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Today in U.S. military history: Apollo 14, and human shields in Iraq

1865: Robert E. Lee is promoted to General-in-Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States. Lee is the only man to hold the prestigious rank during the Confederacy’s brief existence.

1917: Kaiser Wilhelm orders the Imperial German Navy’s fleet of 105 U-boats to resume their campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare, effectively causing the United States to enter World War I. No vessel – civilian or naval – is safe, and war’s end, German subs will have sent 5,000 ships to the bottom.

1945: U.S. Army Private Eddie Slovik is executed by firing squad near Sainte Marie-aux-Mines, France for abandoning his rifle company after admitting he is “too scared” for combat. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower personally signs the execution order to discourage further desertions. To date, Slovik remains the only American shot for desertion since the Civil War.

1950: To regain the upper hand in the nuclear arms race, President Harry S. Truman announces a program that would create a thermonuclear weapon, many times more powerful than the atomic weapon the Soviet Union recently tested.

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Today in U.S. military history: The Great Raid

Today’s post is in honor of Sgt. Alejandro Carrillo, who was killed during combat operations on this day in 2007 in Iraq’s Anbar province. The 22-year-old from Los Angeles was on his second deployment to Iraq and was assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 7, Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force.

1862: The U.S. Navy’s first ironclad ship, USS Monitor, is launched at Greenpoint, N.Y. Designed by Swedish engineer John Ericsson, the turreted gunship will make history in March when she trades shots with the Confederate ironclad Virginia (a vessel built from the previously scuttled USS Merrimac) in a duel that ends with a draw at Hampton Roads, Virginia.

1942: A formation of over 50 Japanese bombers target Singapore harbor — unprotected by either fighters or anti-aircraft guns. Among the enemy bombardiers’ targets is USS Wakefield, a former luxury ocean liner, until her conversion to a troop transport in 1941. Wakefield had just disembarked 20,000 British troops, destined to surrender in just two weeks when Singapore falls to the Japanese.

Five Coast Guardsmen perish during the attack — the service’s first casualties of World War II. After some quick repairs, Wakefield loads about 500 women and children fleeing the Japanese and carries them to Sri Lanka.

USS Wakefield, which until June 1941 was the United States Lines’ SS Manhattan

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Today in U.S. military history: The Battle of Khafji

Today’s post is in honor of Pfc. Scott A. Schroeder, who was one of several Marines killed on this day in 1991 during the Battle of Khafji (see below.) The 19-year-old from Wauwatosa, Wisc. was assigned to the 3rd Light Armored Infantry Battalion.

1863: Following a series of clashes between white settlers and the Shoshone Indians, Col. Patrick E. Connor’s 3rd California Volunteer Infantry Regiment attacks a Shoshone encampment in Washington Territory (present day Utah-Idaho border). Hundreds of Shoshone and 21 Union soldiers are killed in the Battle (or massacre) of Bear River.

1943: As Task Force 18 brings American replacement troops to Guadalcanal, Japanese land-based torpedo bombers attack the flotilla, sinking the heavy cruiser USS Chicago (CA-29) and damaging a destroyer. The American warships withdraw after the Battle of Rennell Island – the last major naval engagement of the Guadalcanal campaign – opening the door for the Japanese evacuation of Guadalcanal.

1944: Maj. Gen. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle’s Eighth Air Force bombers and escorts take off from fields across England for their largest bombing mission of the war to that point. Over 800 B-17s and B-24s target the German cities of Frankfurt and Ludwigshaven. 29 heavy bombers are lost and another five are shot up badly enough to be scrapped after limping back across the channel. 22 American airmen are killed and 299 are listed as missing in action, but the gunners and P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt, and P-51 Mustang escort pilots claim over 150 German warplanes and damage dozens more.

Eighth Air Force B-17s in formation. This bomber was one of 19 bombers shot down during a massive 1,100-bomber raid on Leipzig on 20 July 1944. Liberty Run was crippled by flak and crashed south of Aschaffenberg, Germany on 20 July 1944. The “A” inside the triangle on the tailfin shows that this bomber belongs to the 1st Combat Wing’s 91st Bomb Group (Heavy), flying out of RAF Bassingbourn.

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Today in U.S. military history: Space Shuttle Challenger lifts off for last time

Today’s post is in honor of Seaman Apprentice William Flores, who was one of 23 Coast Guardsmen that perished on this day in 1980 when USCGC Blackthorn collides with another vessel. Flores, 18, of Carlsbad, N.M., was posthumously awarded the Coast Guard Medal — the service’s highest non-combat award for heroism — for tossing life jackets to guardsmen that had jumped overboard, then remained aboard the sinking vessel to assist injured and disoriented crew, sacrificing his life to save his shipmates.

1915: Pres. Woodrow Wilson signs into law the congressionally approved merger of the “Life Saving” and “Revenue Cutter” services, thus establishing the U.S. Coast Guard. Still, the officially recognized birthday of the Coast Guard is Aug. 4, 1790, the day Congress approved Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s proposal to “build ten cutters to protect the new nation’s revenue.”

1945: The Eighth Air Force celebrates its third birthday by sending 1,006 B-24 and B-17 bombers and 249 P-51 escorts to Dortmund, Germany on Mission 809 — a raid on marshaling yards, bridges and benzol plants, and other targets of opportunity. German air defenses shoot down seven B-24s and three B-17s, damage 464 bombers, and upon landing, another four bombers are damaged beyond repair. 16 airmen are killed, 31 wounded, and 106 missing in action.

By this time, the Mighty Eighth had flown more than 250,000 bomber and 210,000 fighter sorties, delivering well over half a million tons of bombs and destroying 13,000 enemy planes.

1966: Marines hit the beaches of the South Vietnam’s Quang Ngai province in the first amphibious landing since Korea. The Americans meet little resistance as they head inland, then move to cut off retreating North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces.

1973: B-52s carried out their final combat sortie in Southeast Asia — striking targets in South Vietnam. Operation ARC LIGHT had started in 1965.

Bomb blasts from a B-52 “Arc Light” strike. A B-52D, like the bomber which left the destruction seen above, could carry 108 500-lb. bombs, or a mixed load of 64 500-lb. bombs in the bomb bay and 24 750-lb. bombs on underwing pylons.

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Today in U.S. military history: 1995 – the closest we ever came to nuclear war

Today’s post is in honor of Staff Sgt. Christopher Bunda, who died on this day in 2004 when his boat capsized during a patrol on the Tigris River in Iraq. Bunda, 29, of Bremer, Wash. was assigned to 2d Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Regiment and was one of four U.S. soldiers joining the Iraqi police during a river patrol. During the search for Bunda and the Iraqi policemen — the other three Americans made it to shore safely — an OH-58D Kiowa helicopter hit a power line and crashed into the river, killing 1st Lt. Adam G. Mooney and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Patrick D. Dorff.

1787: Former Continental Army captain Daniel Shays leads a group of 2,000 American rebels on a raid against the Springfield (Mass.) armory, hoping to obtain rifles. 1,200 militia meet Shays’ force, turning the attackers away by firing grapeshot into their ranks and killing four. Shays is tried and sentenced to be hanged, but the veteran of the Boston, Bunker Hill, Lexington, and Saratoga battles – who was wounded during the war and served five years without pay – is pardoned and given a pension instead.

1856: Marines and seamen from the sloop-of-war USS Decatur land at Seattle to protect settlers from an Indian attack. The Battle of Seattle lasted seven hours and the Indians suffered severe casualties, while only two settlers died.

1939: In a basement of New York City’s Columbia University, scientists split the uranium atom for the first time. This newly discovered fission reaction will be harnessed and turned into atomic weapons in six years.

1946: (Featured image) In the skies over Florida’s Pinecastle Army Airfield (now the site of Orlando International Airport), Bell Aircraft Corporation’s first XS-1 supersonic research plane, 46-062, cuts loose from its B-29 mothership for the craft’s initial flight. In October of the following year, Capt. Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager will push 46-062 — now named Glamorous Glennis — past the sound barrier.

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Today in U.S. military history: a secret Space Shuttle mission

Today’s post is in honor of the crew of FROSH 10, a B-52C that crashed into a mountain in Maine during a training mission on this day in 1963. The airmen were testing terrain-following radar and flying at near-treetop levels when they encountered severe turbulence from the mountains, completely shearing off their rear stabilizer. While the pilot and navigator survived, Maj. Robert J. Morrison, Lt. Col Joe R. Simpson, Jr., Maj. William W. Gabriel, Maj. Robert J. Hill, Jr., Capt. Herbert L. Hansen, Capt. Charles G. Leuchter and Tech. Sgt. Michael F. O’Keefe of the 99th Bombardment Wing, Heavy perished.

1847: Col. Sterling Price (future major general in the Confederate Army) learns a force of nearly 2,000 Mexicans and Pueblo Indians is preparing to assault U.S.-held Santa Fe, in modern-day New Mexico. He assembles his 353 soldiers, militia, and volunteers and heads out to meet the enemy, which occupy houses and the heights overlooking Price’s position.

Despite the terrain disadvantage and five-to-one numerical odds, Price’s heavily outnumbered force routs the insurgents.”In a few minutes,” Price reported, “my troops had dislodged the enemy at all points, and they were flying in every direction.”

1944: As Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas’ VI Corps expand the beachhead at Anzio, Adolf Hitler orders his troops to defend the Gustav Line (situated between Anzio and Monte Cassino) to the last man. The nihilistic dictator’s order comes a year — to the day — after ordering Gen. Friedrich Paulus’ shattered Sixth Army to fight to the death at Stalingrad. Paulus and his men only hold out for another week.

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Today in U.S. military history: North Koreans capture USS Pueblo

Today’s post is in honor of Fireman Duane Hodges, who on this day in 1968, was killed by enemy fire while serving aboard USS Pueblo in the Sea of Japan. The 21-year-old sailor from Creswell, Ore. was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

1870: Following the murder of a Montana rancher and his son, Col. Eugene Baker forms a band of infantry and cavalry, leaving Fort Ellis (near modern-day Bozeman) in search of the Blackfoot indians responsible for the attack. Coming across a Blackfoot encampment, Baker orders his men to attack the camp, not caring if it was the correct group or not.

The soldiers open fire, killing nearly 200 Blackfeet – mostly women and children. Those that survived the brutal attack were left to the sub-zero temperatures without shelter. The massacre sparks public outrage. President Ulysses S. Grant, wanting a “peace policy” with Native Americans, ends the Army’s hopes of taking over Indian affairs by appointing civilian ministers instead.

1945: With the Soviet Army approaching, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz orders the evacuation of German citizens and troops from East Prussia, Courland, and the Polish Corridor. Hundreds of merchant vessels and German warships transporting nearly a million civilians and 350,000 troops, making Operation “Hannibal” three times larger than the famous British evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940.

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Today in U.S. military history: VI Corps lands at Anzio

Today’s post is in honor of 1st Lt. Nainoa K. Hoe, who was killed by an enemy sniper on this date in 2005 in Mosul, Iraq. The 27-year-old from Kailua, Hawaii was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division.

1944: Allied forces, including the U.S. VI Corps under the command of Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas (of Lt. Gen. Mark Clark’s Fifth Army), begin a series of landings along a stretch of western Italian coastline in the Anzio-Nettuno area. The Allies achieve complete surprise against – and encounter little initial resistance from – the Germans, but the landings, codenamed Operation SHINGLE, kick off what will become one of the most grueling campaigns of World War II.

To distract from the Anzio landings, Gen. Clark’s forces attack key positions along the Rapido River. Company F of the 143rd Infantry Regiment is handed the responsibility of charging across the bridge targeted by artillery and mortars and into a killzone of withering machinegun fire. Staff Sgt. Thomas E. McCall and several of his men make it across the ice-covered bridge, and he quickly reassembles what remains his soldiers. They maneuver across open, muddy terrain and barbed wire to a spot where McCall orders his two squads to set up their machine guns. But enemy artillery quickly wipes out all of McCall’s men and one of the guns. McCall drags the wounded to cover and provides first aid, then grabs the last surviving machinegun and runs toward the enemy machinegun positions. He charges into one, killing its occupants, then wipes out another. McCall is last seen charging into a third enemy machinegun position, and will be captured by the Germans.

McCall is awarded the Medal of Honor, and will fight again in Korea. The Battle of Rapido river was considered one of the worst defeats for the U.S. Army during World War II and was the subject of a Congressional investigation following the war.

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