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Milestones: February 23, 2024

February 23, 2024 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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JAPANESE SUB ATTACKS CALIFORNIA — JUST OVER TWO MONTHS AFTER THE PEARL HARBOR ATTACK THAT CAUSED THE U.S. TO ENTER WORLD WAR II, JAPANESE FORCES ATTACKED THE MAINLAND along the California coast, on Feb. 23, 1942. A Japanese submarine I-17, part of a small deployment that Japan had sent to patrol the California coastline, snuck into a channel near Ellwood Oil Field, a large oil well and storage facility near Santa Barbara. The submarine surfaced and shelled Ellwood Field from a single-deck gun, then submerged and fled. Although damage to the oil field was relatively minor, destroying one pump house and oil derrick, the damage to the American psyche about being attacked domestically was more severe and led to panic.

Ironically, just four days earlier, on Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to evacuate all persons deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to “relocation centers” further inland. At the time of the oil field attack, President Roosevelt was in the midst of a Fireside Chat with the American people.


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AMERICAN FLAG AT IWO JIMA — EXACTLY THREE YEARS LATER, ON FEB. 23, 1945, U.S. MARINES CAPTURED IWO JIMA’S HIGHEST CREST and raised the United States flag. This was the culmination of the bloody Battle for Iwo Jima in which the Japanese, preparing for the inevitable attack on the island whose volcano had died, created a series of tunnels from which they could launch surprise suicide attacks. However, Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division persevered through the bloodshed, and on Feb. 23 reached Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima’s highest peak. Marine photographer Louis Lowery recorded the event, but it was an Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal, who won a Pulitzer Prize. The first of Rosenthal’s three photos of the event, showing six Marines endeavoring to raise a heavy flagpole, became history’s most reproduced photograph.

The flag in Rosenthal’s photo was actually the second of two U.S. standards raised atop Mount Suribachi by American troops fighting for control of Suribachi’s slopes. Another group of Marines later ascended to the crest with a larger flag.


WROTE ICONIC FOLKSONG AT CONEY ISLAND — WHEN FOLK SINGER-SONGWRITER WOODY GUTHRIE WROTE HIS ICONIC “THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND” ON FEB. 23, 1940, he did so while residing on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. Born in Oklahoma to a father who was a successful business leader and politician, Guthrie later experienced hardship during his youth and found himself identifying at a very organic level with common folk — including farmers and laborers. He left home at 15 to travel the country, doing so via freight train and carrying among his few possessions a harmonica and guitar. He moved to New York and composed hundreds of songs, of which “This  Land Is Your Land,” extolling America’s beauty, was among his last; it became an iconic song of the civil rights movement as well. Guthrie had married; he and wife Marjorie and their children lived at 3520 Mermaid Ave., occupying a small apartment, in which he did much of his songwriting. That building was later razed, but a sign commemorated the spot.

Spectrum NY1 News reported in 2019 that the City of New York named the block between West 35th and West 36th streets as Woody Guthrie Way.


SOCIOLOGY OF BLACK HISTORY — WILLIAM EDWARD BURGHARDT (W.E.B.)  DU BOIS, BORN FEB. 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, MA, was an American educator and a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A brilliant scholar, he viewed Black history from a sociological angle. He wrote his first major book, “The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study,” in 1899; it became the first sociological case study of a Black community. His later publication, “The Souls of Black Folks” (1903) which posited that the “central problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line,” brought him to national attention. One of the essays in that book was controversial because Du Bois attacked Booker T. Washington, another widely-respected Black educator who founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to train Black men in agricultural and industrial skills. Du Bois claimed that Washington had “sold out” on Blacks. Du Bois in 1909 also helped establish the NAACP, but left after a rift between himself and other leaders developed.

Du Bois moved to Ghana in 1963, the year he turned 95, and then died that same year, on Aug. 27, 1963.


WAS A MILITARY PHOTOGRAPHER — THE ICONIC 1939 MOVIES, “THE WIZARD OF OZ” AND “GONE WITH THE WIND,” SHARE A DIRECTOR, VICTOR LONZO FLEMING, BORN IN California on Feb. 23, 1889. The talented film director won an Academy Award for Best Director for “Gone with the Wind.” However, before then, Fleming did photography for the U.S. Army during World War I. He was also the chief photographer in President Woodrow Wilson’s cohort to Versailles, France. He also taught at and was later head of Columbia University’s School of Military Cinematography.

Fleming’s exacting direction of “Gone with the Wind” led to Vivien Leigh’s winning the Best Actress Oscar and Hattie McDaniel’s winning Best Supporting Actress. Olivia de Havilland was also nominated.

See previous milestones, here.

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