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Groundhog Day is a popular North American tradition observed in the United States and Canada on February 2. It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks; if it does not see its shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early.
Since 1887 an animal in Punxsutawney, PA, has been the center of a staged appearance each February 2. In what has become a media event, a groundhog designated Punxsutawney Phil is the center of attention of television weathermen and newspaper photographers. Although promoters of the local festival surrounding Punxsutawney Phil claim that the animals have never been wrong, an examination of the records indicates a correlation of less than 40%. (Whether a groundhog does or does not emerge is thought to be related to the amount of fat it was able to store before going into hibernation.) (Canada has a number of groundhogs that serve as weather prognosticators, perhaps the best known being those portraying Wiarton Willie, a white-furred, pink-eyed creature that has appeared on the Bruce Peninsula, northwest of Toronto, since 1956.)
Officially, Punxsutawney Phil predicts the weather for the area north of the Mason-Dixon Line. General Beauregard Lee is a Georgian groundhog widely considered to be the Groundhog Day weather prognosticator for the Southern United States.
Because I consider this to be a very important day in our nation, my wife always gets flowers on Groundhog Day. Does yours?
And there were some important things that happened militarily on Groundhog Day, though I’m not sure the fact that is was Groundhog Day was considered by the military commanders:
On 2 Feb 1943, the last of the German forces fighting at Stalingrad surrendered, despite Hitler’s earlier declaration that “Surrender is out of the question. The troops will defend themselves to the last!” The Battle of Stalingrad began in the summer of 1942, as German forces assaulted the city, a major industrial center and a potential strategic coup. But despite repeated attempts, the German 6th Army, under Friedrich von Paulus, and part of the 4th Panzer Army, under Ewald von Kleist, could not break past the adamantine defense by the Soviet 62nd Army, despite pushing the Soviets almost to the Volga River in mid-October and encircling Stalingrad.
Diminishing resources, partisan guerilla attacks, and the cruelty of the Russian winter began to take their toll on the Germans. On November 19, the Soviets made their move, launching a counteroffensive that began with a massive artillery bombardment of the German position. The Soviets then encircled the enemy, launching pincer movements from north and south simultaneously, even as the Germans encircled Stalingrad. The German position soon became untenable. Surrender was their only hope for survival. But Hitler wouldn’t hear of it: “The 6th Army will hold its positions to the last man and the last round.” Von Paulus held out until January 31, 1943, when he finally surrendered. Of more than 280,000 men under Paulus’ command, half were already dead or dying, about 35,000 had been evacuated from the front, and the remaining 91,000 were hauled off to Soviet POW camps.
On 2 Feb 1962, the first US Air Force plane was lost in South Vietnam. The C-123 aircraft crashed while spraying defoliant on a Viet Cong ambush site.
The aircraft was part of Operation Ranch Hand, a technological area-denial technique designed to expose the roads and trails used by the Viet Cong. US personnel dumped an estimated 19 million gallons of defoliating herbicides over 10-20% of Vietnam and parts of Laos from 1962 to 1971. Agent Orange–so named from the color of a stripe on its metal containers–was the most frequently used.
The operation succeeded in killing vegetation but not in stopping the Viet Cong. The use of these agents was controversial, both during and after the war, because of questions about long-term ecological impacts and the effect on humans who handled or were sprayed by the chemicals. Beginning in the late 1970s, Vietnam veterans began to cite the herbicides, especially Agent Orange, as the cause of health problems ranging from skin rashes to cancer and birth defects in their children. Similar problems, including an abnormally high incidence of miscarriages and congenital malformations, have been reported among the Vietnamese people who lived in the areas where the defoliate agents were used.
The Frontlines of Freedom Newsletter is published twice monthly; the dates of publication each month depend on the events and history of that month.