Friday, January 31, 2014

JANUARY 31 = The Thirteenth Amendment is Passed.

On today's date, January 31 in 1865 the United States House of Representatives by the thinnest of margins passed with a two thirds majority the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which read:

"Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
"Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

With the passage of this amendment, the U.S.Congress at long last abolished slavery in the United States, putting to rest the single most divisive issue that our nation had ever faced, one which had been eating away at the existence of the Union since the moment of her inception.  Now after decades of the bitterest turmoil, and after four years of bloody civil war the matter had been settled, pending the ratification of the amendment by two thirds of the states, which would end up coming before the end of 1865.  

The following excerpts from Doris Kearns Goodwin's superb book "Team of Rivals" describes the moments just before and after the passage of the amendment:

"After every Democrat who had wanted to speak had been heard, the voting began. "Hundreds of tally sheets had been distributed on the floor and in the galleries," (Congressman James M.) Ashley (of Ohio -  right) recorded.  It appeared at first that the amendment had fallen two or three votes short of the requisite two-thirds margin. The floor was in tumult when Speaker (of the House Schuyler) Colfax stood to announce the final tally.  His voice shaking, he said, "On the passage of the Joint Resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States the ayes have 119, the noes 36.  The constitutional majority of two thirds having voted in the affirmative, the Joint Resolution has passed."  Without the five democrats who had changed their votes, the amendment would have lost.

  "For a moment there was a pause of utter silence," Noah Brooks reported, "as if the voices of the dense mass of spectators were choked by strong emotion.   Then there was an explosion,  a storm of cheers, the like of which probably no Congress of the United States had ever heard before."

"Before the members left their seats ," Congressman Arnold recalled, "the roar of Artillery from Capitol Hill announced to the people of Washington that the amendment had passed." Ashley brought to the War Department a list of all those who had voted in favor.  (Secretary of War Edwin) Stanton (left) ordered three additional batteries "fire one hundred guns with their heaviest charges" while he slowly read each name aloud, proclaiming, "History will embalm them in great honor."

 "Lincoln's friends raced to the White House to share the news. "The passage of the resolution," recalled Arnold, "filled his heart with joy.  He saw in it the consummation of his own great work, the Emancipation Proclamation."


"Team of Rivals - The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2005

Thursday, January 30, 2014

JANUARY 30 = The "Tet" Offensive Begins

Above: A suspected Viet-Cong operative is summarily executed by Col. Ngoc Loan, South Vietnamese Chief of Police. A film version of this moment was shown on TV in America, shocking American audiences.

"In all honesty, we didn't achieve our main objective, which was to spur uprisings throughout the south. Still, we inflicted heavy casualties on the Americans and their puppets, and that was a big gain for us. As for making an impact in the United States, it had not been our intention --- but it turned out to be a fortunate result." - Tran Do, North Vietnamese General.

The "Tet" Offensive

On today's date in 1968, in coordinated attacks all across South Vietnam, communist forces launched their largest offensive of the Vietnam War against South Vietnamese and U.S. troops. Because it came on the first day of the Lunar New Year, "Tet", it came to be known as the "Tet Offensive". The "fortunate result" of which General Tran speaks above was no less than the unseating of an incumbent U.S. President, the unleashing of the worst civil unrest in the United States in a century, and the turning point of the war in favor of the Viet Cong and their sponsors in North Vietnam.

The Viet Cong Are BEATEN by the U.S. Marines & Army....

On January 30, 1968-during the Tet holiday cease-fire in South Vietnam-an estimated 80,000 troops of the North Vietnamese Army
and the Viet Cong attacked cities and military establish- ments through- out South Vietnam. The most spectacular episode occurred when a group of VC commandos blasted through the wall surrounding the American embassy in Saigon and unsuccessfully attempted to seize the embassy building (some of that fighting is pictured above). Most of the attacks were turned back, with the communist forces suffering heavy losses.

But the Communists WIN the Political Battle

Battles continued to rage throughout the country for weeks--the fight to reclaim the city of Hue from communist troops was particularly destructive. American and South Vietnamese forces lost over 3,000 men during the offensive. Estimates for communist losses ran as high as 40,000.While the communists did not succeed militarily, the impact of the Tet Offensive on public opinion in the United States was staggering. The American people, who had been told a few months earlier that the war was successful and that U.S. troops might soon be allowed to withdraw, were stunned to see fighting taking place on the grounds of the U.S. embassy -- right there on their televisions during the evening news.

LBJ Goes Down as the U.S. Erupts

Despite being told by Johnson administration that all was well, the Tet Offensive led many Americans to begin seriously questioning the war, and to wonder whether American power could prevail over the communist threat in foreign lands. In the wake of the Tet Offensive, support for the U.S. effort in Vietnam began steadily to erode, and public opinion turned sharply against President Johnson (pictured, above). The 1968 presidential campaign was under way, and in early March, LBJ, whose name was not even on the ballot did indeed win New Hampshire's "first-in-the-nation primary". But Senator Eugene Mc Carthy, who had opposed the war came in second by only 300 votes. This was viewed as a stunning rejection of the President. Studies later showed that most of the McCarthy voters actually favored the war, but intended their vote to be a protest of the LBJ administration. But it was seen as being against the war. Soon after, Robert F. Kennedy entered the race, strongly opposing the war. And on March 31, LBJ surprised everyone by pulling out of the presidential campaign.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


"Vietnam - A History" by Stanley Karnow, Viking Press, New York, 1983.


Saigon =


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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

SPECIAL = "George Washington's Secret Six"

"The British were being played, and from the least likely of corners.  But they remained oblivious to the double-dealings in their midst.  The parties went on.  The coffeehouse debates continued as the officers went about surrounded by their circles of admirers. Major Andre's silly love poems were composed and published in Rivington's "Royal Gazette". The wine and words flowed freely as they bantered about their plans. The Army was in garrison -- comfortable, amused and completely oblivious to the fact that any shopkeeper, newspaperman, or charming lady in their midst was listening, remembering, and plotting,"

- Brian Kilmeade
The place was New York City.  The time was the Revolutionary War in America.  The British Army under Sir William Howe had occupied this, the largest city in North America since September of 1776.  General George Washington, commanding the rag-tag collection of professional soldiers, officers, and militiamen calling itself the American Army was camped outside of New York, smarting from the way in which he and his army were run out of that city, and looking for a way to get back in. The British had made their Headquarters there and in spite of  Washington's fervent hopes of ejecting them, they would in fact remain there for the entire war. Washington absolutely had to find some way of penetrating inside New York and gathering intelligence on what the Brits were up to.  And how he managed to do so is the subject of  the truly fascinating book "George Washington's Secret Six - the Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution." by Brian Kilmeade of Fox News and Don Yaeger.    

The "Culper" Spy Ring 

Through correspondence between Washington and the spies or between the spies themselves, and through careful examination of business records. Kilmeade and Yaeger have compiled a richly detailed, and compelling tale of courage and sacrifice in the heart of the enemy: in British-occupied New York City. They tell the story of six ordinary colonial citizens, known as the "Culpers": Abraham Woodhull, a gentleman bachelor farmer, and Robert Townsend, a gently-natured Quaker merchant and reporter for a British publication; the Royal Gazette. They tell of the owner of that publication, and of a popular coffeehouse, James Rivington (above) who was viewed by his countrymen as an outspoken loyalist to the Brits. We learn about Austin Roe and his tavern, and Caleb Brewster, a tough longshoreman who ferried much of the information to the Americans. And most interestingly of all (to me, anyway) we learn of a woman who has never been identified, known only as agent "355" in the correspondence. This young lady of society was able to pick up important scraps of information by flattering self-important British officers who thought of themselves as impressive lady's men while unaware of just how useful they were being to this lady. 

Anonymous Heroes

Between them, they provided information that: foiled a British attempt to flood American markets with counterfeit currency, and stopped a British plan to ambush the troops of the French when they joined the American cause. In one remarkable instance they were able to acquire a copy of the British Naval Code Book, and present it to French Admiral D'Estaing in time to aid him in 
defeating the British fleet off of Yorktown Virginia.  This wound up cutting off the escape of Cornwallis' Army for the decisive victory of the war. And perhaps most importantly, they provided the information which enabled their leader, American Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Codenamed "John Bolton", left) to break the plot by Benedict Arnold to hand over the American fortress at West Point to the British.  And we see how most of these "moles' wished to stay unknown for their brave and heroic service to our country at the moment of her birth.  

All in all, Mssrs. Kilmeade and Yaeger have given us a fascinating look at a chapter of American Revolutionary history about which little has been written before this book's publication last Fall.* It reads like... well like a spy novel, which is afterall exactly what it is.. only it's true!! I can strongly recommend it for anybody who likes a good tale whether they prefer fiction or non-fiction.  It is a top-notch read!!!

You can get it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or most any bookstore or in Kindle or other online formats.

by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Sentinel, Publ. by the Penguin Group, New York, 2013.

* = When I wrote this book review last January, I was unaware of the book "Washington's Spies" by the author David Rose published by Bantam Books in 2006.  Of course Mr. Rose's book is the basis for the fascinating TV series "Turn" presently being shown on the AMC Cable TV Network. I am watching "Turn" with the same interest that I am sure many of you are.  It is a very well done series, so I'm glad that it is showing a light on this chapter of American History just as Mr. Kilmeade's book has done.  As far as Mr. Rose's book goes... how it compares to Mr. Kilmeade's book, and how well the TV series translates this to our living rooms.. well that will have to wait until I have read Mr. Rose's book.  But I am presently engaged in that very enterprise, so keep an eye on this Blog and hopefully by the end of this month, I will have something to tell you about that.  BUT...... one thing I can tell you: the AMC series definitely has it wrong in one particular detail - the character of Abraham Woodhull was a bachelor during the whole of the Revolutionary War period; he did not marry until 1781 (according to Wikipedia - so I'm guessing that this character of his wife was invented by the writers for dramatic reasons... I guess I'll have to find out about that.  But in any event... keep an eye on this Blog.. I'll have something to you about this soon....

- Brian T. Bolten, May 8, 2014.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

JANUARY 28 = "Challenger" Explodes

On today's date, January 28, in 1986 the Space Shuttle "Challenger" was nine miles above the earth, and seventy-three seconds into her mission, when as a result of a design flaw in her rocket boosters, she exploded. Owing to the presence on board of school teacher Christa McAuliffe, the launch was being broadcast into schools all over the United States, and the disaster in all of its dreadful finality happened in full view of thousands of school children. All seven crew members were killed. William Harwood, United Press International's Cape Canaveral bureau chief witnessed the event in person:

William Harwood Witnesses the Disaster:

"Four miles away, 'Challenger' was climbing majestically into a cloudless blue sky. We could not see the initial puffs of smoke indicating a fatal booster flaw. A few seconds, the crackling roar of those booster swept over the press site and the UPI trailer started shaking and rattling as the ground shock arrived. I marveled at the view, describing it (over the phone to desk editor Bill) Trott in Washington. 
And then, in the blink of an eye, the exhaust plume seemed to balloon outward, to somehow thicken. I recall a fleeting peripheral impression of fragments, of debris flying about, sparkling in the morning sunlight. And then, in that pregnant instant before the knowledge has happened settled in, a single booster emerged from the cloud, corkscrewing madly through the sky. I sat stunned. I couldn't understand what I was seeing. 'Wait a minute....something's happened....' I told Trott. A booster? Flying on it's own? Oh my God. 'They're in trouble,' I said, my heart pounding. For the next two hours or so, I don't remember anything but the mad rush of reporting. Subconsciously, I held the enormity of the disaster at bay; I knew if I relaxed my guard for a minute, it would paralyze me. I was flying on some mental auto-pilot. And then around 2 p.m. or so, there was a momentary lull. My fingers dropped to the keyboard, and I stared blankly out the window to the launch pad. I remembered Christa McAuliffe's and Judy Resnik's flashing eyes. Tears welled up. I shook my head, blinked rapidly and turned back to my computer. I'll think about it all later, I told myself. I was right. I think about it at every launch."

My Own Memories of That Day.

I was working at "Jones the Florist" on Mc Millan St. in Cincinnati when I heard about the death of "Challenger". I was watering some plants when I heard Mrs. Gustin, the store's owner come in and say "The Space Shuttle 'Challenger' has exploded." I was stunned. I asked around of my fellow employees, "What happened to the crew? Had they survived?" But nobody knew. My lunch break came up, and I went out in my car to listen to the radio reports. All of them were very grim. There was apparently no way that the crew could have survived. I can recall later in the day the comments from Colonel John Glenn, a former astronaut and by then a U.S. Senator saying that people had forgotten how very dangerous space travel was. Hurtling through the atmosphere at a rate of five miles per second, it was an extremely perilous undertaking, the senator reminded us. I can remember my father, a retired Cincinnati Fireman, who was familiar with the University area saying that the distance between Hughes High School (of which he was a Class of '42 Graduate) and the Firehouse at the corner of Clifton and Ludlow Ave. was exactly one mile. "Imagine" he said "traveling FIVE TIMES that distance in one second!" I can also recall the local classical music station WGUC playing music the rest of the day dealing with explorers, "Scott of the Antarctic" and pieces like that. All of this is burned into my memory as well.

President Reagan Pays Tribute to the Astronauts of "Challenger".

(Above: President Reagan and aides watch news of Challenger on TV.)

On the night of the disaster, President Ronald Reagan had been scheduled to give his annual State of the Union Address. He initially announced that the address would go on as scheduled, but then postponed the State of the Union Address for a week and instead gave a national address on the Challenger disaster from the Oval Office of the White House. It was written by Peggy Noonan, and finished with the following statement, which quoted from the poem "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.:

"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.'”

Three days later, President Reagan with his wife Nancy traveled to the Johnson Space Center to speak at a memorial service honoring the astronauts and he stated “Sometimes, when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on despite the pain.” The memorial service was attended by the families of the crew, and by 6,000 NASA employees and 4,000 guests. The U. S. Air Force band led the singing of "God Bless America" as NASA T-38 Talon jets flew directly over the scene, in the traditional missing-man formation. The Space Shuttle program would indeed go on, but not until several years later.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


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Monday, January 27, 2014

JANUARY 27 = International Holocaust Remembrance Day

"So I was hiding out in the heap of dead bodies because in the last week when the crematoria didn’t function at all, the bodies were just building up higher and higher. So there I was at nighttime, in the daytime I was roaming around in the camp, and this is where I actually survived, January 27, I was one of the very first, Birkenau was one of the very first camps being liberated. This was my, my survival chance."  - Bart Stern, Auschwitz survivor.

The Auschwitz Camp Complex

By the middle of January in 1945, Soviet Army forces began approaching the complex of camps called "Auschwitz". This was  a network of concentration and extermination camps which had been constructed and maintained by the savage government of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich in Nazi-occupied South Central Poland. This complex was made up of Auschwitz I (the base camp); Auschwitz II–Birkenau (the extermination camp, pictured above); Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff an IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps. It was set up some 37 miles west of Krakow, near the prewar German-Polish border.

The Approach of the Soviet Army

The S.S., or "Schutzstaffel" which translated to "Protection Squadron" was the military arm of Hitler' government which was in charge of such activities. And as they were in charge of these maniacal death camps they were worried as the Soviet armies got closer. They were worried about the Jews that might survive might testify against them for war crimes. So to forestall this, they began to evacuate the Auschwitz Camp system further to the west wherein the Germans still held enough territory to put them into other camps where they might yet be exterminated.  But they began to force them march to these locations by foot in the harsh winter conditions in hopes that many of them would die during the evacuation. And they began to accelerate their extermination at the Auschwitz camps themselves.  On today's date, January 27 in 1945, the Soviet armies at last entered the Auschwitz camp, liberating the seven thousand who remained alive there. The estimated number of people who were murdered at the Auschwitz camp system are some 1.1 million out of the 1.3 million who were sent there.

In remembrance of those who were murdered, starved, tortured and beaten in these horrific extermination camps this day has been set aside as "International Holocaust Remembrance Day". In honor of this day and of the victims we remember on this day, I wish to point out and recommend for further study several past postings in the archives of "Today in History" which deal with Holocaust topics:

April 29 = Dachau is Liberated

July 6 = Anne Frank's Family Hides

October 9 = Oscar Schindler Dies at Age 66.

November 9 = "Kristallnacht"

December 15 = Eichmann Gets Death


Sunday, January 26, 2014

JANUARY 26 = "Australia Day" and "Waltzing Matilda"

"Australia Day is a day where we celebrate our country and appre- ciate how lucky we are to live in such a great place, that's why we all get a day off work and have parties haha."
- My friend Sara Cuthbertson

"Australia Day (previously known as Anniversary Day, Foundation Day, and ANA Day) is the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, the date commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788 and the proclamation at that time of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of New Holland. Although it was not known as Australia Day until over a century later, records of celebrations on 26 January date back to 1808, with the first official celebration of the formation of New South Wales held in 1818. It is presently an official public holiday in every state and territory of Australia and is marked by the presentation of the Australian of the Year Awards on Australia Day Eve, announcement of the Honours List for the Order of Australia and addresses from the Governor-General and Prime Minister. With community festivals, concerts and citizenship ceremonies the day is celebrated in large and small communities and cities around the nation. Australia Day has become the biggest annual civic event in Australia."
- the online encyclopedia, "Wikipedia"

"Waltzing Matilda"

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me."

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me"
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me."

So go the lyrics to a song which stands as the unofficial National Anthem of Australia, a fine and beautiful country which celebrates her national day today. And  it is a day of relaxation and celebration for the good people of that country, as my friend, Mrs. Cuthbertson makes clear enough above. I say that Australia is a beautiful country, but the fact is I have never been there myself. But I have known several fine ladies from that place in the course of working at the University of Texas at Austin. Lisa Maynard Tittle, Jacinta van Lindt, and Sophia Osterloh (of Tasmania) all came from that wondrous land. And of course so did my friend Sara Cuthbertson, whom I've known only through e-mail. They have all been fine and engaging people to know, and the way in which they have enriched my life, as well as the lives of those of us lucky enough to know them, has always spoken very well of the people of Australia, as well as of the beauty of the continent itself.

But that song.... "Waltzing Matilda" has always exercised a hold on me. Ever since I first learned it as a grade schooler at Westwood Elementary School here in Cincinnati as a part of "Social Studies" and learning about Australia and the other countries of the world. It has always struck me as being a very sweet, and touching tune, and I've always thought that the people of Australia had a remarkable gem of a national anthem, even if it is "unofficial". If you click on the words "Waltzing Matilda" where they are highlighted (in bold) above, you will get a "YouTube" video of the song being played at "Australia Day" celebrations in 2009. Another very sweet and moving version of the tune is woven throughout film composer Ernest Golds score to the 1959 Stanley Kramer film "On the Beach" which deals with the effect an onrushing nuclear cloud has on the lives of some of the people who go to Australia as the last place where the doomsday shroud will arrive. If you click on the highlighted words "On the Beach" above, you will go to a "YouTube" video which features that score.

A Bit of the Song's History....

The title is a kind of old Australian slang for traveling around by foot with all of your belongings in a "Matilda" (bag) slung over your back (just as an old American slang refers to carrying your stuff around in a "poke"). The song tells the story of a migrant worker, or "swagman" (left, circa 1901), making a drink of tea ("waiting till his billy boiled") at a bush camp and catching a "jumbuck"(sheep) to have for lunch. When the sheep's owner arrives with three "troopers" (police officers) to arrest the worker for the theft, the worker commits suicide by drowning himself in the nearby "billabong" (watering hole) and then goes on to haunt the site. The original lyrics were written in 1895 by poet and nationalist Banjo Paterson. It was first published as sheet music in 1903. All manner of folklore surrounds the song and the way in which it was written. In fact, the song has its own museum, "the Waltzing Matilda Centre" in Winton, Queensland.

The words to the song were written in 1895 by Banjo Paterson, a famous Australian poet. The music was written by Christina Macpherson. Paterson wrote the piece while staying at the Dagworth Homestead, a bush station in Queensland. While he was there his hosts played him a traditional Celtic folk tune called "The Craigeelee" and Paterson thought that it was a good piece to set lyrics to, so he wrote the song while he stayed at Dagworth. It is widely believed that the story is based on an incident that took place during the Great Shearers' Strike in 1894, wherein a man named Samuel Hoffmeister was killed by authorities. There has been some recent scholarship that casts doubt on this long-held belief in the song as a kind of socialist anthem. Nevertheless, the story of the swagman and his sheep lives on....

The Rest of the Tale:

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me"
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred,
Down came the troopers, one, two, three,
"Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?"
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me"
"Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?",
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong,
"You'll never take me alive", said he,
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me"
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
"You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me."

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!

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Friday, January 24, 2014


Early on the morning of of today's date, January 24 in 1848, millwright James Marshall made a discovery which would change the lives of uncounted thousands of people and which would also change the course of the history of the United States. Marshall was supervising the excavation of a shallow millrace on Sutter's Creek near Caloma when he noticed a sparkle of light in the dark earth. When he examined the earth more closely, he discovered that much of it was speckled with what appeared to be small flakes of .....GOLD. He dashed off to tell the owner of the land, Mr. Sutter, and the find was soon confirmed. Sutter tried to quietly gather up as much as he could,  hoping to keep the find a secret. But word soon got out, and the largest gold rush in world history was on.  

"Mining the Miners..."

Sutter's Creek was a tributary of the America River in the Sacramento Valley east of San Francisco, and it was named for the Swiss immigrant John Augustus Sutter. Sutter had settled in California in 1839, and utilizing the labor of local Indians whom he treated little better than slaves he had built farms and ranches as the center of what he hoped would be a thriving agricultural colony which he named "New Helvetia".  But employees of Sutter's went to purchase goods in a store owned by Samuel Brannan a leader in the local Later Day Saints 
church.  These men paid for their purchase with gold which they had found at Sutters. Brannan (right) went to Sutters Mill and as a representative of the LDS church received the tithes of some of the men in the form of the gold which they had found. Rumors began circulating from other sources as well.  Brannan saw a way to riches here.  Not by mining for gold himself, but by "mining the miners" in the selling to them of all the supplies that they would need for their operations.  As word of the find spread to other lands around the world via merchant ships, and letters home by men who began to flock to the area, Brannan fanned the flames of gold fever even more.  He printed up 2,000 copies of a special edition of the local newspaper which he published, The California Star. In this he announced the gold find in huge letters. He then packed these papers on east-bound mule trains.  When these editions showed up in St. Louis in August of 1848, they caused an immediate sensation.  Papers from around the United States picked up the story:

"The Fort Wayne Times, Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S.A. Thursday, January 4, 1849

From California -- the Latest Yet.

The Gold fever besets the Press, as well as the Public. All the newspaper columns glitter with "Gold, Gold, Gold." The "Boston Herald" (and no other paper has the news) thus discourses:

"Highly important from California! -- great excitement among the people!! -- Gold region inexhaustible!!! -- a new people, and a gold forest!!!!

"By the arrival of the bark Ariel, Capt Tudacher, we are placed in possession of dispatches from California to the very latest date, and a little later. The Ariel sailed from Provincetown on a whaling voyage, but has returned with a cargo of gold dust, valued at $7,300,000, besides a quantity of hide and tallow.

"When Capt. Tudacher left San Francisco the people were returning from the gold washings.

"Not finding vacant store-houses in which to place the precious metal, the people were piling it up in the public streets as cods used to be of yore, in the streets of Watertown, Mass. Barricades erected of solid ingots of gold actually impeded the travel."

Gold There for the Taking!!!

There were tales of gold there to be picked up, of men working a few days and walking away with thousands of dollars after just scooping it from under a few rocks or right out of a creek bed. These tales of fabulous riches there for the taking were not so far from the truth in these early days of the summer of and autumn of 1848.  The gold was in fact that easy to pocket at that time.  But by 1849 and beyond, these days of easy pickings were over, and it became much harder work.  But thousands upon thousands of men packed up from all corners of the U.S. to head for the gold fields. In his Memoirs, published in 1875, William Tecumseh Sherman, then a young Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in California recalled the effect that gold fever had on everyone:

"Not only did soldiers and sailors desert, but captains and masters of ships actually abandoned their vessels and cargoes to try their luck at the mines. Preachers and professors forgot their creeds and took to trade, and even to keeping gambling-houses.....  Soldiers and sailors who could reach the mines were universally shielded by the miners, so that it was next to useless to attempt their recapture."

Those Who Struck it Rich, and Those Who Didn't

This truly international rush for gold transformed California in general and San Francisco in particular from sleepy and sparsely populated frontier places into major population centers dense with an incredible mix of people from all over the world. Men from all walks of life and from all parts of the U.S. and elsewhere pulled up their roots in other places to rush to California and get in on what they thought would be easy riches. Many did strike it rich.  Sam Brannan did indeed get rich selling to the miners. But many more did not. Sadly, It would all prove to be a disaster for Mr. Sutter, whose mill started the whole thing.  Thousands of prospectors swarmed to California and soon overran Sutter's property, slaughtering his herds of livestock for food, and trampling his fields.  By 1852, his "New Helvetia" was ruined.  He died in 1880 after years of futile efforts to gain governmental compensation for his losses. BUT, the term for all these prospectors: the "49ers" was coined, and thus the name of the football team (of some note) of the future!!


"The Memoirs of General W. T Sherman"  by William T. Sherman, Penguin Putnam Inc., New York, 2000

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

JANUARY 22 = Queen Victoria Dies

On January 22 in 1901, Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the British Dominions beyond the seas, Empress of India, and the longest reigning sovereign in British history died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Present at her bedside were members of her family, including her heir, the Prince of Wales (who would shortly take the title of King Edward VII). Victoria gave her name to an age in Great Britain. But she was more than merely a figurehead.  She was truly a formidable woman. Enough so that when Germany's mighty "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismarck was due to meet her, he was reportedly sweating bullets at the thought.  But oddly enough when she died on either side of the bed, lifting up her pillow so she could see who was there were her other surviving son, Prince Arthur, and of all people, Germany's Kaiser William II, who was her oldest grandchild.

Kaiser William II Invites Himself

The German Emperor had not been invited, but upon the hearing news that his grandmother was, after a long life nearing her end, he took the liberty of inviting himself. History tends to remember Kaiser as a kind of boastful, swaggering charlatan. And while most of the time, he was indeed just that, he also had it in his character to behave with the utmost tact, and even charm when he chose to. And by all accounts, his behavior at the time of Queen Victoria's death was one such time. In his 1991 book "Dreadnought - Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War", historian Robert K. Massie asserts that it was the Kaiser for whom Queen Victoria's death held the most significance:

The Effect of Victoria's Death on the Kaiser

"Queen Victoria had reigned for almost sixty-four years, only subjects nearing seventy could remember another monarch. More than a sovereign, she was an institution, and most of her people thought of her as permanent, like the Houses of Parliament, or the Bank of England..... the sense of loss was many-sided: loss of permanence, loss of authority, loss of security. On no one -- not even on her heir --did this loss have a greater impact than on the Kaiser. In spite of all, the emotional link between them had never been broken. He was her eldest grandchild, she was his august, but also warmhearted Grandmama. The happiest days of his youth had been spent in the relatively informal atmosphere of Osborne and Windsor, an atmosphere dominated by the personality of the Queen. As the years went by, he never gave up his feeling of tenderness for his aging grandmother, and respect for the Queen-Empress. She scolded him, but she also showed him affection and understanding. She criticized him to her ministers, but she also stood up for him, advising Lord Salisbury and others on how to deal with him. In many ways, she was like him: both were sentimental, subject to strong likes and dislikes, capable of gushiness and sharp anger in writing to subordinates. Because Victoria had had (her late husband, Prince) Albert and a series of independent prime ministers, she had learned to discipline her feelings and language as William never had. As long as she lived, she posed for William a model of how an Imperial sovereign should behave. When she died, that model vanished. His Uncle, King Edward, could not replace her; for too long, Bertie (the name by which Edward VII had been known to his family) in William's eyes had been the frivolous Prince of Wales. And so, at forty-two, the Kaiser was left alone to follow his own path, bereft of the presence, the counsel, and the affection of the one human he admired as well as loved."

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


"Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War"
by Robert K. Massie, Random House Publ. Group Inc., New York, 1991.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

SPECIAL = Martin Luther King Day, 2018

On Martin Luther King Day, I would like to briefly remember Dr. King (who is remembered in this Blog on the occasion of his untimely death on April 4, and on the anniversary of his famous "I Have a Dream.." speech on August 28) with a quotation of his of which I was made aware for the first time on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 by the Oakley Campus Pastor at Crossroads Church here in Cincinnati, Ohio, Chuck Mingo.  These words of Dr. King remind us that there is no hierarchy in God's love. There is no one of us whom God loves more than another;  each and every one of us is important to God, and therefore we must always be our best....

“If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music ... Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

Other important events in the Civil Rights struggle here in America can be found at the following postings on this Blog:

LBJ Sends Troops to Alabama =

Rosa Parks Says "No." =

"The Birth of a Nation" Premieres =

The First African American Astronaut Blasts Off!!

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

JANUARY 19 = Edgar Allan Poe is Born

"Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered to the opposite wall. For one instant, the party on the stairs remained motionless, through extremity of terror and awe. In the next a dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon it's head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled up the monster within the tomb."

Stephen King? No. H.P. Lovecraft? No. A script from one of the films of M. Knight Shyamylan? NO. These are the final words of the story of "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allen Poe, who was born on today's date - January 19 in 1809. What must have been going on in the mind of this utterly tortured he must have been, to have written such passages of sheer horror! Of course, it does not necessarily have to be so. Other than an awful accident with a van a few years ago, Stephen King has had a happy and normal life. The same for Mssr.s Lovecraft and Shyamylan. But not for Edgar Allan Poe. His life was hard - marked by disappointments, alcoholism, and the deaths of his loved ones, and his own untimely demise under mysterious circumstances at he young age of 40.

Poe's Early Life

Poe was born in Boston Massachusetts, to a pair of theatrical parents, who may have named him for the mad character of Edgar in Shakespeare's King Lear which they had been performing around the time of his birth. Poe's father abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother died of Consumption (Tuberculosis) a year later. Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan, a rich merchant couple in Boston. Pictured above is the Edgar Allan Poe House in Boston wherein Poe lived for a time. Although they never formally adopted the young man, Poe's adoptive parents did give him their name - Allan.

Poe's Literary Criticism

Poe was the first American writer to attempt to make a living off of his work alone. He made several attempts throughout his life to work with literary magazines. He had some degree of success in this attempt. In fact he was better known in his time as an astute literary critic than as a writer. Fellow critic James Russell Lowell called him "the most discriminating, philosophical, and fearless critic upon imaginative works who has written in America", though he wondered if Poe used prussic acid instead of ink. Clearly, Poe was seen as a man to be reckoned with, and his abilities were respected by his literary fellows.

Poe's Marriage to Virginia Clemm

But the world of real life was considerably more difficult for Poe. He made a try at army life for a couple of years, but that was a failure. He was eventually cut off from any support by his adoptive father. He married his cousin, Virginia Clemm (left) when he was in his late twenties, and she was merely 13. The marriage was happy and loving, but Poe was unable to sustain himself in regular employment through this time. He published his "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (horror)" containing "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Tomb of Ligea" in 1840 to mixed reviews. His young wife fell ill in 1842, and under the stress of this time, he began to drink more and more heavily.

Poe's "the Black Cat"

In "The Black Cat", published in 1843, he wrote of a man who had once been kind and gentle, but who, under the influence of alcohol gradually became cruel. He centered his loathing and resentment on his cat.

"I grew, day by day, more moody more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I even offered her personal disease grew upon me -- for what disease is like alcohol!...Even Pluto(the cat)began to experience the effects of my ill temper."

It is not difficult to imagine Poe experiencing these dark and troubling feelings and writing about them in the guise of the tortured man of his stories. The man in this story took a swing at the cat, and wound up killing his wife instead - hence the line about the creature having "seduced" him into murder. He then concealed her body behind a brick wall, and when the police came calling, the cat, whom he had inadvertently entombed with his late wife began crying - hence his date with the hangman.

Poe's "The Raven"

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

''Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.' "

These of course are the opening lines of "The Raven" published in January of 1845. This poem about a man's nocturnal visit from a large and mysterious black bird was a rare literary success for Poe, making him a household name. He was sought after for public readings of the work. At one such reading, a spectator remarked at the atmosphere Poe would create for the event:

"to hear [Poe] repeat the Raven... is an event in one's life...He would turn down the lamps till the room was almost dark, then standing in the center of the apartment he would recite... in the most melodious of voices... So marvelous was his power as a reader that the auditors would be afraid to draw breath lest the enchanted spell be broken."

Poe's Mysterious Death

Regrettably Poe would realize but a small amount of money from this success. Even more regrettably for Poe, his wife died almost exactly two years after the Raven's publication. His drinking got worse, and following several attempts at remarriage, he died under mysterious circumstances on October 7, 1849. He had been found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, "in great distress, and ... in need of immediate assistance" in the account of the man who found him. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died. Poe was never coherent enough to explain how he came to be in this condition.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!

Sources =

"The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe" - Edgar Allan Poe
A Signet Classic, New American Library Inc., New York, 1960

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Friday, January 17, 2014

JANUARY 17 = The Great "Brinks" Robbery

The Great Brinks Robbery - the armed robbery of the Brinks Building in Boston, Massachusetts went down on today's date, January 17 in 1950. It was a bold, and a meticulously planned heist, and for six years the culprits managed to evade capture. They managed to bag $1,218,211.19 in cash, and over $1.5-million in checks, money orders and other securities. At the time, it was largest robbery in the history of United States. Cleanly and smoothly executed with very few clues left at the scene, the robbery was called as "the crime of the century". Yet, in spite of the fact that all nine members of the gang wound up in the can, most of the stolen booty has never been recovered.

The Carefully Planned Scheme

Anthony "Fats" Pino (right) was the originator of the heist, which he had carefully planned for over 18 months. He brought in Joseph "Specs" O'Keefe, Joseph "Big Joe" McGinnis and Stanley "Gus" Gusciora. Secretly O'Keefe and Gusciora entered the Brinks depot; they picked the outside lock with an ice pick and inner door with a piece of plastic. Later they temporarily removed the cylinders from the five locks, one at a time, so a locksmith could make duplicate keys for them. They then re-installed the originals, so nothing seemed amiss. Once this was done Pino recruited six other men, including Pino's brother-in-law Vincent Costa, Michael Vincent Geagan, Thomas Francis Richardson, Adolph "Jazz" Maffie and Henry Baker.

The gang waited for the perfect hour for their heist; having studied the schedules of the building staff, they were able to determine what the staff was doing based on the lights in the building windows. O'Keefe and Gusciora even stole the plans for the site alarms. The gang members entered the building on practice runs after the staff had left for the day. Costa monitored the depot from a room of a ruined building nearby.

The Bandits Make Off With the $$$$$$$!!

That night, they put on clothing which appeared to be similar the Brink's guards uniform with Navy pea coats, chauffeur's caps, rubber Halloween masks, gloves and rubber-soled shoes to muffle their footsteps. While Pino and driver Banfield remained in the car, seven other men entered the building 6:55 PM. With their bogus keys they came to the second floor through the locked doors and surprised, then bound and gagged five Brinks employees who were storing and counting money. They missed the General Electric Company pay box but scooped up everything else. The gang then calmly went about their "business" and strolled out of the Brinks building at 7:30 PM. Along with the cash, they had taken four revolvers from the guards. The gang speedily counted their take, gave some of the members part of their cut and agreed not to touch the rest of the money for six years - time enough for the statute of limitations to expire. They then split up and went their separate ways.

The Police and the FBI Begin to Investigate....

It was a devilishly audacious and clever plan. But six whole years is a long time for criminals to keep their yaps shut and stay out of trouble, no matter what the inducement. The Brinks Company offered $100,000 reward for tips on the theft. The only clues police could find to begin with were the rope which the robbers had used to tie the employees and a chauffeur's cap. And informers info was useless at the start of the investigation. The getaway truck - a green 1949 Ford which had been stolen weeks before the heist was found chopped to pieces in Stoughton, Massachusetts, near O'Keefe's home. But in June 1950, O’Keefe and Gusciora were arrested in Pennsylvania for a burglary. These sticky-fingered fools were convicted, O’Keefe got three years in Bradford County Jail and Gusciora 5 to 20 in the State Slammer at Pittsburgh. Through their informers police heard that O'Keefe and Gusciora had insisted on using some of their Brinks loot to fight their convictions. Maffie later claimed that most of O'Keefe's share went to his legal defense. FBI agents tried to talk to O'Keefe and Gusciora in prison but they kept quiet. Gang members had indeed come under suspicion but the FBI and the police just didn't have enough evidence to bring their case. So law enforcement kept putting the screws to the boys. Adolph Maffie was later convicted of income tax evasion and got nine months in the clink.

And the Boys Begin to Blab!!

After O'Keefe got out of jail, he was obliged to stand trial for another burglary and parole violations and was released on bail of $17,000. O'Keefe later claimed that he had never seen his part of the Brinks booty after he had given it to Maffie for "safekeeping". But he needed some of his take and didn't fancy waiting six years to get it. So he kidnapped Vincent Costa and demanded his part of the loot for ransom. Pino ponied up a small ransom but then decided to have O'Keefe rubbed out. After couple of blown tries he hired underworld hit man Elmer "Trigger" Burke to do it right. Burke went to Boston and peppered O'Keefe with a sub-machine gun but O'Keefe still managed to dodge the bullets, and was seriously wounded, but had not bought it. FBI approached O'Keefe in the hospital and on January 6, 1956 he began to sing like the proverbial bird.

In January 12, 1956 the FBI arrested Baker, Costa, Geagan, Maffie, McGinnis, and Pino. They caught Faherty and Richardson in Dorchester, Massachusetts in May. O'Keefe pleaded guilty January 18. Gusciora died July 9 due to cerebral edema before he could stand trial. Banfield was already dead. Trial began August 6, 1956. Eight of the gang received the maximum sentences of life in the can, but O'Keefe received only 4 years and was released in 1960. So all of the boys wound up dead or in the slammer, but most of the loot was never recovered. According to eh..... legend.... it is all squirreled away in the hills just north of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any "Today in History" posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I'm writing (or not!)!!


"The Brinks Job" Dir. by William Friedkin, starring Peter Falk, 1978

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

JANUARY 16 = Operation "Desert Storm" Begins

"Just two hours ago, allied air forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. These attacks continue as I speak. Ground forces are not engaged.
This conflict started Aug. 2, when the dictator of Iraq invaded a small and helpless neighbor. Kuwait, a member of the Arab League and a member of the United Nations, was crushed, its people brutalized. Five months ago, Saddam Hussein started this cruel war against Kuwait; tonight, the battle has been joined."
- President George H.W. Bush, Jan. 16, 1991.
On today's date, January 16 in 1991, U.S. and Allied air forces commenced an attack on Iraqi military forces both in Iraq and Kuwait.  The attack was the first phase of Operation Desert Storm, which was designed to forcibly eject the Iraqi army from the nation of Kuwait, which Iraq had invaded the previous August.  
Saddam Invades Kuwait
On August 2 in 1990 Saddam Hussein, the Dictator of Iraq, ordered his army to invade and occupy his small neighbor to the Southeast, Kuwait.  His reasons for this remain unclear, but he had using Soviet made tanks such as the T72, built his army into the fourth largest in the world. He was quite likely trying to "take his place" as the preeminent leader in the Arab world, and by grabbing the oil rich Kingdom of Kuwait he put himself in control of some 20% of the world's oil supply  and put himself to within reach of another 20% in Saudi Arabia.  This would give him vast new sums of money with which to build his military machine, and possibly build his stock of chemical weapons.  Saddam was a ruthless Dictator, and had shown himself willing to use such weapons against his own citizens.
President Bush Takes Action
To United States President George Herbert Walker Bush, such an invasion was clearly a violation of International Law, and could not be allowed to stand. In the days that followed, he would work the phones from his office and assemble a coalition of over twenty nations to oppose what he called naked aggression by Iraq against a helpless neighbor.  Of course there was a question of Oil. But there was also a moral factor which animated Bush's actions.  As he recorded in his private diary:
"Hearing stories about Iraq's treatment of Kuwait. Brutalities committed against it's people. The atrocities really hit me, giving urgency to my desire to do something active to respond."
Towards that end he assembled a huge force not only to deter any further Iraqi aggression, but to force Saddam out of Kuwait.  He also adopted a strategy of diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions to leave no peaceful means untried. As James Baker put it:   "We developed a policy of coercive diplomacy. In effect saying 'You get out, you get out unconditionally. and if you don't we're gonna use political sanctions, economic sanctions, anything we can to get you to leave, and if you don't leave after all that, then we're gonna throw you out."
Desert Storm Commences
The deadline set in U.N. Resolution 678 was January 15, 1991. And in spite of exhaustive diplomatic efforts toward a non-lethal solution, it came and went.  At 6:38 pm on this evening in 1991, bombs and anti-aircraft fir lit up the skies over Baghdad (see the image at the top of this posting).  That evening, I was practicing for an Austin Symphony rehearsal, 
but I had a small TV set on following the news.  Dr. Judith Jellison, a fine teacher of Music Education came into my office to watch for a bit.  The announcer said "An attack is apparently now in progress.." and Judith and I exchanged worried looks. "Insanity!" she said.  The news people in Baghdad were caught between taking cover and trying to cover the lethal light show that was going on in Baghdad.  CNN's Bernard Shaw (left)reported the news while James Baker watched. Shaw (broadcasting from a Baghdad hotel): "I am just crouching down here on the floor and it is eerily quiet right now..." Baker: "The deadline's passed and not much is happening, and all of a sudden the sky lit up!" Shaw: "In the sky to my left to my right, flashes, flashes of light, and then the ground shook.." Baker: "And they dived under their desks.."  

The news- papers the next morning were full of the previous night's news.  "It's WAR!!" trumpeted the Cincinnati Post (right). "WAR IN GULF" said the Austin American Statesman. "US AT WAR" was in huge letters across the top of the Cincinnati Enquirer.  It is interesting to note the first paragraph of each publication's coverage.  The Enquirer: "President Bush summoned US and Allied forces into war with Iraq on Wednesday night, declaring, 'The Battle has been joined' to free Kuwait."  Austin American Statesman: "War with Iraq began Wednesday as hundreds of  US, British and Saudi Arabian warplanes bombed strategic targets in Iraq and occupied Kuwait after fruitlessly demanding for 5 1/2 months that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait." And finally the Post (From the A.P. Wires): "President Bush plunged America into war against a defiant Iraq, saying 'the world could wait no longer' to expel Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait."
The Air War is a Success
The first phase of this war was to utilize overwhelming force to crush the Iraqi defenses. Coalition forces unleashed a "shock and awe'  air campaign. F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighters, Tomahawk Cruise Missiles launched from Battleships, Apache Attack Helicopters, and laser guided smart bombs targeting early warning radar sights, military facilities, and key communication centers. Within 24 hours Saddam's air defenses had been utterly annihilated, leaving the Allied pilots to attack their targets virtually at will for the next several weeks, weakening Iraqi defenses for the ground campaign which was certain to come. That first night 56 missions were launched, and 56 pilots returned safely.

Sources :
"The Commander in Chief: Inside the Oval Office - The Gulf War"  - Military Channel Documentary, Ex. Prod. - Stephen David, Written by Ed Fields, and David Schaye, May, 2013.
The Cincinnati Post, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the Austin American Statesman, all from their editions of Thursday morning, January 17, 1991.