A number of very significant things happened in early February. They include French recognition of our new country during our Revolutionary War. The first big Union victories during the Civil War, and our entry into WWI. There were also major victories in the Pacific during WWII. And we sent our first combat troops into Vietnam and our POWs were released.
On 3 Feb 1944, during WWII, American forces invaded and took control of the Marshall Islands, long occupied by the Japanese and used by them as a base for military operations.
The Marshalls, in the western Pacific Ocean, had been in Japanese hands since WWI. Non-Japanese, including Christian missionaries, were kept from the islands as naval and air bases–meant to threaten shipping lanes between Australia and Hawaii–were constructed.
During WWII, these islands, as well as others in the vicinity, became targets of Allied attacks. The US Central Pacific Campaign began with the Gilbert Islands, south of the Mandated Islands; US forces conquered the Gilberts in November 1943. Next on the agenda was Operation Flintlock, a plan to capture the Marshall Islands.
Adm. Raymond Spruance led the 5th Fleet from Pearl Harbor on January 22, 1944, to the Marshalls, with the goal of getting 53,000 assault troops ashore two islets: Roi and Namur. Meanwhile, using the Gilberts as an air base, American planes bombed the Japanese administrative and communications center for the Marshalls.
Repeated carrier- and land-based air raids destroyed every Japanese airplane on the Marshalls. By February 3, US infantry overran Roi and Namur atolls. The Marshalls were then effectively in American hands–with the loss of only 400 American lives.
On 6 Feb 1778, during our War for Independence, representatives from the US and France signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance in Paris. This treaty recognized the US as an independent nation and encouraged trade between France and the America, while the Treaty provided for a military alliance against Great Britain, stipulating that the absolute independence of the US be recognized as a condition for peace and that France would be permitted to conquer the British West Indies.
With the treaties, the first entered into by the US government, the Bourbon monarchy of France formalized its commitment to assist the American colonies in their struggle against France’s old rival, Great Britain. The eagerness of the French to help the US was motivated both by an appreciation of the American revolutionaries’ democratic ideals and by bitterness at having lost most of their American empire to the British at the conclusion of the French and Indian Wars in 1763.
On 6 Feb 1862, during the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant provided the first major Union victory of the war when he captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. Ten days later, he captured Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River, which gave the Yankees control of northern Tennessee and paved the way for the occupation of Nashville.
On 6 Feb 1917, just three days after President Woodrow Wilson’s speech of February 3, 1917—in which he broke diplomatic relations with Germany and warned that war would follow if American interests at sea were again assaulted—a German submarine torpedoed and sank the Anchor Line passenger steamer California off the Irish coast.
This type of blatant German defiance of Wilson’s warning about the consequences of unrestricted submarine warfare, combined with the subsequent discovery and release of the Zimmermann telegram—an overture made by Germany’s foreign minister to the Mexican government involving a possible Mexican-German alliance in the event of a war between Germany and the US—drove Wilson and the US to take the final steps towards war. On April 2, Wilson went before Congress to deliver his war message; the formal declaration of US entrance into WWI came four days later.
On 8 Feb 1918, the US Army resumed publication of the military newsletter Stars and Stripes.
Begun as a newsletter for Union soldiers during the American Civil War, Stars and Stripes was published weekly during WWI from 8 Feb 1918, until 13 June 1919. The newspaper was distributed to American soldiers dispersed across the Western Front to keep them unified and informed about the overall war effort and America’s part in it, as well as supply them with news from the home front.
The front page of the newspaper’s first WWI issue featured A Message from Our Chief, a short valedictory from General John Pershing, commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF): The paper, written by the men in the service, should speak the thoughts of the new American army and the American people from whom the army has been drawn. It is your paper. Good luck to it.
The WWI-era Stars and Stripes was largely the creation of Second Lieutenant Guy Viskniskki, an AEF press officer. Featuring news articles, sports news, poetry, letters to the editor and cartoons, among other content, the eight-page weekly publication was printed on presses borrowed from Paris newspapers. At its peak during the war, Stars and Stripes reached a circulation of 526,000.
Stars and Stripes resumed publication during WWII, during which circulation reached 1,000,000. Serving as a daily hometown newspaper for service members, government civilians and their families stationed around the world, it has been in continuous publication in Europe since 1942 and in the Pacific since 1945. In these two regions, Stars and Stripes reaches 80,000 and 60,000 readers respectively. It also publishes a Mideast edition as well as an electronic edition on the Internet.
On 8 Feb 1862, during the Civil War, Union General Ambrose Burnside scored a major victory when he captured Roanoke Island in North Carolina. The victory was one of the first major Union victories of the war and it gave the Yankees control of the mouth of Albemarle Sound, a key Confederate bay that allowed the Union to threaten the Rebel capital of Richmond from the south. The Yankees suffered 37 men killed and 214 wounded, while the Confederates lost 23 men killed and 62 wounded before the surrender. The Union now controlled a vital section of the coast. The victory came two days after Union General Ulysses Grant captured Fort Henry in northern Tennessee, and, for the first time in the war, the North had reason for optimism.
On 8 Feb 1943, during WWII, Japanese troops evacuated Guadalcanal, leaving the island in Allied possession after a prolonged campaign. The victory paved the way for other Allied wins in the Solomon Islands. The Japanese invaded the Solomons in 1942 and began building a strategic airfield on Guadalcanal. On 7 Aug of that year, US Marines landed on the island, signaling the Allies’ first major offensive against Japanese-held positions in the Pacific. The Japanese responded quickly with sea and air attacks. A series of bloody battles ensued in the debilitating tropical heat as Marines sparred with Japanese troops on land, while in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, the US Navy fought six major engagements with the Japanese between August 24 and November 30. In mid-November 1942, the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, died together when the Japanese sunk their ship, the USS Juneau.
Both sides suffered heavy losses of men, warships and planes in the battle for Guadalcanal. An estimated 1,600 US troops were killed, over 4,000 were wounded and several thousand more died from disease. The Japanese lost 24,000 soldiers. On 31 Dec 1942, Emperor Hirohito told Japanese troops they could withdraw from the area; the Americans secured Guadalcanal about five weeks later.
On 9 Feb 1965, during the Vietnam War, a US Marine Corps Hawk air defense missile battalion was deployed to Da Nang. President Johnson had ordered this deployment to provide protection for the key US airbase there. This was the first commitment of American combat troops in South Vietnam and there was considerable reaction around the world to the new stage of US involvement in the war. Predictably, both communist China and the Soviet Union threatened to intervene if the US continued to apply its military might on behalf of the South Vietnamese. Britain and Australia supported our action, but France called for negotiations.
On 12 Feb 1973, the release of US POWs began in Hanoi as part of the Paris peace settlement. The return of US POWs began when North Vietnam released 142 of 591 US prisoners at Hanoi’s Gia Lam Airport. Part of what was called Operation Homecoming, the first 20 POWs arrived to a hero’s welcome at Travis Air Force Base in California on 14 Feb. Operation Homecoming was completed on 29 Mar 1973, when the last of 591 US prisoners were returned to the US.
On 13 Feb 1861, the earliest military action to be revered with a Medal of Honor award was performed by Colonel Bernard Irwin, an assistant army surgeon serving in the first major US-Apache conflict. Near Apache Pass, in southeastern Arizona, Irwin volunteered to go to the rescue of Second Lieutenant George Bascom, who was trapped with 60 men of the Seventh Infantry by the Chiricahua Apaches. Irwin and 14 men, initially without horses, began the 100-mile trek to Bascom’s forces riding on mules. After fighting and capturing Apaches along the way and recovering stolen horses and cattle, they reached Bascom’s forces on 14 Feb and proved instrumental in breaking the siege.
The first US-Apache conflict had begun several days before, when Cochise, the Chiricahua Apache chief, kidnapped three white men to exchange for his brother and two nephews held by the Army on false charges of stealing cattle and kidnapping a child. When the exchange was refused, Cochise killed the white men, and the army responded by killing his relatives, setting off the first of the Apache wars.
Although Irwin’s bravery in this conflict was the earliest Medal of Honor action, the award itself was not created until 1862, and it was not until January 21, 1894, that Irwin received the nation’s highest military honor.
On 14 Feb 1962, President John Kennedy authorized US military advisors in Vietnam to return fire if fired upon. At a news conference, he said, “The training missions we have [in South Vietnam] have been instructed that if they are fired upon, they are of course to fire back, but we have not sent combat troops in [the] generally understood sense of the word.” In effect, Kennedy was acknowledging that US forces were involved in the fighting, but he wished to downplay any appearance of increased American involvement in the war