Valentine's Day Massacre Stuns Chicago

Pat Horan - February 14, 2015

On the night of Feb. 13, 1929, Chicago's North Side Gang leader, George "Bugs" Moran, received a phone call from an unknown bootlegger, offering him a shipment of Old Log Cabin whiskey at the phenomenal price of $57 per case. To make the deal even sweeter, the bootlegger claimed he stole the shipment from Moran's nemesis, Al Capone. Moran agreed to have the booze delivered to his warehouse headquarters at 2122 North Clark St. the next day. What followed would be the infamous Saint Valentine's Day Massacre.

Since the enactment of Prohibition in 1920, the black market sale of alcohol had become an immensely lucrative business, and organized criminals violently competed for turf and profits. Chicago became the symbol of this bloodshed. The two most powerful factions were the largely Irish- and Polish-American North Side Gang and the predominantly Italian-American South Side Gang, also known as the Chicago Outfit.

Full-scale war broke out in 1924 when Chicago Outfit leader Alphonse Capone decided to have his North Side rival, Dion O'Banion, "whacked" in O'Banion's florist shop headquarters. read more »

U-2 and Cold War That Nearly Turned Hot

Samuel Chi - February 10, 2015

On the Glienicke Bridge in East Germany on Feb. 10, 1962, a prisoner exchange took place. The Americans handed over Soviet spy Rudolf Abel while receiving in return Capt. Francis Gary Powers, who had spent nearly two years as a captive after his U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union.

Glienicke Bridge, connecting Allied-controlled West Berlin to Potsdam in East Germany, was known as the Bridge of Spies. After the Berlin Wall was erected in August 1961, the restricted crossing became the place where NATO and Warsaw Pact members frequently swapped prisoners. The exchange in February 1962 was the first of its kind on the bridge, and it marked an important point in the escalation of the Cold War that nearly became a nuclear showdown.

Powers, who had left the Air Force and joined the CIA in 1956, was flying a U-2 over Soviet territory on May 1, 1960 on a mission to detect missile installations. Equipped with state-of-the-art high-resolution photo technology and capable of flying at 70,000 feet, the U-2 had eluded the Russians because their fighter planes simply could not reach such an altitude. But on that day, one of the eight Soviet surface-to-air missiles connected with Powers' plane near the Ural Mountains. Powers had to bail, parachuting to safety, but was quickly detained by Soviet personnel on the ground. read more »

The Final Days of Winston Churchill

Pat Horan - January 29, 2015

Possessing an almost superhuman energy, Sir Winston Churchill attempted to remain in public life until the very end. While he had spent his entire life battling political obstacles and depression and eventually triumphing over these challenges, by the 1960s, his indefatigable character had begun to give way to physical and mental deterioration.

Although the Conservatives increased their numbers in the 1959 election, Churchill’s majority fell precipitously. A series of strokes and a bad fall in 1962 crippled him, and he was unable to attend the 1963 White House ceremony making him an honorary citizen of the United States. He suffered a final stroke in January 1965. read more »

How Jackson Repelled British at New Orleans

Pat Horan - January 8, 2015

Thursday is the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans, perhaps the most important battle fought after a peace deal had already been made.

By the end of 1814, the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain had been raging for two and a half years, and both sides were weary. The British had burned Washington, D.C., and largely crippled the American economy, but they had failed to take Baltimore and suffered a decisive loss at the Battle of Plattsburgh in New York. American General William Henry Harrison had defeated Great Britain and her Indian allies at the Battle of the Thames near Ontario. The Indian coalition’s leader, Tecumseh, died in the battle, and the coalition crumbled after his death. read more »

Why We Sing Auld Lang Syne

Pat Horan - December 30, 2014

New Year’s – as the clock strikes midnight, we pop open the champagne, watch the Times Square ball drop, kiss our loved ones, and sing the well-known Scottish poem-turned-song. But why? None of the lyrics invoke the arrival of January 1st.

Using lyrics of an older ballad, the Scottish Romantic poet Robert Burns penned the famous verses in 1788. The words would be only be modified for non-Scots to understand, and the song is still widely sung around the world, particularly in English-speaking countries. read more »

Christmas Truce on the Western Front

Pat Horan - December 24, 2014

By December 1914, World War I’s Western Front had turned into a stalemate of trench warfare and barbed wires. The quick end to the war that both the Allies and the Central Powers had envisioned never materialized. Pope Benedict XV implored the belligerent governments for a Christmas ceasefire, so “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” His request was officially refused.

Despite the rejection of the pope’s call for peace and military prohibitions against fraternizing with the enemy, thousands of soldiers – as many as 100,000 – made their own truce that year. On Christmas Eve, British troops saw lights from Christmas trees and heard German voices singing carols across the narrow “No Man’s Land” as night fell. The British joined in singing. read more »

German Juggernaut Halted at Stalingrad

Pat Horan - November 19, 2014

Seventy-two years ago on Nov. 19, the Soviet Red Army began Operation Uranus, the counteroffensive that led to the encirclement of German forces at the Battle of Stalingrad.

Nazi Germany unleashed its massive invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 with Operation Barbarossa. Despite early successes and a deep advance into enemy territory, the operation failed as the Soviets repelled the assault against Moscow and as the campaign at Leningrad broke down into a two-year siege. Barbarossa’s failure in the autumn and winter of that year was disastrous for the Third Reich. With supply lines of 2,000 miles, it now faced an Eastern Front that stretched from Leningrad in the north to the Black Sea in the south. Hitler and his commanders had underestimated his enemy along with its critical ally, the Russian Winter, as well as Germany’s ability to supply and reinforce its own troops.

In 1942, Axis forces directed their offensives south toward the industrial city of Stalingrad and the oil-rich Caucasus. Hitler decided to split the campaign into two groups: Army Group A would push toward the oil fields, while Army Group B would protect its flank along the Volga River and capture Stalingrad, whose name was a matter of pride to the feuding dictators and of propaganda value to both sides. read more »

Sherman Unleashes Total War on Confederacy

Pat Horan - November 12, 2014

Nov. 12 marks the 150th anniversary of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous burning of Atlanta in the American Civil War.

Sherman had defeated Southern General John Bell Hood at the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864. After a long siege, the city finally fell on Sept. 2. Sherman’s victories were well-timed as they helped Abraham Lincoln sail to presidential victory that year against the “peace” candidate, Democrat and former Union General George McClellan (a few months earlier, Lincoln’s reelection hopes had seemed dim as the North had suffered heavy losses that summer at the Battles of the Crater and Cold Harbor).

By 1864, as commanding Union General Ulysses Grant and Confederate General Robert Lee became locked in stalemate, Sherman and Grant had come to understand that the conventional, Napoleonic style of warfare would not be enough to end the war without the American public losing morale. They decided that the Confederacy’s economic capacity and its will to fight had to be broken. He planned to march his army toward Savannah on the coast, destroying infrastructure and foraging for supplies along the way. read more »

MacArthur Makes His Famous Return

Pat Horan - October 19, 2014

A few hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers and Zero fighters began a devastating offensive against the U.S. Far East Air Force based in the Philippines. Japanese soldiers landed ashore the same day. For several months, American and Philippine troops battled the Japanese onslaught. Despite a fierce defense of the Bataan Peninsula and heavy enemy casualties, President Roosevelt ordered the commanding general, Douglas MacArthur, to retreat to Australia before the Philippines was cut off completely.

Before leaving and then again upon arrival in Australia, MacArthur bitterly vowed, “I shall return.” Seventy years ago on Monday, MacArthur fulfilled his promise. read more »

The Life and Death of Desert Fox

Pat Horan - October 13, 2014

On Oct. 14, 1944, Germany’s most respected commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, was forced to commit suicide for his involvement with the failed July 20 assassination attempt and coup against Adolf Hitler.

Unlike most of the German High Command that came from Prussian aristocracy, Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel was born to a southern Swabian German family whose father was a school headmaster and professor. A bright youth with a technical mind, Rommel considered becoming an engineer, but instead chose the military route at the behest of his father. During World War I, Rommel earned a reputation for his bravery and his ability to defeat and capture forces overwhelmingly larger than his own as he served in France, Romania, and Italy. Wounded three times during the war, Rommel was awarded the Iron Cross twice as well as the Pour le Mérite (Imperial Germany’s equivalent of the Medal of Honor). read more »

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