Marine Gen. Alexander Archer “Sunny Jim” Vandegrift
Aug. 7, 1942: Exactly eight months to the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, elements of the soon-to-be-famous 1st Marine Division – under the command of Maj. Gen. Alexander Archer “Sunny Jim” Vandegrift, a future Marine Corps commandant, begin landing on Guadalcanal in the southern Solomon islands, launching America’s first large-scale ground offensive of World War II.
Simultaneous landings take place on the nearby islets of Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambogo, and Florida Island. The landings are the first decisive ground actions aimed at eating away at the Japanese who have extended their lines deep into the Western Pacific and threaten Australia.
Vandegrift is destined to receive the Medal of Honor, and he will become the first Marine officer on active duty to attain four-star rank.
Aug. 7, 1964: Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which “approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”
The Vietnam War is officially on.
Aug. 7, 1782: Gen. George Washington creates two badges of distinction for enlisted soldiers and noncommissioned officers: The first is a chevron signifying three years of service (two chevrons for six years) “with bravery, fidelity, and good conduct.” The second is a medal – the Badge of Military Merit – for “any singularly meritorious action.”
According to The U.S. Army Center of Military History, the badge was the “‘figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding.’ This device was affixed to the uniform coat above the left breast and permitted its wearer to pass guards and sentinels without challenge and to have his name and regiment inscribed in a Book of Merit. The badge specifically honored the lower ranks, where decorations were unknown in contemporary European Armies.”
Though the standards for recipients have changed, the medal exists today as the Purple Heart, and is awarded to “any member of an Armed Force who, while serving with the U.S. Armed Services after 5 April 1917, has been wounded or killed, or who has died or may hereafter die after being wounded.”
Aug. 8, 1918: Cpl. (future Sgt.) Alvin York captures “the whole damned German Army” – actually 132 German soldiers – in an action for which he will receive the Medal of Honor.
Gary Cooper won an Oscar playing Sgt. Alvin York
Aug. 9, 1945: The second – and thus far, last – atomic bomb used in war is dropped over the Japanese city of Nagasaki.
The bomb, code-named Fat Man, detonates approximately 1,840 feet above Nagasaki between the city’s two Mitsubishi plants.
New York Times science writer William L. Laurence, an observer flying on the mission, will write:
“A tremendous blast wave struck our ship and made it tremble from nose to tail. This was followed by four more blasts in rapid succession, each resounding like the boom of cannon fire hitting our plane from all directions.
“Observers in the tail of our ship saw a giant ball of fire rise as though from the bowels of the earth, belching forth enormous white smoke rings. Next they saw a giant pillar of purple fire, 10,000 feet high, shooting skyward with enormous speed.”
Aug. 12, 1898: Hostilities are suspended between the United States and Spain with the signing of an armistice all but ending the war (which will formally end within the year).
Spain basically caves, relinquishing “all claim of sovereignty over and title to Cuba.” Puerto Rico and other Spanish-held islands in the West Indies are ceded to the U.S.
Manila will fall to American forces the next day.