1781: Continental Army forces — including infantry, cavalry, dragoons (horse-mounted infantry), and militia – under the command of Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan, clash with a better-equipped, more-experienced force of British Army regulars and Loyalists under the command of Lt. Col. Banastre “Bloody Ban” Tarleton in a sprawling pastureland known as Hannah’s Cowpens in the South Carolina upcountry.
The Battle of Cowpens ends in a decisive victory for Morgan – who defeats Tarleton in a classic double-envelopment – and a near-irrevocable loss of men, equipment, and reputation for the infamous Tarleton and his “British Legion.”
1966: A nuclear-equipped B-52 bomber flying an Operation “Chrome Dome” airborne alert mission off the coast of Spain collides with a KC-135 “Stratotanker” during refueling, destroying both planes. Four B28 thermonuclear weapons fall from the sky; three landing near the village of Palomares and one sinks in the Mediterranean Sea in what is one of the worst nuclear disasters in U.S. military history.
Two of the weapons’ conventional charges went off upon impact, spreading small amounts of contamination, one lands largely intact, and after two-and-a-half months of searching, crews locate and recover the fourth device which had been sitting 2,850 feet below the surface. Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear – the Navy’s first black diver – will lose his leg in the recovery operation and will later return to duty despite being an amputee. His incredible story is portrayed in the 2000 film Men of Honor, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Master Chief Petty Officer Brashear.
1991: A massive U.S. and coalition air campaign continues to pound the Iraq’ air force and air defense systems, expanding the attacks to include Saddam Hussein’s command and control infrastructure. Meanwhile, the dictator fires eight Soviet-built “Scud” ballistic missiles into Israel. Saddam sought to draw Israel into the campaign, which he hoped would split Arab nations from the coalition as they would be unlikely to fight alongside Israel. President George H.W. Bush convinces the Israelis not to enter the war and pledges to deploy U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missiles to protect against further attacks.
1776: Although the Continental Congress voted to establish “the thirteen united [sic] States of America” on July 2 and adopted Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence two days later, congressional delegates sign the Declaration on this date. The most famous inscription belongs to John Hancock, the president of Congress, who is said to have declared, “There, I guess King George will be able to read that without his spectacles,” after adding his rather substantial signature.
1909: After a successful demonstration for the military by Orville Wright, the Army Signal Corps purchases a Wright Flyer for $30,000 (the equivalent of $800,000 today). The two-seat “Signal Corps Airplane No. 1” will train America’s first military pilots at College Park, Md. and Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio over the next two years – crashing several times – before it’s retirement. Today, the legendary aircraft hangs in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
1934: Upon the death of German president Paul von Hindenberg, Chancellor Adolf Hitler begins his “thousand-year Reich,” assuming full dictatorial powers as Reichsführer. Also on this date, Hitler changes the military oath so that the Wehrmacht swears allegiance to him instead of Germany.
1944: Convoy HX 300, the largest convoy of World War II, safely crosses the Atlantic, bringing over 1 million tons of supplies to ports in the United Kingdom. 32 escort vessels protected the 155 cargo ships, and the formation spanned nine miles across and four miles long. Not a single ship was attacked by a German submarine.
1950: As the North Korean Army bears down on the American and UN forces occupying the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade lands at Pusan and mans the Pusan Perimeter’s left flank.
1964: The destroyer USS Maddox (DD-731), supporting South Vietnamese covert operations against the North in the Gulf of Tonkin, is attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Within days, Congress would pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, paving the way for full-scale conflict in Vietnam.
1990: At 2a.m., several divisions of the Iraqi military’s elite Republican Guards cross into Kuwait, beginning a seven-month occupation of the neighboring state. The United States will lead a 35-nation coalition to liberate Kuwait in January.
1966: During a test flight of the North American XB-70 “Valkyrie,” an experimental six-engine bomber capable of flying at three times the speed of sound, an F-104 “Starfighter” chase plane collides with the Valkyrie, sending the bomber spiraling out of control and instantly killing the pilot of the chase plane, Joseph A. Walker – a former Army Air Force captain, fighter pilot during World War II, NASA chief test pilot, and the first U.S. civilian to fly high enough to be considered “spaceflight.” The Valkyrie’s pilot manages to eject, but the co-pilot is trapped inside the stricken warplane and crashes into the ground near Barstow, Calif. The Air Force backs out of the Valkyrie program shortly after the collision.
1967: During the Six-Day War between Israel and Arab nations, the technical research ship USS Liberty (AGTR-5), a converted World War II freighter, is attacked by Israeli fighter jets and torpedo boats in Mediterranean, killing 34 sailors and injuring nearly 200. The ship was operating 30 miles north of the Sinai Peninsula, gathering electronic intelligence during Israel’s brief conflict with the Soviet-supported Arabs.
Crews frantically work to save the vessel, which was nearly broken in half. Liberty’s skipper, Cmdr. William McGonagle, receives the Medal of Honor for his actions in an atypical private ceremony. Although the details surrounding the incident are still unclear 50 years later, Israel immediately apologizes for the incident, citing fog of war, and offers compensation to the sailors’ families.
1991: Hundreds of thousands gather to see Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf lead a victory parade through Washington, D.C. following Operation Desert Storm. A flyover of F-117 stealth fighters kicks off the parade, while tanks and thousands of troops pass in front of Pres. George H.W. Bush and other officials.
1995: Nearly a week after a Bosnian-Serb surface to air missile shoots down his F-16C “Fighting Falcon,” Capt. Scott O’Grady radios for help. The Air Force pilot has been behind enemy lines evading his would-be captors for six days, and searching for a safe location suitable for landing a helicopter. Within hours, a 41-man Marine Corps specially trained rescue unit boards two CH-53 “Super Stallion” helicopters, accompanied by attack helicopters and some 40 other aircraft. Although the helicopters take fire on the return trip, O’Grady is recovered and no one is injured in the daring mission.