On this day in 1776, General George Washington asks for a volunteer for an extremely dangerous mission: to gather intelligence behind enemy lines before the coming Battle of Harlem Heights. Captain Nathan Hale of the 19th Regiment of the Continental Army stepped forward and subsequently become one of the first known American spies of the Revolutionary War. He would be captured and question by General William Howe who ordered his execution. When asked if he had anything to say, he is supposed to have said “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country”
On this day in 2001, America is attacked by Islamic terrorists who used planes to destroy the twin towers and the Pentagon. A third plane was hijacked, but the plot was thwarted by the passengers on board and ended up crashing in a Pennsylvania field. Roughly 3,000 people would be killed and wounded in the attacks.
On this day in 1918, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) under the command of General John J. Pershing launches its first major offensive operation as an independent army during World War I.
On this day in 1847, General Winfield Scott wins the last major battle of the Mexican-American War, storming the ancient Chapultepec fortress at the edge of Mexico City.
On this day in 1944, the U.S. 1st Marine Division lands on the island of Peleliu, one of the Palau Islands in the Pacific, as part of a larger operation to provide support for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was preparing to invade the Philippines. The cost in American lives would prove historic.
During the Battle of the Somme, the British launch a major offensive against the Germans, employing tanks for the first time in history. At Flers Courcelette, some of the 40 or so primitive tanks advanced over a mile into enemy lines but were too slow to hold their positions during the German counterattack and subject to mechanical breakdown. However, General Douglas Haig, commander of Allied forces at the Somme, saw the promise of this new instrument of war and ordered the war department to produce hundreds more.
On this day in 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Selective Service and Training Act, which requires all male citizens between the ages of 26 and 35 to register for the military draft, beginning on October 16. The act had been passed by Congress 10 days earlier.