28 November 1942

A fire in the Cocoanut Grove in Boston nightclub kills 492 people.

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The Cocoanut Grove Fire was a nightclub fire in the United States. The Cocoanut Grove was a premier nightclub during the post-Prohibition 1930s and 1940s in Boston, Massachusetts. On November 28, 1942, it was the scene of the deadliest nightclub fire in history, killing 492 people and injuring hundreds more. The scale of the tragedy shocked the nation and briefly replaced the events of World War II in newspaper headlines. It led to a reform of safety standards and codes across the US, and to major changes in the treatment and rehabilitation of burn victims internationally.

It was the second-deadliest single-building fire in American history; only the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago had a higher death toll, of 602. It was only two years after the Rhythm Club fire which had killed 209.

Official reports state that the fire started at about 10:15 pm in the dark, intimate Melody Lounge downstairs. Goody Goodelle, a young pianist and singer, was performing on a revolving stage, surrounded by artificial palm trees. The lounge was lit by low-powered light bulbs in coconut-styled sconces beneath the fronds. A young man, possibly a soldier, had unscrewed a light bulb in order to give himself privacy while kissing his date. Stanley Tomaszewski—a 16-year-old busboy—was instructed to put the light back on by tightening the bulb. He stepped up onto a chair to reach the light in the darkened corner. Unable to see the bulb, he lit a match to illuminate the area, tightened the bulb, and extinguished the match. Witnesses first saw flames in the fronds, which were just below the ceiling, immediately afterward. Though the lit match had been close to the same fronds where the fire was seen to have begun, the official report determined that Tomaszewski’s actions could not be found to be the source of the fire, which “will be entered into the records of this department as being of unknown origin.”

21 September 1942

The Boeing B29 Superfortress makes its first flight.

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On this day in 1942, the U.S. B-29 Superfortress makes its debut flight in Seattle, Washington. It was the largest bomber used in the war by any nation.

The B-29 was conceived in 1939 by Gen. Hap Arnold, who was afraid a German victory in Europe would mean the United States would be devoid of bases on the eastern side of the Atlantic from which to counterattack. A plane was needed that would travel faster, farther, and higher than any then available, so Boeing set to creating the four-engine heavy bomber. The plane was extraordinary, able to carry loads almost equal to its own weight at altitudes of 30,000 to 40,000 feet. It contained a pilot console in the rear of the plane, in the event the front pilot was knocked out of commission. It also sported the first radar bombing system of any U.S. bomber.

The Superfortress made its test run over the continental United States on September 21, but would not make its bombing-run debut until June 5, 1944, against Bangkok, in preparation for the Allied liberation of Burma from Japanese hands. A little more than a week later, the B-29 made its first run against the Japanese mainland. On June 14, 60 B-29s based in Chengtu, China, bombed an iron and steel works factory on Honshu Island. While the raid was less than successful, it proved to be a morale booster to Americans, who were now on the offensive.

Meanwhile, the Marianas Islands in the South Pacific were being recaptured by the United States, primarily to provide air bases for their new B-29s—a perfect position from which to strike the Japanese mainland on a consistent basis. Once the bases were ready, the B-29s were employed in a long series of bombing raids against Tokyo. Although capable of precision bombing at high altitudes, the Superfortresses began dropping incendiary devices from a mere 5,000 feet, firebombing the Japanese capital in an attempt to break the will of the Axis power. One raid, in March 1945, killed more than 80,000 people. But the most famous, or perhaps infamous, use of the B-29 would come in August, as it was the only plane capable of delivering a 10,000-pound bomb—the atomic bomb. The Enola Gay and the Bock’s Car took off from the Marianas, on August 6 and 9, respectively, and flew into history.

22 June 1942

The USA Congress adopts the Pledge of Allegiance.

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The original Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy. It was first given wide publicity through the official program of the National Public Schools Celebration of Columbus Day, which was printed in The Youth’s Companion of September 8, 1892, and at the same time sent out in leaflet form to schools throughout the country. School children first recited the Pledge of Allegiance this way:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”

“The flag of the United States” replaced the words “my Flag” in 1923 because some foreign-born people might have in mind the flag of the country of their birth instead of the United States flag. A year later, “of America” was added after “United States.”

No form of the Pledge received official recognition by Congress until June 22, 1942, when the Pledge was formally included in the U.S. Flag Code. The official name of The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted in 1945. The last change in language came on Flag Day 1954, when Congress passed a law, which added the words “under God” after “one nation.”

Originally, the pledge was said with the right hand in the so-called “Bellamy Salute,” with the right hand resting first outward from the chest, then the arm extending out from the body. Once Hitler came to power in Europe, some Americans were concerned that this position of the arm and hand resembled the Nazi or Fascist salute. In 1942 Congress also established the current practice of rendering the pledge with the right hand over the heart.

The Flag Code specifies that any future changes to the pledge would have to be with the consent of the President.

24 February 1942

A false alarm led to an anti-aircraft barrage that lasted into the early hours of February 25 for what became known as the Battle of Los Angeles.

A remarkable series of false alarms and errors, most likely brought on by widespread “war nerves”, began in California on this day in 1942, resulting in an incident which became known as The Battle of Los Angeles. Rumours of an air raid on the city and the heightened state of readiness – just three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor provoked America’s entrance into World War II – led to reports of an enemy attack and an hour of anti-aircraft bombardment into the night sky.The day before, the Californian coast had been fired upon by a Japanese submarine near Ellwood, the first shelling of the North American mainland in the war. Though minimal damage was caused, the bombardment was widely reported, causing some panic which led hundreds to flee the area.

Despite rumours of a cover-up, no proof could be found that any attack had taken place. A stray weather balloon was blamed for the start of the bombardment, with confusion exacerbated by anti-aircraft shell bursts, caught in searchlights, being mistaken for enemy planes.

22 December 1942

Adolf Hitler signs the order to begin development the V2 rocket as a weapon.

Early in World War II, Hitler was not particularly enthusiastic about the rocket program believing that the weapon was simply a more expensive artillery shell with a longer range. As the conflict progressed, Hitler warmed to the program and on December 22, 1942, authorized the A4 to be produced as a weapon. Though production was approved, thousands of changes were made to the final design before the first production missiles were completed in early 1944. Initially, production of the A4, now re-designated the V-2, was slated for Peenemunde, Friedrichshafen, and Wiener Neustadt, as well as several smaller sites.

This was changed in late 1943, after Allied bombing raids against Peenemunde and other V-2 sites erroneously led the Germans to believe their production plans had been compromised. As a result, production shifted to underground facilities at Nordhausen (Mittelwerk) and Ebensee. The only plant to be fully operational by war’s end, the Nordhausen factory utilized slave labor from the nearby Mittelbau-Dora concentration camps. It is believed that around 20,000 prisoners died while working at the Nordhausen plant, a number that far exceeded the number of casualties inflicted by the weapon in combat. During the war, over 5,700 V-2s were built at various facilities.