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    Steven Alvarez
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Today in Military History

There are 365 days in a year and every day is full of rich, American military history. There is a lot to choose from so USAMM has picked the beginning, middle and end of each month to bring you a snap shot of today in military history.

January 1, 1962: Navy SEAL teams are established. Arleigh Burke, chief of naval operations, recommends in 1961 the creation of a guerrilla-style team. The teams would operate from sea, air or land (SEAL). SEAL teams were descendants of the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams. SEALs would perform counter guerilla warfare and clandestine operations.

January 15, 1943: The Pentagon was dedicated and the building becomes the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense. It is considered one of the world’s largest office buildings. It has three times the floor space of the Empire State Building in New York. Approximately 26,000 employees, both military and civilian, work there. They park 8,770 cars in 16 parking lots; climb 131 stairways or ride 19 escalators to reach offices that occupy 3,705,793 square feet. While in the building, they tell time by 4,200 clocks, drink from 691 water fountains, and utilize 284 rest rooms.

January 31, 1945: U.S. Army Pvt. Eddie Slovik becomes the first American soldier since the Civil War to be executed for desertion. He is the only man shot for desertion during World War II. Slovik was shot and killed by a 12-man firing squad in eastern France.

February 1, 1942: The U.S. Navy conducts the Marshalls-Gilberts raids, the first offensive U.S. action against Japanese forces in the Pacific Theater. The tactical airstrikes and naval artillery attacks inflicted light to moderate damage on Japanese garrisons, aircraft and warships.

February 15, 1898: An explosion sinks the battleship USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana harbor, killing 260 American crew members. The Maine was sent to Cuba to protect American interests. The U.S. Navy determined week’s later that the ship was blown up by a mine. Many believed Spain was responsible and a series of diplomatic failings led to the Spanish-American War. In 1976, an investigative team concluded that the Maine explosion was caused by a fire that ignited its ammunition stores.

Feb. 28, 1893: The USS Indiana is launched. The Indiana is the first battleship of the U.S. Navy. She was authorized in 1890 and commissioned five years later. The Indiana served in the Spanish-American War and she took part in both the blockade of Cuba and the battle of Santiago de Cuba. She was decommissioned in 1919 and she was sunk in shallow water as a target in aerial bombing tests in 1920. Her hulk was sold for scrap in 1924.

March 1, 1912: The first parachute jump out of an airplane was made by U.S. Army Capt. Albert Berry at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. He jumped from a biplane at 1,500 feet and landed without incident. The parachute was contained in a metal canister under the plane and when Berry dropped from the plane his weight pulled the parachute from the canister and he floated to earth while seated on a trapeze bar.

March 15, 2010: Frank Buckles, the last living American World War I veteran is buried today in military history after dying on Feb. 27, 2011 at the age of 110. He enlisted in the Army in 1917 and served near the frontlines in Europe. During World War II, he was captured by Japanese forces while working as a civilian in the shipping industry. He spent three years in the Philippines as a prisoner. With his passing a generation of men like him who served in that war was no more.

March 31, 1992: The USS Missouri is decommissioned. She was the last active American battleship affectionately known as “Mighty Mo” or “Big Mo.” The Missouri was the last battleship commissioned by the United States and she was the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan. Missouri was ordered in 1940 and commissioned in June 1944. In the Pacific during World War II, she fought in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and shelled the Japanese islands. She also fought in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. She was decommissioned in 1955 into the Navy’s mothball fleet, but she was reactivated and modernized in 1984. She provided fire support during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and the Missouri received 11 battle stars for service in World War II, Korea, and the Persian Gulf. In 1998, she was donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association and became a museum ship at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

April 1, 1952: U.S. Air Force Colonel Francis S. Gabreski, flying a F-86 Sabre from the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, becomes the eighth ace of the Korean War and the third ranking U.S. ace of all time. Gabreski achieved 37.5 aerial victories, including five in Korea. F-86 Sabres scored their second greatest victory of the war, shooting down 10 MiGs, with two others probable.

April 15, 1969: The North Korean military shoots down a U.S. Navy EC-121 aircraft over the Sea of Japan, killing all 31 on board. The EC-121M Warning Star was on a reconnaissance mission when a North Korean MiG-17 shot it down over the Sea of Japan in international airspace. There was never a U.S. diplomatic or military response.

May 1, 1960: A U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers a former Air Force captain who was working as a pilot for the Central Intelligence Agency is shot down over Russia by a surface to air missile. The CIA’s cover story for the U-2 was that it was a weather reconnaissance aircraft. Powers had strict instructions to initiate a self-destruct function and to commit suicide if he was ever shot down. He did not destroy the aircraft and he was captured alive. He was tried, convicted of espionage and sent to a Russian prison. Shy of two years of confinement, he was released in a prisoner exchange with the Soviet Union. Years later he became a local news helicopter pilot, reporting on traffic. In 1977 he was killed when his helicopter ran out of fuel and crashed.

May 15, 1970: President Richard M. Nixon appoints Anna Mae Hays and Elizabeth P. Hoisington the first female U.S. Army generals.

May 31, 1951: U.S. Army Corporal Rodolfo P. Hernandez earns the Medal of Honor while serving with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team near Wontong-ni, Korea. Hernandez’s platoon, in defensive positions on a hill, came under attack by a numerically superior force, accompanied by heavy artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire which inflicted numerous casualties on his platoon. Hernandez’s comrades withdrew, but Hernandez, although wounded in an exchange of grenades, continued to deliver deadly fire at the enemy until his weapon jammed. Hernandez then rushed the enemy armed only with a rifle and bayonet. He engaged the enemy and killed six of them before falling unconscious from grenade, bayonet, and bullet wounds. His heroic action momentarily halted the enemy advance and enabled his unit to counterattack and retake the lost ground.

June 1, 1779: The court-martial of Benedict Arnold, the name synonymous with traitorous actions, convenes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Arnold was a relatively good officer early in his military career, but then he slipped into illicit activities and when he was caught and held accountable, he was not happy with how military officials treated him, especially George Washington who reprimanded him. While on a mission to determine if a locale would withstand a British attack, Arnold decided to defect and become a British spy. His many schemes, like surrendering 3,000 men and a garrison, as well as helping Washington get captured, all failed. He eventually returned to England and died in 1801, forever branded.

June 15, 1775: The Second Continental Congress voted unanimously to appoint George Washington as the commander of the Continental Army. The U.S. military has its first general.

June 30, 1953: U.S. Air Force Lt. Henry “Hank” Buttleman of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, becomes the 36th and youngest ace (five kills) of the Korean War, at 24. He accomplished his feat only 12 days after his first kill.

July 1, 1863: The greatest military conflict in North American history begins when Union and confederate forces fight at Gettysburg. The battle lasted three days and resulted in the retreat of Robert E. Lee’s army into Virginia. The rebels had an army of about 80,000 and the Union had just less than 100,000. On the morning of July 1, units from each side made contact with each other near Gettysburg. The sound of battle attracted other units, and by noon the battle was underway. The battle would be the costliest ever on U.S. soil. More than 50,000 soldiers on both sides died at Gettysburg today in military history.

July 15, 1944: Today in military history, Staff Sgt. Kazuo Otani earned the Medal of Honor near Pieve Di S. Luce, Italy. Otani’s platoon was pinned down in a field by an enemy machinegun and snipers. Realizing the danger confronting his platoon, Otani left his cover and shot and killed an enemy sniper who had been killing members of his platoon. Otani, under intense fire, then dashed across the open field toward a cliff, and directed his men to crawl to the cover of the cliff. When the platoon’s movement drew heavy fire, he ran along the cliff, exposing himself to enemy fire. By attracting the attention of the enemy, he enabled the men closest to the cliff to reach cover. Organizing these men to guard against possible enemy counterattack, Otani again made his way across the open field, shouting instructions to the stranded men while continuing to draw enemy fire. Reaching the rear of the platoon position, he took partial cover in a shallow ditch and directed covering fire for the men who had begun to move forward. Then one of his men was seriously wounded. Ordering his men to remain under cover, Otani crawled to the wounded soldier who was lying on open ground. Dragging the wounded soldier to a shallow ditch, Otani tried to provide first aid, but was mortally wounded by machinegun fire.

July 31, 1943:  Today in military history 2nd Lt. Gerry Kisters earned the Medal of Honor while serving with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division near Gagliano, Sicily. Kisters and his team advanced ahead of the leading elements of U.S. troops to fill a large crater in the only available vehicle route through Gagliano, was taken under fire by 2 enemy machineguns. Kisters and an officer, in the face of intense small arms fire, advanced on the nearest machinegun emplacement and captured the gun and its crew of 4. Although the greater part of the remaining small arms fire was now directed on the captured machinegun position, Kisters voluntarily advanced alone toward the second gun emplacement. While creeping forward, he was struck five times by enemy bullets, receiving wounds in both legs and his right arm. Despite the wounds, he continued to advance on the enemy, and captured the second machinegun after killing three of its crew and forcing the fourth member to flee.

August 1, 1941: As the United States marched toward war in 1940, the U.S. military issued a challenge to U.S. automakers: It needed a vehicle that could do just about anything, on any terrain, and the Army needed it ASAP and to spec. Willy’s Truck Company was the first to deliver a general-purpose vehicle (GP, pronounced “Jeep”) and that’s what happened today in military history, and the rest is history.

August 15, 2007: Operation Marne Husky was launched today in military history targeting insurgents in the Tigris River Valley. The operation involved a series of seven air assaults by soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division and pilots from the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. Eighty insurgents were captured and 43 were killed.

August 31, 1950: The Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) program is created today in military history when Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered the 8th Army to increase the strength of each American company and battery with 100 Korean recruits. The KATUSAs would serve as part of American units.

September 1, 1977: Today in military history, Bobby C. Wilks became the first African American in the U.S. Coast Guard to reach the rank of captain. He was also the first African American Coast Guard aviator. He later became the first African American to command a Coast Guard air station. He accumulated more than 6,000 flight hours in 18 aircraft.

September 15, 1950: The Korean War is usually not remembered for having a D-Day-like landing, but it did. The Inchon landing by Joint Task Force 7 was a 230-ship task force and it was the largest naval armada since World War II. The 1st Marine Division made the initial amphibious assault at Inchon today in military history.

September 30, 1949: Today in military history, after 15 months and more than 250,000 flights, the Berlin Airlift ends. In 1948, the Soviet Union blocked all ground travel into West Berlin in an attempt to force the United States and its allies to accept Soviet demands concerning Germany. The people of West Berlin were left without food, clothing, or medical supplies. In June 1948, the Berlin Airlift began with U.S. pilots and planes. More than two million tons of supplies were airlifted during that 15-month period. The last plane landed in Berlin carrying two tons of coal.

October 1, 1961: The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is formed today in military history becoming the country’s first centralized military espionage organization. It is a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community. DIA informs national civilian and defense policymakers about the military intentions and capabilities of foreign governments and non-state actors, while also providing department-level intelligence assistance and coordination to individual military service intelligence components and the warfighter.

October 15, 1974: The National Guard mobilized to restore order in Boston. In June 1974, the courts found the Boston School Committee guilty of willful segregation and called for forced busing of African-American students to predominantly white schools. The forced integration in Hyde Park, Charlestown, and South Boston caused mass marches and racial tension and violence.

October 31, 1956: Today in military history, Rear Admiral G.J. Dufek became the first person to land an airplane at the South Pole along with other Navy personnel in their R4D Skytrain. The crew landed on the ice at the South Pole and included Dufek, Capt. Douglas Cordiner, Capt. William Hawkes, Lt. Cdr. Conrad Shinn, Lt. John Swadener, AD2 J. P. Strider and AD2 William Cumbie. They are considered the first men to stand on the South Pole since Captain Robert F. Scott in 1912.

November 1, 1952: The United States exploded the first hydrogen bomb today in military history in the Marshall Islands. It was the world’s first thermonuclear weapon. This new type of weapon was approximately 1,000 times more powerful than conventional nuclear devices.

November 15, 1864: Union General William T. Sherman began his march across Georgia today in military history. Along the way, Sherman set ablaze key industrial locales of the confederacy. For six weeks, Sherman’s army destroyed everything in its path until he reached the port of Savannah.

November 30, 2005: Operation Iron Hammer begins today in military history. The operation is a joint U.S.-Iraqi campaign against Iraqi insurgents. The operation, also called Operation Matraqa Hadidia by the Iraqis, was conducted east of Hīt, Iraq.

December 1, 1950: Today in military history U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. William G. Windrich earns the Medal of Honor for actions near Yudam-ni, Korea. Windrich, organized men in his unit to repel a sudden attack and armed with a carbine, spearheaded an assault immediately confronting the enemy forces. Under hostile automatic-weapons, mortar, and grenade fire, he directed effective fire to hold back the attackers and cover the withdrawal of his troops. Wounded along with seven of his men, he made his way to his company’s position and organized a small group and returned with them to evacuate the wounded and dying refusing medical attention for himself. He immediately redeployed the remainder of his troops before the enemy again attacked again. Wounded in the leg during the bitter fight that followed, he bravely fought on with his men, shouting words of encouragement and directing their fire until the attack was repelled. He refused evacuation although unable to stand and continued to direct his platoon in establishing defensive positions until weakened by the bitter cold, excessive loss of blood, and severe pain, he lapsed into unconsciousness and died.

December 15, 1944: Today in military history Army Air Force Band leader Capt. Glenn Miller boarded a C-64 in England for a flight to France where he was to make arrangements for a Christmas broadcast. The plane never reached France and no trace of it or its occupants was ever found. Miller was a famous professional musician who volunteered for military service in 1942. Miller performed morale concerts for the troops. There has always been speculation that the aircraft went down in the English Channel.

December 31, 1995: Today in military history the first U.S. tanks crossed a pontoon bridge over the Sava River from Croatia to Bosnia to start the deployment of 20,000 U.S. troops under the Implementation Force under NATO command.

  • Author avatar
    Steven Alvarez
  • historymilitary historytoday in military history