1945: The aircraft carrier USS Franklin sails to within 50 miles of the Japanese mainland – closer than any U.S. carrier during World War II. A lone Japanese bomber slips through the flattop’s defenses and hits Franklin with two armor-piercing bombs. The bombs detonate below the flight deck, igniting fires and devastating the ship. Around 800 sailors are killed and another 400 wounded – the highest casualties for a surviving ship during the war.
“Big Ben’s” death toll would have been far higher were it not for men like Lt. (j.g.) Donald A. Gary, who earned the Medal of Honor when he located a blacked-out mess compartment holding 300 trapped sailors. Gary made repeated trips through the ship, guiding the men to (relative) safety.
1989: The jointly developed Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey makes its maiden flight. The U.S. military’s first tiltrotor aircraft will not enter service until 2007.
1992: Two F-15 Eagles intercept a pair of Russian Tu-95 “Bear” bombers near the Alaskan coast – the first such confrontation since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
2003: Acting on intelligence indicating Saddam Hussein was visiting his sons at a location called Dora Farms, a pair of F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters level the compound with bunker buster bombs. Unfortunately, the dictator was not there. Meanwhile, U.S. ships and subs launch 40 cruise missiles at three targets in Baghdad, special operations forces knock out dozens of Iraqi observation posts along the border, and teams blow holes in the sand berms in preparation for the invasion.
Operation IRAQI FREEDOM has begun.