Today in History, October 22, 1797:
– Can you imagine being the very first person to decide dropping from a high altitude supported by a canopy of silk was a good idea? On this date in 1797 André-Jacques Garnerin was that person as he ascended to a height of 3200 feet with a hydrogen balloon then cut himself loose to drift over Paris with a parachute he designed.
Today in History, July 14, 1919:
US Airman Quentin Roosevelt, youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, dies when he is shot down over France in WWI.
He and his brothers, who all served in WWI were very competitive in the voracity of their service, trying to live up to their father’s exploits…a father who also wanted to serve but was refused due to President Wilson’s fear that TR’s service might lead to a run for President in 1920. TR wouldn’t live that long…and he spent his last years heartbroken over the loss of his youngest son.
TR Jr. would die of a heart attack just weeks after leading his division in the Normandy invasion of 1944…again living up to his father’s legacy. A family of immense wealth; several generations of which dedicated their lives to service to their country.
Today in History, June 19, 1864:
The Battle off Cherbourg. In 1861 the screw sloop CSS Alabama was launched in England, which was just the beginning of the intrigue involving the Confederate cruiser that wreaked havoc on Union shipping until her demise on this date in 1864.
The British gov’t had ordered no ships be built or sold to the rebels, but the company that built the Alabama did so clandestinely. During the intervening years the Alabama, which had both steam engines and sails, circled the globe sinking Union merchant shipping (60 at least) and a Union warship.
She had put in at Cherbourg, France for much needed repairs, but was rebuffed. Before she could leave, the Union screw sloop USS Kearsarge arrived outside the harbor.
Capt. Charles Pickering and many other Union Captains had been searching for the infamous Alabama and Capt. Raphael Semmes for years. Semmes set out to engage the Kearsarge, firing the first shot. The two ships parried, but the Kearsarge had some advantages; powerful new “Dahlgren” guns and chains draped over her sides for protection. Within an hour the Kearsarge’s crew sent the Alabama to the bottom. Semmes escaped on a passing British ship to England with 41 of his crew.
Today in History, June 10, 1944:
Oradour-sur-Glane, France. Elements of the Nazi SS, acting on belief that one of their officers had been captured by members of the French Resistance, rounded up every citizen of the town and 6 hapless passersby. They locked all of the women and children in a church, then took all of the men to barns, where machine gun nests were already set up. The men were intentionally shot in the legs so that they would die more slowly…once they were all unable to move, the Nazis poured gasoline over them and set the barns afire.
They then returned to the church, where they set off an incendiary device inside. As the church burned, women and children tried to climb out of windows…where they were machine-gunned. 642 innocent civilians were slaughtered.
1944 – Distomo, Greece. In retaliation for a partisan attack, German SS troops go house to house in the village (whose residents had nothing to do with the attack), killing every man woman and child, totaling 218 dead in the end. They disemboweled one infant in front of his family and committed numerous other atrocities before burning the village.
Today in History, June 6, 1944:
The skies overhead filled with aircraft…thousands of bombers, transports, fighters. The British populace watched the boys board transport ships bound for France…and wept. Their towns, so long filled with those damned Americans were now quiet and empty. They wouldn’t be coming back. Many would fill cemeteries across Europe; others would be headed home for the US after fighting their way to Germany.
In America, as the news was broadcast that the invasion had begun at long last, businesses, theaters, and other workplaces emptied and closed…and the churches filled to capacity.
Americans prayed for their sons, husbands and fathers. I’m sure they prayed not to see the Western Union courier on their street in the coming days.
The Allies had been planning, working for and arguing over this day since America had entered the war. Americans had wanted to make the assault on Europe as early as 1942. Stalin in Russia had been pushing for another front to be opened to relieve pressure on his country which had suffered incredible losses.
The British General Staff and Churchill had won the argument, which saw to fighting in Africa, Sicily and Italy first.
By 1944, as America provided more and more supplies…and troops…to the war, the invasion of France was planned.
The largest, most complex invasion in history began on June 6, 1944 with Americans, British, Canadians and troops from the occupied nations of Europe.
The world was saved by boys who should have lived long, happy lives.
We owe a debt we cannot possibly repay.
On that day, my father would be recognizing his 17th birthday. I don’t know when he shipped out, but that is the year he began his service in the Pacific.
Today in History, May 26: 1940 – Operation Dynamo, or the Evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France at Dunkirk, begins. The BEF had been sent to France after years of appeasement, when Hitler had invaded Poland in September of 1939. On May 10th Germany invaded France, which, although considered the largest army in Europe, promptly folded like an old lawn chair. The British, French and Belgian troops retreated to Dunkirk, where they faced certain defeat. The idea now was the evacuate across the English Channel, but the first day’s effort on saw the evacuation of 9,000 or so men. A call for assistance went out, and every Royal Navy vessel that could sail, every civilian yacht, fishing vessel and others that could sail for Dunkirk, did so. In the end, 9 days later, more than 338,000 soldiers had been rescued; the best and brightest of the British armed forces that would be needed in the years to come.