Today in 1941 FDR signed a bill officially naming the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. The holiday is a tradition that goes back to the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies in the 17th century. Thursday was a mid-week day set aside for church and sermons, referred to as “Lecture Day.”
The Continental Congress declared a Thanksgiving prompted by the victory at Saratoga in 1777, the first national observance of the holiday. George Washington set aside November 26 (a Tuesday) in 1789 for the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a holiday on the last Thursday in 1863 and the tradition continued until 1939.
That year FDR declared Thanksgiving on the third Thursday, with the idea of extending the Christmas shopping season a week to stimulate spending during the Great Depression. The change was unpopular and FDR settled the controversy by law.
Today in 1941 Admiral Husband Kimmel had a meeting with his staff at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii:
Kimmel: Do you think we are in danger of attack?
Lt. Col. James Mollison, Chief, Hawaiian Air Force: The Japanese have such a capability.
Kimmel: Capability, yes, but possibility?
Kimmel to Capt. Charles McMorris, Fleet war plans officer: What do you think about the prospects of a Japanese air attack?
McMorris: None, absolutely none.
The meeting confirmed Kimmel’s impression of War and Navy departments’ communications that Washington “did not consider hostile action on Pearl Harbor imminent or probable.”
Today in 1968, Vietnam, while returning to base from another mission, Air Force 1st Lt. James P. Fleming and four other Bell UH-1F helicopter pilots got an urgent message from an Army Special Forces team pinned down by enemy fire.
Several of the other helicopters had to leave the area because of low fuel. Refusing to abandon the Army green berets, Fleming managed to land and pick up the team, despite heavy ground fire. When he arrived at his base near Duc Co, it was discovered that his aircraft was nearly out of fuel. Lieutenant Fleming was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
On November 9, 1933, at or near San Jose, California, 22-year old Brooke Hart was abducted. His family received a $40,000 ransom demand and, soon after, Hart’s wallet was found on a tanker ship in a nearby bay. The trail led to John Holmes and Thomas Thurmond, who implicated each other in separate confessions. Both acknowledged that Hart had been pistol-whipped and then thrown off the San Mateo Bridge.
After Hart’s body washed ashore on November 25, a vigilante mob began to form. Newspapers reported the possibility of a lynching and local radio stations broadcast the plan. Not only did Governor James Rolph reject the National Guard’s offer to send assistance, he reportedly said he would pardon those involved in the lynching.
Today in 1933 thousands of people in San Jose, California, storm the jail and proceeded to lynch the accused men and then pose them for pictures. The angry mob converged at the jail and beat the guards, using a battering ram to break into the cells. Thurmond and Holmes were dragged out and hanged from large trees in a nearby park.
After the incident, the San Jose News declined to publish pictures of the lynching, but condoned the act in an editorial. No one was held accountable for his participation. At Stanford University, a professor asked his students to stand and applaud the lynching. Governor Rolph publicly praised the mob. “The best lesson ever given the country. I would like to parole all kidnappers in San Quentin to the fine, patriotic citizens of San Jose.”
Happy birthday John Harvard, minister and benefactor of the “schoale or colledge” named after him by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, born today in 1607 at Southwark, England. Harvard died of tuberculosis on September 14,1638, at age 30. He is buried at Charlestown, Massachusetts.
Happy birthday Mary Edwards Walker, Civil War surgeon, feminist, prohibitionist, abolitionist, and Medal of Honor recipient, born today in 1832 at Oswego, New York. She died February 21, 1919, at Oswego. She was age 86.
Walker was recommended for the Medal of Honor by Generals William T. Sherman and George H. Thomas. She was awarded the Medal in 1865 and removed from the Medal of Honor Roll in 1917. President Jimmy Carter restored her medal in 1977.