Year
1981

Spanish rebels storm Parliament

In Spain, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero and 200 members of the civil guard burst into the Cortes, Spain’s legislature building, in Madrid, firing shots into the air as they take the democratic government of Spain hostage. The right-wing conspirators, resentful of the rapid pace of democratic reform since the death of dictator Francisco Franco, called for an all-out military revolt.

The future of Spain was held in suspense into the night as citizens watched the tense events unfold on live television. The coup was only foiled when King Juan Carlos, who succeeded Franco in 1975 and then gave up power to Parliament, successfully appealed to the Spanish military to remain loyal to the constitution and join him in condemnation of the rebels. At noon on February 24, the coup was called off after 18 hours, and Spain’s fragile new democracy was preserved.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Children receive first polio vaccine

On this day in 1954, a group of children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, receive the first injections of the new polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk.Though not as devastating as the plague or influenza, poliomyelitis was a highly contagious ...read more

U.S. flag raised on Iwo Jima

During the bloody Battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division take the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest peak and most strategic position, and raise the U.S. flag. Marine photographer Louis ...read more

South Vietnamese advance stalls

In Operation Lam Son 719, the South Vietnamese advance into Laos grinds to a halt.The operation began on February 8. It included a limited incursion by South Vietnamese forces into Laos to disrupt the communist supply and infiltration network in Laos along Route 9 adjacent to ...read more

Desertion up in South Vietnamese army

According to the U.S. military headquarters in Saigon, 90,000 South Vietnamese deserted in 1965. This number was almost 14 percent of total South Vietnamese army strength and was twice the number of those that deserted in 1964. By contrast, the best estimates showed that fewer ...read more

Eric Heiden speed skates into Olympic history

On this day in 1980, speed skater Eric Heiden wins the 10,000-meter race at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, setting a world record with his time and winning an unprecedented fifth gold medal at the games.Heiden had been training as a speed skater since the age of ...read more

Lincoln avoids assassination attempt

On this day in 1861, Abraham Lincoln and his entourage show up unexpectedly at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., foiling a Baltimore plot against his life.The president-elect left his home in Springfield, Illinois, by train several days earlier and had planned to stop in ...read more

Guthrie writes “This Land is Your Land”

Folk singer Woody Guthrie writes one of his best-known songs, “This Land is Your Land.”Born in Okemah, Oklahoma, in 1912, Guthrie lived and wrote of the real West, a place of hard-working people and harsh environments rather than romantic cowboys and explorers. Though he was a ...read more

W.E.B. DuBois is born

On this day in 1868, William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) DuBois is born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A brilliant scholar, DuBois was an influential proponent of civil rights.DuBois’ childhood was happy, but during adolescence he became aware of a “vast veil” separating him ...read more

Earthquake strikes Mediterranean

On this day in 1887, an earthquake off the Mediterranean coast of southern France and northern Italy destroys villages and kills more than 2,000 people. At the time, the area was, as usual, playing host to visiting tourists from all over Europe celebrating Mardi Gras, including ...read more

First council meeting of SEATO

In the first council meeting of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declares the United States is committed to defending the region from communist aggression. The meeting, and American participation in SEATO, set the stage for the U.S. ...read more

Lincoln arrives in Washington

On this day in 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrives in Washington, D.C.,amid secrecy and tight security. With seven states having already seceded from the Union since Lincoln’s election, the threat of civil war hung in the air. Allen Pinkerton, head of a private ...read more

Formula One champ kidnapped

On this day in 1958, five-time Formula One champion Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina is kidnapped in Cuba by a group of Fidel Castro’s rebels.Fangio was taken from his Havana hotel the day before the Cuba Grand Prix, an event intended to showcase the island nation. He was released ...read more

Marines raise the flag on Mt. Suribachi

On this day, during the battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, the highest point on the island of Iwo Jima and a key strategic point. Later, Marine commanders decide to raise a second, larger flag, an event which an Associated Press ...read more