1621 – Miles Standish was appointed 1st commander of Plymouth colony.
1778 – In response to Franco-American treaties, Lord North presents a plan of conciliation with the colonies to the British Parliament.
1801 – After one tie vote in the Electoral College and 35 indecisive ballot votes in the House of Representatives, Vice President Thomas Jefferson is elected the third president of the United States over his running mate, Aaron Burr. The confusing election, which ended just 15 days before a new president was to be inaugurated, exposed major problems in the presidential electoral process set forth by the framers of the U.S. Constitution. As dictated by Article Two of the Constitution, presidents and vice presidents are elected by “electors,” a group of voters chosen by each state in a manner specified by that state’s legislature. The total number of electors from each state is equal to the number of senators and representatives that state is entitled to in Congress. In the first few presidential elections, these electors were chosen by popular vote, legislative appointment, or a combination of both (by the 1820s, almost all states adopted the practice of choosing electors by popular vote). Each elector voted for two people; at least one of who did not live in their state. The individual receiving the greatest number of votes would be elected president, and the next in line, vice president. A majority of electors was needed to win election, thus ensuring consensus across states. Because each elector voted twice, it was possible for as many as three candidates to tie with a majority–in which case the House of Representatives was to vote a winner from among the tied candidates. If no majority was achieved in the initial electoral vote, the House was to decide the winner from the top five candidates. In both cases, representatives would not vote individually but by state groups. Each state, no matter what its number of representatives, would be entitled to just one vote, and a majority of these votes was needed to elect a candidate president. In the nation’s first presidential election, in 1789, George Washington was unanimously elected, and John Adams–his unofficial running mate–came in second in electoral votes, making him vice president. Both men were conservative and favored a strong federal government as established by the Constitution. To balance his Cabinet with a liberal, and thus maintain the widest possible support for the new American government, Washington chose Thomas Jefferson–the idealistic drafter of the Declaration of Independence–as secretary of state. During Washington’s first administration, Jefferson often came into conflict with Alexander Hamilton, the secretary of the treasury. Jefferson objected to Hamilton’s efforts to strengthen the national government at the expense of the states, and the two men also differed significantly on foreign policy, with Hamilton advocating improved relations with conservative England and Jefferson calling for closer ties with Revolutionary France. Although Washington detested the factional fighting, the disagreements gave rise to the nation’s first political parties: Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans (the forerunner of the Democratic Party) and Hamilton’s Federalists. In 1792, Washington was unanimously re-elected president, and Adams was re-elected vice president. Jefferson, his relations with Hamilton greatly deteriorated, resigned as secretary of state in 1793. In 1796, Jefferson ran for president as the candidate of the Democratic-Republicans, and Adams, as the Federalist candidate. When the results of the election were tallied, it became clear that the nation’s forefathers had failed to properly anticipate the rise of political parties. Adams won the election with 71 votes, but his Federalist running mate, Thomas Pinckney, received only 59 votes, nine less than Thomas Jefferson, who was elected vice president. Jefferson’s running mate, Senator Aaron Burr of New York, received only 30 votes. As vice president, Jefferson dedicated himself to his constitutional duty of presiding over the Senate and wrote the Manual of Parliamentary Practice, a book of congressional rules. He had little contact with the Adams administration. Meanwhile, tensions rose with France over U.S.-British trade, leading Congress to pass the Alien and Sedition Act, which restricted U.S. citizenship and prohibited public criticism of the president or the government of the United States. Jefferson viewed the acts as the confirmation of the kind of federal tyranny he feared and left Philadelphia for Monticello in 1798 to pen the Kentucky Resolutions in response. He soon returned to the U.S. capital to carry on his duties in the Senate. In the election of 1800, Jefferson and Burr again took on Adams and Pinckney. By this time, America’s political tide was sweeping away from the conservative Federalists to Jefferson’s more democratic party. In addition, Adams was hampered in his re-election bid by Alexander Hamilton, who advocated the election of Pinckney as president and Adams as vice president. On November 4, the national election was held. When the electoral votes were counted, the Democratic-Federalists emerged with a decisive victory, with Jefferson and Burr each earning 73 votes to Adams’ 65 votes and Pinckney’s 64 votes. John Jay, the governor of New York, received 1 vote. Because Jefferson and Burr had tied, the election went to the House of Representatives, which began voting on the issue on February 11, 1801. What at first seemed but an electoral technicality–handing Jefferson victory over his running mate–developed into a major constitutional crisis when Federalists in the lame-duck Congress threw their support behind Burr. Jefferson needed a majority of nine states to win, but in the first ballot had only eight states, with Burr winning six states and Maryland and Virginia. Finally, on February 17, a small group of Federalists reasoned that the peaceful transfer of power required that the majority party have its choice as president and voted in Jefferson’s favor. The 35th ballot gave Jefferson victory with 10 votes. Burr received four votes and two states voted blank. Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated the third president of the United States on March 4. Three years later, the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, providing for the separate election of presidents and vice presidents, was ratified and adopted. Under Jefferson, the power of the federal government was reduced but never to such a degree that it threatened the unity of the United States. The crowning achievement of his two terms in office was the Louisiana Purchase, an unprecedented executive action in which Jefferson violated his own constitutional scruples in the name of doubling the size of the United States. Aaron Burr was denied renomination by his party for the office of vice president in February 1804, and George Clinton of New York was chosen in his place. Several months later, Burr challenged his long-time political antagonist Alexander Hamilton to a duel and shot him dead. In 1807, he was put on trial for treason after being accused of plotting to establish an independent republic in the American Southwest. He was acquitted and eventually resumed his law practice in New York. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826–the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Adams’ last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives,” though his old political adversary had died a few hours before.
1819 – The Senate passes the Missouri Compromise, an attempt to deal with the dangerously divisive issue of extending slavery into the western territories. From colonial days to the Civil War, slavery and western expansion both played fundamental but inherently incompatible roles in the American republic. As the nation expanded westward, the Congress adopted relatively liberal procedures by which western territories could organize and join the union as full-fledged states. Southern slaveholders, eager to replicate their plantation system in the West, wanted to keep the new territories open to slavery. Abolitionists, concentrated primarily in the industrial North, wanted the West to be exclusively a free labor region and hoped that slavery would gradually die out if confined to the South. Both factions realized their future congressional influence would depend on the number of new “slave” and “free” states admitted into the union. Consequently, the West became the first political battleground over the slavery issue. In 1818, the Territory of Missouri applied to Congress for admission as a slave state. Early in 1819, a New York congressman introduced an amendment to the proposed Missouri constitution that would ban importation of new slaves and require gradual emancipation of existing slaves. Southern congressmen reacted with outrage, inspiring a nationwide debate on the future of slavery in the nation. Over the next year, the congressional debate grew increasingly bitter, and southerners began to threaten secession and civil war. To avoid this disastrous possibility, key congressmen hammered together an agreement that became known as the Missouri Compromise. In exchange for admitting Missouri without restrictions on slavery, the Compromise called for bringing in Maine as a free state. The Compromise also dictated that slavery would be prohibited in all future western states carved out of the Louisiana Territory that were higher in latitude than the northern border of Arkansas Territory. Although the Missouri Compromise temporarily eased the inherent tensions between western expansion and slavery, the divisive issue was far from resolved. Whether or not to allow slavery in the states of Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska caused the same difficulties several decades later, leading the nation toward civil war.
1861 – Local militia forced the surrender of the federal arsenal at San Antonio even before the state seceded on March 2. Subsequently, San Antonio served as a Confederate depot. Several units such as John S. Ford’s Cavalry of the West were formed there, though the city was removed from the fighting.
1862 – Ironclad C.S.S. Virginia (ex-U.S.S. Merrimack) commissioned, Captain Franklin Buchanan commanding.
1862 – Legislation was introduced in the Senate on 17 February 1862, which authorized the Congressional Medal of Honor for the Army and followed the pattern of a similar award approved for Naval personnel in December 1861. The Resolution provided that: “The President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause two thousand “medals of honor” to be prepared with suitable emblematic devices, and to direct that the same be presented, in the name of Congress, to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities during the present insurrection, and the sum of ten thousand dollars be, and the same is hereby appropriated out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, for the purpose of carrying this resolution into effect.” General George Washington had created the Badge of Military Merit on 7 August 1792 but it had fallen into disuse after the Revolutionary War. Decorations, as such, were still too closely related to European royalty to be of concern to the American people. However, the fierce fighting and deeds of valor during the Civil War brought into focus the realization that such valor must be recognized.
1864 – Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley, Lieutenant George E. Dixon, CSA, destroyed U.S.S. Housatonic, Captain Charles W. Pickering, off Charleston, and became the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in combat. After Hunley sank the preceding fall for the second time (see 15 October 1863), she was raised, a new volunteer crew trained, and for months under the cover of darkness moved out into the harbor where she awaited favorable conditions and a target. This night, the small cylindrical-shaped craft with a spar torpedo mounted on the bow found the heavy steam sloop of war Housatonic anchored outside the bar. Just before 9 o’clock in the evening, Acting Master John K. Crosby, Housatonic’s officer of the deck, sighted an object in the water about 100 yards off but making directly for the ship. “It had the appearance of a plank moving in the water.” Nevertheless Housatonic slipped her cable and began backing full; all hands were called to quarters. It was too late. Within two minutes of her first sighting, H. L. Hunley rammed her torpedo into Housatonic’s starboard side, forward of the mizzenmast. The big warship was shattered by the ensuing explosion and “sank immediately.” The Charleston Daily Courier reported on 29 February: “The explosion made no noise, and the affair was not known among the fleet until daybreak, when the crew were discovered and released from their uneasy positions in the rigging. They had remained there all night. Two officers and three men were reported missing and were supposed to be drowned. The loss of the Housatonic caused great consternation in the fleet. All the wooden vessels are ordered to keep up steam and to go out to sea every night, not being allowed to anchor inside. The picket boats have been doubled and the force in each boat increased.” Dixon and his daring associates perished with H. L. Hunley in the attack. The exact cause of her loss was never determined, but as Confederate Engineer James H. Tomb later observed: “She was very slow in turning, but would sink at a moment’s notice and at times without it.” The submarine, Tomb added, “was a veritable coffin to this brave officer and his men. But in giving their lives the gallant crew of H. L. Hunley wrote a fateful page in history-for their deed foretold the huge contributions submarines would make in later years in other wars.
1865 – As the combined operation to capture Willington vigorously got underway, ships of Rear Admiral Porter’s fleet helped to ferry General Schofield’s two divisions from Fort Fisher to Smithville, on the west bank of the Cape Fear River. Fort Anderson, the initial objective for the two commanders, lay on the west bank mid-way between the mouth of the river and Wilmington. On the morning of the 17th, Major General Jacob D. Cox led 8,000 troops north from Smithville. In support of the army advance on the Confederate defenses, the monitor Montauk, Lieutenant Commander Edward E. Stone, and four gunboats heavily bombarded Fort Anderson and successfully silenced its twelve guns. Unable to obtain other monitors for the attack, Porter resorted to subterfuge and, as he had on the Mississippi River, improvised a bogus monitor from a scow, timber, and canvas. Old Bogey”, as she was quickly nicknamed by the sailors, had been towed to the head of the bombardment line, where she succeeded in drawing heavy fire from the defending Southerners.
1865 – Union forces regained Fort Sumter.
1865 – During the night, Forts Moultrie, Sumter, Johnson, Beauregard, and Castle Pinckney were abandoned as the Confederates marched northward to join the beleaguered forces of General Lee. The Southern ironclads Palmetto State, Chicora, and Charleston were fired and blown up prior to the withdrawal, but C.S.S. Columbia, the largest of the ironclads at Charleston, was found aground and abandoned near Fort Moultrie and was eventually salvaged.
1865 – The soldiers from Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army ransack Columbia, South Carolina, and leave a charred city in their wake. Sherman is most famous for his “March to the Sea” in the closing months of 1864. After capturing Atlanta in September, Sherman cut away from his supply lines and cut a swath of destruction across Georgia on his way to Savannah. His army lived off the land and destroyed railroads, burned warehouses, and ruined plantations along the way. This was a calculated effort–Sherman thought that the war would end quicker if civilians of the South felt some destruction personally, a view supported by General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of all Union forces, and President Lincoln. After spending a month in Savannah, Sherman headed north to tear the Confederacy into smaller pieces. The Yankee soldiers took particular delight in carrying the war to South Carolina, the symbol of the rebellion. It was the first state to secede and the site of Fort Sumter, where South Carolinians fired on the Federal garrison to start the war. When General Wade Hampton’s cavalry evacuated Columbia, the capital was open to Sherman’s men. Many of the Yankees got drunk before starting the rampage. General Henry Slocum observed: “A drunken soldier with a musket in one hand and a match in the other is not a pleasant visitor to have about the house on a dark, windy night.” Sherman claimed that the raging fires were started by evacuating Confederates and fanned by high winds. He later wrote: “Though I never ordered it and never wished it, I have never shed any tears over the event, because I believe that it hastened what we all fought for, the end of the War.” Belatedly, some Yankees helped fight the fires, but more than two-thirds of the city was destroyed. Already choked with refugees from the path of Sherman’s army, Columbia’s situation became even more desperate when Sherman’s army destroyed the remaining public buildings before marching out of Columbia three days later.
1865 – Ships of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, including U.S.S. Pawnee, Sonoma, Ottawa, Winona, Potomska, Wando, J.S. Chambers, and boats and launches from these vessels supported the amphibious Army landing at Bull’s Bay, South Carolina. This was a diversionary movement in the major thrust to take Charleston and was designed to contain Confederate strength away from General Sherman’s route. Such diversions had been part of Sherman’s plan from the outset as he took full advantage of Northern control of the sea. A naval landing party from the fleet joined the troops of Brigadier General Edward E. Potter in driving the Confederates from their positions and pushing on toward Andersonville and Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
1867 – The 1st ship passed through the Suez Canal.
1870 – Mississippi became the 9th state readmitted to US after Civil War.
1872 – The Senate refuses to ratify a treaty with the Samoan Islands that would have given the US the right to install a naval coaling station on Pago Pago and become “protector” of Samoa. Earlier that year the United States ship Narragansett. Commander Richard W. Meade, visited Pago Pago in the island of Tutuila and an agreement was concluded whereby Mauga, high chief of Tutuila, expressed a desire for the friendly protection of the United States, granting in return the exclusive privilege of establishing a naval station in Pago Pago harbour. The agreement was communicated to the United States Government, but, inasmuch as it was contrary to the foreign policy of that country, it was rejected.
1900 – In response to an ambush that has killed two Philippine based Marines the day before, the gunboat USS Manileno was present and willing to help but broken down, so Captain Draper, the local commander, prevailed upon the master of a native steamer to tow the gunboat with himself and a force of 107 men aboard to the village of Moron a little after midnight on the morning of 17 February. Surprising the defenders, he took the town without much resistance, destroyed a store of ammunition, and burned the blockhouse. On the afternoon of the same day he ordered the inhabitants of Benictican and Baton to move into Olongapo, where the Marines were based, within three days or be declared outlaws. All obeyed his order except six families, who, according to his information, moved to another town.
1909 – Apache chief Geronimo dies of pneumonia at age 80, while still in captivity at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The slaughter of Geronimo’s family when he was a young man turned him from a peaceful Indian into a bold warrior. Originally Goyathlay (“One Who Yawns”) joined a fierce band of Apaches known as Chiricahuas and with them took part in raids in northern Mexico and across the border into U.S. territory which are now known as the states of New Mexico and Arizona. Geronimo was the last Apache fighting force. He became the most famous Apache of all for standing against the U.S. government and for holding out the longest. He was a great Apache medicine man, a great spiritual leader. Geronimo was highly sought by Apache chiefs for his wisdom. He is said to have had magical powers. He could see into the future and walk without creating footprints. He could even prevent dawn from rising to protect his people. In 1876, Federal authorities captured and forced Geronimo and his band onto a U.S. reservation at San Carlos, Arizona. It was described as “Hell’s Forty Acres.” He soon escaped and fled to Mexico to resume the life that he loved. Geronimo roamed Arizona and New Mexico and was persued relentlessly by more than five-thousand U.S. troops. Exhausted and hopelessly out numbered, Geronimo surrendered in 1886. His band consisted of a handful of warriors, women, and children. Geronimo, along with a few hundred of his fellow Apaches, were shipped by box-car to Florida for imprisonment. Geronimo was relocated to Fort Sill, Oklahoma and, as a prisoner of war, unable to return to his much loved homeland, died of pneumonia. He is buried in the Apache cemetery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
1933 – The League of Nations censured Japan in a worldwide broadcast. The rise of militaristic nationalism led Japan down the road to Pearl Harbor and World War II.
1933 – The Blaine Act ends Prohibition in the United States. The 21st Amendment reverses the 18th.
1940 – President Roosevelt sends Sumner Welles, Under-Secretary of State, on a “fact-finding” tour of Europe and appoints Myron C. Taylor as his “personal representative” to the Vatican.
1940 – United States Lines sells the liner President Harding and seven cargo ships to a Belgian concern in an attempt to circumvent the ban on US sea borne trade with Europe, imposed by the Neutrality Act.
1942 – The 296 men of the first naval construction unit to deploy from the United States was designated the First Construction Detachment arrived at Bora Bora in the Societies Islands with the mission of constructing a fueling station and other facilities. The unit left Quonset Point (Newport), Rhode Island, on 17 January 1942. It stopped at Norfolk, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina, and on 27 January left for their destination. This unit took on the name of Bobcat Detachment as Bobcat was the code name for Bora Bora. On 5 March, Construction Battalion personnel were officially named Seabees by the Navy Department and the fighting, building bee insignia and shoulder patch was approved.
1943 – Attacks by the forces under von Arnim and Rommel make good progress. In the north, Axis forces are approaching Sheitla, having destroyed two thirds of the US 1st Armored Division. To the south, Rommel’s forces enter Feriana. Von Arnim, with limited aims in mind, diverts 10th Panzer Division toward Foundouk, which has been abandoned by its American defenders, rather than pushing toward Sbeitla. Rommel, has proposed a more ambitious plan to the Italian and German High Commands but no decision is made.
1944 – Operation Catchpole is launched as American troops devastate the Japanese defenders of Eniwetok and take control of the atoll in the northwestern part of the Marshall Islands. The U.S. Central Pacific Campaign was formulated during the August 1943 Quebec Conference. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed on, among other things, a new blueprint for fighting in the Pacific: an island-hopping strategy; the establishment of bases from which to launch B-29s for a final assault on Japan; and a new Southeast Asia command for British Adm. Louis Mountbatten. The success of the island-hopping strategy brought Guadalcanal and New Guinea under Allied control. Though those areas were important, the Allies also still needed to capture the Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, and the Gilbert Islands, which had comprised an inner defensive perimeter for the Japanese. Each was a group of atolls, with between 20 to 50 islets, islands, and coral reefs surrounding a lagoon. The Allies planned an amphibious landing on the islands–all the more difficult because of this unusual terrain. On February 17, a combined U.S. Marine and Army force under Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner made its move against Eniwetok. Air strikes, artillery and naval gunfire, and battleship fire 1,500 yards from the beach gave cover to the troops moving ashore and did serious damage to the Japanese defenses. Six days after the American landing, the atoll was secured. The loss for the Japanese was significant: only 64 of the 2,677 defenders who met the Marine and Army force survived the fighting. The Americans lost only 195. The position on Eniwetok gave U.S. forces a base of operations to finally capture the entirety of the Marianas. Eniwetok was also useful to the United States after the war–in 1952 it became the testing ground for the first hydrogen bomb.
1944 – During the night (February 17-18), US destroyers bombard Japanese bases at Rabaul and Kavieng.
1944 – American forces attack the Japanese base at Truk and nearby shipping. Three groups of Task Force 58 (Admiral Mitscher) and one group of Task Forces 50 (Admiral Spruance) engage. The operation is under the command of Spruance. In total 9 carriers and 6 battleships as well as cruisers, destroyers and submarines are involved.
1944 – German forces continue attacks on the Anzio beachhead. The US 45th Division barely contains the German attack. Heavy losses are sustained by both sides. Offshore, the British cruiser Penelope is damaged by a torpedo attack. To the south, near Cassino, German forces recover Point 593 after losing possession briefly to the British 4th Indian Division (part of the US 5th Army).
1945 – There are new attacks by US 12th and 20th Corps, of US 3rd Army, from Luxembourg and around Saarlouis. US 7th Army units are attacking near Saarbrucken while US Task Force 58 conducts a second day of air raids. On this day the aircraft strike Tokyo and Yokohama. In two days of operations, the American planes have conducted over 2700 sorties, losing 88 aircraft. It is reported that twice as many Japanese planes are shot down. After completing the attacks, TF58 moves toward Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands.
1945 – US Task Force 54 and TF52 continue the preliminary bombardment of Iwo Jima. The battleship Tennessee and a cruiser as well as several smaller ships are damaged by Japanese return fire. Meanwhile, a USAAF raid by B-24 bombers is also conducted.
1947 – With the words, “Hello! This is New York calling,” the U.S. Voice of America (VOA) begins its first radio broadcasts to the Soviet Union. The VOA effort was an important part of America’s propaganda campaign against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The VOA began in 1942 as a radio program designed to explain America’s policies during World War II and to bolster the morale of its allies throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. After the war, VOA continued as part of America’s Cold War propaganda arsenal and was primarily directed toward the western European audience. In February 1947, VOA began its first Russian-language broadcasts into the Soviet Union. The initial broadcast explained that VOA was going to “give listeners in the USSR a picture of life in America.” News stories, human-interest features, and music comprised the bulk of the programming. The purpose was to give the Russian audience the “pure and unadulterated truth” about life outside the USSR. Voice of America hoped that this would “broaden the bases of understanding and friendship between the Russian and American people.” By and large, the first program was a fairly dry affair. Much of it dealt with brief summaries of current events, discussions of how the U.S. budget and political system worked, and a rousing analysis of a “new synthetic chemical substance called pyribenzamine.” Music on the program was eclectic, ranging from “Turkey in the Straw” to Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” In addition, due to bad weather and technical difficulties, the sound quality for the Russian audience was generally poor. According to U.S. officials in the Soviet Union, Russians rated the program “fair.” VOA broadcasts into Russia did improve somewhat over the years, primarily because music played an increasingly prominent role. U.S. observers had discovered that the Soviet people’s appetite for American music, particularly jazz, was nearly insatiable. How many Russians actually ever heard the broadcasts is uncertain, but reports from behind the Iron Curtain indicated that many VOA programs, specifically the music segments, were eagerly awaited each night. By the 1960s, VOA was broadcasting to every continent in several dozen languages. Today, VOA continues to operate, bringing “Life in America” to the world. And with “Radio Marti,” which is aimed at communist Cuba, it continues its Cold War tradition.
1951 – FBI director J. Edgar Hoover initiated a secret nationwide program intended to remove politically suspect employees from their jobs. Congress never authorized the “Responsibilities Program” and over 4 years it provided governors of nearly every state verbal reports on the political backgrounds of 908 employees.
1951 – B-26s flew the first night bombing mission using SHORAN, a short-range navigation system employing an airborne radar device and two ground beacon stations for precision bombing.
1953 – The 1,000th helicopter landing was recorded aboard the hospital ship USS Repose. The destroyers USS Mansfield, De Haven, Collet, and Swensen joined TF 90 for the third time.
1956 – The USCGC Casco saved 21 persons from a US Navy seaplane that was forced to ditch 100 miles south of Bermuda and delivered both the survivors and the disabled aircraft to the Naval Air Station at St. Georgia Harbor, Bermuda.
1957 – Suez Canal reopened.
1959 – The U.S. launched its first weather station in space, Vanguard II weighing 9.8 kg. The satellite was designed to measure cloud-cover distribution over the daylight portion of its orbit, for a period of 19 days, and to provide information on the density of the atmosphere for the lifetime of its orbit (~300 years).
1965 – The Ranger 8 probe launches on its mission to photograph the Mare Tranquillitatis region of the Moon in preparation for the manned Apollo missions. Mare Tranquillitatis or the “Sea of Tranquility” would become the site chosen for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. During its mission, it transmitted 7,137 lunar surface photographs before it crashed into the Moon as planned. This was the second successful mission in the Ranger series, following Ranger 7’s. Ranger 8’s design and purpose was very similar to its predecessor, Ranger 7. It also had six television vidicon cameras, two full-scan cameras, and four partial scan cameras. Its sole purpose was to document the Moon’s surface.
1966 – In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Gen. Maxwell Taylor states that a major U.S. objective in Vietnam is to demonstrate that “wars of liberation” are “costly, dangerous and doomed to failure.” Discussing the American air campaign against North Vietnam, Taylor declared that its primary purpose was “to change the will of the enemy leadership.” The decision to launch a bombing campaign against North Vietnam was controversial. President Lyndon B. Johnson deliberated for a year before deciding to undertake the sustained bombing of North Vietnam. Earlier in the month, he had ordered Operation Flaming Dart in response to communist attacks on U.S. installations in South Vietnam. It was hoped that these retaliatory raids would cause the North Vietnamese to cease support of Viet Cong forces in South Vietnam, but they did not have the desired effect. Out of frustration, Johnson initiated Operation Rolling Thunder. The new bombing campaign was designed to interdict North Vietnamese transportation routes in the southern part of North Vietnam and thereby slow infiltration of personnel and supplies into South Vietnam. The first Rolling Thunder mission took place on March 2, 1965, when 100 U.S. Air Force and Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) planes struck the Xom Bang ammunition dump 100 miles southeast of Hanoi. Rolling Thunder continued, with occasional suspensions, until President Johnson, under intense domestic political pressure, halted it on October 31, 1968. Operation Rolling Thunder was closely controlled by the White House and at times targets were personally selected by President Johnson. From 1965 to 1968, an estimated 643,000 tons of bombs were dropped on North Vietnam. A total of nearly 900 U.S. aircraft would be lost during Operation Rolling Thunder.
1967 – The first full day of Operation DECKHOUSE VI, which lasted until 3 March, was conducted near Quang Ngai city. The Special Landing Force (BLT Y4 and HMM-363) accounted for 280 enemy killed.
1968 – American officials in Saigon report an all-time high weekly rate of U.S. casualties–543 killed in action and 2,547 wounded in the previous seven days. These losses were a result of the heavy fighting during the communist Tet Offensive.1972 – President Nixon departed on his historic 10-day trip to China.
1973 – President Gerald Ford announces sweeping changes in the US Intelligence Community. This includes the establishment of PFIAB, the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
1974 – Private First Class Robert K. Preston, US Army, a helicopter pilot who had washed out of training, crept across the tarmac at Fort Meade, Maryland, and boarded a UH-1 Iroquois helicopter. The aircraft was unarmed and, as was usual, was kept fueled on the flight line. With the practiced hand of his training, he quickly went through the start up sequence. Without clearance, he pushed in the power, pulled up on the controls and took off into the night. For a time, he orbited the base at night, enjoying the view and hovering over base housing. Finally, bored with this, he set out for a new destination — the White House. When PFC Preston arrived in Washington, he took a flight down the Anacostia River, turned north at the Capitol Street Bridge and then flew directly to the White House. It was about 1:00 am. At first the Secret Service was somewhat miffed. He buzzed the White House itself and then hovered overhead for six long minutes. At the time, policy was that they would not fire on a helicopter or other aerial intruder if it might endanger innocent bystanders, and so they waited. Finally, he flew down the South Lawn and landed about 100 yards toward the south fence. The Washington Monument towered in the background and he remained there on the ground for a minute. Two Maryland Police helicopters that had flown down from around Baltimore hovered nearby. Suddenly, PFC Preston took back off into the night skies and the police gave close pursuit. An extended tail chase ensued at low level. In fact, it turned out that PFC Preston was indeed quite an expert pilot after all, as he managed to not only outmaneuver the two helicopters at ever turn but even managed to drive one down in the process. The second helicopter broke off but stayed nearby after what officials called, “a modern day dogfight”. PFC Preston returned to the White House once more. It was nearly 2:00 am and he had led the officials on a prolonged chase — certainly, his fuel was running low. This time he flew up to the Washington Monument, hovering at seven feet of altitude along the base for a bit before flying back straight north onto the White House’s South Lawn. There too he hovered just a few feet over the grass and it seemed to officials that this time he might be preparing to make a dash to crash into the building. The second Maryland Police helicopter set down quickly between him and the White House as Secret Service agents moved toward the helicopter. Then, without warning, they opened fire with handguns and shotguns hoping to cripple the helicopter. They also fired and hit PFC Preston with a shotgun blast, injuring slightly. He landed the damaged helicopter at once — though it seemed also that the damage from the gunfire had knocked the aircraft out of the sky, leaving the Secret Service to conclude that it had downed the helicopter. Once on the ground, the Secret Service and Maryland Police rushed in. PFC Preston jumped clear and fought them hand to hand, though he was badly outnumbered. It wasn’t long before he was subdued, however. Handcuffed, he was taken into the White House for questioning before being transferred to Walter Reed hospital for treatment for his light injuries — mainly shotgun pellets. The following day, when being escorted into a police car, he was smiling. When asked why he had flown back to the White House a second time, he said that he knew it was wrong to fly over the White House so he had flown back “to turn himself in”. The Secret Service ordered psychological testing. Ultimately, all civil charges were dropped and he was left to the military court system. In the end, PFC Preston had proven two things — first, he was a pretty darn good helicopter pilot after all; and second, that he was certainly not up to the moral and ethical standards of the US Army. He was sentenced to a year in prison.
1988 – Marine Lt. Col. William Higgins, an American officer, and veteran of Vietnam, serving with a United Nations truce monitoring group, was kidnapped in southern Lebanon by pro-Iranian terrorists. He was later slain by his captors. His remains were recovers and interred at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1999, the Navy named an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer for him.
1990 – Former President Reagan spent a second day in a Los Angeles courtroom, giving videotaped testimony about the Iran-Contra affair for the trial of his former national security adviser, John Poindexter.
1996 – The NEAR-Shoemaker space craft was launched. The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous craft was scheduled to reach the Eros asteroid in 4 years. NASA planned to land the craft on Eros, a 22 by 8 mile rock, in Feb 2001.
1997 – The Middle East Economic Survey reports that Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization is increasing crude oil sales to reach its targeted $1.0 billion in sales for the first 90 day period under the United Nations’ oil for food plan. The total value of contracts for the first 90 days is reported to be $800-$850 million, lower than expected due to lower oil prices (14% less than when the sale was announced in mid-December1996) and the failure of Russian companies to lift contracted volumes.
1998 – President Clinton, preparing Americans for possible air strikes against Iraq, said military force is never the first answer “but sometimes it’s the only answer.”
1998 – A barge carrying about 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel sinks in rough seas off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The barge is suspected of transporting smuggled fuel from Iraq.
1998 – UN Sec. Gen’l. Kofi Annan announced that he would travel to Baghdad to try to resolve the ongoing crises over Saddam Hussein’s refusal to allow unconditional weapons inspections.
2000 – A House panel said in a report that the program to inoculate all 2.4 million American military personnel against anthrax was based on “a paucity of science” and should be suspended; the Pentagon defended the program and vowed to continue the inoculations.
2003 – European Union leaders declared their solidarity with the United States, warning Saddam Hussein that Iraq faced one “last chance” to disarm peacefully but calling war a last resort.
2005 – President Bush named John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, as the government’s first national intelligence director (DNI). Central American politicians and human rights activists issued stinging criticism of Negroponte, citing the career diplomat’s active backing for the Contra rebels and support for a government involved in human rights abuses.
2005 – Iraq’s electoral commission certified the results of the Jan. 30 elections and allocated 140 of 275 National Assembly seats to the United Iraqi Alliance, giving the Shiite-dominated party a majority in the new parliament.
2009 – 17,000 extra US troops were ordered to Afghanistan to bolster security in the country and thereby boosted the 36,000 US troops already there by 50%. “This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires,” Obama said in a written statement. “The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and Al-Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border,” Obama also said. He recognized “the extraordinary strain this deployment places on our troops and military families”, but the deteriorating security situation in the region required “urgent attention and swift action”.
2010 – U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that as of 1 September, the name “Operation Iraqi Freedom” would be replaced by “Operation New Dawn”.
2012 – United States Capitol Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Amine El Khalifi, a man from Morocco who allegedly planned a suicide attack on the United States Capitol. At a hearing on June 22, 2012 before U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris, El Khalifi pleaded guilty to one count of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction (specifically, a destructive device consisting of an improvised explosive device) against U.S. property, namely, the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. As part of the plea agreement, the United States and El Khalifi agree that a sentence within a range of 25 years to 30 years’ incarceration is the appropriate disposition of this case. El Khalifi was sentenced to 30 years in prison on September 14, 2012.
2014 – Venezuela orders the expulsion of three US consular officials amid rising tensions over anti-government protests after accusing the US of working with the opposition to undermine President Nicolás Maduro’s government.
Congressional Medal of Honor Citations for Actions Taken this Day
*HAMMERBERG, OWEN FRANCIS PATRICK
Rank and organization: Boatswain’s Mate Second Class, U.S. Navy. Born: 31 May 1920, Daggett, Mich. Accredited to: Michigan. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a diver engaged in rescue operations at West Loch, Pearl Harbor, 17 February 1945. Aware of the danger when 2 fellow divers were hopelessly trapped in a cave-in of steel wreckage while tunneling with jet nozzles under an LST sunk in 40 feet of water and 20 feet of mud. Hammerberg unhesitatingly went overboard in a valiant attempt to effect their rescue despite the certain hazard of additional cave-ins and the risk of fouling his lifeline on jagged pieces of steel imbedded in the shifting mud. Washing a passage through the original excavation, he reached the first of the trapped men, freed him from the wreckage and, working desperately in pitch-black darkness, finally effected his release from fouled lines, thereby enabling him to reach the surface. Wearied but undaunted after several hours of arduous labor, Hammerberg resolved to continue his struggle to wash through the oozing submarine, subterranean mud in a determined effort to save the second diver. Venturing still farther under the buried hulk, he held tenaciously to his purpose, reaching a place immediately above the other man just as another cave-in occurred and a heavy piece of steel pinned him crosswise over his shipmate in a position which protected the man beneath from further injury while placing the full brunt of terrific pressure on himself. Although he succumbed in agony 18 hours after he had gone to the aid of his fellow divers, Hammerberg, by his cool judgment, unfaltering professional skill and consistent disregard of all personal danger in the face of tremendous odds, had contributed effectively to the saving of his 2 comrades. His heroic spirit of self-sacrifice throughout enhanced and sustained the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.
HERRING, RUFUS G.
Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Naval Reserve, LCI (G) 449. Place and date: Iwo Jima, 17 February 1945. Entered service at: North Carolina. Born: 11 June 1921, Roseboro, N.C. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of LCI (G) 449 operating as a unit of LCI (G) Group 8, during the preinvasion attack on Iwo Jima on 17 February 1945. Boldly closing the strongly fortified shores under the devastating fire of Japanese coastal defense guns, Lt. (then Lt. (j.g.)) Herring directed shattering barrages of 40mm. and 20mm. gunfire against hostile beaches until struck down by the enemy’s savage counterfire which blasted the 449’s heavy guns and whipped her decks into sheets of flame. Regaining consciousness despite profuse bleeding he was again critically wounded when a Japanese mortar crashed the conning station, instantly killing or fatally wounding most of the officers and leaving the ship wallowing without navigational control. Upon recovering the second time, Lt. Herring resolutely climbed down to the pilothouse and, fighting against his rapidly waning strength, took over the helm, established communication with the engineroom, and carried on valiantly until relief could be obtained. When no longer able to stand, he propped himself against empty shell cases and rallied his men to the aid of the wounded; he maintained position in the firing line with his 20mm. guns in action in the face of sustained enemy fire, and conned his crippled ship to safety. His unwavering fortitude, aggressive perseverance, and indomitable spirit against terrific odds reflect the highest credit upon Lt. Herring and uphold the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
JOHNSTON, WILLIAM J.
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company G, 180th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Padiglione, Italy, 1719 February 1944. Entered service at: Colchester, Conn. Birth: Trenton, N.J. G.O. No.: 73, 6 September 1944. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. On 17 February 1944, near Padiglione, Italy, he observed and fired upon an attacking force of approximately 80 Germans, causing at least 25 casualties and forcing withdrawal of the remainder. All that day he manned his gun without relief, subject to mortar, artillery, and sniper fire. Two Germans individually worked so close to his position that his machinegun was ineffective, whereupon he killed 1 with his pistol, the second with a rifle taken from another soldier. When a rifleman protecting his gun position was killed by a sniper, he immediately moved the body and relocated the machinegun in that spot in order to obtain a better field of fire. He volunteered to cover the platoon’s withdrawal and was the last man to leave that night. In his new position he maintained an all-night vigil, the next day causing 7 German casualties. On the afternoon of the 18th, the organization on the left flank having been forced to withdraw, he again covered the withdrawal of his own organization. Shortly thereafter, he was seriously wounded over the heart, and a passing soldier saw him trying to crawl up the embankment. The soldier aided him to resume his position behind the machinegun which was soon heard in action for about 10 minutes. Though reported killed, Pfc. Johnston was seen returning to the American lines on the morning of 19 February slowly and painfully working his way back from his overrun position through enemy lines. He gave valuable information of new enemy dispositions. His heroic determination to destroy the enemy and his disregard of his own safety aided immeasurably in halting a strong enemy attack, caused an enormous amount of enemy casualties, and so inspired his fellow soldiers that they fought for and held a vitally important position against greatly superior forces.