On this day in 1942, the Battle of Midway–one of the most decisive U.S. victories against Japan during World War II–begins. During the four-day sea-and-air battle, the outnumbered U.S. Pacific Fleet succeeded in destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers while losing only one of its own, the Yorktown, to the previously invincible Japanese navy.
In the icy waters of the North Sea on June 5, 1916, the British cruiser Hampshire strikes a German mine and sinks off the Orkney Islands; among the passengers and crew drowned is Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the British secretary of state for war.
On this day in 1944, the greatest 18,000 parachutists were already on the ground; the land invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches; so did the Americans at Utah. The task was much tougher at Omaha beach, however, where 2,000 troops were lost and it was only through the tenacity and quick thinking of troops on the ground that the objective was achieved. By day’s end, 155,000 Allied troops–Americans, British and Canadians–had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.
On this day in 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduces a resolution for independence to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia; John Adams seconds the motion.
Lee’s resolution declared: “That these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.”
A State Department press officer notes that, “American forces would be available for combat support together with Vietnamese forces when and if necessary,” alerting the press to an apparently major change in the U.S. commitment to the war. Prior to this time, U.S. forces had been restricted to protecting American airbases and other installations. The next day, the White House tried to calm the protests by some in Congress and the media who were alarmed at this potential escalation of the war by issuing a statement claiming, “There has been no change in the missions of United States ground combat units in Vietnam.” The statement went on to explain that General Westmoreland, senior U.S. commander in Saigon, did have the authority to employ troops “in support of Vietnamese forces faced with aggressive attack.”
Later in the month, Westmoreland was given formal authority to commit U.S. forces to battle when he decided they were necessary “to strengthen the relative position of the GVN [Government of Vietnam] forces.” This authority and the influx of American combat troops that followed forever changed the role of the United States in the war.
On this day in 1863, the largest cavalry battle of the war is fought at Brandy Station, Virginia. Though technically a Confederate victory, it would become a symbol of how far Union troopers had come during the war. Never again would they be looked upon as 2nd rate horsemen. The aura of the Confederate horses invincibility was forever broken on this day.
On this day in 1775, John Adams proposes to Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, that the men laying siege to Boston should be considered a Continental Army led by a general.
The men who had armed themselves and rushed to surround British forces in Boston following the Battle of Lexington and Concord were overwhelmingly from New England. However, John Adams, representing Massachusetts, realized that the military effort would only succeed if the British thought the colonies were united. To this end, Adams suggested the appointment of a Virginian, George Washington, to command the Continental forces, despite the fact that New Englanders were used to fighting in local militias under officers elected from among their own ranks.