This Day in U.S. Military History…… December 23

23 December
1620 – One week after the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth harbor in present-day Massachusetts, construction of the first permanent European settlement in New England begins. On September 16, the Mayflower departed Plymouth, England, bound for the New World with 102 passengers. The ship was headed for Virginia, where the colonists–half religious dissenters and half entrepreneurs–had been authorized to settle by the British crown. In a difficult Atlantic crossing, the 90-foot Mayflower encountered rough seas and storms and was blown more than 500 miles off course. Along the way, the settlers formulated and signed the Mayflower Compact, an agreement that bound the signatories into a “civil body politic.” Because it established constitutional law and the rule of the majority, the compact is regarded as an important precursor to American democracy. After a 66-day voyage, the ship landed on November 21 at the tip of Cape Cod at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts. After coming to anchor in Provincetown harbor, a party of armed men under the command of Captain Myles Standish was sent out to explore the area and find a location suitable for settlement. While they were gone, Susanna White gave birth to a son, Peregrine, aboard the Mayflower. He was the first English child born in New England. In mid-December, the explorers went ashore at a location across Cape Cod Bay where they found cleared fields and plentiful running water, and they named the site Plymouth. The expedition returned to Provincetown, and on December 21 the Mayflower came to anchor in Plymouth harbor. Two days later, the pilgrims began work on dwellings that would shelter them through their difficult first winter in America. In the first year of settlement, half the colonists died of disease. In 1621, the health and economic condition of the colonists improved, and that autumn Governor William Bradford invited neighboring Indians to Plymouth to celebrate the bounty of that year’s harvest season. Plymouth soon secured treaties with most local Indian tribes, and the economy steadily grew, and more colonists were attracted to the settlement. By the mid-1640s, Plymouth’s population numbered 3,000 people, but by then the settlement had been overshadowed by the larger Massachusetts Bay Colony to the north, settled by Puritans in 1629. The term “Pilgrim” was not used to describe the Plymouth colonists until the early 19th century and was derived from a manuscript in which Governor Bradford spoke of the “saints” who traveled to the New World as “pilgrimes.” In 1820, the orator Daniel Webster spoke of “Pilgrim Fathers” at a bicentennial celebration of Plymouth’s founding, and thereafter the term entered common usage.
1776 – Continental Congress negotiated a war loan of $181,500 from France.
1776 – Thomas Paine wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
1779 – Benedict Arnold was court-martialed for improper conduct. He followed the time-honored military tradition of using government carts to transport his personal items. He was routinely sentenced to be censured by Gen. Washington- a formality which the thin-skinned Arnold took personally, ultimately leading him to switch allegiance to the British cause.
1783 – George Washington resigned as commander-in-chief of the Army and retired to his home at Mount Vernon, Va, an act that stunned aristocratic Europe. King George III called Washington “the greatest character of the age” because of this.
1788 – Maryland voted to cede a 100-square-mile area for the seat of the national government; about two-thirds of the area became the District of Columbia.
1823 – The poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore, often called “Twas the night before Christmas,” was published in the Troy, N.Y., Sentinel. Recent scholarship reveals the original to have been written by Major Henry Livingston (1748-1828).
1826 – Captain Thomas ap Catesby Jones of USS Peacock and King Kamehameha negotiate first treaty between Hawaii and a foreign power.
1861 – Lord Lyons, The British minister to America presented a formal complaint to secretary of state, William Seward, regarding the Trent affair.
1862 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis declares Union General Benjamin Butler a felon and insists that he be hanged if captured. Butler had earned few friends in New Orleans-indeed, his treatment of the city’s residents outraged most Southerners. The Union captured New Orleans in early 1862 and Butler became the military commander of the city. His actions there soon made him the most hated Yankee in the Confederacy. Butler worked to root out all signs of the Confederacy from the city. He hung a gambler who tore down an American flag and he ordered civil officers, attorneys, and clergy to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Most notoriously, he offended southern women with General Order No. 28, which stated that any woman who insulted Union troops would “be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.” Butler confiscated the property of rebels and was accused of stealing silver spoons from the locals, earning him the nickname “Spoons.” Butler’s brother, Andrew, gained permits to trade in the area and made a fortune from the sale of contraband items. Southerners began to view Butler’s mistreatment of New Orleans residents as a symbol of Yankee rudeness. Perhaps only William T. Sherman, who led the famously destructive march across Georgia, earned greater opprobrium in the South.
1864 – President Lincoln signed a bill passed the preceding day by Congress which created the rank of vice admiral. A fortnight before Secretary Welles had written in his report to the President: “In recommending, therefore, that the office of vice-admiral should be created, and the appointment conferred on Rear-Admiral David G. Farragut, I but respond, as I believe, to the voice and wishes of the naval service and of the whole country.” Thus was Farragut made the first vice admiral in the Nation’s history as he had been its first rear admiral. The Army and Navy Journal wrote of him: “In Farragut the ideal sailor, the seaman of Nelson’s and Collingwood’s days, is revived, and the feeling of the people toward him is of the same peculiar character as that which those great and simple-hearted heroes of Great Britain evoked in the hearts of their countrymen.
1864 – After many days of delay because of heavy weather, powder ship U.S.S. Louisiana, Commander Rhind, towed by U.S.S. Wilderness late at night, anchored and was blown up 250 yards off Fort Fisher, North Carolina. After Rhind and his gallant crew set the fuzes and a fire in the stern, they escaped by small boat to Wilderness. Rear Admiral Porter and General Butler, who was wait-ing in Beaufort to land his troops the next morning and storm Fort Fisher, placed great hope in the exploding powder ship, hope that Dahlgren as an ordnance expert no doubt disdained. The clock mechanism failed to ignite the powder at the appointed time, 1:18 a.m., and after agonizing minutes of waiting, the fire set by Rhind in the stern of Louisiana reached the powder and a tremendous explosion occurred. Fort Fisher and its garrison, however, were not measur-ably affected, although the blast was heard many miles away; in fact, Colonel Lamb, the fort’s resolute commander, wrote in his diary: “A blockader got aground near the fort, set fire to herself and blew up.” It remained for the massed gunfire from ships of Porter’s huge fleet, the largest ever assembled up to that time under the American flag, to cover the landings and reduce the forts.
1910 – LT Theodore G. Ellyson becomes first naval officer sent to flight training.
1913 – The Federal Reserve Act was signed by President Woodrow Wilson. The Owen-Glass Act established the decentralized, government-controlled banking system in the U.S. known as the Federal Reserve. It repealed the gold standard and replaced it with a system that ensured that the US dollar would be a better store of value than gold. The act guarded against inflation but allowed deflation. It was the first thorough reorganization of the national banking system since the Civil War.
1919 – The 1st hospital ship built to move wounded naval personnel was launched.
1933 – Marinus van der Lubbe was sentenced to death for Reichstag “Fire.”
1939 – A Pan-American protest is issued to the governments of Britain, France and Germany about the fighting inside the “security zone” during the battle of the River Plate. The detention and destruction of German merchant ships by British warships is also noted.
1941 – Japanese forces launched a predawn landing, their second attempt, on Wake Island and Wilkes Island, while their carriers launched air strikes against Wilkes, Wake, and Peale islands in support of the landing force. After nearly 12 hours of desperate fighting, the three islands were surrendered.
1941 – The first Japanese air attacks on Rangoon, Burma. The city’s air defense consist of only two fighter squadrons, one from the RAF, the other an American Volunteer Group
1941 – The 440-foot tanker Montebello was sunk off the California coast near Cambria by a Japanese submarine. The crew of 38 survived and in 1996 it was found that the 4.1 million gallon cargo of crude oil appeared intact.
1941 – A conference of industry and labor officials agrees that there would be no strikes or lockouts in war industries while World War II continued.1943 – Gen. Montgomery was appointed British commandant for D-day.
1944 – Although the American defenders of Bastogne continue to hold out against German attacks, elements of the German 5th Panzer Army have by-passed the town and are advancing to the west and northwest. These attacks have reached beyond Rochefort and Laroche. However, improved weather conditions allows Allied ground attack aircraft to harass the German columns. A sudden improvement in the weather permits Allied fighter-bombers to conduct about 900 sorties against German forces in “the Bulge”.
1944 – Gen. Dwight Eisenhower endorses the finding of a court-martial in the case of Eddie Slovik, who was tried for desertion, and authorizes his execution, the first such sentence against a U.S. Army soldier since the Civil War, and the only man so punished during World War II. Private Eddie Slovik was a draftee. Originally classified 4-F because of a prison record (grand theft auto), he was bumped up to a 1-A classification when draft standards were lowered to meet growing personnel needs. In January 1944, he was trained to be a rifleman, which was not to his liking, as he hated guns. In August of the same year, Slovik was shipped to France to fight with the 28th Infantry Division, which had already suffered massive casualties in the fighting there and in Germany. Slovik was a replacement, a class of soldier not particular respected by officers. As he and a companion were on the way to the front lines, they became lost in the chaos of battle, only to stumble upon a Canadian unit that took them in. Slovik stayed on with the Canadians until October 5, when they turned him and his buddy over to the American military police, who reunited them with the 28th Division, now in Elsenborn, Belgium. No charges were brought; replacements getting lost early on in their tours of duty were not unusual. But exactly one day after Slovik returned to his unit, he claimed he was “too scared and too nervous” to be a rifleman and threatened to run away if forced into combat. His admission was ignored-and Slovik took off. One day after that he returned, and Slovik signed a confession of desertion, claiming he would run away again if forced to fight, and submitted it to an officer of the 28th. The officer advised Slovik to take the confession back, as the consequences would be serious. Slovik refused, and he was confined to the stockade. The 28th Division had seen many cases of soldiers wounding themselves or deserting in the hopes of a prison sentence that would at least protect them from the perils of combat. So a legal officer of the 28th offered Slovik a deal: Dive into combat immediately and avoid the court-martial. Slovik refused. He was tried on November 11 for desertion and was convicted in less than two hours. The nine-officer court-martial panel passed a unanimous sentence: execution-“to be shot to death with musketry.” Slovik’s appeal failed. It was held that he “directly challenged the authority” of the United States and that “future discipline depends upon a resolute reply to this challenge.” Slovik was to pay for his recalcitrant attitude-and he was to be made an example. One last appeal was made-to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander. The timing was bad for mercy. The Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest was issuing in literally thousands of American casualties, not to mention the second largest surrender of an American Army unit during the war. Eisenhower upheld the sentence. Slovik would be shot to death by a 12-man firing squad in eastern France in January of 1945. None of the rifleman so much as flinched, believing Slovik had gotten what he deserved.
1944 – All horse racing in the US is banned in an effort to save labor.
1947 – Truman granted a pardon to 1,523 who had evaded the World War II draft.
1947 – John Bardeen and Walter Brattain of AT&T Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, unveiled what was soon to be called the transistor, short for the electrical property known as trans-resistance, which paved the way to a new era of miniaturized electronics. The device was improved by William Schockley as a junction transistor. All 3 received a Nobel Prize in 1956. The events are described in the 1997 book by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson: “Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age.”
1948 – In Tokyo, Japan, Hideki Tojo, former Japanese premier and chief of the Kwantung Army, is executed along with six other top Japanese leaders for their war crimes during World War II. Seven of the defendants were also found guilty of committing crimes against humanity, especially in regard to their systematic genocide of the Chinese people. On November 12, death sentences were imposed on Tojo and the six other principals, such as Iwane Matsui, who organized the Rape of Nanking, and Heitaro Kimura, who brutalized Allied prisoners of war. Sixteen others were sentenced to life imprisonment, and the remaining two of the original 25 defendants were sentenced to lesser terms in prison. Unlike the Nuremberg trial of German war criminals, where there were four chief prosecutors representing Great Britain, France, the United States, and the USSR, the Tokyo trial featured only one chief prosecutor–American Joseph B. Keenan, a former assistant to the U.S. attorney general. However, other nations, especially China, contributed to the proceedings, and Australian judge William Flood Webb presided. In addition to the central Tokyo trial, various tribunals sitting outside Japan judged some 5,000 Japanese guilty of war crimes, of whom more than 900 were executed.
1950 – Lieutenant General Walton Walker, Eighth Army commander, was killed in a jeep accident. Major General Frank W. Milburn assumed temporary command of Eighth Army.
1950 – The United States signs a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with France, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. In 1951 military aid tops $500,000,000. Congressman John F. Kennedy asserts America has allied itself with a desperate French attempt to hang on to the remnants of its empire. By 1954 American military aid to Vietnam tops $2 billion.
1951 – The communists rejected any prisoner exchange until an armistice was signed. The U.N. Command alleged that 65,363 U.N. soldiers had been captured during the first nine months of the war and demanded an explanation of why the communist list did not include over 50,000 names.
1954 – First successful kidney transplant is performed by J. Hartwell Harrison and Joseph Murray.
1961 – Fidel Castro announced Cuba he would release 1,113 prisoners from failed 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion in exchange for $62M worth of food and medical supplies.
1962 – Cuba started returning US prisoners from Bay of Pigs invasion.
1966 – Francis Cardinal Spellman, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York and military vicar of the U.S. armed forces for Roman Catholics, visits U.S. servicemen in South Vietnam. In an address at mass in Saigon, Spellman said that the Vietnamese conflict was “a war for civilization–certainly it is not a war of our seeking. It is a war thrust upon us–we cannot yield to tyranny.” Anything “less than victory is inconceivable.” On December 26, Spellman told U.S. soldiers that they were in Vietnam for the “defense, protection, and salvation not only of our country, but …of civilization itself.” The next day, Vatican sources expressed displeasure with Spellman’s statements in Vietnam. One source said, “The Cardinal did not speak for the Pope or the Church.” The Pope had previously called for negotiations and an end to the war in Vietnam.
1967 – U.S. Navy SEALs were ambushed during an operation southeast of Saigon.
1968 – The crew and captain of the U.S. intelligence gathering ship Pueblo are released after 11 months imprisonment by the government of North Korea. The ship, and its 83-man crew, was seized by North Korean warships on January 23 and charged with intruding into North Korean waters. The seizure infuriated U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. Later, he claimed that he strongly suspected (although it could not be proven) that the incident with the Pueblo, coming just a few days before the communist Tet Offensive in South Vietnam, was a coordinated diversion. At the time, however, Johnson did little. The Tet Offensive, which began just a week after the ship was taken by North Korea, exploded on the front pages and televisions of America and seemed to paralyze the Johnson administration. To deal with the Pueblo incident, the United States urged the U.N.’s Security Council to condemn the action and pressured the Soviet Union to negotiate with the North Koreans for the ship’s release. It was 11 long months before the Pueblo’s men were freed. Both captain and crew were horribly treated and later recounted their torture at the hands of the North Koreans. With no help in sight, Captain Lloyd Bucher reluctantly signed a document confessing that the ship was spying on North Korea. With this propaganda victory in hand, the North Koreans released the prisoners and also returned the body of one crewman who died in captivity. Some Americans criticized Johnson for not taking decisive retaliatory action against North Korea; others argued that he should have used every diplomatic means at his disposal to secure a quick release for the crew. In any case, the event was another blow to Johnson and America’s Cold War foreign policy.
1970 – The NY World Trade Center reached its highest point. The World Trade Center was completed at a cost of $350 million. The twin 110-story towers housed 55,000 employees working for 350 firms.
1972 – The East German Embassy and the Hungarian commercial mission in Hanoi are hit in the eighth day of Operation Linebacker II. Although there were reports that a prisoner of war camp holding American soldiers was hit, the rumor was untrue. President Nixon initiated the full-scale bombing campaign against North Vietnam on December 18, when the North Vietnamese–who walked out of the peace talks in Paris–refused an ultimatum from Nixon to return to the negotiating table. During the 11 days of the operation, 700 B-52 sorties and more than 1,000 fighter-bomber sorties dropped an estimated 20,000 tons of bombs, mostly over the densely populated area between Hanoi and Haiphong. President Nixon was vilified at home and abroad for ordering the “Christmas bombing,” but on December 28, the North Vietnamese did agree to return to the talks in Paris. When the negotiators met again in early January, they quickly arrived at a settlement. The Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 23 and a cease-fire went into effect five days later.
1973 – 6 Persian Gulf nations doubled their oil prices.1974 – The B-1 bomber made its first successful test flight.
1975 – Richard S. Welch, the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Athens, was shot and killed outside his home. The left-wing November 17 urban guerrilla group was responsible. In 2002 Pavlos Serifis was arrested in connection with the murder.
1986 – The experimental airplane Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, completed the first non-stop, round-the-world flight without refueling as it landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
1987 – Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, serving a life sentence for the attempted assassination of President Ford in 1975, escaped from the Alderson Federal Prison for Women in West Virginia. She was recaptured two days later.
1991 – President George H.W. Bush spoke by telephone with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, after which a senior Bush administration official said the United States would extend diplomatic recognition to the Russian republic.
1992 – An American mission to save lives in Somalia lost the first of its own when a U.S. vehicle hit a land mine near Bardera, killing civilian Army employee Lawrence N. Freedman of Fayetteville, N.C.
1994 – John Connolly, FBI agent, came to the Winter Hill gang’s headquarters in a Boston liquor store and warned Kevin Weeks of pending FBI arrests for mobsters James Bulger, Stephen Flemmi and Francis Salemme. Connolly was convicted for corruption in 2002 and sentenced to 121 months.
1996 – President Clinton expressed gratitude to the nation’s armed forces as he visited Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
1997 – A jury in Denver convicted Terry Nichols for conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter in the Apr 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
1997 – In France “Carlos the Jackal,” aka Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, was convicted in the murder of 2 French agents and a Lebanese informant on Jun 27, 1975 and sentenced to life in prison.
1999 – President Clinton pardoned Freddie Meeks, a black sailor court-martialed for mutiny during World War Two when he and other sailors refused to load live ammunition following a deadly explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine near San Francisco that had claimed more than 300 lives.
1997 – After changing one word, the U.N. Security Council agrees to a statement criticizing, but not condemning, Iraq for refusing to grant U.N. weapons inspectors full access to suspected weapons sites. Opposition from Russia and other council members prompted the wording change. The statement comes after chief weapons inspector Richard Butler told the Security Council that Iraq would not allow access to all suspected weapons sites, including Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s palaces and homes.
2001 – It was reported that Hazrat Ali, an Afghanistan eastern alliance commander, had negotiated a deal to release al Qaeda troops in the Tora Bora region. The new cabinet met in Kabul for the 1st time.
2002 – Iraqi aircraft shot down a U.S. unmanned surveillance drone over southern Iraq.
2002 – North Korea dismantled UN surveillance cameras and broke locks on the Yangbyon reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel.
2003 – A Virginia jury recommended a sentence of life in prison for Lee Boyd Malvo.
2003 – The South Korean Cabinet approved a plan to send 3,000 troops to the northern oil town of Kirkuk as early as April.
2004 – Afghan Pres. Hamid Karzai chose a new Cabinet, heeding calls to sideline warlords from top positions, including the defense minister, and creating a new post to oversee the fight against opium production.
2004 – US Marines battled insurgents in Fallujah with warplanes dropping bombs and tanks shelling suspected guerrilla positions. Three U.S. Marines were killed. 24 guerrillas, most of them non-Iraqi Arabs, were killed in battles according to a posting on an Islamic web site the next day. The 1st Fallujah residents were allowed to return. A bomb killed a US soldier in Baghdad.
2009 – Soyuz TMA-17, carrying an international crew of one Russian, one American and one Japanese astronaut, docks with the International Space Station.

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