Today in 2005, Alberto Gonzales won Senate confirmation as the first Hispanic attorney general.
The Senate approved his nomination on a largely party-line vote of 60-36. Shortly after the Senate vote, Vice President Dick Cheney swore in Gonzales as attorney general in a small ceremony in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. President Bush, who was traveling, called to congratulate him.
On August 27, he gave a brief statement announcing his resignation (effective September 17), stating that “It has been one of my greatest privileges to lead the Department of Justice.” He gave no explanation for his departure. In his resignation letter, Gonzales simply said that “. . . this is the right time for my family and I to begin a new chapter in our lives.”
Today in 1865, Abraham Lincoln met with a delegation of Confederate officials led by Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens at Hampton Roads, Virginia, to discuss a possible peace agreement. Lincoln refused to grant the delegation any concessions. The meeting was unsuccessful as President Lincoln insisted there could be no armistice until the Confederates acknowledged Federal authority. The Confederates wanted an armistice first. The meeting ended within hours and the war continued.
Today in 1870 the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing the right of citizens to vote, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Today in 1913 – The 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, granting Congress the authority to collect income taxes.
Today in 1943 in the icy waters off Greenland the U.S. Army transport ship Dorchester was hit by a German torpedo and began to sink rapidly. Ships Escanaba and Comanche in the convoy saved 240 men of the 904 aboard Dorchester. Life jackets offered little protection from. When additional rescue ships arrived on February 4 “hundreds of dead bodies were seen floating on the water, kept up by their life jackets.”
Dorchester is remembered for the Four Chaplains who died because they gave up their life jackets to save others. These chaplains included Methodist minister George L. Fox, Reformed Church in America minister Clark V. Poling, Roman Catholic priest John P. Washington and Rabbi Alexander B. Goode.
Congress established February 3 as “Four Chaplains Day” to commemorate this act of heroism, and on July 14, 1960, created the Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism, presented posthumously to the next of kin by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker at Fort Myer, Virginia on January 18, 1961.
Today in 1950 Klaus Fuchs, a German-born British scientist who helped developed the atomic bomb, was arrested in Great Britain by Scotland Yard officers for passing top-secret information about the bomb to the Soviet Union. The arrest of Fuchs led authorities to other individuals involved in a spy ring.
Fuchs was invited to participate in the British program to develop an atomic bomb (the project named “Tube Alloys”). At some point after the project began, Soviet agents contacted Fuchs and he began to pass information about British progress to them. Late in 1943, Fuchs was among a group of British scientists brought to America to work on the Manhattan Project. Fuchs continued his clandestine meetings with Soviet agents. When the war ended, Fuchs returned to Great Britain and continued his work on the British atomic bomb project.
Fuchs’ arrest came after a routine security check of Fuchs’ father, who had moved to communist East Germany in 1949. While the check was underway, British authorities received information from the FBI that decoded Soviet messages in their possession indicated Fuchs was a Russian spy.
Harry Gold, whom Fuchs implicated as the middleman between himself and Soviet agents, was arrested in the United States. Gold thereupon informed on David Greenglass, one of Fuchs’ co-workers on the Manhattan Project. After his apprehension, Greenglass implicated his sister-in-law and her husband, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. They were arrested in New York in July 1950, found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage, and executed in June 1953.
Today in 1959 at Clear Lake, Iowa, the rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed when their chartered Beechcraft Bonanza crashed a few minutes after takeoff from Mason City on a flight headed for Moorehead, Minnesota. Investigators blamed the crash on bad weather and pilot error.
After mechanical difficulties with the tour bus, Holly had chartered a plane for his band to fly between stops on the Winter Dance Party Tour. However, Richardson, who had the flu, convinced Holly’s band member Waylon Jennings to give up his seat, and Ritchie Valens won a coin toss for another seat on the plane with Holly’s guitarist.
Only the next morning, when Waylon Jennings learned what had happened hours earlier, would he recall his final, good-natured exchange with Buddy Holly. “Well,” said Holly when he learned of Jennings’ swap with the Big Bopper, “I hope your old bus freezes over.” Jennings’ response: “Well, I hope your plane crashes.”
Valens was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Singer Don McLean memorialized Holly, Valens and Richardson in the 1972 No. 1 hit “American Pie,” which refers to February 3, 1959 as “the day the music died.”
Today in 1994, President Bill Clinton lifts a 19-year-old trade embargo of the Republic of Vietnam. The embargo had been in place since 1975, when North Vietnamese forces captured the city of Saigon in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
President Clinton lifted the embargo primarily to encourage cooperative efforts between the U.S. and Vietnam to discover the fate of American prisoners of war and missing in action who had remained unaccounted for after the war. He also believed that improved business relations between the U.S. and Vietnam would benefit the economies of both nations.
In 2000, Clinton became the first American head of state to visit Vietnam since before the war. During the visit he stated, “The history we leave behind is painful and hard. We must not forget it, but we must not be controlled by it.”
According to the Department of Defense, 325 American servicemen were accounted for in the first 12 years after the lifting of the embargo. The status of more than a thousand missing servicemen remains unknown.
Today in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson before a session of Congress announced that the United States is breaking diplomatic relations with Germany.
Due to the German policy of unlimited submarine warfare, announced two days earlier by Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollwegg, Wilson nevertheless cautioned that war would follow if Germany followed through on its threat to sink American ships without warning.
Later that day, Count von Bernstorff, the German ambassador to the U.S., received a note written by Secretary of State Robert Lansing stating “The President has directed me to announce to your Excellency that all diplomatic relations between the United States and the German empire are severed, and that the American Ambassador at Berlin will be immediately withdrawn, and in accordance with such announcement to deliver to your Excellency your passports.” Bernstorff was guaranteed safe passage out of the country, but was ordered to leave Washington immediately. Also in the wake of Wilson’s speech, all German cruisers docked in the United States were seized and the government formally demanded that all American prisoners being held in Germany be released at once.
On the same day, a German U-boat sunk the American cargo ship Housatonic off the Scilly Islands,
southwest of Britain. A British ship rescued the ship’s crew.
In Berlin that night, before learning of the president’s speech, German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann told U.S. Ambassador James J. Gerard “Everything will be alright. America will do nothing, for President Wilson is for peace and nothing else. Everything will go on as before.” The break in relations between America and Germany was a decisive step towards U.S. entry into the First World War.
Today in 1944 American forces invaded and took control of the Marshall Islands, long occupied by the Japanese and used by them as a base for military operations.
The U.S. Central Pacific Campaign began with the Gilbert Islands; U.S. forces conquered the Gilberts in November 1943. Next on the agenda was Operation Flintlock, a plan to capture the Marshall Islands.
Adm. Raymond Spruance led the 5th Fleet from Pearl Harbor on January 22, 1944, to the Marshalls, with the goal of getting 53,000 assault troops ashore two islets: Roi and Namur. Meanwhile, using the Gilberts as an air base, American planes bombed the Japanese administrative and communications center for the Marshalls, which was located on Kwajalein, an atoll that was part of the Marshall cluster of atolls, islets, and reefs.
By January 31, Kwajalein was devastated. Repeated carrier- and land-based air raids destroyed every Japanese airplane on the Marshalls. By February 3, U.S. infantry overran Roi and Namur atolls. The Marshalls were then effectively in American hands–with the modest loss of 400 American lives.
“I am a friend to any brave and gallant outlaw.” — Belle Starr
Rest in peace Myra Belle Shirley, later infamous outlaw “bandit queen” Belle Starr, killed today in 1889 at Eufaula, Oklahoma, when an unknown assailant fatally wounded her with two shotgun blasts from behind. She was age 40. Her current companion Jim July believed the murderer was a neighbor with whom the couple had been feuding, but no one was ever convicted of the crime.
Starr was born February 5, 1848, at Carthage, Missouri. As with other famous outlaws, fanciful accounts printed in newspapers and dime novels made Belle Starr’s harsh and violent life far more romantic than it actually was. She became famous with the dime novel “Belle Starr, the Bandit Queen, or the Female Jesse James” (1889). This novel is still often cited as a historical reference.
Belle Starr did associate with a number of outlaws. She is reputed to married Cole Younger and that he fathered her child. There is no evidence either happened.
Historians do know in 1880 she married a Cherokee man named Sam Starr and settled with the Starr family in the Indian Territory.
Belle’s son, Eddie Reed, was convicted of horse theft and receiving stolen property in July 1889. Judge Parker sent him to prison in Columbus, Ohio. He became a deputy in Fort Smith and killed two outlaw brothers named Crittenden in 1895, and was himself killed in a saloon in Claremore, Oklahoma on December 14, 1896.
Belle’s daughter, Rosie Reed, also known as Pearl Starr, became a prostitute and operated several bordellos in Van Buren and Fort Smith, Arkansas, from the 1890s to World War I.
Belle Starr was buried at Younger’s Bend, Oklahoma. Her daughter marked the grave with a stone engraved:
Shed not for her the bitter tear
Nor give the heart to vain regret,
‘Tis but the casket that lies here,
The gem that fills it sparkles yet.
Rest in peace Woodrow Wilson, 28th president (1913-1921), who died today in 1924 at Washington, D. C. at age 67.
Wilson was born December 28, 1856 at Staunton, Virginia. Highlights of his career are Governor of New Jersey, president during WWI, advocate of the League of Nations, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (1920).
Wilson was buried in Washington’s National Cathedral, the first president to be laid to rest in the nation’s capital.
Happy birthday Norman Rockwell, artist and illustrator, born today in1894 at New York City.
Rockwell is best known for depicting ordinary scenes from small town American life for the covers of Saturday Evening Post magazine. He was a prolific artist, producing over 4,000 original works in his lifetime. Most of his works are either in public collections, or have been destroyed in fire or other misfortunes. Rockwell was also commissioned to illustrate over 40 books. He and his son Thomas produced his autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator (1960).
Rockwell’s work was dismissed by serious art critics in his lifetime. To modern critics many of his works tend to be idealistic or sentimentalized portrayals of American life – this has led to the often-deprecatory adjective “Rockwellesque”. Consequently, Rockwell is not considered a “serious painter” by some contemporary artists, who often regard his work as bourgeois and kitsch. He is called an “illustrator” instead of an artist by some critics, a designation he did not mind, as it was what he called himself.
However, in his later years, Rockwell began receiving more attention as a painter when he chose more serious subjects such as the series on racism for Look magazine. One example of this more serious work is The Problem We All Live With, which dealt with the issue of school racial integration. During his long career, he was commissioned to paint the portraits for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, as well as those of foreign figures, including Gamal Abdel Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru. One of his last works was a portrait of Judy Garland in 1969. Rockwell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.
Rockwell died November 8, 1978, at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He was age 84.
The Norman Rockwell Museum is open today year round and the authoritative source for all things Norman Rockwell. The museum’s collection is the world’s largest, including more than 700 original Rockwell paintings, drawings, and studies.