Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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March 31st
One of Hollywood’s Finest
“John Ford passionately loves freedom,” President Nixon said on March 31, 1973. “John Ford, in his works, has depicted freedom in all of its profound depths. . . . John Ford has fought for freedom, and for that reason it is appropriate that tonight, on behalf of all of the American people, he receives the Medal of Freedom.”

The son of Irish immigrants (his real name was John Martin Feeney), director John Ford gave generations of moviegoers his vision of America in dozens of beloved Hollywood films – movies such as Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). But some of his work took place far from American shores.

Though already a famous director, Ford joined the Navy during World War II and put together a unit of film crews to document much of the war. In June 1942 he filmed the Battle of Midway from atop the island’s powerhouse, a primary target for Japanese bombers. At one point a piece of flying concrete hit him on the head and knocked him out. He came to, grabbed his camera, and kept shooting. When shrapnel tore a hole in his arm, he kept relaying information about the battle’s progress to officers on the ground.

Ford went in harm’s way from the Pacific to North Africa to the Normandy coast. On D-Day, he oversaw cameramen filming the Allied invasion. After the war, while he continued his legendary Hollywood career, he held the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

Perhaps in part because he knew the cost of freedom, Ford spent a lifetime interpreting his nation’s heritage. He accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the country’s highest civilian honors, with the words, “God bless America.”

American History Parade
1854
In Tokyo, Commodore Matthew Perry signs a treaty opening Japanese ports to American trade.

1880
Wabash, Indiana, becomes the first U.S. town with a totally electric streetlight system (four lights powered by a steam engine).

1896
Chicago inventor Whitcomb Judson patents a “hookless fastener,” an early zipper.

1933
Congress establishes the Civilian Conservation Corps to help put men to work during the Depression.

1970
Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite, reenters the atmosphere after twelve years in orbit.

1973
President Nixon awards John Ford the Medal of Freedom.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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