Milestones: Thursday, October 12, 2023
A DIFFERENT CONTINENT ALTOGETHER— THE FAMOUS ITALIAN EXPLORER WITH A HOLIDAY NAMED FOR HIM first sighted land on Oct. 12, 1492. Christopher Columbus, the captain of a three-ship fleet, believed he had reached eastern Asia, but the land that he claimed for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain was in fact one of the Bahamian islands in the Caribbean Sea. Although educated Europeans of Columbus’ time knew the earth was round, as St. Isidore eight centuries earlier had posited, they did not know the earth’s size, nor of the Pacific Ocean’s existence. When Ferdinand and Isabella sponsored Columbus’ first voyage, it was to secure a western ocean route to Asia, as the Ottoman Empire had closed off the land routes; they did not expect to discover a continent in between.
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had earlier rebuffed Columbus’ petition for financing. However, they changed their minds after Spain conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January 1492. The expulsion of Jews began later that year.
WEST POINT, THEN RENEGADE— CONFEDERATE GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE DIED IN HIS LEXINGTON, VIRGINIA HOME ON Oct.12, 1870 at age 63. Born into a prominent Virginia family, which included founding father Richard Henry Lee who secured the Resolution on Independency during the American Revolution, Robert E. Lee entered a military career and fought in the Mexican War of 1846-48. He also served at one point as the superintendent of West Point, where he had also attended as an exemplary student. Yet, when the Civil War began, Robert E. Lee joined the Confederate side, to protect the sovereignty of the Commonwealth of Virginia (and presumably the practice of slavery). During the Civil War, Lee distinguished himself among Southerners a brilliant war tactician and battlefield leader. However, he was later defeated during attempted invasions of the North, both at Antietam in Maryland and Gettysburg in Virginia.
After surrendering to the Union Army’s General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, he became president of Washington University, later renamed Washington & Lee University in his honor.
PACIFIST PUTS HIS LIFE ON THE LINE —THE FIRST CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR IN AMERICAN HISTORY TO RECEIVE A MEDAL OF HONOR FOR WAR BRAVERY WAS Private First Class Desmond T. Doss of Lynchburg, Virginia, who was so honored on Oct. 12, 1945. A combat medic, Private Doss was also a dedicated pacifist who had registered as a conscientious objector and did not fight himself. However, when deployed to the Pacific Theater as a medical corpsman during World War II, he placed his own life in peril, saving dozens of others, during the Battle for Okinawa.
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award. It is sometimes erroneously called the Congressional Medal of Honored because the President confers it “in the name of Congress.”
REFUSED TO HATE THE ‘ENEMY’— ANOTHER PERSON WHO PUT HER LIFE ON THE LINE, BUT GOT PUNISHED FOR IT, WAS BRITISH NURSE EDITH CAVELL, whom the German forces executed on Oct. 12, 1915. Serving in occupied Brussels, Belgium at the time, Nurse Cavell treated German and Belgian soldier alike, but the German authorities arrested her and accused her of helping the prisoners of war from Britain and France to escape and join the Allied forces. However, because she insisted on saving the lives of all soldiers, not just the Germans, and because she refused to harbor hatred, Cavell pleaded guilty and was given the death penalty. Diplomats from neutral governments — including at the time the United States — fought to commute her sentence, but she went before the firing squad.
Great Britain honored Nurse Cavell as a martyr to the cause and erected a statue in her memory at St. Martin’s Place, just off London’s Trafalgar Square.
BEGAN AS A WEDDING FEAST— THE TRADITION OF THE OKTOBERFEST BEGAN AS PART OF A WEDDING CELEBRATION. Bavarian Crown Prince Louis, later King Louis I of Bavaria, married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, and the citizens of Munich were invited to the festivities at the public fields of Theresienwiese — “Therese’s fields” — in honor of the crown princess. The partying — particularly the horse racing — was so popular that it was repeated the following year, and thus it became a tradition, complete with beer.
Nowadays, Oktoberfest events are held the last week of September through the first Sunday in October which, this year, of course fell on Oct. 1. Some communities hold their Oktoberfest entirely within the month of October.
See previous milestones, here.
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