20 May 1969

The Battle of Hamburger Hill during the Vietnam War ends.

Hamburger Hill was the scene of an intense and controversial battle during the Vietnam War. Known to military planners as Hill 937, the solitary peak is located in the dense jungles of the A Shau Valley of Vietnam, about a mile from the border with Laos.

The Vietnamese referred to the hill as Dong Ap Bia. Though the hill had no real tactical significance, taking the hill was part of Operation Apache Snow, a U.S. military sweep of the A Shau Valley. The purpose of the operation was to cut off North Vietnamese infiltration from Laos and enemy threats to the cities of Hue and Da Nang.

101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION ATTACKS
Under the leadership of General Melvin Zais, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, paratroopers engaged a North Vietnamese regiment on the slopes of Ap Bia Mountain on May 10, 1969. Entrenched in well-prepared fighting positions, the North Vietnamese 29th Regiment repulsed the initial American assault, and after suffering a high number of casualties, U.S. forces fell back.

The soldiers of the North Vietnamese 29th Regiment—battle-hardened veterans of the Tet Offensive—beat back another attempt by the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry on May 14. An intense battle raged for the next 10 days as the mountain came under heavy air strikes, artillery barrages and 10 infantry assaults, some conducted in heavy tropical rainstorms that reduced visibility to near zero.

Due to the bitter fighting and the high casualty rate, Ap Bia Mountain was dubbed “Hamburger Hill” by journalists covering the Vietnam War. Speaking to a reporter, 19-year-old Sergeant James Spears said, “Have you ever been inside a hamburger machine? We just got cut to pieces by extremely accurate machine gun fire.”

HAMBURGER HILL CAPTURED
On May 20, General Zais sent in two additional U.S. airborne battalions, plus a South Vietnamese battalion as reinforcements for his increasingly disgruntled soldiers.

One U.S. soldier—who had fought in nine of the 10 assaults on Hamburger Hill—was quoted as saying, “I’ve lost a lot of buddies up there. Not many guys can take it much longer.”

Finally, in the 11th attack, the North Vietnamese stronghold was captured on May 20, when thousands of U.S. troops and South Vietnamese soldiers fought their way to the summit. In the face of the four-battalion attack, the North Vietnamese retreated to sanctuary areas in Laos.

HAMBURGER HILL ABANDONED
On June 5—just days after the hard-won victory—Ap Bia Mountain was abandoned by U.S. forces because it had no real strategic value. The North Vietnamese re-occupied Hamburger Hill a month later.

“The only significance of the hill was the fact that your North Vietnamese on it … the hill itself had no tactical significance,” General Zais was quoted as saying.

Reports of casualties vary, but during the 10 days of intense fighting, an estimated 630 North Vietnamese were killed. U.S. casualties were listed as 72 killed and 372 wounded.

LEGACY OF HAMBURGER HILL
The bloody battle over Hamburger Hill and the fleeting victory resulted in a firestorm of criticism from anti-war activists. Outrage over what appeared to be a senseless loss of American lives was exacerbated by photographs published in Life magazine of U.S. soldiers killed during the battle.

On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Edward Kennedy scorned the military tactics of the Nixon administration. Kennedy condemned the battle for Ap Bia Mountain as “senseless and irresponsible.” General Creighton Abrams, commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, was subsequently ordered to avoid such intensive ground battles.

But not all the soldiers and military leaders agreed that Hamburger Hill was a wasted effort. Of the criticisms leveled at U.S. commanders, General Zais said, “Those people are acting like this was a catastrophe for the U.S. troops. This was a tremendous, gallant victory.”

19 May 1802

Napoleon Bonaparte starts the Legion of Honour.

Legion of Honour, officially National Order of the Legion of Honour, French Ordre National de la Légion d’honneur, premier order of the French republic, created by Napoleon Bonaparte, then first consul, on May 19, 1802, as a general military and civil order of merit conferred without regard to birth or religion provided that anyone admitted swears to uphold liberty and equality.

Napoleon’s ideas for this order, which finally prevailed, aroused a certain amount of opposition, particularly from those who felt the Legion should have purely military qualifications. After becoming emperor, Napoleon presided over the first investiture into the Legion, which took place in 1804 at the Hôtel des Invalides, Paris. In 1805, schools were started for daughters of members; later, hospitals were maintained for sick and infirm legionnaires. During the Restoration, the Legion became a royal order, ranked below the restored military and religious orders of the ancien régime. Upon the downfall of the monarchy, the Legion once again became the highest-ranking order and decoration in France.

True to the stated ideals of Napoleon when founding the order, the membership of the Legion is remarkably egalitarian; both men and women, French citizens and foreigners, civilians and military personnel, irrespective of rank, birth, or religion, can be admitted to any of the classes of the Legion. Admission into this order, which can be conferred posthumously, requires 20 years of civil achievement in peacetime or extraordinary military bravery and service in times of war. Admission into the Legion for war services automatically carries with it the award of the Croix de Guerre, the highest French military medal.

During the Consulate and the First Empire, Napoleon served as the grand master of the order, while a grand council of seven grand officers administered the 15 territorial units, or “cohorts,” into which the order was divided. Currently, the president of France serves as grand master, and the order is administered by a civil chancellor with the help of a council nominated by the grand master. The Legion has five classes, listed in descending rank: grand cross, grand officer, commander, officer, and knight, or chevalier. Napoleon himself made some 48,000 nominations. Foreign recipients in the classes higher than chevalier are supernumerary. Promotion from a lower grade to a higher grade is done according to the service performed in the lower. However, extraordinary services may admit candidates at once to any rank.

The changes in design of the insignia reflect the vicissitudes of French history. Originally, the star of the order depicted a crown surrounded by oak and laurel wreaths with the head of Napoleon, while the other side displayed an eagle holding a thunderbolt with the motto emblazoned “Honneur et Patrie”. During the first Restoration, Louis XVIII, in 1814, replaced the head of Napoleon with that of King Henry IV of France, and on the other side introduced the royal fleur-de-lis emblem. Napoleon III, in 1870, restored the original design, although he replaced the head of Napoleon with the female head of the Republic. The badge of the Legion depicts this head with the inscription “République Française”; the reverse side has a set of crossed tricolours with the motto “Honneur et Patrie.”

18 May 1756

The Seven Years’ War begins after Great Britain declares war on France.

SEVEN YEARS’ WAR. 1756–1763. All four of the major European wars between 1689 and 1763 also involved conflict among the imperial powers in North America and the West Indies. The first three began in Europe and spread across the Atlantic. The final conflict in this sequence was unique in that it began in the Ohio Valley and then spread to the European Continent. Known, confusingly, in America as “the” French and Indian War, this conflict is known in Europe by its duration, the roughly seven years between 18 May 1756 and 10 February 1763.

Although Britain had hoped to confine to North America its fight to remove what it considered to be French encroachments on lands it claimed in the Ohio Valley, events beyond its control ensured that this would not happen. Since 1689, Britain had followed a national security policy of joining with other European powers to curb the efforts of France to dominate the Continent. Pursuing this policy required Britain’s leaders to strike a balance between committing troops to campaigns against French armies and crippling the French economy by using its naval superiority to cut off France’s overseas trade while simultaneously subsidizing its allies to do the actual fighting on the Continent. By the middle of the eighteenth century, this “blue-water strategy” of relying on allies and the Royal Navy had become more feasible. French overseas commerce had grown into a substantial part of the overall French economy, while despite the tug of the Hanoverian connection on George II, there was a growing reluctance on the part of British politicians to be drawn into struggles on the European Continent. Britain had supported Austria with money and troops during the War of the Austrian Succession) and was trying to re-knit an alliance structure that would keep the balance of power stable through money and diplomacy.

France, too, wanted to concentrate on events overseas, but both powers were drawn into a European war when Frederick II of Prussia attacked Saxony in an effort to preempt a new grand alliance of Austria, Russia, and a reluctant France from squeezing him back to being a secondary power. Britain had no choice but to ally with Frederick and send troops and subsidies to the Continent. Although the British army initially performed badly in Germany, Frederick managed to hold off encirclement by hard marching and heavy casualties. British performance improved, culminating in a tactical triumph over the French at Minden on 1 August 1759, but by that time the bulk of Britain’s money, troops, and attention had been shifted to North America. The death of the anti-Prussian czarina of Russia on 6 January 1762 ultimately broke the alliance and saved Frederick. After several years of frustration in North America, the combination of British naval superiority and a series of slow but steady land campaigns that culminated in James Wolfe’s lucky victory at the Plains of Abraham in Quebec on 13 September 1759 capped an annus mirabilus that left Britain dominant at sea and in North America.

Even before the Peace of Paris ratified Britain’s tremendous success, its leaders were grappling with the problems of how to pay the expenses incurred during the war and how to reorder the newly expanded empire. Their choices precipitated the War for American Independence.

Seven Years’ War – Dictionary definition of Seven Years’ War | Encyclopedia.com: FREE online dictionary

17 May 1875

Aristides wins the very first Kentucky Derby.

The 1875 Kentucky Derby was the first running of the Kentucky Derby. The race took place on May 17, 1875. The first Kentucky Derby was a 1.5-mile race, and the traditional distance of 1.25 miles was not established until the 1896 Derby. Thirteen of the fifteen jockeys in the race, including winner Oliver Lewis, were African-American. Attendance was estimated at 10,000.

The winner was Aristides, by two lengths. His jockey was Oliver Lewis, his trainer was Ansel Williamson, and his owner was H.P. McGrath. Aristides’ half-brother and stablemate Chesapeake also ran in the race. Both Aristides’ jockey and trainer were black. Aristides’s time of 2 minutes and 37.75 seconds was at the time a world record for the distance.

16 May 1966

The Communist Party of China issues its May 16 Notice to start the Cultural Revolution.

The Cultural Revolution, formally the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, was a sociopolitical movement in China from 1966 until 1976. Launched by Mao Zedong, then Chairman of the Communist Party of China, its stated goal was to preserve ‘true’ Communist ideology in the country by purging remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society, and to re-impose Maoist thought as the dominant ideology within the Party. The Revolution marked Mao’s return to a position of power after the Great Leap Forward. The movement paralyzed China politically and negatively affected the country’s economy and society to a significant degree.

The movement was launched in May 1966, after Mao alleged that bourgeois elements had infiltrated the government and society at large, aiming to restore capitalism. To eliminate his rivals within the Communist Party of China, Mao insisted that these “revisionists” be removed through violent class struggle. China’s youth responded to Mao’s appeal by forming Red Guard groups around the country. The movement spread into the military, urban workers, and the Communist Party leadership itself. It resulted in widespread factional struggles in all walks of life. In the top leadership, it led to a mass purge of senior officials, most notably Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. During the same period, Mao’s personality cult grew to immense proportions.

In the violent struggles that ensued across the country, millions of people were persecuted and suffered a wide range of abuses including public humiliation, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, hard labor, sustained harassment, seizure of property and sometimes execution. A large segment of the population was forcibly displaced, most notably the transfer of urban youth to rural regions during the Down to the Countryside Movement. Historical relics and artifacts were destroyed. Cultural and religious sites were ransacked.

Mao officially declared the Cultural Revolution to have ended in 1969, but its active phase lasted until the death of military leader and proposed Mao successor Lin Biao in 1971. After Mao’s death and the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976, reformers led by Deng Xiaoping gradually began to dismantle the Maoist policies associated with the Cultural Revolution. In 1981, the Party declared that the Cultural Revolution was “responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic”.

In May 16, 1966, an “expanded session” of the Politburo was called in Beijing. The conference, rather than being a joint discussion on policy, was essentially a campaign to mobilize the Politburo into endorsing Mao’s political agenda. The conference was heavily laden with Maoist political rhetoric on class struggle, and filled with meticulously-prepared ‘indictments’ on the recently ousted leaders such as Peng Zhen and Luo Ruiqing. One of these documents, released on May 16, was prepared with Mao’s personal supervision, and was particularly damning:

Those representatives of the bourgeoisie who have sneaked into the Party, the government, the army, and various spheres of culture are a bunch of counter-revolutionary revisionists. Once conditions are ripe, they will seize political power and turn the dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Some of them we have already seen through; others we have not. Some are still trusted by us and are being trained as our successors, persons like Khruschev for example, who are still nestling beside us.

This text, which became known as the “May 16 Notification”, summarized Mao’s ideological justification for the Cultural Revolution. Effectively it implied that there are enemies of the Communist cause within the Party itself: class enemies who “wave the red flag to oppose the red flag.” The only way to identify these people was through “the telescope and microscope of Mao Zedong Thought.” While the party leadership was relatively united in approving the general direction of Mao’s agenda, many Politburo members were not especially enthusiastic, or simply confused about the direction of the movement. The charges against esteemed party leaders like Peng Zhen rang alarm bells in China’s intellectual community and among the eight non-Communist parties.