1782: General George Washington establishes the Badge of Military Merit, America’s first military decoration and perhaps the first-ever decoration awarded to common soldiers. The purple heart, made from a cloth badge, was issued for “instances of unusual gallantry in battle […] extraordinary fidelity and essential service.” Today’s Purple Heart medal, awarded to service members killed or wounded in combat, traces its roots to Washington’s Badge.
1794: When farmers in Pennsylvania rebel against the tax on alcohol to repay war debts, President Washington invokes the Militia Act, calling up and federalizing state militias to help enforce the law. The president himself rides in front of the army, marking one of the only times a sitting U.S. president will lead troops in the field.
1942: Seventy-five years ago today, the 1st Marine Division began streaming ashore on Japanese-held Guadalcanal in what was the first major ground combat operation by U.S. forces in World War II. On this day, Marines also land at – and quickly secure – Tulagi and other islands and atolls in the British Solomons. The Marines slug it out with the Japanese defenders for six months before taking Guadalcanal, using the captured islands as staging bases for the Allied campaign of island hopping in the Solomons.
1964: Congress overwhelmingly passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, enabling Pres. Lyndon Johnson to increase U.S. involvement in Vietnam – and eventually leading to full-scale war.
1990: (featured image) Pres. George H.W. Bush announces the “wholly defensive” Operation DESERT SHIELD following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, seeking to prevent the Iraqi dictator from entering Saudi Arabia and seizing control of most of the world’s oil reserves. Two carrier battle groups are dispatched to the area, as well as the deployment of Air Force F-15s and F-16s, and the military buildup of over 500,000 troops begins.