This Day in History
February 19: Executive Order 9066 Is Signed, the Beginning of the Battle of Iwo Jima, and Other Events of the Date
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February 19: Executive Order 9066 Is Signed, the Beginning of the Battle of Iwo Jima, and Other Events of the Date

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A number of important events have taken place on February 19 in U.S. history. Here is our take on the most interesting and valuable of them.

1884 - Enigma tornado outbreak

The 1884 Enigma outbreak is thought to be among the largest and most widespread tornado outbreaks in American history, striking on February 19–20, 1884. As the precise number of tornadoes as well as fatalities incurred during the outbreak are unknown (the estimates rise as high as to 1,200 people dead), the nickname "Enigma outbreak" has come to be associated with the storm.

Nonetheless, an inspection of newspaper reports and governmental studies published in the aftermath reveals that an estimated 50 tornadoes (or more likely — long-track tornado families) struck Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Some events counted as tornadoes in initial studies such as those by John Park Finley were downbursts, especially in northern and northeastern portions of the outbreak.

The majority of reported tornado activity was seen across Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, which were all struck severely by multiple waves of tornado families. In the southeast, the outbreak began during the late morning in Mississippi, preceded by severe thunderstorms in Louisiana. Shortly thereafter, the outbreak widened and intensified, progressing from Alabama to Virginia between noon and midnight.

1942 - Executive Order 9066 is signed

Executive Order 9066 was signed and issued during World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, authorizing the Secretary of War to prescribe certain areas as military zones, clearing the way for the incarceration of Japanese Americans, German Americans, and Italian Americans in U.S. concentration camps. The text states:

Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533, as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220, and the Act of August 21, 1941, 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C., Title 50, Sec. 104);

Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.

The anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 is now the Day of Remembrance, an annual commemoration of the unjust incarceration of the Japanese American community.

1945 – Second World War: Pacific Theater: the Beginning of the Battle of Iwo Jima

The Battle of Iwo Jima (fought between February 19 and March 16, 1945) was a major battle in which the United States Marine Corps landed on and eventually captured the island of Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during World War II. The American invasion, designated Operation Detachment, had the goal of capturing the entire island, including the three Japanese-controlled airfields (including the South Field and the Central Field), to provide a staging area for attacks on the Japanese main islands. This five-week battle comprised some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the Pacific Theater of World War II.

After the heavy losses incurred in the battle, the strategic value of the island became controversial. It was useless to the U.S. Army as a staging base and useless to the U.S. Navy as a fleet base. However, Navy Seabees rebuilt the landing strips, which were used as emergency landing strips for USAAF B-29s.

The IJA positions on the island were heavily fortified, with a dense network of bunkers, hidden artillery positions, and 11 miles of underground tunnels. The American ground forces were supported by extensive naval artillery, and had complete air supremacy provided by U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aviators throughout the entire battle.

Japanese combat deaths numbered three times those of the American, although, uniquely among Pacific War Marine battles, American total casualties (dead and wounded) exceeded those of the Japanese. Of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima at the beginning of the battle, only 216 were taken prisoner, some of whom were captured because they had been knocked unconscious or otherwise disabled. The majority of the remainder were killed in action, although it has been estimated that as many as 3,000 continued to resist within the various cave systems for many days afterwards, eventually succumbing to their injuries or surrendering weeks later.

These are the most notable events in U.S. history that occurred on February 19, at least in our view.

Author: USA Really