassette. You remember the great VHS-Beta format debate? Me too. Beta was the superior technical product, but VHS licensing and production was available to any and all comers, whereas Beta was marketed as a Sony-only product.
1981: A strike force of 10 Israeli aircraft destroy the nearly-completed Osirak reactor complex just outside of Baghdad. News of the raid does not emerge for 24 hours until the IAF itself announces it, after which Iraq expresses its indignation.
1985: In Brazil, the grave of a certain Wolfgang Gerhard is exhumed. The body is then examined and re-identified as none other than Joseph Mengele, the doctor known as “The Angel of Death” at Auschwitz. His experiments conducted on prisoners included subjecting individuals to multiple recurrences of progressively deeper hypothermia to see how low a body’s core temperature could get and still remain alive. Similar experiments were conducted in hypobaric chambers to study the effects of hypoxia to the point of death. He also performed grizzly surgeries on twins, switching body parts from one to the other, or killing both and performing dual dissections to compare parts. He escaped Allied custody in 1949 and lived out his life in South America, beginning in Argentina, and fled to Paraguay after Mossad captured Adolf Eichmann.
1991: Mount Pinatubo erupts in the Philippines, solving the problem of what to do with Clark AFB and Subic Bay Naval Station by burying both of them under tons of ash.