1945: At 2:10 p.m., five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo-bombers comprising Flight 19 take off from the Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station in Florida on a routine three-hour training mission. Flight 19 was scheduled to take them due east for 120 miles, north for 73 miles, and then back over a final 120-mile leg that would return them to the naval base. They never returned. Two hours after the flight began, the leader of the squadron reported that his compass and back-up compass had failed and that his position was unknown. Other planes experienced similar instrument malfunctions. Radio facilities on land were contacted to find the location of the lost squadron, but none were successful. After two more hours of confused messages from the fliers, a distorted radio transmission from the squadron leader was heard at 6:20 p.m., apparently calling for his men to prepare to ditch their aircraft simultaneously because of lack of fuel.
1907: In West Virginia’s Marion County, an explosion in a network of mines owned by the Fairmont Coal Company in Monongah kills 361 coal miners. It was the worst mining disaster in American history. In 1883, the creation of the Norfolk and Western Railway opened a gateway to the untapped coalfields of southwestern West Virginia. New towns sprung up in the region virtually overnight as European immigrants and African Americans from the south poured into southern West Virginia in pursuit of a livelihood from the new industry.
1941: At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II. The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
1980: John Lennon, a former member of the Beatles, the rock group that transformed popular music in the 1960s, is shot and killed by an obsessed fan in New York City. The 40-year-old artist was entering his luxury Manhattan apartment building when Mark David Chapman shot him four times at close range with a .38-caliber revolver. Lennon, bleeding profusely, was rushed to the hospital but died en route. Chapman had received an autograph from Lennon earlier in the day and voluntarily remained at the scene of the shooting until he was arrested by police. For a week, hundreds of bereaved fans kept a vigil outside the Dakota–Lennon’s apartment building — and demonstrations of mourning were held around the world.
2016: The World Anti-Doping Agency details a vast “institutional conspiracy” involving Russian officials and more than 1,000 athletes in systematic doping at major athletic competitions, including the Olympics. A second WADA report says the conspiracy involves the Russian Sports Ministry, national anti-doping agency and the FSB intelligence service and that the cheating and cover-ups were on an “unprecedented scale” from 2011-15. “For years, international sports competitions have been knowingly hijacked by the Russians,” a WADA investigator told reporters. “Coaches and athletes have been playing on an uneven field. Sports fans and spectators have been deceived.” In 2019, Russia was hit with a four-year ban for the doping programs. But the ban was later reduced to two years.
1690: On this day, a failed attack on Quebec and subsequent near-mutiny force the Massachusetts Bay Colony to issue the first paper currency in the history of the Western Hemisphere. France and Britain periodically attacked each other’s North American colonies throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries. In 1690, during one such war, Gov. William Phips of Britain’s Massachusetts Bay Colony made a promise he could not keep. After leading a successful invasion of the French colony of Acadia, Phips decided to raid Quebec City, promising his volunteer troops half the loot in addition to their usual pay. Soldiers were typically paid in coins, but shortages of official currency in the colonies sometimes forced armies to temporarily issue IOUs — in one case, in the form of cut-up playing cards — which troops were allowed to exchange for goods and services until receiving their actual pay. Despite Phips’ grand promise, he failed to take the city, returning to Massachusetts with a damaged fleet and no treasure.
2008: Financier Bernard Madoff is arrested at his New York City apartment and charged with masterminding a long-running Ponzi scheme later estimated to involve around $65 billion, making it one of the biggest investment frauds in Wall Street history. Madoff, who was born in Queens, New York, in 1938, founded a small trading firm bearing his name in 1960. The business was established, in part, with money he earned working as a lifeguard. Two decades later, Madoff’s firm, which helped revolutionize the way stocks are traded, had grown into one of the largest independent trading operations in the securities industry, and he and his family lived a life of luxury, owning multiple homes, boats and expensive artwork and jewelry.
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