1446: Death of Filippo Brunelleschi (b.1377), designer and chief engineer of the magnificent dome topping the Florence cathedral. The span and weight of the dome was orders of magnitude larger than ever previously attempted, and Brunelleschi’s innovative thinking and close supervision of the project ensured its successful completion.
1452: Birth of Leonardo da Vinci (d.1519)
1480: Birth of Lucrezia Borgia (d.1519). The illegitimate daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI), Lucrecia Borgia was renowned throughout the Renaissance as a wild beauty of voracious sexual appetite, and is often cast as the ultimate femme fatale, central to the politico-criminal machinations of the Borgia family syndicate, the happy clan that provided Nicolo Machiavelli inspiration for his classic treatise, The Prince.
1492: Genovese mariner Christopher Columbus signs a contract with the Spanish Court to find a direct ocean passage to the Indies.
1521: At the Diet of Worms(Diet: an imperial conclave of secular and ecclesiastical nobility; Worms: a city in Germany (pronounced “verms”), the monk Martin Luther is excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church for heresy and denying the authority of the pope. During his cross-examination he is repeatedly asked,“Do you recant?” (i.e., from his writings on the nature of forgiveness). In his timeless reply, he firmly responds, “Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!”
1534: Sir Thomas More is imprisoned in the Tower of London.
1755: Publication of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language. The project was contracted for three years, but took nine, and remained the standard for our native tongue until publication of the first Oxford English Dictionary in 1928.
1775: After intelligence assets confirmed the occupying British army in Boston gathering up for a nighttime march to capture the colonial arsenals at Lexington and Concord, silversmith Paul Revere and his alarm riders set out to warn the militias of the two towns of the impending approach of British forces. You perhaps had to memorize in school the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that memorialized the event into the American psyche: “Listen my children and you will hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere; The 18th of April in ’75, hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year…”
1789: George Washington leaves his Mount Vernon home, enroute to New York City for his inauguration as the first President of the United States.
1790: Death of Benjamin Franklin (b.1706), in Philadelphia at age 84.
1814: Napoleon Bonaparte abdicates as Emperor and departs for exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba.
1861: Colonel Robert E. Lee resigns from the United States Army.
1865: Shouting “Sic Semper Tyrannis*- the South is avenged!” actor John Wilkes Booth shoots President Lincoln at Ford’s Theater. He breaks his left leg leaping from the Presidential box onto the stage but succeeds in escaping Washington D.C. After getting his leg set by Dr. Mudd (‘your name is Mud’) he continues his flight but is cornered and killed in a burning barn near Bowling Green, Virginia. Lincoln dies the morning of the 15th at 7:22. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton is at the President’s bedside and declaims, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
1867: Birth of Wilbur Wright
1881: Bat Masterson’s last shootout. In support of his brother James, sheriff of Dodge City, the elder Masterson travels from Tombstone, Arizona to confront and shoot two criminals who were terrorizing the Kansas cattle town. No one was killed, although several were injured. A jury reasoned that his actions were essentially in keeping with the laws of the city at the time and fined him $8.00 for disturbing the peace.
1894: Birth of Nikita Khrushchev (d.1971).
1906: An earthquake registering 8.25 on the Richter scale strikes my hometown, San Francisco, leveling masonry buildings, shattering gas and water mains, and igniting a fire that for three days turns the thriving boom town to rubble and ashes. Over 700 residents are killed, 28,000 buildings are destroyed and damage payments exceed $500,000,000.
1912: Cruising through the darkness of a preternaturally calm North Atlantic at normal speed, RMS Titanic strikes an iceberg and sinks. Over 1500 passengers drown in what remains the single biggest non-combat transportation disaster in history. During the centennial a couple years back, you couldn’t avoid Titanic stories. I think I was most surprised to see the BBC’s Downton Abbey series open with it in Season One, Episode One, Scene One.
1918: San Francisco native Douglas Campbell (1896-1990) shoots down his fifth German aircraft to become the United States’ first combat ace.
1942: Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, USAAF, leads a flight of B-25s from the flight deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), operating 650 nautical miles east of Japan. Coming five months after the disasters at Pearl Harbor, Corregidor and Singapore, and in the face of a continuing onslaught by Japanese forces throughout the Asia-Pacific basin, the raids accomplish little militarily but provide a massive morale boost at home. When asked by the press from where the raids were launched, President Roosevelt breezily said he wasn’t really certain, but most likely from “Shangri-La,” a fictional kingdom set deep in a fictional Asian mountain range. Later, as part of the Navy’s relentless buildup and delivery of aircraft carriers during the war (114 carriers of various sizes were in commission by September ’45), in September 1944, CV-38 was commissioned USS Shangri-La. Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership of this raid.
1943: Death of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamato (b.1884), former student at the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard University (1919-1921), Commander in Chief of the Combined Imperial Fleet and architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor. American intelligence learned that he would be making an inspection flight to the Solomon Islands in mid-April. Based on this knowledge, an assassination attempt was specifically ordered by President Roosevelt. Planning and execution of the mission was assigned to a squadron of long-range P-38 fighters, flying under a code-name: “Operation Vengeance.”
1945: Lieutenant Colonel Boris Pash, USA, seizes 1,100 tons of enriched uranium in Strassfurt, Germany. The Nazis were not collecting it to make glowing watch faces, but you probably deduced that part. It would be fair to say this capture was a close run thing in the race for atomic weapons, if not for the incipient Nazi threat, but also for the chance that our Soviet “allies” could have found it first.
1947: Birth of Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabar, holder of the NBA record for points scored, six MVP awards and six NBA championships
1951: Mickey Mantle’s steps on-field for his first game with the New York Yankees. He goes 1 for 4.
1961: First day of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
1964: Sandy Koufax pitches his 9th complete game without allowing a walk.
1964: The British press sensationally reports sentencing of “307 Years!” for the 12 men involved in the August ’63 Great Train Robbery. The heist netted 2.6 million pounds in used English bank notes. The perpetrators received individual sentences ranging from 10 to 30 years.
1970: After a harrowing trip around the moon and manual course corrections made by sightings through the LM windows along the limb of the earth, Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell, and crew Fred Haise and Jack Swigert make a successful splashdown within sight of the recovery ship USS Iwo Jima
1978: By a one vote margin (i.e., referring to the 2/3 majority required to ratify treaties), the United States Senate votes 68-32 to ratify the Panama Canal Treaty, ceding sovereignty of the Canal Zone and operational control of the canal itself to Panama. When the time finally came, Former President Carter was the sole senior US representative at the final handover ceremonies in 1999.
1972: Launch of Apollo 16, the fifth of six total Apollo flights to land on the moon. Astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke spend just under three days on the surface and collect more than 200 pounds of rock samples. Thomas Mattingly remained with the command module in lunar orbit.
1986: The U.S. launches air strikes on Libya, dubbed Operation Eldorado Canyon. I know that several of our trusty DLH correspondents participated in that event. Our DLH Scribe, on the other hand, was off-cycle in the deployment rotation, as he was for every other combat action during his naval career. Go figure.
1988: USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) strikes an Iranian mine floating free in international waters. The blast tears a fifteen foot hole in the hull, breaks the keel, and floods an engine room. The crew fought fire and flooding for over five hours, decisively saving the ship from otherwise certain destruction. Roberts was eventually lifted aboard a Dutch heavy-lift barge, the Mighty Servant 2, and returned to the United States for repairs. After forensics proved a direct link from the mine to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Navy launched Operation Praying Mantis, a one-day retaliation that destroyed two Iranian oil platforms they had converted to command and contr