Friday May 23, 2014 the 142nd day and 20th week of 2014, there are 223 days and 32 weeks left in the year. ?Highlights of today in world history…

1900 Forgotten Civil War hero honoured

Sergeant William Harvey Carney was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour for his bravery on July 18, 1863, while fighting for the Union cause as a member of the 54th Massachusetts Colour Infantry. He was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honour, which is the nation’s highest military honour.

The 54th Massachusetts, formed in early 1863, served as the prototype for African American regiments in the Union army. On July 16, 1863, the regiment saw its first action at James Island, South Carolina, performing admirably in a confrontation with experienced Confederate troops. Three days later, the 54th volunteered to lead the assault on Fort Wagner, a highly fortified outpost on Morris Island that was part of the Confederate defence of Charleston Harbour.

Struggling against a lethal barrage of cannon and rifle fire, the regiment fought their way to the top of the fort’s parapet over several hours. Sergeant William Harvey Carney was wounded there while planting the U.S. flag. The regiment’s white commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, was killed, and his soldiers were overwhelmed by the fort’s defenders and had to fall back. Despite his wound, Carney refused to retreat until he removed the flag, and though successful, he was shot again in the process. The 54th lost 281 of its 600 men in its brave attempt to take Fort Wagner, which throughout the war never fell by force of arms. The 54th went on to perform honourably in expeditions in Georgia and Florida, most notably at the Battle of Olustee. Carney eventually recovered and was discharged with disability on June 30, 1864.

1911 New York Public Library dedicated

In a ceremony presided over by President William Howard Taft, the New York Public Library, the largest marble structure ever constructed in the United States, was dedicated in New York City. Occupying a two-block section of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets, the monumental beaux-arts structure took 14 years to complete at a cost of $9 million. The day after its dedication, the library opened its doors to the public, and some 40,000 citizens passed through to make use of a collection that already consisted of more than a million books.

In the late 19th century, New York had surpassed Paris in population and was quickly catching up with London, then the world’s most populous city. Unlike these cities, however, it lacked a public library large enough to serve its many citizens. In 1886, former New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden died, bequeathing to the city $2.4 million to “establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York.” The gift remained unspent until May 23, 1895, when New York’s two largest libraries–the Astor and Lenox libraries–agreed to combine with the Tilden Trust to form a new entity that would be known as The New York Public Library. Sixteen years later to the day, the main branch of the library was dedicated in midtown Manhattan.

During the next few decades, thanks in large part to a $5.2 million gift from steel baron Andrew Carnegie, a system of branch libraries opened throughout New York City. Today, the New York Public Library is visited and used annually by more than 10 million people, and there are currently well over two million cardholders, more than for any other library system in the nation.

1934 Police kill famous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde

On this day in 1934, notorious criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are shot to death by Texas and Louisiana state police while driving a stolen car near Sailes, Louisiana.

Bonnie Parker met the charismatic Clyde Barrow in Texas when she was 19 years old and her husband (she married when she was 16) was serving time in jail for murder. Shortly after they met, Barrow was imprisoned for robbery. Parker visited him every day, and smuggled a gun into prison to help him escape, but he was soon caught in Ohio and sent back to jail. When Barrow was paroled in 1932, he immediately hooked up with Parker, and the couple began a life of crime together.

After they stole a car and committed several robberies, Parker was caught by police and sent to jail for two months. Released in mid-1932, she rejoined Barrow. Over the next two years, the couple teamed with various accomplices to rob a string of banks and stores across five states–Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Mexico and Louisiana. To law enforcement agents, the Barrow Gang–including Barrow’s childhood friend, Raymond Hamilton, W.D. Jones, Henry Methvin, Barrow’s brother Buck and his wife Blanche, among others–were cold-blooded criminals who didn’t hesitate to kill anyone who got in their way, especially police or sheriff’s deputies. Among the public, however, Parker and Barrow’s reputation as dangerous outlaws was mixed with a romantic view of the couple as “Robin Hood”-like folk heroes.

Their fame was increased by the fact that Bonnie was a woman–an unlikely criminal–and by the fact that the couple posed for playful photographs together, which were later found by police and released to the media. Police almost captured the famous duo twice in the spring of 1933, with surprise raids on their hideouts in Joplin and Platte City, Missouri. Buck Barrow was killed in the second raid, and Blanche was arrested, but Bonnie and Clyde escaped once again. In January 1934, they attacked the Eastham Prison Farm in Texas to help Hamilton break out of jail, shooting several guards with machine guns and killing one.

Texan prison officials hired a retired Texas police officer, Captain Frank Hamer, as a special investigator to track down Parker and Barrow. After a three-month search, Hamer traced the couple to Louisiana, where Henry Methvin’s family lived. Before dawn on May 23, Hamer and a group of Louisiana and Texas lawmen hid in the bushes along a country road outside Sailes. When Parker and Barrow appeared, the officers opened fire, killing the couple instantly in a hail of bullets.

All told, the Barrow Gang was believed responsible for the deaths of 13 people, including nine police officers. Parker and Barrow are still seen by many as romantic figures, however, especially after the success of the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.

1949 Federal Republic of Germany is established

The Federal Republic of Germany (popularly known as West Germany) was formally established as a separate and independent nation. This action marked the effective end to any discussion of reuniting East and West Germany.

In the period after World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones, with the British, French, Americans, and Soviets each controlling one zone. The city of Berlin was also divided in a like fashion. This arrangement was supposed to be temporary, but as Cold War animosities began to harden, it became increasingly evident that the division between the communist and non-communist controlled sections of Germany and Berlin would become permanent. In May 1946, the United States halted reparation payments from West Germany to the Soviet Union. In December, the United States and Great Britain combined their occupation zones into what came to be known as Bizonia. France agreed to become part of this arrangement, and in May 1949, the three zones became one.?

On May 23, the West German Parliamentary Council met and formally declared the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany. Although Konrad Adenauer, the president of the council and future president of West Germany, proudly proclaimed, “Today a new Germany arises,” the occasion was not a festive one. Many of the German representatives at the meeting were subdued, for they had harbored the faint hope that Germany might be reunified. Two communist members of the council refused to sign the proclamation establishing the new state.

The Soviets reacted quickly to the action in West Germany. In October 1949, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was officially announced. These actions in 1949 marked the end of any talk of a reunified Germany. For the next 41 years, East and West Germany served as symbols of the divided world, and of the Cold War animosities between the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1990, with Soviet strength ebbing and the Communist Party in East Germany steadily losing its grip on power, East and West Germany were finally reunited as one nation.

1960 Tsunami hits Hawaii

A tsunami caused by an earthquake off the coast of Chile travelled across the Pacific Ocean and kills 61 people in Hilo, Hawaii, on this day in 1960. The massive 8.5-magnitude quake had killed thousands in Chile the previous day.?

The earthquake, involving a severe plate shift, caused a large displacement of water off the coast of southern Chile at 3:11 p.m. Traveling at speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour, the tsunami moved west and north. On the west coast of the United States, the waves caused an estimated $1 million in damages, but were not deadly.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning System, established in 1948 in response to another deadly tsunami, worked properly and warnings were issued to Hawaiians six hours before the wave’s expected arrival. Some people ignored the warnings, however, and others actually headed to the coast in order to view the wave. Arriving only a minute after predicted, the tsunami destroyed Hilo Bay on the island of Hawaii. Thirty-five-foot waves bent parking meters to the ground and wiped away most buildings. A 10-ton tractor was swept out to sea. Reports indicate that the 20-ton boulders making up the sea wall were moved 500 feet. Sixty-one people died in Hilo, the worst-hit area of the island chain.

The tsunami continued to race further west across the Pacific. Ten thousand miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter, Japan, despite ample warning time, was not able to warn the people in harm’s way. At about 6 p.m., more than a day after the earthquake, the tsunami struck the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. The crushing wave killed 180 people, left 50,000 more homeless and caused $400 million in damages.

1960 Eichmann captured

On May 23, 1960, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announces to the world that Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann has been captured and will stand trial in Israel. Eichmann, the Nazi SS officer who organized Adolf Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish question,” was seized by Israeli agents in Argentina on May 11 and smuggled to Israel nine days later.

Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany, in 1906. In November 1932, he joined the Nazi’s elite SS (Schutzstaffel) organization, whose members came to have broad responsibilities in Nazi Germany, including policing, intelligence, and the enforcement of Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. Eichmann steadily rose in the SS hierarchy, and with the German annexation of Austria in 1938, he was sent to Vienna with the mission of ridding the city of Jews. He set up an efficient Jewish deportment centre and in 1939 was sent to Prague on a similar mission. That year, Eichmann was appointed to the Jewish section of the SS central security office in Berlin.

In January 1942, Eichmann met with top Nazi officials at the Wannsee Conference near Berlin for the purpose of planning a “final solution of the Jewish question,” as Nazi leader Hermann Goring put it. The Nazis decided to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population. Eichmann was appointed to coordinate the identification, assembly, and transportation of millions of Jews from occupied Europe to the Nazi death camps, where Jews were gassed or worked to death. He carried this duty out with horrifying efficiency, and between three to four million Jews perished in the extermination camps before the end of World War II. Close to 2 million were executed elsewhere.

Following the war, Eichmann was captured by U.S. troops, but he escaped the prison camp in 1946 before having to face the Nuremberg International War Crimes Tribunal. Eichmann travelled under an assumed identity between Europe and the Middle East and in 1950 arrived in Argentina, which maintained lax immigration policies and was a safe haven for many Nazi war criminals. In 1957, a German prosecutor secretly informed Israel that Eichmann was living in Argentina. Agents from Israel’s intelligence service, the Mossad, were deployed to Argentina, and in early 1960 they finally located Eichmann. He was living in the San Fernando section of Buenos Aires, under the name Ricardo Klement.

In May 1960, Argentina was celebrating the 150th anniversary of its revolution against Spain, and many tourists were travelling to Argentina from abroad to attend the festivities. The Mossad used the opportunity to smuggle more agents into the country. Israel, knowing that Argentina might never extradite Eichmann for trial, had decided to abduct him and take him to Israel illegally. On May 11, Mossad operatives descended on Garibaldi Street in San Fernando and snatched Eichmann away as he was walking from the bus to his home. His family called local hospitals but not the police, and Argentina knew nothing of the operation. On May 20, a drugged Eichmann was flown out of Argentina disguised as an Israeli airline worker who had suffered head trauma in an accident. Three days later, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion announced that Eichmann was in Israeli custody.

Argentina demanded Eichmann’s return, but Israel argued that his status as an international war criminal gave it the right to proceed with a trial. On April 11, 1961, Eichmann’s trial began in Jerusalem. It was the first trial to be televised in history. Eichmann faced 15 charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and war crimes. He claimed he was just following orders, but the judges disagreed, finding him guilty on all counts on December 15 and sentencing him to die. On May 31, 1962, he was hanged near Tel Aviv. His body was subsequently cremated and his ashes thrown into the sea.

1972 United States widens aerial campaign

Heavy U.S. air attacks that began with an order by President Richard Nixon on May 8 are widened to include more industrial and non-military sites. In 190 strikes, the United States lost one plane but shot down four. The new strikes were part of the ongoing Operation Linebacker, an effort launched in response to the massive North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam on March 30. The purpose of the raids were to interdict supplies from outside sources and the movement of equipment and supplies to the North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam. The strikes concentrated on rail lines around Hanoi and Haiphong, bridges, pipelines, power plants, troops and troop training facilities, and rail lines to China.

2004 George W. Bush recovers from bicycle accident

On this day in 2004, as reported in the Washington Post, President George Bush recovered from a bicycle accident he’d had the day before. Bush had taken up mountain biking for exercise at the suggestion of physicians.?

Reporter Dana Milbank recounted how Bush fell from his mountain bike while completing a 17-mile course on his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Despite scrapes and scratches on his chin, lip, nose, hand and knees, Bush–who was wearing a helmet at the time–got back on his bike and finished the course. Afterwards, a White House spokesperson warned reporters that Bush might show up for his daughter Jenna’s graduation party the next Saturday sporting a bandage on his chin.

In an earlier mishap in 2003, Bush was captured on film as he fell off a motorized scooter. The physically active Bush has narrowly escaped other frightening and life-threatening incidents. In 1999, he luckily avoided major injuries when a truck carrying a load of cement and wood turned over as he was jogging by it. That same year, Bush encountered, but was not bitten by, venomous water moccasins while swimming in a watering hole on his Crawford ranch. In January 2002, Bush was alone with his two dogs watching a football game in the White House when he managed to dislodge a pretzel from his throat after choking on it.

Over the years, cartoonists and journalists have relished showing the presidents in their more uncoordinated moments, but no president has been lampooned for clumsiness like former President Gerald Ford, who was actually very athletic. After he was first photographed stumbling down the last few steps of the stairway from Air Force One, Ford’s subsequent trips and falls were immortalized by actor Chevy Chase in the 1970s on the popular television show, Saturday Night Live.

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