March 16, 2020
Day 76 of 366
March 16th is the seventy-sixth day of the year. It is the Day of the Book Smugglers in Lithuania. Opposing imperial Russian authorities’ efforts to replace the traditional Latin orthography with Cyrillic, Lithuanian book smugglers defied the ban on books written in Latin that was in force from 1864 to 1904. They carried printed matter as far as the United States, becoming a symbol of Lithuanian resistance to Russian assimilation.
Historical items of note:
- In 1802, the Army Corps of Engineers was established to found and operate the United States Military Academy at West Point.
- In 1870, the first version of the overture fantasy Romeo and Juliet by Tchaikovsky premiered.
- In 1898, the representatives of five colonies adopted a constitution in Melbourne, establishing the basis of the Commonwealth of Australia.
- In 1926, Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts.
- Also in 1926, comedian Jerry Lewis was born.
- In 1949, Canadian actor and singer Victor Garber was born.
- In 1966, Gemini 8 was launched with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and David R. Scott, the first spaceflight both men. It was the twelfth manned American space flight and first space docking with an Agena Target Vehicle.
- In 1967, actress and producer Lauren Graham was born.
- In 1971, actor Alan Tudyk was born.
- In 1975, actress Sienna Guillory was born.
- In 1995, Mississippi formally ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, becoming the last state to approve the abolition of slavery in the United States. The Thirteenth Amendment was officially ratified in 1865, over a century prior to Mississippi’s approval.
In 1968, the Mỹ Lai Massacre occurred.
A dark mark on the history of the United States military, the Mỹ Lai Massacre was the mass murder of between 347 and 500 Vietnamese civilians – including men, women, children, and infants – by American soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment and Company B, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division. Some of the women were gang-raped and mutilated, as were children as young as twelve.
This war crime took place in two hamlets of Sơn Mỹ village in Quảng Ngãi Province, marked as Mỹ Lai and Mỹ Khê on Army maps. The event is referred to as the My Lai Massacre in the United States, but as the Sơn Mỹ Massacre in Vietnam. The soldiers, already stressed from enemy engagements, assumed that the villagers were hiding Viet Cong guerillas. Their gunships engaged several armed enemies in the vicinity, confirming their suspicions. The massacre began soon after.
Initially, three U.S. servicemen who had tried to halt the massacre and rescue the hiding civilians were shunned. Several Congressmen even denounced them as traitors, including Mendel Rivers (D-SC), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
These soldiers – Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, Jr., Specialist Four Glenn Andreotta, and Specialist Four Lawrence Colburn – initially received medals for their actions. Warrant Thompson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which he threw away due to a fabricated account of the incident. The two specialists were awarded Bronze Stars, but Andreotta’s award was posthumous since he was killed a month later. Thirty years later, all three of the awards were replaced by the Soldier’s Medal, the highest medal the U.S. Army can award for bravery not involving direct conflict with the enemy. Thompson forced the Army to award them publicly.
The incident prompted global outrage when it was made public in November 1969 after an initial cover-up. Twenty-six soldiers were charged, but only C Company platoon leader Lieutenant William Calley Jr. was convicted. Found guilty of murdering 22 villagers despite his claims that he was merely following orders, he was originally given a life sentence. The American public disagreed with the verdict. Even though he was disliked by his fellow soldiers – men under his command had discussed “fragging” him (killing him with a fragmentation grenade) – many people thought that he was made into a scapegoat for the rest of the soldiers who participated. Calley attempted to appeal his case but was denied.
In the end, he only served three and a half years under house arrest.
The Sơn Mỹ Memorial was built in 1978 in the former hamlet of Tư Cung. Survivors and former soldiers from both sides have attended peace ceremonies at the site, but neither diplomats nor officials from the United States have attended.
On August 19, 2009, Calley finally apologized for his actions. Trần Văn Đức, who was seven years old at the time of the massacre, called the apology “terse”. He wrote a public letter to Calley, describing the plight of the remaining survivors and reminding him that time did not ease the pain. That grief and sorrow over lost lives will forever stay in Mỹ Lai.
The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.
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