On 21 February 1945 and during the Battle of Iwo Jima, (mentioned yesterday in FOD), two Japanese kamikazes hit the USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95). The Bismarck Sea (left) was a Casablanca class escort carrier, She was launched on 17 April 1944 by Kaiser Co., Inc., Vancouver, Washington. The first kamikaze aircraft strikes the starboard side under the first 40 mm gun (aft), crashing through the hangar deck and striking the ship’s magazines. The fire was nearly under control when the second plane struck the aft elevator shaft, exploding on impact and destroying the fire fighting salt water distribution system, thus preventing any further damage control. Shortly after, the order was given to abandon ship. The USS Bismarck Sea sank with the loss of 318 men, and was the last US Navy aircraft carrier to be lost during World War II. Three destroyers and three destroyer escorts rescued survivors over the next 12 hours, between them saving a total of 605 officers and men from her crew of 923. Survivors were then transferred to Dickens and Highlands. Additionally five kamikaze aircraft strike the USS Saratoga (right). Saratoga participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima as a dedicated night fighter carrier. Saratoga was assigned to provide fighter cover while the remaining carriers launched the strikes on Japan, but in the process, her fighters raided two Japanese airfields. The force fueled on 18 and 19 February, and the ship provided CAP over Iwo Jima on 19–20 February. The following day, Saratoga was detached with an escort of three destroyers to join the amphibious forces and carry out night patrols over Iwo Jima and nearby Chichi Jima (see note below). Taking advantage of low cloud cover and Saratoga‘s weak escort, six Japanese planes scored five bomb hits on the carrier in three minutes; three of the aircraft also struck the carrier. Saratoga‘s flight deck forward was wrecked, her starboard side was holed twice and large fires were started in her hangar deck; she lost 123 of her crew dead or missing as well as 192 wounded. Thirty-six of her aircraft were destroyed. Another attack two hours later further damaged her flight deck. Slightly over an hour later, the fires were under control, and Saratoga was able to recover six fighters; she arrived at Bremerton, WA on 16 March for permanent repairs. Note: Chichi Jima was also the subject of a book by James Bradley entitled Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, a factual account of the lives of a group of young World War II pilots, including a young George H. W. Bush. It’s on the Fireball reading list and should be required reading by every high school student.
19–20 February 1979: Professor Neil Armstrong of the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering, member of the Board of Directors of Gates Learjet Corporation, former United States Navy fighter pilot, NACA/NASA research test pilot, Gemini and Apollo astronaut, and The First Man To Set Foot On The Moon, set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale(FAI) and National Aeronautics Association class records for time to climb to an altitude and altitude while flying the prototype Learjet 28, serial number 28-001. Armstrong, with Learjet program test pilot Peter Reynolds as co-pilot, and with NAA observer Don Berliner aboard, flew the Learjet 28 to 15,000 meters (49,212.598 feet) in 12 minutes, 27 seconds at Kittyhawk, North Carolina on 19 February. On the same day, during a flight from Wichita, Kansas, to Elizabeth City, New Jersey, Armstrong flew the Learjet to 15,584.6 meters (51,130.577 feet), setting records for altitude and for sustained altitude in horizontal flight. The following day, 20 February 1979, flying from Elizabeth City to Florence, Kentucky, Armstrong again set altitude and sustained altitude in horizontal flight, in a different class, by taking the Learjet to 15,585 meters (51,131.89 feet). Neil Armstrong was not only a hero, but a true gentleman. I had the distinct opportunity to sit next to him at lunch during an SETP Convention a few years back. I will never forget it.
In one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympic history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of college players, defeats the four-time defending gold-medal winning Soviet team at the men’s ice hockey tournament at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York on February 22, 1980. The Soviet squad, previously regarded as the finest in the world, fell to the youthful American team 4-3 before a frenzied crowd of 10,000 spectators. Two days later, the Americans defeated Finland 4-2 to clinch the hockey gold. The victory became one of the most iconic moments of the Games and in U.S. sports. Equally well-known was the television call of the final seconds of the game by Al Michaels for ABC, in which he famously declared in the final seconds, “Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!” In 1999, Sports Illustrated named the “Miracle on Ice” the top sports moment of the 20th century. As part of its centennial celebration in 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) named the “Miracle on Ice” as the best international ice hockey story of the past 100 years. I remember completing two back to back ACM flights and had the opportunity to watch the third and final period. It was a great, great moment in sports.
At 7:12 a.m. on the morning of February 21, 1916, a shot from a German Krupp 38-centimeter long-barreled gun—one of over 1,200 such weapons set to bombard French forces along a 20-kilometer front stretching across the Meuse River—strikes a cathedral in Verdun, France, beginning the Battle of Verdun, which would stretch on for 10 months and become the longest battles of the First World War on the Western Front between the German and French armies. The Battle of Verdun lasted for 303 days and became the longest and one of the most costly battles in human history. An estimate in 2000 found a total of 714,231 casualties, 377,231 French and 337,000 German, for an average of 70,000 casualties a month; other recent estimates increase the number of casualties to 976,000, during the battle, with 1,250,000 suffered at Verdun during the war.
On February 22, 1732, George Washington was born. He of course went on to serve as the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797 and was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and later presided over the 1787 convention that drafted the United States Constitution. He is popularly considered the driving force behind the nation’s establishment and came to be known as the “father of the country,” both during his lifetime and to this day. Washington was widely admired for his strong leadership qualities and was unanimously elected president by the Electoral College in the first two national elections. He oversaw the creation of a strong, well-financed national government that maintained neutrality in the French Revolutionary Wars, suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, and won acceptance among Americans of all types. Washington’s incumbency established many precedents still in use today, such as the cabinet system, the inaugural address, and the title Mr. President. His retirement from office after two terms established a tradition that lasted until 1940 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term. The 22nd Amendment (1951) now limits the president to two elected terms. Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787, (depicted below) which devised a new form of federal government for the United States. Following his election as president in 1789, he worked to unify rival factions in the fledgling nation. He supported Alexander Hamilton‘s programs to satisfy all debts, federal and state, established a permanent seat of government, implemented an effective tax system, and created a national bank. In avoiding war with Great Britain, he guaranteed a decade of peace and profitable trade by securing the Jay Treaty in 1795, despite intense opposition from the Jeffersonians. He remained non-partisan, never joining the Federalist Party, although he largely supported its policies. Washington’s Farewell Address was an influential primer on civic virtue, warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars. President Trump would do well to read his Farewell Address. And of course he had those wooden false teeth and never wanted to smile in a portrait. He retired from the presidency in 1797, returning to his home and plantation at Mount Vernon.