This Day in History – April 15 – Hijinx, Humor, and Insight

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NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.

You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.

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THIS DAY IN HISTORY… APRIL 15

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1715 – Yamasee War.

This was an uprising of the Yamasee Indian tribe against the British settlers in the colony of South Carolina. The Yamasee were resentful of unfair trading practices, encroachment upon their land, and the depletion of wildlife. The war spread quickly and a number of other tribes joined the Yamasee, including the Cherokee. Hundreds of colonists were killed and of the 100 traders operating in the region, 90 were put to death. The panicked colonists fled to Charles Town and there faced starvation as the Indian forces destroyed settlements across South Carolina. The colony was almost abandoned before the tide of the war was altered when the Cherokee switched sides. Not wanting to be in an alliance with their traditional enemy, the Creek, they joined with the colonists. The fighting subsided in 1717 and a fragile peace existed. Most of the tribes migrated to Florida where they sided with the Spanish in their fight against the British.

Things didn’t turn out all that well for the Cherokee. A hundred years later they were sent on the infamous Trail of Tears death march to Oklahoma. 

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1959 – Fidel Castro visits the United States.

This was less than six months after his victory over the Batista dictatorship. His political leanings were still unknown at this time and the bearded and fatigue wearing Castro was somewhat of a star. He spoke at the National Press Club and had some other meetings, including a private one with Vice President Nixon. President Eisenhower went golfing in order to avoid him. The meeting did not go well as Nixon viewed him as a communist. 

Communists! Gasp. Only ninety miles from our shore! Something must be done! Well, we’ve been doing it for over sixty years now and they’re still there.

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1989 – Tiananmen Square protests.

The protest began on April 15th and lasted until it was crushed by a military assault on June 4th. It started as a small commemorative gathering for Hu Yaobang, a political reformer who stood in opposition to the hard-liners of the Communist Party. The gathering grew over the next several days as students from two universities marched to the square and it turned into a protest. The day of Yaobang’s funeral 100,000 students marched on Tiananmen Square and refused to leave. Similar protests were taking place in other Chinese cities. By the middle of May, students were coming to Beijing from all over China and over a million protesters filled the square. Included in their demands were freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom to gather and an end to political corruption. Marital law was declared on May 24th,but troops were prevented from entering Beijing by crowds supporting the protesters. Negotiations between the students and the government went nowhere. By the beginning of June, the government had had enough and sent in the Peoples Liberation Army. With tanks and armored personnel carriers they fought their way through barricades erected in the suburbs to Tiananmen Square and opened fire on the protesters. The death toll is uncertain, not only in the square but across Beijing for troops fired indiscriminately, even into apartment buildings, killing not only protesters but bystanders. The toll estimate ranged from a few hundred into the thousands. It has been suggested it even could have been as many as ten thousand. Whatever the count, the pro-democracy movement was crushed. 

I was in China less than ten years after the protests. On a tour of Beijing I was disappointed to learn we wouldn’t be visiting Tiananmen Square. We drove past it but the whole area was enclosed and hidden from view by a canvas fence. The official word was it was closed for renovation. A Chinese source told me that included getting rid of all the pock marks from machine guns.

There are days on the calendar that are magnets for momentous events. April 15th is one of them. Significant events on this day include Abraham Lincoln dying, the sinking of the Titanic, trial of Sacco and Vanzetti begins, Jackie Robinson breaks color barrier in baseball, and the Boston Marathon bombing. 

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Birthdays:

1841 – Joseph Seagram.

Canadian distiller. Seagram was orphaned at age eleven and sent to a boarding school run by a church near Galt, Ontario. As a young man he was employed as a bookkeeper at a flour mill. A side business of the mill was distilling surplus grain into spirits. He eventually became a partner in the firm and then sole owner. He dispensed with the flour mill and turned the business into a distillery. Seagram’s V.O. became the top selling Canadian whiskey in the world. He also owned a string of thoroughbred race horses and won many prestigious races in Canada. Seagram’s is still a popular brand of whiskey.

Whiskey distiller and race horse owner. The clergy at his boarding school must have wondered where they went wrong.

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1943 – Hugh Thompson Jr.

Hero. Thompson was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. On March 16th, 1968 he was flying in support of American combat troops on the ground. With him were his crew, machine gunners Larry Colburn and Glenn Andreotta. As they flew over My Lai they saw large numbers of bodies on the ground, civilian bodies. They saw more Vietnamese trying to hide and soldiers advancing on them. Thompson understood what was happening and landed his helicopter between the Vietnamese and Americans. He told his gun crew to fire on their fellow soldiers if they opened up on him or more civilians. He got out, confronted the advancing soldiers and told them to stop killing or his gun crew would take action. From Wikipedia.org here are some exchanges Thompson had on the ground. He saw some people in a ditch and asked a sergeant if they could be helped. The sergeant replied the only way to help them was to put them out of their misery. He saw more people in a bunker and asked a Lt. Brooks for help.

Thompson: Hey listen, hold your fire. I’m going to try to get these people out of this bunker. Just hold your men here.

Brooks: Yeah, we can help you get ’em out of that bunker – with a hand grenade.

Thompson: Just hold your men here. I think I can do better than that.

He also confronted the commanding officer at the scene, Lt. Calley. 

Thompson: What’s going on here, Lieutenant?

Calley: This is my business.

Thompson: What is this? Who are these people?

Calley: Just following orders.

Thompson: Orders? Whose orders?

Calley: Just following…

Thompson: But, these are human beings, unarmed civilians, sir.

Calley: Look Thompson, this is my show. I’m in charge here. It ain’t your concern.

Thompson: Yeah, great job.

Calley: You better get back in that chopper and mind your own business.

Thompson: You ain’t heard the last of this!

Thompson then rescued some survivors and flew them to safety. By the Vietnamese count 504 civilians were massacred that day. The U.S. Army has a lower estimate. Thompson reported the massacre to his superiors but nothing was done as the Army covered it up. However a reporter broke the story, forcing the Army to act. Lt. William Calley was held responsible and Thompson testified at his court marital. Calley was found guilty but received only a slap on the wrist sentence. Many in the military and government thought Calley actions were justified and were critical of Thompson. It wasn’t until 1998 that the Army recognized their valor and awarded Thompson, Colburn, and Andreotta medals for their actions that day. 

Glenn Andreotta was killed in combat three weeks after My Lai. In 1998 Thompson Jr. and Colburn returned to Vietnam and met with some of the villages they saved that day. Hugh Thompson Jr. died of cancer at age 62 in 2006. Larry Colburn was by his bedside. Colburn died of cancer ten years later. President Nixon pardoned Calley and in 2021 he was living and doing well in Florida. 

Justice is a word ringed by irony, isn’t it?

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ABOUT GARY JENNEKE

At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.

You can reach him at gary@newswhistle.com.

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CREDITS

The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers:

Sources:

HiltonHeadIsland.com

OnThisDay.com

Wikipedia.org

History.com

We’d also thank to the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:

* Lead-In Image  (photo) – Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash –”Texas, USA: Whiskey by the fire.”

* Hugh Thompson Jr. (video clip) – jeters168 / YouTube.com

* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com

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OTHER DAYS IN HISTORY …

December 2

December 3

December 5

December 8

* December 9

December 11

December 12

* December 13

* December 15

December 16

December 18

* December 19

December 22

December 23

December 24

December 25

December 28

January 1

January 3

* January 4

January 5

January 6

January 7

January 8

January 11

January 12

January 13

January 14

January 15

January 19

January 20

January 22

January 24

January 26

January 29

January 31

February 1

February 3

* February 5

February 7

* February 9

February 10

February 13

February 14

February 15

* February 19

February 20

February 21

February 25

February 26

February 28

March 2

March 5

March 6

March 9

March 12

March 13

March 14

* March 15

March 17

March 18

March 19

March 21

March 23

March 24

March 27

March 29

* March 30

April 2

* April 3

* April 5

April 6

April 10

* April 11

* April 13

April 18

* April 22

April 23

April 28

April 29

May 2

May 3

May 6

May 9

May 10

May 13

May 17

* May 24

May 26

May 29

June 1

June 3

June 8

June 10

June 13

June 17

June 18

June 21

June 24

June 28

June 29

July 2

July 3

* July 9

July 13

July 15

July 19

July 23

July 25

July 30

July 31

* August 3

August 7

August 10

August 11

August 16

August 17

August 21

August 24

August 25

* August 28

August 31

September 2

September 5

September 6

September 8

September 11

September 12

September 15

September 16 

September 17

September 21

September 23

September 25

September 26

September 27

September 30

October 1

October 3

October 4

October 5

October 7

October 10

October 11

* October 12

October 14

October 15

October 16

October 18

October 20

October 24

October 25

October 26

October 27

October 30

October 31

November 1

November 3

* November 4

November 5

November 6

November 8

November 9

November 10

November 11

November 13

November 14

November 15

November 16

* November 17

November 18

* November 19

November 20

November 23

November 24

November 26

November 27

November 28

November 29

November 30

* Stay tuned for more!

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