1254: Birth of Venetian explorer Marco Polo (d.1324).
1776: Guarding the northernmost portions of Alta California, Spain establishes the Presidio of San Francisco on the tip of land that borders the entrance to San Francisco Bay. It remained in Army hands until the BRAC rolled through in 1988. The facility was turned over to the National Parks Service in 1994 as mixed use historic, recreational, and commercial sector of the City. One of Presidio’s distinguishing features was its lack of a perimeter fence.
1789: Representatives from the Several States, in congress, after over two years of intense discussion and negotiation, sign The Constitution of the United States in Philadelphia, and send the document to the States themselves for ratification.
1812: A week after his victory over the Russian army at Borodino Napoleon Bonaparte and his Grande Armee enter Moscow and take possession of the Kremlin
1812: A day after Napoleon’s entry into Moscow, a series of fires begin just after midnight, spreading and building into a three day firestorm that consumes nearly ¾ of the mostly wooden city. The French evacuate until the fire is contained, but remain in occupation of the Russian capital.
1835: HMS Beagle arrives in the Galapagos Islands with naturalist Charles Darwin aboard.
1862: The Union Army of the Potomac halts Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s first foray into the northern states a the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), the single bloodiest day of combat in American history, with 23,000 casualties (10,000 Union, 13,000 Confederate).
1862: As part of the plan exposed by Robert E. Lee’s “lost dispatch” , a Confederate detachment under Stonewall Jackson captures the town of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, snagging with it a huge number of U.S. forces (12,419 Federals), the largest ever capture of American soldiers until the Japanese overwhelmed Bataan in 1942.
1875: Birth of James C. Penny (d.1971), who opened his first dry-goods store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, in 1902. In 1940, visiting one of his stores in Iowa, he trained a young employee named Sam Walton how to tie a package with a minimal amount of ribbon.
1891: Birth of Karl Donitz (d.1980), German submariner and intellect behind the highly effective “Wolfpack” strategy in World War II. Donitz had the dubious distinction of being named in Hitler’s will as his successor as head of the Third Reich. As such, he issued the surrender order to the German armed forces after a week in office, carefully working the timing of the event so that the bulk of the German armed forces would fall under the control of the Western Allies instead of the Soviet Union.
1908: On an Army demonstration flight at Fort Meyer, Virginia, the Wright Brothers’ first commercial aircraft Model A, piloted by Orville Wright, crashes when one of the propellers breaks, slicing a guy wire and severing the rear control surfaces of the machine. Wright is severely injured by the plunge into the ground, and his passenger, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge dies, becoming the world’s first aviation fatality.
1916: After two and a half months of unrelenting combat in the Battle of the Somme, British forces introduce the “tank” to the battlefield. The machine is impervious to barbed wire and rifle & machine gun fire, but is very slow moving (3 mph) and notoriously unreliable. That being said, it does the job of creating a clear path for supporting infantry to break through German defenses in several portions of the battle line.
1919: Congress officially authorizes U.S. veterans of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), fresh from their victorious return from the Great War, to incorporate The American Legion as a veterans support group under Title 36 U.S.C.
1940: The most active day of the Battle of Britain– the first day of Germany’s final “decisive” air assault on England.
1944: Birth of Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner, first man to climb all of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 meters (26,000 feet), and the first to solo to the summit of Mount Everest (29,029 feet) without supplemental oxygen.
1945: Opening assault in the brutal Battle of Pelileu in the South Pacific.
1948: The North American Aviation F-86 Sabrejet sets a world speed record of 671 mph. The design, particularly the swept-back wings, was derived from captured German aerodynamic research dating from 1940.
1950: After nearly four months of catastrophic defeats and retreats at the hands of communist North Korea’s juggernaut, and with the entirety of his active forces engaged holding onto the Pusan perimeter by their fingernails, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur orders up his final reserves (1st Marine Division and Army 7th Infantry Division) to make an amphibious landing at Inchon, Korea, the west coast port city just a few miles from the conquered capital city of Seoul, and hundreds of miles behind the North Korean front to the south. The invasion, timed to arrive between thirty foot (true) tide cycles and covering three separated landing areas, caught the NORKS completely unawares and overwhelmed by the naval and military power suddenly thrust into the strategic heart of the peninsula. The attack broke the back of North Korean logistics support to their overstretched and exhausted forces battling at Pusan, and within weeks the UN forces began rounding up over 135,000 NORK prisoners, followed by dramatically launching into a counter-attack that pushed the communist armies all the way back the border with China on the Yalu river MacArthur’s strategic sense and gambler’s timing overcame strong opposition from USN and Army leadership and gave the UN (make no mistake, it was overwhelmingly a US battle) forces a military and moral victory at the point when it appeared all was lost.
1970: Jordan’s King Hussein declares martial law in response to an attempted fedeyeen coup against his Hashemite throne. The conspirators, organized around Yassir Arafat’s Fatah movement, vow revenge over their failure and form a new militant group known as Black September Organization in memory of this day. Two years later, the Black September kidnapped and assassinated eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich, ensuring that the terms “Palestinian” and “terrorist” would be forever linked.