Today we honor the 20 sailors killed aboard USS NEWPORT NEWS (CA-148) on this date in 1971 when an 8-inch shell detonated in the bore of the Number 2 turret during combat operations off the coast of North Vietnam. Lost were: Seaman Apprentice Herman C. Acker (19 years old, from Reserve, La.), Seaman Jack S. Bergman, Jr. (20, Baltimore), Boatswain’s Mate Third Class William Clark, Jr. (22, Vienna, Ga.), Gunner’s Mate Third Class Charles W. Clinard (21, Maysfield, Texas), Seaman Apprentice Ronald P. Daley (20, Marshfield, Mass.), Seaman Recruit Raymond R. Davis (19, Shreveport, La.), Seaman Terry W. Deal (21, Taylorsville, N.C.), Seaman Joseph Grisafi (21, Springfield, Pa.), Seaman Apprentice William Harrison III (19, Clifton Forge, Va.), Gunner’s Mate Second Class Tommy M. Hawker (27, Sutherlin, Va.), Seaman Apprentice Robert M. Kikkert (18, Muster, Ind.), Seaman Edward R. McEleney, Jr. (19, Medford, Mass.), Seaman Apprentice Robert T. Moore (20, Philadelphia), Seaman Apprentice Stanley G. Pilot, Jr. (18, Salisbury, N.C.), Seaman Ralph L. Robinson (20, Baltimore), Gunner’s Mate First Class Wesley H. Rose (37, Indianapolis), Seaman Apprentice Ricky L. Rucker (18, Baltimore), Seaman Apprentice Jeffrey L. Scheller (18, Rahway, N.J.), Seaman David L. Scott (18, Seymour, Mo.), and Seaman Richard C. Tessman (18, Seymour, Mo.). 36 others were wounded before damage control parties brought the blaze under control.
1918: When German soldiers attack the lines of the 110th Infantry Regiment, Irish immigrant and U.S. Army Maj. Joseph H. Thompson courageously defies enemy machinegun and artillery fire to encourage his troops, repulsing two separate assaults. Later, when his troops are stalled by enemy machinegun and anti-tank fire, which disabled all but one of the American tanks, Maj. Thompson charged forward of his line on three occasions through withering fire to guide the last remaining tank to a position where it could neutralize the machinegun nest. For his actions, Maj. Thompson was awarded the Medal of Honor.
In 1971, “Colonel Joe” Thompson, a former football star and successful coach at the University of Pittsburgh before leaving to fight in Mexico and World War I, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
1947: (Featured image) Former World War II ace George Welch climbs into the cockpit of his North American Aviation XF-86 for the maiden flight of the Sabre. When the Korean War breaks out, F-86 pilots will dominate the skies, with its pilots boasting a 10:1 kill ratio over the once-feared MiG-15s. Of 40 American aces, all but one accomplishes the feat in a Sabre.
1951: The Air Force activates the 1st Pilotless Bomber Squadron at the Missile Test Center, which is now part of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (Fla.). The squadron was armed with primitive cruise missiles (surface-to-surface) such as the Republic-Ford JB-2 – a copy of Nazi Germany’s V-1 buzzbomb – and the B-61 Matador missile, an improved design which could be armed with a 40-kiloton nuclear warhead.
Less than three years later, the unit (redesignated as the 1st Tactical Missile Squadron) deploys to West Germany’s Bitburg Air Base, becoming America’s first operational missile unit.
1955: America’s first supercarrier, USS Forrestal (CVA-59), is commissioned. Forrestal, with its angled flight deck and steam catapults, is the first flattop designed to operate jet aircraft.