Today in 1937 during the battle for Nanking, the U.S. gunboat Panay was attacked and sank by Japanese warplanes. The neutral American vessel was escorting U.S. evacuees and three Standard Oil barges away from Nanking, the war-torn Chinese capital on the Yangtze River. After the Panay was sunk, the Japanese fighters machine-gunned lifeboats and survivors huddling on the shore of the Yangtze. Two U.S. sailors and a civilian passenger were killed and 11 personnel seriously wounded.
Although the Panay’s position had been reported to the Japanese as required, clearly marked as a neutral vessel, and the day was clear, the Japanese maintained that the attack was unintentional, and they agreed to pay $2 million in reparations. Two neutral British vessels were also attacked by the Japanese in the battle for Nanking.
Today in 1941 the U.S. Navy took control of the largest and most luxurious ocean liner on the seas at that time, France’s Normandie, while it is docked at New York City.
The Normandie was the first ship built in accordance with the guidelines laid down in the 1929 Convention for Safety of Life at Sea. It was also huge, measuring 1,029 feet long, 119 feet wide an displaced 85,000 tons of water. It took a crew of more than 1,300 to work her. Despite its size, it was also fast: capable of 32.1 knots. The liner was launched in 1932 and made its first transatlantic crossing in 1935.
When France surrendered to the Germans in June 1940, and the Vichy regime was installed, it was clear that the U.S. government was not about to let a ship of such size and speed fall into the hands of the Germans. When the Navy did take control of the ship, shortly after Pearl Harbor, it began the conversion of the liner to a troop ship, renamed the USS Lafayette.
The Lafayette never sailed. On February 9, 1942, the ship caught fire and capsized; the likely cause was sparks from a welder’s torch. The massive salvage operation cost $3,750,000 and the fire damage made any hope of employing the vessel impossible. It was scrapped in 1946.
Today in 1917 at Omaha, Nebraska, Father Edward J. Flanagan, a 31-year-old Irish priest, opened the doors to a home for troubled and neglected children, and six boys entered to seek a better life. Flanagan understood that mistreated or orphaned children were at high risk of turning to delinquency and crime in later years.
The location of what would become known as “Boys Town” rapidly filled up with the arrival of additional children. Many were sent by local courts, others were referred to the home by citizens, and some wandered off the streets and through the home’s unlocked doors on their own accord. In the spring of 1918, no space was left in the Victorian mansion, so Father Flanagan moved Boys Town to a vacant building 10 times the size on the other side of town.
Within months, enrollment at Boys Town had soared to more than 100 boys, and a school was established that later grew into an institution with a grade school, a high school, and a career vocational center. Before the new building was four years old, more than 1,300 neglected boys from 17 states had passed through Boys Town. In 1921, Boys Town expanded again with the financial assistance of the people of Omaha, this time to a farm 10 miles west of Omaha. The institution remains at this site today and has changed its name to “Girls and Boys Town” to reflect its co-ed enrollment.
Today in 1870 Joseph Hayne Rainey of Georgetown, South Carolina, became the first African American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. He filled a seat which had been declared vacant by the House and served until 1879.
Happy birthday John Jay, statesman, diplomat, first Chief Justice, coauthor (with James Madison and Aaron Burr) of “The Federalist,” and Founding Father, who was born today in 1745 at New York City.
Jay died May 14, 1829 at Bedford, New York. He was age 83. He is buried at Rye, New York.
Numerous landmarks, mountains, and college institutions bear his name today.