This Day in U.S. Military History…… May 15

15 May
Murcuralia; the Festival of Mercury, Patron of the Signal Corps: Mercury, was a Roman messenger god whose attributes were mainly borrowed from the Greek god Hermes although there are myths regarding Mercury that are distinctly Roman. He was also a god of trade, thieves, and travel. The name is closely related to merx, mercari, and merces which respectively mean merchandise, to trade, and wages. For good luck, on the Ides of May (May 15th) which was considered his birthday, the merchants of Rome would use laurel boughs to sprinkle their merchandise, their ships, and their heads with water from a fountain at Porta Capena known as aqua Mercurii. They also offered prayers to Mercury for forgiveness of past and future perjuries, for profit, and the continued ability to cheat customers!
1602 – Bartholomew Gosnold, an English lawyer, explorer, and privateer who was instrumental in founding the Virginia Company of London, and Jamestown in colonial America led the first recorded European expedition to Cape Cod. He is considered by Preservation Virginia (formerly known as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities) to be the “prime mover of the colonization of Virginia”.
1701 – The War of the Spanish Succession, known in North America as Queen Anne’s War, begins. the second in a series of French and Indian Wars fought between France and England, later Great Britain, in North America for control of the continent. In addition to the two main combatants, the war also involved numerous Native American tribes allied with each nation, and Spain, which was allied with France. It was also known as the Third Indian War or in French as the Second Intercontinental War. The war was fought on three fronts: Spanish Florida and the English Province of Carolina were each subjected to attacks from the other, and the English engaged the French based at Mobile in what was essentially a proxy war involving primarily allied Indians on both sides. The southern war, although it did not result in significant territorial changes, had the effect of nearly wiping out the Indian population of Spanish Florida, including parts of present-day southern Georgia, and destroying Spain’s network of missions in the area; The English colonies of New England fought with French and Indian forces based in Acadia and Canada. Quebec City was repeatedly targeted (but never successfully reached) by British expeditions, and the Acadian capital Port Royal was taken in 1710. The French and Wabanaki Confederacy sought to thwart New England expansion into Acadia, whose border New France defined as the Kennebec River in southern Maine. Toward this end, they executed raids against targets in Massachusetts (including present-day Maine), most famously raiding Deerfield in 1704; On Newfoundland, English colonists based at St. John’s disputed control of the island with the French based at Plaisance. Most of the conflict consisted of economically destructive raids against the other side’s settlements. The French successfully captured St. John’s in 1709, but the British quickly reoccupied it after the French abandoned it. Following a preliminary peace in 1712, the Treaty of Utrecht ended the war in 1713. It resulted in the French cession of claims to the territories of Hudson Bay, Acadia, and Newfoundland to Britain, while retaining Cape Breton and other islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Some of its terms were ambiguous, and concerns of various Indian tribes were not included in the treaty, setting the stage for future conflicts.
1755 – Laredo, Texas is established by the Spaniards.
1756 – The Seven Years War, a global conflict known in America as the French and Indian War, officially begins when England declares war on France. However, fighting and skirmishes between England and France had been going on in North America for years. In the early 1750s, French expansion into the Ohio River valley repeatedly brought France into armed conflict with the British colonies. In 1756–the first official year of fighting in the Seven Years War–the British suffered a series of defeats against the French and their broad network of Native American alliances. However, in 1757, British Prime Minister William Pitt (the older) recognized the potential of imperial expansion that would come out of victory against the French and borrowed heavily to fund an expanded war effort. Pitt financed Prussia’s struggle against France and her allies in Europe and reimbursed the colonies for the raising of armies in North America. By 1760, the French had been expelled from Canada, and by 1763 all of France’s allies in Europe had either made a separate peace with Prussia or had been defeated. In addition, Spanish attempts to aid France in the Americas had failed, and France also suffered defeats against British forces in India. The Seven Years War ended with the signing of the treaties of Hubertusburg and Paris in February 1763. In the Treaty of Paris, France lost all claims to Canada and gave Louisiana to Spain, while Britain received Spanish Florida, Upper Canada, and various French holdings overseas. The treaty ensured the colonial and maritime supremacy of Britain and strengthened the 13 American colonies by removing their European rivals to the north and the south. Fifteen years later, French bitterness over the loss of most of their colonial empire contributed to their intervention in the American Revolution on the side of the Patriots.
1776 – The Virginia Convention instructs its Continental Congress delegation to propose a resolution of independence from Great Britain, paving the way for the United States Declaration of Independence.
1800 – CAPT Preble in Essex arrives in Batavia, Java, to escort U.S. merchant ships.
1802 – Isaac Ridgeway Trimble (d.1888), Major General (Confederate Army), was born.
1819 – Thomas Leonidas Crittenden, Major General (Union volunteers), was born.
1820 – The US Congress designated the slave trade as a form of piracy.
1850 – The Bloody Island Massacre takes place in Lake County, California, in which a large number of Pomo Indians in Lake County are slaughtered by a regiment of the United States Cavalry, led by Nathaniel Lyon.
1862 – General Benjamin F. (“Beast”) Butler decreed “Woman Order,” that all captured women in New Orleans were to be his whores.
1862 – The Union ironclad Monitor, Revenue Cutter Naugatuck, and the gunboat Galena fired on Confederate troops at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia.
1862 – The Confederate cruiser Alabama ran aground near London.
1862 – Corporal John Mackie became the first Marine awarded the Medal of Honor.
1864 – Students from the Virginia Military Institute take part in the Battle of New Market, part of the multipronged Union offensive in the spring of 1864 designed to take Virginia out of the war. Central to this campaign was Ulysses S. Grant’s epic struggle with Robert E. Lee around Richmond. Union General Franz Sigel had been sent to apply pressure on a key agricultural region, the Shenandoah Valley. He marched south out of Winchester in early May to neutralize the valley, which was always a threat to the North. The Shenandoah was not only a breadbasket that supplied Southern armies, it also led to the Potomac north of Washington. The Confederates had used the valley very effectively in 1862, when Stonewall Jackson kept three Federal armies occupied while keeping pressure off of Richmond. But the Confederates were hard pressed to offer any opposition to Sigel’s 6,500 troops. Lee was struggling against Grant and was badly outnumbered. He instructed John Breckinridge to drive Sigel from the valley but could offer him little in the way of troops to do the job. Breckinridge mustered a force of regular troops and militia units and pulled together 5,300 men. They included 247 cadets from the nearby Virginia Military Institute, some of the boys just 15 years old. On May 15, Breckinridge attacked Sigel’s troops at New Market. Sigel fell back a half mile, reformed his lines, and began to shell the Confederate center. It was at this juncture that Breckinridge reluctantly sent the VMI cadets into battle. The young students were part of an attack that captured two Yankee guns. Ten of the cadets were killed and 48 were wounded, but Sigel suffered a humiliating defeat and began to withdraw from the valley. The courage of the VMI cadets at the Battle of New Market became legendary, and the pressure was temporarily off of the Rebels in the Shenandoah Valley. Breckinridge was able to send part of his force east to reinforce Lee.
1864 – As ships of Rear Admiral Porter’s gunboat fleet neared the mouth of the Red River, they met continued resistance from Confederate shore batteries and riflemen. U.S.S. St. Clair, a 200-ton stern-wheeler under Acting Lieutenant Thomas B. Gregory, engaged a battery near Eunice’s Bluff, Louisiana. Gregory exchanged fire with the artillerists until the transports he was con-voying were out of danger, then continued downriver.
1864 – Battle of Resaca, Georgia ends. The battle was waged in both Gordon and Whitfield counties, Georgia, May 13–15, 1864. It ended inconclusively with the Confederate Army retreating. The engagement was fought between the Military Division of the Mississippi (led by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman) on the side of the Union and the Army of Tennessee (Gen. Joseph E. Johnston) for the Confederates.
1905 – Las Vegas, is founded when 110 acres (0.45 km2), in what later would become downtown, are auctioned off.
1916 – U.S. Marines landed in Santo Domingo to quell civil disorder.
1918 – The U.S. Post Office and the U.S. Army began regularly scheduled airmail service between Washington and New York through Philadelphia. Lieutenant George L. Boyle, an inexperienced young army pilot, was chosen to make the first flight from Washington. Even with a route map stitched to his breeches, Boyle lost his way and flew south rather than north. The second leg of the Washington–Philadelphia–New York flight, however, took off and arrived in New York on schedule–without the Washington mail. The distance of the route was 218 miles, and one round trip per day was made six days a week. Army Air Service pilots flew the route until August 10, 1918, when the Post Office Department took over the entire operation with its own planes and pilots.
1918 – Pfc. Henry Johnson and Pfc. Needham Roberts received the Croix de Guerre for their services in World War I. They were the first Americans to win France’s highest military medal.
1940 – USS Sailfish is recommissioned. It was originally the USS Squalus. USS Sailfish (SS-192), a Sargo-class submarine, was originally named Squalus. Her keel was laid on 18 October 1937 by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, as Squalus, the only ship of the United States Navy named for the squalus. She was launched on 14 September 1938 sponsored by Mrs. Thomas C. Hart (wife of the Admiral), and commissioned on 1 March 1939, with Lieutenant Oliver F. Naquin in command. Due to mechanical failure, Squalus sank during a test dive on 23 May 1939. She was raised, renamed, and recommissioned as Sailfish.
1942 – Gasoline rationing went into effect in 17 states, limiting sales to 3 gallons a week for nonessential vehicles.
1942 – First Naval Air Transport Service flight across Pacific.
1942 – A bill establishing a women’s corps in the U.S. Army becomes law, creating the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACs) and granting women official military status. In May 1941, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts, the first congresswoman ever from New England, introduced legislation that would enable women to serve in the Army in noncombat positions. Rogers was well suited for such a task; during her husband John J. Rogers’ term as congressman, Rogers was active as a volunteer for the Red Cross, the Women’s Overseas League, and military hospitals. Because of her work inspecting field and base hospitals, President Warren G. Harding, in 1922, appointed her as his personal representative for inspections and visits to veterans’ hospitals throughout the country. She was eventually appointed to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, as chairwoman in the 80th and 83rd Congresses. The bill to create a Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps would not be passed into law for a year after it was introduced (the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a great incentive). But finally, the WAACs gained official status and salary-but still not all the benefits accorded to men. Thousands of women enlisted in light of this new legislation, and in July 1942, the “auxiliary” was dropped from the name, and the Women’s Army Corps, or WACs, received full Army benefits in keeping with their male counterparts. The WACs performed a wide variety of jobs, “releasing a man for combat,” as the Army, sensitive to public misgivings about women in the military, touted. But those jobs ranged from clerk to radio operator, electrician to air-traffic controller. Women served in virtually every theater of engagement, from North Africa to Asia. It would take until 1978 before the Army would become sexually integrated, and women participating as merely an “auxiliary arm” in the military would be history. And it would not be until 1980 that 16,000 women who had joined the earlier WAACs would receive veterans’ benefits.

The women in this photo, dated Jan. 29, 1943, were bound for North Africa with the first WAAC detachment to be sent abroad.
1943 – On Attu, fighting continues in the Clevesy Pass. Japanese forces hold the high ground and offer determined resistance to the American attacks. Forces of the US 5th Army assault the German-held Senger Line. The French Expeditionary Corps attacks Pico; the Canadian 1st Corps attacks Pontecorvo; and the Polish 2nd Corps attacks Piedimonte San Germano.
1944 – American forces have eliminated the Japanese garrison on Wadke, New Guinea. On the mainland, nearby, Japanese forces conduct weak attacks near Arare.
1944 – American aircraft the carriers of Task Group 58.2 (Admiral Montgomery) conduct a raid.
1945 – On 12 May the Coast Guard-manned frigate USS Forsyth (PF-102) was called off her weather station to search through haze and fog for a German submarine that was attempting to surrender. Three days later Forsyth joined Sutton (DE-771) in accepting the surrender of U-234 at 46º 39′ N. x 45º 39′ W. This submarine was carrying a German technical mission and supplies, including a cargo of uranium, to Tokyo. Earlier, two Japanese passengers on board had committed suicide rather than surrender.
1945 – On Okinawa, American troops secure Chocolate Drop Hill after fighting in the interconnecting tunnels. Elements of the 1st Marine Division, part of US 3rd Amphibious Corps, capture Wana Ridge. Elements of the US 6th Marine Division, part of the same corps, begin mopping up operations in the Japanese held caves of the Horseshoe and Half Moon positions. They use flame-throwers and hollow-charge weapons and seal off some Japanese troops. Japanese forces counterattack on the Horseshoe position suffering an estimated 200 killed. To the east, the US 7th and 96th Divisions, of US 24th Corps, continue to be engaged in the capture of Yonabaru.
1945 – On Mindanao, the US 31st Division, part of US 10th Corps, advances northward and occupies positions near the town of Malaybalay and encounter Japanese artillery fire. Other units advance north of Davao and resist nighttime counterattacks.
1951 – After the quick rout of two South Korean divisions by an attack of some 120,000 Communist Chinese troops, the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, supported by intense and accurate 105mm howitzer fire from Wyoming’s 300th Armored Field Artillery Battalion stemmed the enemy assault long enough for American positions to stabilize. For its determined resistance in the Battle of Soyang the 300th was awarded a Distinguished (now known as a Presidential) Unit Citation.
1952 – Air Force First Lieutenant James H. Kasler, 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing, became the war’s 15th ace after downing two MiGs for a total of five kills.
1953 – Cubmaster Don Murphy organized the first pinewood derby, in Manhattan Beach, California, by Pack 280c.
1960 – Theodore Maiman operates the first optical laser (a ruby laser), at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California.
1962 – US marines “arrived” in Laos.
1963 – Gordon Cooper is launched into space aboard Faith 7 on the longest American space mission to that date. Faith 7 was the capstone of Project Mercury, the NASA program that put the first American into space in 1961 and the first astronaut into orbit in 1962. Cooper completed 22 orbits of the earth and spent 34 hours in space. He was the first American astronaut to spend more than a day in space. On the afternoon of May 16, Faith 7 landed safely in the Pacific Ocean, four miles from the recovery ship Kearsarge. Cooper was honored by parades in Hawaii and Washington, D.C., where he addressed a joint session of Congress, and in New York City, where he was greeted by a massive ticker-tape crowd. Later Shawnee, Oklahoma–Cooper’s hometown–celebrated the return of the sixth Mercury astronaut from space.
1967 – The Defense Department announces that a US F-105 Thunderchief may have crashed in Communist China after being hit during a raid on the Kep area in North Vietnam.
1967 – U.S. forces just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) come under heavy fire as Marine positions between Dong Ha and Con Thien are pounded by North Vietnamese artillery. At the same time, more than 100 Americans were killed or wounded during heavy fighting along the DMZ. On May 17 and 18, the Con Thien base was shelled heavily. Dong Ha, Gio Linh, Cam Lo, and Camp Carroll were also bombarded. On May 18, a force of 5,500 U.S. and South Vietnamese troops invaded the southeastern section of the DMZ to smash a communist build up in the area and to deny the use of the zone as an infiltration route into South Vietnam. On May 19, the U.S. State Department said the offensive in the DMZ was “purely a defensive measure” against a “considerable buildup of North Vietnam troops.” The North Vietnamese government on May 21 called the invasion of the zone “a brazen provocation” that “abolished the buffer character of the DMZ as provided by the Geneva agreements.”
1968 – U.S. Marines relieved army troops in Nhi Ha, South Vietnam after a fourteen-day battle.
1968 – To break an impasse at the Paris talks, the US asks that the meeting be moved into secret session.
1969 – At approximately 8:30 P.M. (Pacific Daylight Time), the nuclear powered attack submarine Guitarro (SSN-665) sank while tied up to the dock at the Mare Island site of the San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard. The ship had been under construction since August 1965, and was due to be commissioned in January 1970. Sinking was caused by uncontrolled flooding within the forward part of the ship. It was refloated at 11:18 A.M. (PDT), Sunday, May 18, and after inspection damages were estimated at between $15.2 million and $21.85 million. As a result of an investigation a Congressional Subcommittee concluded that, although the sinking of the USS Guitarro was accidental, the immediate cause of the sinking was the culpable negligence of certain shipyard employees.
1970 – President Richard Nixon appoints Anna Mae Hays and Elizabeth P. Hoisington the first female United States Army Generals.
1972 – Led by a platoon of 30 Soldiers flown in by helicopter, South Vietnamese troops retake Fire Base Bastogne, a matter of strategic importance, as the recapture should prevent the Communists from moving their heavy artillery to within shelling distance of Hue.
1972 – The US announces the movement of a seventh aircraft carrier, the USS Ticonderoga and six other destroyer type warships to Vietnam.
1975 – Merchant ship U.S. Mayaguez was recaptured from Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. Some 200 Marines stormed the island of Koh Tang to rescue the crew of the Mayaguez, but the crew had been moved. The Marines fought all day against the Khmer Rouge and escaped by helicopter in the evening. Three comrades were left behind and later died under the Khmer Rouge. The crew was freed about the same time that the Marine assault began.
1988 – More than eight years after they intervened in Afghanistan to support the procommunist government, Soviet troops begin their withdrawal. The event marked the beginning of the end to a long, bloody, and fruitless Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In December 1979, Soviet troops first entered Afghanistan in an attempt to bolster the communist, pro-Soviet government threatened by internal rebellion. In a short period of time, thousands of Russian troops and support materials poured into Afghanistan. Thus began a frustrating military conflict with Afghan Muslim rebels, who despised their own nation’s communist government and the Soviet troops supporting it. During the next eight years, the two sides battled for control in Afghanistan, with neither the Soviets nor the rebels ever able to gain a decisive victory. For the Soviet Union, the intervention proved extraordinarily costly in a number of ways. While the Soviets never released official casualty figures for the war in Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence sources estimated that as many as 15,000 Russian troops died in Afghanistan, and the economic cost to the already struggling Soviet economy ran into billions of dollars. The intervention also strained relations between the Soviet Union and the United States nearly to the breaking point. President Jimmy Carter harshly criticized the Russian action, stalled talks on arms limitations, issued economic sanctions, and even ordered a boycott of the 1980 Olympics held in Moscow. By 1988, the Soviets decided to extricate itself from the situation. Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev saw the Afghan intervention as an increasing drain on the Soviet economy, and the Russian people were tired of a war that many Westerners referred to as “Russia’s Vietnam.” For Afghanistan, the Soviet withdrawal did not mean an end to the fighting, however. The Muslim rebels eventually succeeded in establishing control over Afghanistan in 1992.
1996 – US Navy Admiral Jeremy Boorda committed suicide shortly before answering questions from Newsweek Magazine about his right to wear certain combat pins. Admiral Jeremy “Mike” Boorda, the nation’s top Navy officer, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after some of his military awards were called into question.
1996 – The Coast Guard formally closed Governors Island. The Army left the base in the early 1960s and the Coast Guard took it over on 3 June 1966 as a way to consolidate its operations in the New York Area. At the height of Coast Guard involvement on the island over 4,600 people lived and worked there.
1997 – Space shuttle Atlantis blasted off on a mission to deliver urgently needed repair equipment and a fresh American astronaut to Russia’s orbiting Mir station.
1997 – The United States government acknowledges the existence of the “Secret War” in Laos and dedicates the Laos Memorial in honor of Hmong and other “Secret War” veterans.
1999 – US warplanes attacked Iraqi air defense sites after being targeted by radar.
2002 – The White House acknowledged that in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush was told by U.S. intelligence that Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network might hijack American airplanes, but that officials did not know that suicide hijackers were plotting to use planes as missiles.
2003 – The Development Fund for Iraq was established to fund reconstruction projects with Iraqi oil revenue.
2003 – US Army forces stormed into a village near the northern city of Tikrit before dawn, seizing more than 260 prisoners, including one man on the most-wanted list of former Iraqi officials.
2004 – U.S. forces fought militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Karbala, while insurgents in the northern city of Mosul attacked an Iraqi army recruiting center, killing four people and wounding 19.
2007 – Space Shuttle Atlantis rolls out to launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for the STS-117 mission to the International Space Station. The rollout is the second for the mission, as Atlantis’s External Tank was damaged during a hailstorm on February 26, leading to the shuttle being rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for repairs.
2007 – Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute has been chosen to be President Bush’s “war czar,” overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
2014 – Shinseki testifies before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “Any allegation, any adverse incident like this makes me mad as hell,” he says. At the same hearing, acting Inspector General Richard Griffin tells lawmakers that federal prosecutors are working with his office looking into allegations veterans died while waiting for appointments.

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