Category Archives: Uncategorized

Colonel Castillo Armas takes power in Guatemala

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/colonel-castillo-armas-takes-power-in-guatemala

Col. Carlos Castillo Armas is elected president of the junta that overthrew the administration of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in late June 1954. The election of Castillo Armas was the culmination of U.S. efforts to remove Arbenz and save Guatemala from what American officials believed to be an attempt by international communism to gain a foothold in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1944, Guatemala went through a revolution that saw the removal of a long-time dictator and the establishment of the first democratically elected government in the nation’s history. In 1950, Guatemala witnessed another first with the peaceful transfer of power to the newly elected president, Arbenz. Officials in the United States had watched the developments in Guatemala with growing concern and fear. The Guatemalan government, particularly after Arbenz came to power in 1950, had launched a serious effort at land reform and redistribution to Guatemala’s landless masses. When this effort resulted in the powerful American-owned United Fruit Company losing many acres of land, U.S. officials began to believe that communism was at work in Guatemala.

By 1953 and into 1954, the U.S. government was intent on removing Arbenz from power and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was given this task by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The CIA established a multifaceted covert operation (code named PBSUCCESS). Beginning in June 1954, the CIA saturated Guatemala with propaganda over the radio and through leaflets dropped over the country, and also began small bombing raids using unmarked airplanes. It also organized and armed a small force of “freedom fighters”–mostly Guatemalan refugees and mercenaries–headed by Castillo Armas. This force, which never numbered more than a few hundred men, had little impact on subsequent events.

By late June, the Arbenz government, diplomatically and economically isolated by the United States, came to the conclusion that resistance against the “giant of the north” was futile, and Arbenz resigned on June 27. A short time later, Castillo Armas and his “army” marched into Guatemala City and established a ruling junta. On July 8, 1954, Castillo Armas was elected president of the junta.

For the United States, the election of Castillo Armas was the culmination of a successful covert operation against international communism. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declared that Guatemala had been saved from “communist imperialism.” The overthrow of Arbenz had added “a new and glorious chapter to the already great tradition of the American states.” Many Guatemalans came to have a different perspective. The new regime rounded up thousands of suspected communists, and executed hundreds of prisoners. Labor unions, which had flourished since 1944, were crushed, and United Fruit’s lands were restored. Castillo Armas, however, did not long enjoy his success. He was assassinated in 1957. Guatemalan politics then degenerated into a series of coups and countercoups, coupled with brutal repression of the country’s people.

READ MORE: Communism: A Timeline

A spiteful son kills four in a fit of rage

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/a-spiteful-son-kills-four-in-a-fit-of-rage

Rose Booher, her son Fred, and two hired workers are all shot to death on a secluded farm in Mannville, Alberta, Canada, while the rest of the Booher family is away. Although nothing appeared to be stolen from the house and few clues were found, authorities determined that a rifle had caused the gunshot wounds. Not coincidentally, a rifle had been taken from a neighbor’s farm just prior to the killings.

The investigation centered on the Booher family—Rose’s son Vernon, in particular. Vernon was known to have had problems with his mother, but he denied any involvement in the murders. After persistent interrogation failed to crack Vernon, Max Langsner, who had reputedly solved crimes all over Europe by picking up “mind signals” from criminals, was summoned from Vienna, Austria.

Using his alleged psychic powers, Langsner sketched a scene that included a rifle hidden under some bushes. Using the sketch as a makeshift map, the police discovered the murder weapon near the Booher home.

With this new evidence, Vernon confessed to the crime. He had planned to kill his mother because he despised her. The other three were killed only because they had stumbled on to the scene. Vernon expressed remorse only for killing his brother, Fred.

Langsner went on to conduct psychic research with the Eskimos in Northern Canada and Alaska. However, there is no record of his involvement in allegedly solving any additional crimes through psychic measures.

Soapy Smith killed in Skagway, Alaska

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soapy-smith-killed-in-skagway-alaska

A disgruntled city engineer in Skagway, Alaska, murders “Soapy” Smith, one of the most notorious con men in the history of the West.

Born in Georgia in 1860, Jefferson Randolph Smith went west while still a young man, finding work as a cowboy in Texas. Smith eventually tired of the hard work and low wages offered by the cowboy life, though, and discovered that he could make more money with less effort by convincing gullible westerners to part with their cash in clever confidence games.

One of Smith’s earliest swindles was the “prehistoric man” of Creede, Colorado. Smith somehow obtained a 10-foot statue of a primitive looking human that he secretly buried near the town of Creede. A short time later, he uncovered the statue with much fanfare and publicity and began charging exorbitant fees to see it. Wisely, he left town before the curious turned suspicious.

Smith earned his nickname “Soapy” with a more conventional confidence game. Traveling around the Southwest, Smith would briefly set up shop in the street selling bars of soap wrapped in blue tissue paper. He promised the credulous crowds that a few lucky purchasers would find a $100 bill wrapped inside a few of the $5 bars of soap. Inevitably, one of the first to buy a bar would shout with pleasure and happily display a genuine $100 bill. Sales were generally brisk afterwards. The lucky purchaser, of course, was a plant.

In 1897, Smith joined the Alaskan gold rush and eventually landed in the rough frontier town of Skagway. Short on law and long on gold dust, Skagway was the perfect place for Smith to perfect his con games. He soon became the head of an ambitious criminal underworld, and he and his partners fleeced thousands of gullible miners.

Smith’s success eventually angered the honest citizens of Skagway, who were trying to build an upstanding community. They formed a vigilante “Committee of 101″ in an attempt to bring law and order to the town. Undaunted, Smith formed his own gang into a “Committee of 303″ to oppose them.

On this day in 1898, Smith tried to crash a vigilante meeting on the Skagway wharf, apparently hoping to use his con-man skills to persuade them that he posed no threat to the community. Smith, however, had failed to realize just how angry the vigilantes were. When he tried to break through the crowd, a Skagway city engineer named Frank Reid confronted him. The men exchanged harsh words and then bullets. Reid shot Smith dead on the spot, but not before Smith had badly wounded him. The engineer died 12 days later.

The funeral services for Soapy Smith were held in a Skagway church he had donated funds to help build. The minister chose as the text for his sermon a line from Proverbs XIII: “The way of transgressors is hard.”

First Americans killed in South Vietnam

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-americans-killed-in-south-vietnam

Maj. Dale R. Buis and Master Sgt. Chester M. Ovnand become the first Americans killed in the American phase of the Vietnam War when guerrillas strike a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) compound in Bien Hoa, 20 miles northeast of Saigon. The group had arrived in South Vietnam on November 1, 1955, to provide military assistance. The organization consisted of U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps personnel who provided advice and assistance to the Ministry of Defense, Joint General Staff, corps and division commanders, training centers, and province and district headquarters.

READ MORE: Vietnam War Timeline

Ernest Hemingway wounded on the Italian front

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ernest-hemingway-wounded-on-the-italian-front

On July 8, 1918, Ernest Hemingway, an 18-year-old ambulance driver for the American Red Cross, is struck by a mortar shell while serving on the Italian front, along the Piave delta, in World War I.

A native of Oak Park, Illinois, Hemingway was working as a reporter for the Kansas City Star when war broke out in Europe in 1914. He volunteered for the Red Cross in France before the American entrance into the war in April 1917 and was later transferred to the Italian front, where he was on hand for a string of Italian successes along the Piave delta in the first days of July 1918, during which 3,000 Austrians were taken prisoner.

On the night of July 8, 1918, Hemingway was struck by an Austrian mortar shell while handing out chocolate to Italian soldiers in a dugout. The blow knocked him unconscious and buried him in the earth of the dugout; fragments of shell entered his right foot and his knee and struck his thighs, scalp and hand. Two Italian soldiers standing between Hemingway and the shell’s point of impact were not so lucky, however: one was killed instantly and another had both his legs blown off and died soon afterwards. 

Hemingway’s friend Ted Brumbach, who visited him in the hospital, wrote to Hemingway’s parents that: “A third Italian was badly wounded and this one Ernest, after he had regained consciousness, picked up on his back and carried to the first aid dugout. He says he did not remember how he got there, nor that he carried the man, until the next day, when an Italian officer told him all about it and said that it had been voted to give him a valor medal for the act.” As Brumbach reported, Hemingway was awarded an Italian medal of valor, the Croce de Guerra, for his service. As he wrote in his own letter home after the incident: “Everything is fine and I am very comfortable and one of the best surgeons in Milan is looking after my wounds.”

Hemingway’s experiences in Italy during World War I would become an integral part of his larger-than-life persona, as well as the material for one of his best-loved novels, A Farewell to Arms, which chronicles the love of a young American ambulance driver for a beautiful English nurse on the Italian front during the Great War.

READ MORE: Was Ernest Hemingway a Spy? 

Future President Jimmy Carter marries

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/future-president-jimmy-carter-marries

On July 7, 1946, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter marries Eleanor Rosalynn Smith at the Plains Methodist Church in Plains, Georgia. When the couple met, she was 18 and working in a hair salon. He was 21 and a recent graduate of the Annapolis Naval Academy.

READ MORE: Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s Love Story: From Small Town Sweethearts to the White House

During the first seven years of their marriage, Jimmy and Rosalynn, as she was called, lived in a variety of places, as he was given different assignments with the Navy. Though he had hoped to make the Navy his career, his plans changed when his father died in 1953. Jimmy took over the family peanut farm in Plains, Georgia, while Rosalynn ran the financial end of the business and raised the couple’s four children. She supported her husband’s first two failed political campaigns–for state senator in 1962 and for governor in 1966– and shared in his success in 1970 when he won the governor’s race. The couple moved to Atlanta and, as Georgia’s first lady, Rosalynn began a lifelong commitment to improving services for the mentally ill.

When Carter won the presidency in 1976, Rosalynn took advantage of her position to advocate for new legislation to protect the rights of the mentally ill, senior citizens and women. She even traveled as Carter’s representative to meetings in Central and South America and liaised with policy leaders on issues such as human rights, arms reduction and trade. She set up an office in the East Wing of the White House, from which she conducted White House business and her own personal projects. Both she and her husband projected a casual profile of accessibility during his term in the White House. Carter liked to wear cardigan sweaters instead of suits while at work and he and Rosalynn eschewed the traditional limousine ride from the Capitol to the White House in favor of walking at his inauguration. Although they presented a low-key, down-to-earth image, the couple kept up busy schedules and rarely took vacations. Still, they managed to arrange to regularly meet for meals with their young daughter Amy in the White House residential quarters.

By 1980, Carter had become embroiled in the Iranian hostage crisis and was struggling to lead the nation out of an ongoing energy crisis complicated by high inflation. As he chose not to spend too much time away from the White House to pursue a second presidential campaign, Rosalynn stepped in and appeared at many campaign rallies on his behalf. Although Carter failed to win a second term, losing to Ronald Reagan, he and Rosalynn stayed active in national and international affairs. In 1982, they founded the Carter Center in Atlanta to advocate for human rights and to alleviate “unnecessary human suffering” around the world. Since 1984, the Carters have given their time each year to build homes and raise awareness of homelessness with the international charitable organization Habitat for Humanity.

In 2002, Carter won the prestigious Nobel Prize for his efforts to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights and to promote economic and social development. The couple currently lives in Plains, Georgia.

Jim Thorpe begins Olympic triathlon

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jim-thorpe-begins-olympic-triathlon

On July 7, 1912, Jim Thorpe wins the pentathlon at the fifth modern Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. At the time, Thorpe, a Native American who attended Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian School, was only beginning to establish his reputation as the greatest all-around athlete in the world.

Born May 28, 1887, in Prague, Oklahoma, on a Sac-and-Fox Indian reservation, James Francis Thorpe was given the name Wa-Ho-Thuck by his mother, meaning “bright path.” In 1908, Thorpe matriculated at the Carlisle Indian School, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and joined the school’s track team. Two years later, Thorpe tried out for the Carlisle football team, coached by the legendary Pop Warner. At one practice, Warner challenged the inexperienced Thorpe to run the ball against the entire Carlisle team. Thorpe dodged, weaved and out-ran all 30 of the Carlisle players to score a touchdown. Warner was incredulous, and asked Thorpe to do it again. Thorpe did, and then joined the team as a running back. He was named an All-American in 1911 and 1912.

In the spring of 1912, Thorpe returned his focus to track to train for that summer’s Olympics. On July 7, competing against the best athletes in the world in the Olympic pentathlon, Thorpe placed first in the broad jump, 200-meter sprint, discuss throw and the 1,500 meters, and third in the javelin throw to win the gold easily. Later in the day Thorpe failed to medal in the high jump and long jump competitions, placing fourth and seventh, respectively. His second medal of the games would come in the decathlon, which he won nearly as easily as he had won the pentathlon, breaking the world record in the event. At the closing ceremonies, where the medals were presented, Thorpe was introduced to King Gustaf V of Sweden. According to legend, the king said, while shaking Thorpe’s hand, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world,” to which Thorpe replied “Thanks, king.”

Thorpe returned to a ticker-tape parade in New York City. In 1913, though, he was stripped of his Olympic medals because he had played minor league baseball professionally in 1909 and 1910. While he was not the only amateur athlete of his era to play for money to pay his bills, he naively did so using his real name and was easily caught. Also in 1913, Thorpe was recruited by New York Giants manager John McGraw to play baseball, which he did on and off with middling success at the plate in six of the next eight years. In 1920, Thorpe used his fame to help launch the American Professional Football Association (APFA), which eventually morphed into the NFL. Thorpe served as the APFA’s first president and played for the league professionally from 1921 to 1926 and again in 1928. During his playing career, it was said that Thorpe could punt a ball with full force, and then sprint down the field and catch it himself.

In 1950, the Associated Press named Thorpe the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century. Before his death from a heart attack in 1953, Thorpe was known to entertain fans at NFL games by punting balls between the uprights in the end zone from the 50-yard line. The two gold medals stripped from Thorpe in 1913 were returned to him in 1982, 30 years after his death.

First U.S. troops withdrawn from South Vietnam

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-u-s-troops-withdrawn-from-south-vietnam

A battalion of the U.S. 9th Infantry Division leaves Saigon in the initial withdrawal of U.S. troops. The 814 soldiers were the first of 25,000 troops that were withdrawn in the first stage of the U.S. disengagement from the war. There would be 14 more increments in the withdrawal, but the last U.S. troops did not leave until after the Paris Peace Accords were signed in January 1973.

Himmler decides to begin medical experiments on Auschwitz prisoners

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/himmler-decides-to-begin-medical-experiments-on-auschwitz-prisoners

On July 7, 1942, Heinrich Himmler, in league with three others, including a physician, decides to begin experimenting on women in the Auschwitz concentration camps and to investigate extending this experimentation on males.

Himmler, architect of Hitler’s program to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population, convened a conference in Berlin to discuss the prospects for using concentration camp prisoners as objects of medical experiments. The other attendees were the head of the Concentration Camp Inspectorate, SS General Richard Glueks (hospital chief), SS Major-General Gebhardt and Professor Karl Clauberg (one of Germany’s leading gynecologists). The result of the conference was that a major program of medical experimentation on Jewish women at Auschwitz was agreed upon. These experiments were to be carried out in such a way as to ensure that the prisoners were not aware of what was being done to them. (The experimentation would take the form of sterilization via massive doses of radiation or uterine injections.) It was also decided to consult with an X-ray specialist about the prospects of using X rays to castrate men and demonstrating this on male Jewish prisoners. Adolf Hitler endorsed this plan on the condition that it remained top secret.

That Heinrich Himmler would propose such a conference or endorse such a program should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his resume. As head of the Schutzstaffel (“Armed Black Shirts or Protection Squad”), the SS, the military arm of the Nazi Party, and assistant chief of the Gestapo (the secret police), Himmler was able over time to consolidate his control over all police forces of the Reich. This power grab would prove highly effective in carrying out the Fuhrer’s Final Solution. It was Himmler who organized the creation of death camps throughout Eastern Europe and the creation of a pool of enslaved laborers.

READ MORE: Horrors of Auschwitz: The Numbers Behind WWII’s Deadliest Concentration Camp