October 21, 1797 - The 44-gun 204-foot U.S. Navy frigate USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides, was launched in Boston's harbor. It was never defeated in 42 battles. 216 crew members set sail again in 1997 for its 200th birthday. Although her construction is almost halted by a 1796 peace treaty with Algiers, the CONSTITUTION is launched-christened by visiting Capt. James Sever using a bottle of Madeira. It is actually the third attempt to launch her; the first was a month earlier, when the ship sticks after moving only 27 feet. Two days later she moves another 31 feet before sticking once again. For the third attempt, workers make the launching ways steeper, which finally enables a successful event. The public, which includes several French aristocrats, is warned beforehand that the launch of such a large ship might cause a dangerously large wave, but none actually materializes during the event.
October 21, 1837 - Under a flag of truce during peace talks, U.S. troops sieged the Indian Seminole Chief Osceola in Florida. Osceola, who was sick with malaria, knew the Indians could fight no more. He went to the General's fort at St. Augustine with a white flag. When Osceola went to General Jesup the General had his men surround Osceola. They threw the white flag to the ground and put chains on his hands and feet. The Seminoles were so angry with Osceola's capture that they continued to fight for the next five years.
October 21, 1861 - A Union assault across the Potomac River north of Washington, DC, at a site named Harrison’s Landing or better known to history as “Ball’s Bluff” was repulsed with heavy losses. While Confederate loses were rather light the Union forces suffered 223 men killed and more than 700 captured, several hundred of them wounded. Among the dead was Colonel and U.S. Senator from Oregon Edward D. Baker. Born in England he came to America as a child and spent his early life in Illinois, where he met and became life-long friends with Abraham Lincoln. While there he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1844. He resigned his seat in 1846 to command the 4th Illinois Volunteer Infantry in the Mexican War. He commanded the unit at the Siege of Vera Cruz and Battle of Cerro Gordo in Mexico. After the war he moved to California. He later moved to Oregon and was elected as a one of its two new senators in 1860. When the war started in April 1861, he raised a regiment in New York, but soon after took a commission (while still seated in the Senate) as the commander of the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. During the Battle of Ball’s Bluff his regiment found itself backed up against the river by Colonel William Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade (13th, 17th and 18th Mississippi regiments). Baker is killed instantly by a shot in the head. He was the only seated member of Congress to die in combat during the Civil War. Several other interesting notes stem from this battle. Due to Baker’s death and the high losses suffered in this operation, questions were raised in Congress about the Army’s leadership. A “Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War” was established to oversee how the war effort was being handled. On the military side, Barksdale’s Brigade would meet some of the very same units it fought at Ball’s Bluff again at Antietam and Fredericksburg in 1862. Among these were the 7th Michigan and the 19th and 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiments.
October 21, 1867 - Many leaders of the Kiowa, Comanche and Kiowa-Apache signed a peace treaty at Medicine Lodge, Kan. Comanche Chief Quanah Parker refused to accept the treaty terms.
October 21, 1872 - The U.S. Naval Academy admitted John H. Conyers, the first African American to be accepted.
October 21, 1904 - Panamanians clashed with U.S. Marines in Panama in a brief uprising.
October 21, 1916 - US Army formed Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Congress recognized the need for an expanded military reserve to supplement the National Guard, and it passed the National Defense Act. The National Defense Act provided for the establishment of the Officers' Reserve Corps, to be comprised of men trained in ROTC and in Army training camps. These officers not only served in World War I, but also went on to form the basis of the Officer's Reserve Corps in the 1930's. Consequently, when World War II broke out, ROTC was able to provide the necessary military leadership required for the Army to mobilize. Within six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, more than 56,000 Army ROTC officers had served our country. Later, in Korea and Vietnam, Army ROTC graduates reaffirmed our national commitment to a defense force, led in part by citizen soldiers who had been prepared for leadership on the campuses of our colleges and universities. Because of the conflict, Congress added additional strength to the program with the passage of the ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964. The act provided for the establishment of Army ROTC scholarships, the creation of the two-year program, and an increase in the amount of money ROTC students receive. These additional incentives stimulated enrollment in the program and introduced the rewards of military life to thousands of qualified young students.
October 21, 1917 - Members of the First Division of the U.S. Army training in Luneville, France, became the first Americans to see action on the front lines of World War I. The first U.S. troops entered the front lines at Sommervillier under French command. During the night, a battalion from each regiment and designated batteries of the division moved in beside corresponding units of the 18th French Division and began training in caring for themselves in the trenches, in patrolling, observation, and artillery procedures. The battalions and batteries were rotated at ten-day intervals until all had been at the front.
October 21, 1942 - Eight American and British officers landed from a submarine on an Algerian beach to take measure of Vichy French to the Operation Torch landings. The transports and escorts in support of the Allied invasion of French North Africa, sail. Despite the presence of 21 German U-boats in the waters off Gibraltar and the Moroccan coast, the transports are only mentioned vaguely in dispatches to Italy and Germany.
October 21, 1942 - General MacArthur orders the Australian troops fighting on Kokoda Trail advance to the main Japanese positions in Eora, New Guinea to speed up their advance.
October 21, 1942 - On Guadalcanal, the Japanese forces, mainly 2nd Infantry Division, under General Maruyama now number 20,000. The plan for the attack on the main American position involves simultaneous attacks to be made northward in the area between the Lunga and Tenaru Rivers, while secondary attacks are made on the American western outposts along the Matanika River. The Japanese lack accurate intelligence concerning the numbers and dispositions of the American troops.
October 21, 1944 - During World War II, U.S. troops captured the German city of Aachen.
October 21, 1944 - Elements of US 24th Corps capture Dulag Airfield; Tacloban village is taken by forces of US 10th Corps. American forces are unable to link the two beachheads. Ships of the US 7th Fleet and one group of US Task Force 38 (part of US 3rd Fleet) provide naval and air support to the land battles. Meanwhile, two groups of TF38 launch air strikes against targets on Panay, Cebu, Negros and Masbate.
October 21, 1944 - Organized Japanese resistance on Angaur, Palau Islands ends. A total of 1300 Japanese are killed and 45 are captured. American forces have suffered 265 dead and 1335 wounded. US heavy bombers are operating from the airfield. The Japanese garrisons on the remaining islands in the group are left isolated.
October 21, 1959 - Dr. Werner Von Braun started work at NASA. By the late 1960s his rockets were taking men to the moon. At age 25 he had masterminded the V-2 rocket for Nazi Germany.
October 21, 1972 - US Sec. of State Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam reached a cease-fire agreement. It was signed Jan 27, 1973.
October 21, 1983 - The United States sent a ten-ship task force to Grenada, one of the smallest independent nations in the Western Hemisphere and one of the southernmost Caribbean islands in the Windward chain. The Cuban government had decided to utilize the former British colony as a holding place for arms and military equipment, complete with a major airport. Eastern Caribbean nations fully understood the implication of the communist threat and called upon the United States for help. The response was Operation Urgent Fury, a multinational, multiservice effort. Commanding officers of the US Navy ships have not yet been told what the mission in Grenada--to evacuate U.S. citizens, neutralize any resistance, stabilize the situation and maintain the peace—will be.
October 21, 1986 - Pro-Iranian kidnappers in Lebanon claimed to have abducted American Edward Tracy (he was released in August 1991). Tracy, a self-described poet and author of children's books, disappeared in Muslim west Beirut. The Revolutionary Justice Organization later claimed to have kidnapped him. Tracy spent most of his adult life traveling. At the time of his disappearance, Tracy's mother said she had not seen her son for 21 years.
October 21, 1991 - American hostage Jesse Turner was freed by his kidnappers in Lebanon after nearly four years in captivity. Jesse Turner, pale and slightly unsteady on his feet after nearly five years in captivity in Lebanon, was turned over to American officials in Damascus. `I am happy to be out, finally,' he said in a soft voice. `I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends.' The 44-year-old Mr. Turner, who was held by a pro-Iranian group called Islamic Holy War for the Liberation of Palestine, was an assistant professor of computer science and mathematics at Beirut University College when he was kidnapped by men posing as Lebanese police officers on Jan. 24, 1987.
October 21, 1993 - NATO ministers endorsed a U.S. plan to form limited partnerships with Russia and other former East bloc foes, but stopped short of offering full membership.
October 21, 1994 - United States and North Korea signed an agreement requiring the communist nation to halt its nuclear program and agree to inspections.
October 21, 1996 - President Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military survived its first Supreme Court test.
October 21, 1997 - It was reported that The Energy Dept. and the Arthur D. Little company had developed a new fuel system for cars that uses fuel cell technology first developed by NASA. Electricity would be produced by extracting hydrogen from gasoline and combining it with oxyGeneral
October 21, 1997 - Pictures of the Antennae galaxies, two intermeshed colliding galaxies, were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1996 and revealed to the public for the first time.
October 21, 1998 - A radical environmental group, the Earth Liberation Front, claimed responsibility for fires that caused $12 million in damage at the nation's busiest ski resort in Vail, Colo.
October 21, 1999 - Organizers called for a "Jam Echelon Day," an effort to overload US National Security Agency (NSA) supercomputers with e-mail containing words such as "bomb." Echelon was a worldwide surveillance network run by the NSA and partners in Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
October 21, 2001 - A DC postal worker was diagnosed with the deadly inhalation form of anthrax. DC postal worker Thomas L. Morris Jr. (55) died. Officials began testing thousands of postal employees.
October 21, 2001 - US warplanes hit Taliban frontline troops north of Kabul in the fiercest hits to date. A 1000-pound bomb hit near a senior citizens home in Herat. US air strikes at Thorai killed 21 civilians.
October 21, 2002 - APEC delegates, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam began meetings at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to discuss terrorism and the world economy.
October 21, 2002 - President Bush said he would try diplomacy "one more time," but did not think Saddam Hussein would disarm, even if doing so would allow him to remain in power.
October 21, 2003 - Iran agreed to snap UN inspections of its nuclear sites and to freeze uranium enrichment.
October 21, 2004 - Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick, the highest-ranking U.S. soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib prison case, was sentenced to eight years in prison.