1492 – From the Spanish port of Palos, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sets sail in command of three ships–the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina–on a journey to find a western sea route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia. On October 12, the expedition sighted land, probably Watling Island in the Bahamas, and went ashore the same day, claiming it for Spain. Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba, which he thought was mainland China, and in December the expedition landed on Hispaniola, which Columbus thought might be Japan. He established a small colony there with 39 of his men. The explorer returned to Spain with gold, spices, and “Indian” captives in March 1493 and was received with the highest honors by the Spanish court. He was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland in the 10th century. During his lifetime, Columbus led a total of four expeditions to the New World, discovering various Caribbean islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and the South and Central American mainland, but never accomplished his original goal–a western ocean route to the great cities of Asia. Columbus died in Spain in 1506 without realizing the great scope of what he did achieve: He had discovered for Europe the New World, whose riches over the next century would help make Spain the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.
1678 – Robert LaSalle built the 1st ship in America, Griffon.
1804 – US Commodore Edward Prebble’s squadron bombarded Tripoli inflicting heavy damages on the city though this engagement would be indecisive. In the late summer of 1804 President Thomas Jefferson sent Commodore Edward Preble and Captain Stephen Decatur with the Constitution, three brigs, three schooners, two bombs and six gunboats, manned by only 1,060 men to attack Tripoli. That Moorish city, at that time, was well walled, protected by judiciously constructed batteries mounting 115 pieces of heavy cannon, and defended by 25,000 Arabs and Turks. Besides, the harbor was encircled by 19 Moorish gunboats, two gallies, two schooners of eight guns each and a brig carrying 10 guns, forming a strong line of defense at secured moorings and extending more than two miles in length. Although energetically executed, Preble’s attacks highlighted the difficulty of winning with bombardment. First, he had no intelligence on how the defenders were holding up under the attacks. More fundamentally, lacking any ground force to put ashore and compel capitulation, Preble had to hope that the enemy would decide to give in rather than endure.
1812 – Frigate Essex capture British brig Brothers.
1823 – Union General Thomas Francis Meagher, designer of the Irish tricolor, the Irish Republic’s current flag, is born in Waterford, Ireland. A Catholic, Meagher was educated by Jesuits, and studied law in Dublin. As a young man, he became deeply involved in Young Ireland, a nationalistic organization that opposed British rule in Ireland. Meagher was a fiery orator, and directed his invective against Ireland’s British overseers. After participating in the aborted Irish rebellion of 1848, Meagher was convicted of high treason. Authorities commuted his death sentence to hard labor and exiled him, like many Irish nationalists of his day, to Tasmania. After four years, he escaped and made his way to New York City. He married into a prosperous merchant’s family and became a leader within the Irish-American community. When the war broke out, Meagher became a captain in the 68th New York militia, an Irish unit that became the nucleus of the famous Irish Brigade in the Army of the Potomac. In February 1862, he was appointed brigadier general of the unit. Meagher served in all of the army’s major campaigns in Virginia, and the Irish brigade distinguished itself at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. However, he was criticized for his unit’s high casualty rates, which were rumored to be a result of his heavy drinking. Meagher resigned his commission in 1863 when General Joseph Hooker, commander of the Army of the Potomac, refused his request to return to New York and recruit Irish replacements for the brigade. He continued his work in the New York Irish-American community, but he returned to duty and served in the Army of the Tennessee in early 1865. After the war, President Andrew Johnson appointed Meagher secretary of Montana Territory. He died mysteriously at Fort Benton, Montana, on July 1, 1867, after falling from the deck of a riverboat on the Missouri River. His body was never recovered. Meagher is honored today with a statue in front of the Montana capitol in Helena.
1861 – Construction of USS Monitor authorized.
1861 – First manned ascent in a balloon from a ship, gunboat USS Fanny, to observe Confederate artillery position at Hampton Roads, VA.
1863 – Governor Seymour asked Pres. Lincoln to suspend the draft in NY.
1864 – Lieutenant J. C. Watson and his boat crew made a final night expedition into the waters of Mobile Bay under the guns of Fort Morgan. Although they were constantly in danger of being discovered by the lights of the Fort, the bold sailors worked all night to deactivate and sink Confederate torpedoes in the channel preparatory to Farragut’s dash into Mobile Bay.
1864 – U.S.S. Miami, Acting Lieutenant George W. Graves, engaged Confederate batteries at Wilcox’s Landing, Virginia. Proceeding toward heavy firing, Graves had discovered batteries at Wilcox’s Landing firing on Union transports. He immediately opened a brisk cannonade, and after an hour the Confederates withdrew. Next day, Miami, accompanied by U.S.S. Osceola, Commander Clitz, drove off batteries which were firing on another group of transports near Harrison’s Landing, on the James River. Throughout the embattled South, Union gunboats kept communications and supply lines open despite the dogged determination of the Confederates to sever them.
1914 – The Belgian government rejects the German ultimatum demanding unhindered passage through Belgian territory. Belgium receives confirmation from Britain and France that they will provide armed support to combat any German attack.
1914 – Great Britain signs an order of general mobilization.
1914 – Germany declares war on France.
1914 – Turkey declares its armed neutrality and mobilizes.
1923 – Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as the 30th president of the United States, following the death of Warren G. Harding. It took several hours for the news of President Warren G. Harding’s death in California to reach the small town of Plymouth, Vermont, where he was enjoying a short vacation, but by 2 a.m., Coolidge was told that Harding was dead. Traditionally, the president is sworn in by the chief justice of the Supreme Court–but he slept 500 miles away. At 2:30 a.m. on August 3, 1923, Coolidge’s father, a notary public, administered the oath of office to his son by the light of a kerosene lamp.
1936 – The State Department urged Americans in Spain to leave because of that country’s civil war.
1941 – Although the U.S. had not yet entered World War II at this time, gasoline rationing began in parts of the eastern United States on this day in 1941. The rationing would spread to the rest of the country as soon as the U.S. joined the Allied forces, and the production of cars for private use halted completely in 1942. Measures of a similar sort had already taken place in most European countries.
1942 – Mildred McAfee of Wellesley College was chosen to head the Women’s Reserve. She took a one-year leave of absence from her position and was sworn in as the first female Lieutenant Commander US Naval Reserve.
1943 – News of the heavy American bomber losses in the Ploesti oil field raid is made public.
1943 – Gen. George S. Patton slapped a private at an army hospital in Sicily, accusing him of cowardice. Patton was later ordered by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to apologize for this and a second, similar episode.
1944 – A joint Sino-American force under American General Joseph Stilwell captures Myitkyina, in the northeast. Most of the Japanese garrison has successfully withdrawn.
1944 – On Guam, the US 77th Division (part of US 3rd Amphibious Corps) advances on the east side of the island after the Japanese fall back. The Japanese defensive positions on Mount Santa Rosa are shelled by American warships.
1944 – Elements of the US 8th Corps (Middleton), part of US 3rd Army, engage German defenders in Rennes while other elements by-pass the city. To the left, advancing forces of US 1st Army capture Mortain.
1945 – An American communique announces that US B-29 Superfortress bombers dropping mines over Japan have now sealed off all of the main ports, leaving the country totally blockaded. In a report by the US 20th Air Force, it is noted that every harbor of consequence in Japan and all those in Korea have been mined and it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping have been sunk or damaged since the mining program began in March.
1948 – In hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Whittaker Chambers accuses former State Department official Alger Hiss of being a communist and a spy for the Soviet Union. The accusation set into motion a series of events that eventually resulted in the trial and conviction of Hiss for perjury. Chambers was a little known figure prior to his 1948 appearance before HUAC. He was a self-professed former member of the Communist Party. Chambers also admitted to having served as a spy for the Soviet Union. He left the Communist Party in 1938 and offered his services to the FBI as an informant on communist activities in the United States. By 1948, he was serving as an editor for Time magazine. At that time, HUAC was involved in a series of hearings investigating communist machinations in the United States. Chambers was called as a witness, and he appeared before the committee on August 3, 1948. He dropped a bombshell during his testimony. Chambers accused former State Department official Alger Hiss of having been a communist and a spy during the 1930s. Hiss was one of the most respected men in Washington. He had been heavily involved in America’s wartime diplomacy and attended the Yalta and Potsdam conferences as an American representative. In 1948, he was serving as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Hiss angrily denied the charges and declared that he did not even know Whittaker Chambers. He later admitted that he knew Chambers, but at the time he had been using a different name–George Crosley. In the weeks that followed Chambers’ appearance before HUAC, the two men exchanged charges and countercharges and their respective stories became more and more muddled. Finally, after Chambers publicly declared that Hiss had been a communist “and may be one now,” Hiss filed a slander suit. During the course of that trial, Chambers produced microfilmed copies of classified State Department documents from the 1930s, which he had hidden in hollowed-out pumpkins on his farm. The “Pumpkin Papers” were used as evidence to support his claim that Hiss had passed the papers to him for delivery to the Soviets. Based on this evidence, Hiss was indicted for perjury for lying to HUAC and a federal grand jury about his membership in the Communist Party. The statute of limitations had run out for other charges related to his supposed activities in the 1930s. After the first trial ended with a hung jury, Hiss was convicted in January 1950 and served 44 months in jail. Hiss always maintained his complete innocence. For his part, Chambers remained equally adamant in his accusations about Hiss.
1950 – Congress removed the existing limitations on the size of the Army. The Army issued an involuntary recall of 30,000 enlisted men, mostly from the Volunteer and Inactive Reserve, to report in September.
1950 – South Koreans recaptured Yongdok.
1950 – A US Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) of 35 men arrives in Vietnam to teach troops receiving US weapons how to use them.
1950 – Eight Corsairs of VMF-214, the famed “Black Sheep” squadron of World War II, led by squadron executive officer, Major Robert P. Keller,launched from the USS SICILY and executed the first Marine aviation mission in the Korean War in a raid against enemy installations near Inchon. After the F4Us delivered their incendiary bombs and rockets on their targets, the Marines concluded their greeting to the Communist troops with a series of strafing runs.
1950 – Elements of Marine Corps squadron VMO-6, equipped with HO3S helicopters and OY observation aircraft began operations in Korea.
1951 – Lieutenant General W. M. Hoge dedicated the longest highway bridge of the Korean War. The 62nd Engineer Construction Battalion built the bridge in the IX Corps area.
1954 – The 1st VTOL (Vertical Take-off & Land) aircraft was flown.
1958 – U.S. nuclear submarine Nautilus accomplishes the first undersea voyage to the geographic North Pole. The world’s first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus dived at Point Barrow, Alaska, and traveled nearly 1,000 miles under the Arctic ice cap to reach the top of the world. It then steamed on to Iceland, pioneering a new and shorter route from the Pacific to the Atlantic and Europe. The USS Nautilus was constructed under the direction of U.S. Navy Captain Hyman G. Rickover, a brilliant Russian-born engineer who joined the U.S. atomic program in 1946. In 1947, he was put in charge of the navy’s nuclear-propulsion program and began work on an atomic submarine. Regarded as a fanatic by his detractors, Rickover succeeded in developing and delivering the world’s first nuclear submarine years ahead of schedule. In 1952, the Nautilus’ keel was laid by President Harry S. Truman, and on January 21, 1954, first lady Mamie Eisenhower broke a bottle of champagne across its bow as it was launched into the Thames River at Groton, Connecticut. Commissioned on September 30, 1954, it first ran under nuclear power on the morning of January 17, 1955. Much larger than the diesel-electric submarines that preceded it, the Nautilus stretched 319 feet and displaced 3,180 tons. It could remain submerged for almost unlimited periods because its atomic engine needed no air and only a very small quantity of nuclear fuel. The uranium-powered nuclear reactor produced steam that drove propulsion turbines, allowing the Nautilus to travel underwater at speeds in excess of 20 knots. In its early years of service, the USS Nautilus broke numerous submarine travel records and on July 23, 1958, departed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on “Operation Northwest Passage”–the first crossing of the North Pole by submarine. There were 116 men aboard for this historic voyage, including Commander William R. Anderson, 111 officers and crew, and four civilian scientists. The Nautilus steamed north through the Bering Strait and did not surface until it reached Point Barrow, Alaska, in the Beaufort Sea, though it did send its periscope up once off the Diomedes Islands, between Alaska and Siberia, to check for radar bearings. On August 1, the submarine left the north coast of Alaska and dove under the Arctic ice cap. The submarine traveled at a depth of about 500 feet, and the ice cap above varied in thickness from 10 to 50 feet, with the midnight sun of the Arctic shining in varying degrees through the blue ice. At 11:15 p.m. EDT on August 3, 1958, Commander Anderson announced to his crew: “For the world, our country, and the Navy–the North Pole.” The Nautilus passed under the geographic North Pole without pausing. The submarine next surfaced in the Greenland Sea between Spitzbergen and Greenland on August 5. Two days later, it ended its historic journey at Iceland. For the command during the historic journey, President Dwight D. Eisenhower decorated Anderson with the Legion of Merit. After a career spanning 25 years and almost 500,000 miles steamed, the Nautilus was decommissioned on March 3, 1980. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982, the world’s first nuclear submarine went on exhibit in 1986 as the Historic Ship Nautilus at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut.
1965 – CBS-TV news shows pictures of men from the First Battalion, Ninth Marines setting fire to huts in the village of Cam Na, six miles west of Da Nang, despite reports that the Viet Cong had already fled the area. The film report sparked indignation and condemnation of the U.S. policy in Vietnam both at home and overseas. At the same time, the Department of Defense announced that it was increasing the monthly draft call from 17,000 in August to 27,400 in September and 36,000 in October. It also announced that the Navy would require 4,600 draftees, the first such action since 1956.
1966 – U.S. Marine units commence Operation Prairie, a sequel to an earlier operation in the area (Operation Hastings), which involves a sweep just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) against three battalions of the North Vietnamese 324B Division. An additional 1,500 Marines from Seventh Fleet ships off Quang Tri Province conducted amphibious landings on September 15 to assist in the operation, which lasted until September 19 and resulted in a reported 1,397 communist casualties.
1970 – USS James Madison (SSBN-627) conducts first submerged launching of Poseidon nuclear missile off Cape Kennedy.
1977 – Radio Shack issued a press release introducing the TRS-80 computer. 25 existed and within weeks thousands were ordered.
1980 – Closing ceremonies were held in Moscow for the 1980 Summer Olympic Games, which had been boycotted by dozens of countries, including the United States.
1987 – The Iran-Contra congressional hearings ended, with none of the 29 witnesses tying President Reagan directly to the diversion of arms-sales profits to Nicaraguan rebels.
1988 – Soviet authorities free Mathias Rust, the daring young West German pilot who landed a rented Cessna on Moscow’s Red Square in 1987. Rust was serving a four-year sentence at a labor camp when the Soviets approved his extradition as a goodwill gesture to the West. On May 28, 1987, Rust, a 19-year-old with less than 40 hours of flying time, flew the light plane from Helsinki, Finland, to Red Square, the site of the Kremlin, Lenin’s Tomb, and frequent Soviet patriotic demonstrations. He had not been detected once during the 500-mile flight. Rust said his flight was in the interest of world peace, and he signed autographs in Red Square until he was arrested. His seemingly effortless penetration of Soviet air space raised serious questions about the USSR’s ability to defend itself from air attack.
1989 – Shiite Muslim kidnappers in Lebanon suspended their threat to execute another American hostage, three days after the purported hanging of Lt. Col. William R. Higgins.
1990 – US announced the commitment of Naval forces to Gulf regions.
1990 – Radio Kuwait went off the air due to the Iraqi invasion.
1990 – A day after Iraq invaded Kuwait, thousands of Iraqi soldiers pushed to within a few miles of the border with Saudi Arabia, heightening world concerns that the invasion could spread.
1992 – The Senate voted to sharply restrict and eventually end U.S. testing of nuclear weapons.
1995 – A Palestinian, Eyad Ismoil, was flown to the United States from Jordan to face charges he’d driven a bomb-laden van into New York’s World Trade Center. The 1993 explosion killed six people and injured more than one-thousand; Ismoil is serving a life sentence.
1998 – The UN approved plans for a NATO action in Kosovo to counter the Serb offensive.
1999 – Arbitrators ruled the government had to pay the heirs of Dallas dressmaker Abraham Zapruder $16 million for his movie film that captured the assassination of President Kennedy.
1999 – An Iraqi military doctor, who had defected to Jordan, reported that 400 Iraqi dissidents, wounded in recent clashes with security forces, were executed. Maj. Saad Khazal Jabbar said 120 people were killed in the anti-government riots in Baghdad.
2002 – Philippine troops captured seven suspected members of the Muslim Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group said to be linked to al Qaeda.
2004 – At Cape Canaveral, Fla., a Delta II rocket lifted the spacecraft Messenger on a 6 ½ year journey toward Mercury.
2004 – In London 13 Asian men were arrested. One known as Moussa (or al-Hindi) was later said to be the head of al-Qaeda in Britain.
2005 – The Battle of Haditha continues. Two days after the deaths of six Marine snipers in Haditha, Marine forces launched Operation Quick Strike to disrupt insurgent presence in the Haditha area. Around 1000 Marines from the Regimental Combat Team 2 (RCT-2) and Iraqi soldiers started “Operation Quick Strike”, which included efforts to find the insurgents responsible, however the primary intent was to interdict and disrupt militants’ presence in the Haditha, Haqliniyah, and Barwanah areas. The operation began when Marines and Iraqi soldiers moved into Haqliniyah, about seven kilometers southwest of Haditha. 40 insurgents were killed, including four in a Super Cobra helicopter attack. On the second day of the operation, a Marine amphibious assault vehicle, which was transporting Marines to the initial assault, hit a huge roadside bomb. The vehicle was completely destroyed and 15 out of the 16 people that were inside it were killed, with only one Marine surviving. The lone surviving Marine was a young man from Mississippi. Among the killed was also an Iraqi civilian interpreter.
2014 – IS fighters occupied the city of Zumar and an oilfield in the north of Iraq, after a battle against Kurdish forces.
Congressional Medal of Honor Citations for Actions Taken This Day
LAWTON, HENRY W.
Rank and organization: Captain, Company A, 30th Indiana Infantry. Place and date: At Atlanta, Ga., 3 August 1864. Entered service at: Ft. Wayne, Allen County, Ind. Birth: Ohio. Date of issue: 22 May 1893. Citation: Led a charge of skirmishers against the enemy’s rifle pits and stubbornly and successfully resisted 2 determined attacks of the enemy to retake the works.
*WITEK, FRANK PETER
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Born: December 1921, Derby, Conn. Accredited to: Illinois. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, 3d Marine Division, during the Battle of Finegayen at Guam, Marianas, on 3 August 1944. When his rifle platoon was halted by heavy surprise fire from well-camouflaged enemy positions, Pfc. Witek daringly remained standing to fire a full magazine from his automatic at point-blank range into a depression housing Japanese troops, killing 8 of the enemy and enabling the greater part of his platoon to take cover. During his platoon’s withdrawal for consolidation of lines, he remained to safeguard a severely wounded comrade, courageously returning the enemy’s fire until the arrival of stretcher bearers, and then covering the evacuation by sustained fire as he moved backward toward his own lines. With his platoon again pinned down by a hostile machinegun, Pfc. Witek, on his own initiative, moved forward boldly to the reinforcing tanks and infantry, alternately throwing handgrenades and firing as he advanced to within 5 to 10 yards of the enemy position, and destroying the hostile machinegun emplacement and an additional 8 Japanese before he himself was struck down by an enemy rifleman. His valiant and inspiring action effectively reduced the enemy’s firepower, thereby enabling his platoon to attain its objective, and reflects the highest credit upon Pfc. Witek and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.