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Your Week in History: A major invasion and an incoherent duck

American forces land on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion June 6, 1944. (Source: U.S. Coast Guard/Wikimedia Commons) American forces land on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion June 6, 1944. (Source: U.S. Coast Guard/Wikimedia Commons)
Emily Davison is run over by a horse while protesting for women's suffrage June 4, 1913. (Source: Wikimedia Commons) Emily Davison is run over by a horse while protesting for women's suffrage June 4, 1913. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

(RNN) – This is a week with monumentally historic significance, especially in the war section.

I'm going to get the John Wayne foolishness out of the way early because this week's article is long and the connections are tenuous at best. I feel like this whole John Wayne thing is close to jumping the shark, and this might actually be the week it happens. But the anniversary of John Wayne's death is next week, so it isn't likely to end any time soon.

Dean Martin, who is more famous for his singing career and association with the Rat Pack, co-starred with Wayne in Rio Bravo and was born June 7, 1917. Anthony Quinn starred with Wayne in Back to Bataan and died June 3, 2001, 10 years to the day before James Arness died, who was recommended for the role of Gunsmoke's Marshall Dillon by the Duke.

Additionally, William Quantrill died June 6, 1865. Quantrill was a Confederate leader during the Civil War and died almost a month after being shot in battle at age 27. Quantrill wasn't affiliated directly with the Confederate Army and his record is fairly dubious. Wayne's True Grit character, Rooster Cogburn, speaks fondly of his association with Quantrill during the war, which causes tension between him and LaBoeuf. The only video I could find of their conversation is from the 2010 version of the movie.

Apache Chief Cochise died June 8, 1874, and was a character in Fort Apache. Wayne also rode a horse named Cochise in El Dorado.

Here are some of the events of note that happened between June 3 and June 9.

Life and Death

Jefferson Davis was born June 3, 1808, because the only thing better than a three-day weekend at Memorial Day in Alabama is a three-day weekend the week after Memorial Day (participation in other places may vary).

Davis shares his birthday with another southern icon - Lynyrd Skynyrd pianist Billy Powell, who was born June 3, 1952. Much of the band's signature sound came from the classically trained Powell on the keyboard, who was discovered by the band accidentally. Powell had been a roadie for the group for a few years before they even knew he could play the piano. Once they heard him, he was a member and his influence is heard most notably on the signature songs of Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird.

I've extensively covered the exploits of Andrew Jackson in this column, including last week. This week, however, is not as good. Jackson died June 8, 1845. It took three major illnesses to finally do Jackson in. He had dropsy, which is severe swelling and is the cause of death listed on The Hermitage's website, but it wasn't enough to take him out alone. Jackson also had severe complications from gunshot wounds, tuberculosis and heart failure.

Charles Dickens became as dead as a doornail June 9, 1870, Ronald Reagan died June 4, 2004, Robert Kennedy died June 6, 1968 - the day after he was shot in the Ambassador Hotel while campaigning for president - and the Prophet Muhammad died June 8, 632.

Overlooked Anniversaries

The first American spacewalk was conducted June 3, 1965, by Ed White during the Gemini 4 mission. It came three months after Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was the first man to walk in space. White was killed a year and a half later in a fire while testing Apollo 1.

Elvis Presley and his rubber legs introduced Hound Dog on The Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956. Presley wasn't the first person to record the song - he was at least the ninth - but nobody repeats the same two lines quite like The King, and it became his fifth No. 1 hit. Elvis' house, Graceland, was opened to the public June 7, 1982, but the bathroom where he died remains off limits.

This was a big week for women's rights, and it all started when Emily Davison protested for a woman's right to vote by running out onto the racetrack at the Epsom Derby on June 4, 1913, and got run over by King George V's horse. She suffered a fractured skull and died four days later. The jockey, Herbert Jones, was haunted by the incident for the rest of his life and committed suicide in 1951. The horse got up and finished the race without a rider. Video of the event exists, if you're inclined to watch it.

Exactly six years later, the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the United States, was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Denmark allowed women the right to vote June 5, 1915.

Donald Duck and his truly awful voice made their debut in a really annoying cartoon called The Wise Little Hen on June 9, 1934. It features a duck you can't understand, a pig you can't understand, a chicken who can't say "corn" and a song you will be singing the rest of the day while silently hating me for compelling you to watch it.

Tetris was released June 6, 1984, and this begs for an interactive Google doodle. Google produced a static doodle in 2009, but with its recent popular interactive creations, it should only be a matter of time before you have another solid excuse to waste time at work.

The YMCA was founded June 6, 1844. Are you listening to me? They have everything for you men to enjoy. You can hang out with all the boys. You can get yourself clean. You can have a good meal. You can do whatever you feel.

The famous Tank Man photograph was taken June 5, 1989, when an unidentified protestor stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square.

Something About Sports

It's early June and you know what that means - the Belmont Stakes and more of my love affair with Secretariat. If you've never seen Secretariat's Belmont Stakes race, it's worth your time because it's the most dominant performance in sports history. That's a lofty statement, but it's true. By the end of the race, the camera can't even keep Secretariat and the second place horse in the same frame.

Big Red holds not only the race record, but the record for 1 1/2 miles on any track in any race, and won by a record 31 lengths. If you haven't seen Secretariat's Sports Century profile, it's worth the time as well.

But the Belmont giveth and the Belmont taketh away. Smarty Jones finished second in the Belmont on June 5, 2004. I was very upset after this race. I wanted him to win the Triple Crown in the worst way and he led the entire way before being edged out at the finish line. Smarty Jones was from Philadelphia, and I think the Curse of William Penn is to blame.

Rags to Riches became the first filly to win the Belmont in 106 years June 9, 2007.

Now to baseball. On June 3, 1932, Lou Gehrig hit four home runs in the same game and teammate Tony Lazzeri hit for the natural cycle (single, double, triple and home run, in order) in a 20-13 win over the Philadelphia Athletics.

Only 14 players have hit for the natural cycle, and Lazzeri is the only one to end it with a grand slam. Only 16 players have four homers in one game (Gehrig was reportedly robbed of a fifth). By comparison, 21 pitchers have thrown a perfect game, which is generally considered the rarest feat in baseball.

Benjamin Harrison became the first president to attend a baseball game June 6, 1892, when he watched the Washington Senators lose to the Cincinnati Reds 7-4 in 11 innings. About three weeks later, he went to see the Senators lose again, this time to the Philadelphia Phillies, 9-2.

The greatest piece of sports literature ever produced was published June 3, 1888. Casey at the Bat, written by Ernest Thayer, was printed in the San Francisco Examiner, though at the time the author wasn't known. It also isn't known who, if anyone, inspired the creation of Casey and what city, if any, was the inspiration for Mudville. There's no better way to enjoy it than with the voice of James Earl Jones.

The poem was almost immediately ripped off and published in the New York Sporting News as Kelly at the Bat, substituting real life player Mike "King" Kelly for Casey and Boston, where Kelly played, for Mudville. Kelly was one of the best players at the time and is rumored to be the real inspiration for the poem, but evidence to support that claim is weak and anecdotal.

Aside from a couple of 19th century words whose meanings have been lost, the poem features excellent prose, fans who want to murder an umpire, an over-confident star hitter and the pure agony of defeat that can only be truly known by die-hard sports fans.

The Cleveland Indians held 10-cent Beer Night on June 4, 1974, and it went exactly like you think it did. A riot broke out that resulted in the Indians forfeiting the game. Fans stormed the field and surrounded the visiting Texas Rangers. The Indians then came to the Rangers' aid using baseball bats to fend off their own fans. However, on the list of atrocities Cleveland fans have had to endure at the hands of their favorite teams, this barely cracks the top 10.

The Week in Warfare

The Battle of Belleau Wood saw the largest loss of life in the history of the Marine Corps on June 6, 1918.

Three of the most important battles of World War II happened this week. The Battle of Dunkirk ended June 3, 1940, with a fortunate evacuation by the Allies. British, French and Belgian forces were sitting ducks for more than a week after being cut off during the battle. More than 330,000 men were evacuated from the beaches while under attack from the German Luftwaffe. But a major ground attack never came.

The German Army was in position for a full-scale attack, but it is thought Adolf Hitler believed the British Army was retreating because it no longer wanted to fight and would be willing to negotiate peace. However, the next day Winston Churchill gave his "We shall fight on the beaches" speech to Parliament and any thoughts of peace were erased. (The famous remarks begin at the 11-minute mark.)

Four years later, the Allies launched the largest military operation ever attempted June 6, 1944, and landed on the beaches of Normandy to make their way across France and into Germany to end the war less than a year later.

D-Day had been delayed for more than a month due to bad weather and had been scheduled for June 5, when inclimate weather forced yet another delay. More than 50 miles of French coastline were used in the landings. Decoys successfully fooled the German army into thinking the invasion would be further north, where the distance between the coasts of France and England was smaller.

The German defenses were weaker at the site of the invasion than at other places along the coast. More than 160,000 soldiers landed in the first day, about half of which were American. Casualties during the first wave of the invasion are estimated at about 12,000.

The Battle of Midway was fought June 4 to 7, 1942, and saw the near complete destruction of the Japanese navy. Japan had been planning an attack on Midway for a while because it contained an important strategic air field.

Coded messages were intercepted and interpreted, tipping off the U.S. to the invasion. Japan intended to lure American carriers into an ambush, but three American carriers - Yorktown, Hornet and Enterprise - set an ambush on the Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu, all of which were involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor six months earlier.

Japan had the upper hand early in the battle when an unprotected torpedo squadron targeted the carriers and were all shot down. The planes had come from carriers, but Japan thought they were from the island and wasn't prepared to attack American ships. With planes landing on the decks of the carriers and other planes being serviced for attacks against ships, the Japanese carriers were vulnerable to attack.

Three of the Japanese carriers were sunk, with Hiryu being the only survivor. It launched a counterattack that sunk Yorktown, but Japan believed two carriers had been sunk, which would have made the fight even. A strike against Hiryu was ordered and it was sunk as well.

Holiday You Should Celebrate

June 3 is Repeat Day. June 3 is Repeat Day. June 3 is Repeat Day. June 3 is Repeat Day. June 3 is Repeat Day. (OK, you get it now.)

Preview of next week

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

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