Mass graves discovered in Hue


Year
1968
Month Day
February 26

Allied troops who had recaptured the imperial capital of Hue from the North Vietnamese during the Tet Offensive discover the first mass graves in Hue.

It was discovered that communist troops who had held the city for 25 days had massacred about 2,800 civilians whom they had identified as sympathizers with the government in Saigon. One authority estimated that communists might have killed as many as 5,700 people in Hue.

The Tet Offensive had begun at dawn on the first day of the Tet holiday truce (January 30), when Viet Cong forces, supported by large numbers of North Vietnamese troops, launched the largest and best coordinated offensive of the war. During the attack, they drove into the center of South Vietnam’s seven largest cities and attacked 30 provincial capitals ranging from the Delta to the DMZ. 

Among the cities taken during the first four days of the offensive were Hue, Dalat, Kontum, and Quang Tri; in the north, all five provincial capitals were overrun. At the same time, enemy forces shelled numerous allied airfields and bases. By February 10, the offensive was largely crushed, but resulted in heavy casualties on both sides.

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U.S. troops recapture Philippine island of Corregidor


Year
1945
Month Day
February 26

On February 26, an ammunition dump on the Philippine island of Corregidor is blown up by a remnant of the Japanese garrison, causing more American casualties on the eve of U.S. victory there.

In May 1942, Corregidor, a small rock island at the mouth of Manila Bay, remained one of the last Allied strongholds in the Philippines after the Japanese victory at Bataan. Constant artillery shelling and aerial bombardment attacks ate away at the American and Filipino defenders. 

Although still managing to sink many Japanese barges as they approached the northern shores of the island, the Allied troops could not hold the invader off any longer. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, commander of the U.S. armed forces in the Philippines, offered to surrender Corregidor to Japanese Gen. Masaharu Homma, but Homma wanted the complete, unconditional capitulation of all American forces throughout the Philippines. Wainwright had little choice given the odds against him and the poor physical condition of his troops—he had already lost 800 men. He surrendered at midnight. All 11,500 surviving Allied troops were evacuated to a prison stockade in Manila.

But the Americans returned to the Philippines in full strength in October 1944, beginning with the recapture of Leyte, the Philippines’ central island. It took 67 days to subdue, with the loss of more than 55,000 Japanese soldiers during the two months of battle, and approximately another 25,000 mopping up pockets of resistance in early 1945. The U.S. forces lost about 3,500.

Following the American victory of Leyte was the return of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the struggle for Luzon and the race for Manila, the Philippine capital. One week into the Allied battle for Luzon, U.S. airborne troops parachuted onto Corregidor to take out the Japanese garrison there, which was believed to be 1,000 strong, but was actually closer to 5,000. Fierce fighting resulted in the deaths of most of the Japanese soldiers, with the survivors left huddling in the Malinta Tunnel for safety. 

Ironically, the tunnel, 1,400 feet long and dug deep in the heart of Corregidor, had served as MacArthur’s headquarters and a U.S. supply depot before the American defeat there. MacArthur feared the Japanese soldiers could sit there for months. The garrison had no such intention, though, and ignited a nearby ammunition dump—an act of defiance, and possibly of mass suicide. 

Most of the Japanese were killed in the explosion, along with 52 Americans. Those Japanese who survived the blast were forced out into the open and decimated by the Americans. Corregidor was officially in American hands by early March.

READ MORE: Douglas MacArthur – General, WWII & Korean War

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Florida teen Trayvon Martin is shot and killed


On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, an African American teen walking home from a trip to a convenience store, is fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer patrolling the townhouse community of the Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman later claimed to have shot the unarmed 17-year-old out of self-defense during a physical altercation. After police initially opted not to arrest Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, the case sparked protests and ignited national debates about racial profiling and self-defense laws. Zimmerman later was charged with second-degree murder; following a high-profile trial that riveted America, he was acquitted of the charges against him.

On February 26, Martin, a Miami high school student, was in Sanford visiting his father. Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, the teen was on his way back to the home of his father’s fiancée, after buying a bag of Skittles and a bottle of juice, when he was spotted by Zimmerman, a 28-year-old insurance-fraud investigator who was captain of the neighborhood patrol at the Retreat at Twin Lakes, which recently had experienced a series of break-ins and burglaries. Zimmerman called the non-emergency line of the Sanford police to report that Martin looked suspicious then ignored a police dispatcher’s advice not to follow the young man. Moments later, gunfire rang out. When officers arrived, Martin was dead at the scene. Zimmerman, who had a bloody nose and cuts on the back of his head, was questioned then released. There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting, and police chose not to arrest Zimmerman, who claimed to have acted in self-defense.

After Martin’s parents raised concerns about the police investigation into the death of their son, who had no criminal record, the case gained national attention. Protest rallies were held in cities nationwide, including New York City, where on March 21 hundreds of people gathered for the Million Hoodie March and demanded justice for Martin, who many believed Zimmerman had profiled as suspicious and threatening simply because the teen was black. Two days later, President Barack Obama said of the shooting: “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” In addition to raising a national debate about race relations, the shooting drew attention to Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, which allows people to use lethal force if they fear for their safety and does not require them to retreat from a dangerous situation, even when it’s possible to do so.

On April 11, 2012, following weeks of demonstrations, a special prosecutor appointed by Florida’s governor charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty and the case went to trial in June 2013. In court, the prosecution portrayed Zimmerman as a wannabe cop who had profiled Martin as a criminal, chased him down and fought him. Prosecutors also tried to poke holes in Zimmerman’s self-defense claim by pointing to inconsistencies in his statements to the police. Defense attorneys for Zimmerman, who did not take the stand, contended he only shot Martin after the teen attacked him. On July 13, after deliberating for 16 hours over two days, a jury of six women found Zimmerman not guilty.

In November 2013, the city of Sanford announced new rules forbidding volunteers in its neighborhood watch program from carrying guns and pursuing suspects.

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World Trade Center is bombed


Year
1993
Month Day
February 26

At 12:18 p.m., a terrorist bomb explodes in a parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City, leaving a crater 60 feet wide and causing the collapse of several steel-reinforced concrete floors in the vicinity of the blast. 

Although the terrorist bomb failed to critically damage the main structure of the skyscrapers, six people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured. The World Trade Center itself suffered more than $500 million in damage. After the attack, authorities evacuated 50,000 people from the buildings, hundreds of whom were suffering from smoke inhalation. The evacuation lasted the whole afternoon.

City authorities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) undertook a massive manhunt for suspects, and within days several radical Islamic fundamentalists were arrested. In March 1994, Mohammed Salameh, Ahmad Ajaj, Nidal Ayyad, and Mahmoud Abouhalima were convicted by a federal jury for their role in the bombing, and each was sentenced to life in prison. Salameh, a Palestinian, was arrested when he went to retrieve the $400 deposit he had left for the Ryder rental van used in the attack. Ajaj and Ayyad, who both played a role in the construction of the bomb, were arrested soon after. Abouhalima, who helped buy and mix the explosives, fled to Saudi Arabia but was caught in Egypt two weeks later.

The mastermind of the attack–Ramzi Ahmed Yousef–remained at large until February 1995, when he was arrested in Pakistan. He had previously been in the Philippines, and in a computer he left there were found terrorist plans that included a plot to kill Pope John Paul II and a plan to bomb 15 American airliners in 48 hours. On the flight back to the United States, Yousef reportedly admitted to a Secret Service agent that he had directed the Trade Center attack from the beginning and even claimed to have set the fuse that exploded the 1,200-pound bomb. His only regret, the agent quoted Yousef saying, was that the 110-story tower did not collapse into its twin as planned–a catastrophe that would have caused thousands of deaths.

READ MORE: How the Design of the World Trade Center Claimed Lives on 9/11

Eyad Ismoil, who drove the Ryder van into the parking garage below the World Trade Center, was captured in Jordan that year and taken back to New York. All the men implicated had ties to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a radical Egyptian religious leader who operated out of Jersey City, New Jersey, located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. In 1995, Rahman and 10 followers were convicted of conspiring to blow up the United Nations headquarters and other New York landmarks. Prosecutors argued that the World Trade Center attack was part of that conspiracy, though little clear evidence of this charge was presented.

In November 1997, Yousef and Ismoil were convicted in a courtroom only a few blocks away from the twin towers and subsequently sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Only one other man believed to be directly involved in the attack, Iraqi Abdul Rahman Yasin, remains at large.

After the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S. investigators began to suspect that Yousef had ties to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the head of the anti-U.S. al Qaeda terrorist network. Whether bin Laden was in fact involved in the 1993 Twin Tower attacks has not been determined, but on September 11, 2001, two groups of al Qaeda terrorists finished the job begun by Yousef, crashing two hijacked airliners into the north and south tower of the World Trade Center. 

The structural steel of the skyscrapers could not withstand the tremendous heat generated by the burning jet fuel, and both collapsed within two hours of being struck. Close to 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center and its vicinity, including a staggering 343 firefighters and 23 policemen who were struggling to complete the evacuation and save the office workers trapped on higher floors. Only six people in the World Trade Center towers at the time of their collapse survived. Almost 10,000 other people were treated for injuries, many severe.

READ MORE: 9/11: Rebuilding of Ground Zero

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Last U.S. Marines leave Beirut


Year
1984
Month Day
February 26

The last U.S. Marines sent to Lebanon as part of a multinational peacekeeping force leave Beirut, the war-torn Lebanese capital where some 250 of the original 800 Marines lost their lives during the problem-plagued 18-month mission.

In 1975, a bloody civil war erupted in Lebanon, with Palestinian and leftist Muslim guerrillas battling militias of the Christian Phalange Party, the Maronite Christian community, and other groups. During the next few years, Syrian, Israeli, and United Nations interventions failed to resolve the factional fighting, and on August 20, 1982, a multinational force including 800 U.S. Marines was ordered to Beirut to help coordinate the Palestinian withdrawal.

The Marines left Lebanese territory on September 10 but returned in strengthened numbers on September 29, following the massacre of Palestinian refugees by a Christian militia. The next day, the first U.S. Marine to die during the mission was killed while defusing a bomb. Other Marines fell prey to snipers. On April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber driving a van devastated the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans. Then, on October 23, a Lebanese terrorist drove a truck packed with explosives into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. military personnel. That same morning, 58 French soldiers were killed in their barracks two miles away in a separate suicide terrorist attack. The identities of the embassy and barracks bombers were not determined, but they were suspected to be Shiite terrorists associated with Iran.

After the barracks bombing, many questioned whether President Ronald Reagan had a solid policy aim in Lebanon. Serious questions also arose over the quality of security in the American sector of war-torn Beirut. The U.S. peacekeeping force occupied an exposed area near the airport, but for political reasons the Marine commander had not been allowed to maintain a completely secure perimeter before the barracks attack. In a national address on the night of October 23, President Reagan vowed to keep the Marines in Lebanon, but just four months later he announced the end of the American role in the peacekeeping force. On February 26, 1984, the main force of Marines left Lebanon, leaving just a small contingent to guard the U.S. embassy in Beirut.

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Hitler authorizes the founding of the Reich Luftwaffe


Year
1935
Month Day
February 26

On February 26, 1935, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler signs a secret decree authorizing the founding of the Reich Luftwaffe as a third German military service to join the Reich army and navy. In the same decree, Hitler appointed Hermann Goering, a German air hero from World War I and high-ranking Nazi, as commander in chief of the new German air force.

The Versailles Treaty that ended World War I prohibited military aviation in Germany, but a German civilian airline–Lufthansa–was founded in 1926 and provided flight training for the men who would later become Luftwaffe pilots. After coming to power in 1933, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler began to secretly develop a state-of-the-art military air force and appointed Goering as German air minister. (During World War I, Goering commanded the celebrated air squadron in which the great German ace Manfred von Richthofen–“The Red Baron”–served.) In February 1935, Hitler formally organized the Luftwaffe as a major step in his program of German rearmament.

The Luftwaffe was to be uncamouflaged step-by-step so as not to alarm foreign governments, and the size and composition of Luftwaffe units were to remain secret as before. However, in March 1935, Britain announced it was strengthening its Royal Air Force (RAF), and Hitler, not to be outdone, revealed his Luftwaffe, which was rapidly growing into a formidable air force.

As German rearmament moved forward at an alarming rate, Britain and France protested but failed to keep up with German war production. The German air fleet grew dramatically, and the new German fighter–the Me-109–was far more sophisticated than its counterparts in Britain, France, or Russia. The Me-109 was bloodied during the Spanish Civil War; Luftwaffe pilots received combat training as they tried out new aerial attack formations on Spanish towns such as Guernica, which suffered more than 1,000 killed during a brutal bombing by the Luftwaffe in April 1937.

The Luftwaffe was configured to serve as a crucial part of the German blitzkrieg, or “lightning war”–the deadly military strategy developed by General Heinz Guderian. As German panzer divisions burst deep into enemy territory, lethal Luftwaffe dive-bombers would decimate the enemy’s supply and communication lines and cause panic. By the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the Luftwaffe had an operational force of 1,000 fighters and 1,050 bombers.

First Poland and then Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France fell to the blitzkrieg. After the surrender of France, Germany turned the Luftwaffe against Britain, hoping to destroy the RAF in preparation for a proposed German landing. However, in the epic air battle known as the Battle of Britain, the outnumbered RAF fliers successfully resisted the Luftwaffe, relying on radar technology, their new, highly maneuverable Spitfire aircraft, bravery, and luck. For every British plane shot down, two German warplanes were destroyed. In the face of British resistance, Hitler changed strategy in the Battle of Britain, abandoning his invasion plans and attempting to bomb London into submission. However, in this campaign, the Luftwaffe was hampered by its lack of strategic, long-range bombers, and in early 1941 the Battle of Britain ended in failure.

Britain had handed the Luftwaffe its first defeat. Later that year, Hitler ordered an invasion of the USSR, which after initial triumphs turned into an unqualified disaster. As Hitler stubbornly fought to overcome Russia’s bitter resistance, the depleted Luftwaffe steadily lost air superiority over Europe in the face of increasing British and American air attacks. By the time of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the Luftwaffe air fleet was a skeleton of its former self.

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Two national parks preserved, 10 years apart


Year
1919
Month Day
February 26

On this day in history, two national parks were established in the United States 10 years apart–the Grand Canyon in 1919 and the Grand Tetons in 1929.

Located in northwestern Arizona, the Grand Canyon is the product of millions of years of excavation by the mighty Colorado River. The chasm is exceptionally deep, dropping more than a mile into the earth, and is 15 miles across at its widest point.The canyon is home to more than 1,500 plant species and over 500 animal species, many of them endangered or unique to the area, and it’s steep, multi-colored walls tell the story of 2 billion years of Earth’s history.

In 1540, members of an expedition sent by the Spanish explorer Coronado became the first Europeans to discover the canyon, though because of its remoteness the area was not further explored until 300 years later. American geologist John Wesley Powell, who popularized the term “Grand Canyon” in the 1870s, became the first person to journey the entire length of the gorge in 1869. The harrowing voyage was made in four rowboats.

In January 1908, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt designated more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon a national monument; it was designated a national park under President Woodrow Wilson on February 26, 1919.

READ MORE: 7 Little-Known Legacies of Teddy Roosevelt

Ten years later to the day, President Calvin Coolidge signed into law a bill passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress establishing the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Home to some of the most stunning alpine scenery in the United States, the territory in and around Grand Teton National Park also has a colorful human history. The first Anglo-American to see the saw-edged Teton peaks is believed to be John Colter. After traveling with Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, Colter left the expedition during its return trip down the Missouri in 1807 to join two fur trappers headed back into the wilderness. He spent the next three years wandering through the northern Rocky Mountains, eventually finding his way into the valley at the base of the Tetons, which would later be called Jackson Hole.

Other adventurers followed in Colter’s footsteps, including the French-Canadian trappers who gave the mountain range the bawdy name of “Grand Tetons,” meaning “big breasts” in French. For decades trappers, outlaws, traders and Indians passed through Jackson Hole, but it was not until 1887 that settlers established the first permanent habitation. The high northern valley with its short growing season was ill suited to farming, but the early settlers found it ideal for grazing cattle.

Tourists started coming to Jackson Hole not long after the first cattle ranches. Some of the ranchers supplemented their income by catering to “dudes,” eastern tenderfoots yearning to experience a little slice of the Old West in the shadow of the stunning Tetons. The tourists began to raise the first concerns about preserving the natural beauty of the region.

In 1916, Horace M. Albright, the director of the National Park Service, was the first to seriously suggest that the region be incorporated into Yellowstone National Park. The ranchers and businesses catering to tourists, however, strongly resisted the suggestion that they be pushed off their lands to make a “museum” of the Old West for eastern tourists.

Finally, after more than a decade of political maneuvering, Grand Teton National Park was created on February 26, 1929. As a concession to the ranchers and tourist operators, the park only encompassed the mountains and a narrow strip at their base. Jackson Hole itself was excluded from the park and designated merely as a scenic preserve. Albright, though, had persuaded the wealthy John D. Rockefeller to begin buying up land in the Jackson Hole area for possible future incorporation into the park. 

In 1949, Rockefeller donated his land holdings in Jackson Hole to the federal government that then incorporated them into the national park. Today, Grand Teton National Park encompasses 309,993 acres. Working ranches still exist in Jackson Hole, but the local economy is increasingly dependent on services provided to tourists and the wealthy owners of vacation homes.

READ MORE: The Borax Millionaire Who Helped Build the National Park Service

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Grand Teton National Park is established


Year
1929
Month Day
February 26

In a controversial move that inspires charges of eastern domination of the West, the Congress establishes Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Home to some of the most stunning alpine scenery in the United States, the territory in and around Grand Teton National Park also has a colorful human history. The first Anglo-American to see the saw-edged Teton peaks is believed to be John Colter. After traveling with Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, Colter left the expedition during its return trip down the Missouri in 1807 to join two fur trappers headed back into the wilderness. He spent the next three years wandering through the northern Rocky Mountains, eventually finding his way into the valley at the base of the Tetons, which would later be called Jackson Hole.

Other adventurers followed in Colter’s footsteps, including the French-Canadian trappers who gave the mountain range the bawdy name of “Grand Tetons,” meaning “big breasts” in French. For decades trappers, outlaws, traders, and Indians passed through Jackson Hole, but it was not until 1887 that settlers established the first permanent habitation. The high northern valley with its short growing season was ill suited to farming, but the early settlers found it ideal for grazing cattle.

Tourists started coming to Jackson Hole not long after the first cattle ranches. Some of the ranchers supplemented their income by catering to “dudes,” eastern tenderfoots yearning to experience a little slice of the Old West in the shadow of the stunning Tetons. The tourists began to raise the first concerns about preserving the natural beauty of the region. The vast acres of Yellowstone Park, America’s first national park founded in 1872, were just north of Jackson Hole. Surely, they asked, the spectacular Grand Tetons deserved similar protection.

In 1916, Horace M. Albright, the director of the National Park Service, was the first to seriously suggest that the region be incorporated into Yellowstone. The ranchers and businesses catering to tourists, however, strongly resisted the suggestion that they be pushed off their lands to make a “museum” of the Old West for eastern tourists.

Finally, after more than a decade of political maneuvering, Grand Teton National Park was created in 1929. As a concession to the ranchers and tourist operators, the park only encompassed the mountains and a narrow strip at their base. Jackson Hole itself was excluded from the park and designated merely as a scenic preserve. Albright, though, had persuaded the wealthy John D. Rockefeller to begin buying up land in the Jackson Hole area for possible future incorporation into the park. This semisecret, private means of enlarging the park inspired further resentment among the residents, and some complained that it was a typical example of how “eastern money interests” were dictating the future of the West.

By the late 1940s, however, local opposition to the inclusion of the Rockefeller lands in the park had diminished, in part because of the growing economic importance of tourism. In 1949, Rockefeller donated his land holdings in Jackson Hole to the federal government that then incorporated them into the national park. Today, Grand Teton National Park encompasses 309,993 acres. Working ranches still exist in Jackson Hole, but the local economy is increasingly dependent on services provided to tourists and the wealthy owners of vacation homes.

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Christopher Marlowe is baptized


Year
1564
Month Day
February 26

On February 26, poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe is baptized in Canterbury, England, two months before the birth of his fellow playwright William Shakespeare.

Marlowe, the son of a Canterbury shoemaker, was a bright student. He won scholarships to prestigious schools and earned his B.A. from Cambridge in 1584. Historians believe Marlowe served as a spy for Queen Elizabeth while at Cambridge. He was nearly denied his master’s degree in 1587, until the queen’s advisers intervened, recommending he receive the degree and referring obliquely to his services for the state.

While still in school, Marlowe wrote his play Tamburlaine the Great, about a 14th-century shepherd who became an emperor. The blank verse drama caught on with the public, and Marlowe wrote five more plays before his death in 1593, including The Jew of Malta and Dr. Faustus. He also published a translation of Ovid’s Elegies.

In May of 1593, Marlowe’s former roommate, playwright Thomas Kyd, was arrested and tortured for treason. He told authorities that “heretical” papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested. While out on bail, Marlowe became involved in a fight over a tavern bill and was stabbed to death.

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Sandinistas are defeated in Nicaraguan elections


Year
1990
Month Day
February 26

A year after agreeing to free elections, Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government loses at the polls. The elections brought an end to more than a decade of U.S. efforts to unseat the Sandinista government.

The Sandinistas came to power when they overthrew long-time dictator Anastacio Somoza in 1979. From the outset, U.S. officials opposed the new regime, claiming that it was Marxist in its orientation. In the face of this opposition, the Sandinistas turned to the communist bloc for economic and military assistance. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan gave his approval for covert U.S. support of the so-called Contras—anti-Sandinista rebels based mostly in Honduras and Costa Rica. This support continued for most of the Reagan administration, until disapproval from the American public and reports of Contra abuses pushed Congress to cut off funding.

In 1989, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega met with the presidents of El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala to hammer out a peace plan for his nation. In exchange for promises from the other nations to close down Contra bases within their borders, Ortega agreed to free elections within a year. These were held on February 26, 1990. Ortega and the Sandinistas suffered a stunning defeat when Violeta Barrios de Chamarro, widow of a newspaper editor assassinated during the Somoza years, polled over 55 percent of the presidential vote. The opposition also captured the National Assembly.

Chamarro’s election was a repudiation of over 10 years of Sandinista rule that had been characterized by a destructive war with the Contras and a failing economic system. The United States saw Chamarro’s victory as validation of its long-time support of the Contras, and many analysts likened the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas to the crumbling of communist regimes in Eastern Europe during the same period. Critics of the U.S. policy toward Nicaragua retorted that negotiations among the Central American presidents had brought free elections to Nicaragua—which nearly 10 years of American support of armed conflict had been unable to accomplish.

In the wake of the election, the administration of President George Bush immediately announced an end to the U.S. embargo against Nicaragua and pledged new economic assistance. Though rumors flew that the Sandinista-controlled army and security forces would not accept Chamarro, she was inaugurated without incident. 

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