Significant Events of December
In the month of December – my birth month – a number of important events occurred, from memorable national landmarks to devastating attacks and gruesome murders. The following is a collection of these events, with information gathered from official resources to help tell these stories.
December 7th, 1941 – Japanese forces under the command of Admiral Hirohito attacked Pearl Harbor, with the goal of preemptively striking the US naval presence before potentially joining the Allies in World War II. Hundreds of Japanese fighters attacked the harbor, destroying four US Navy battleships and killing nearly 2,500 American citizens. This became “a day which will live in infamy,” and was the impetus for the United States to declare war on Japan and enter the campaign of World War II (Conn et al., 2000).
December 12th, 1985 – Arrow Air Flight 1285 crashed in Newfoundland shortly after takeoff. In the crash, nearly 250 U.S. servicemen were killed. The airplane was a Douglas DC-8-63 commercial aircraft, on an international charter flight from Cairo, Egypt to Fort Campbell, USA.
The purpose of the flight was to “transport troops, their personal effects, and some military equipment to and from peacekeeping duties in the Sinai Desert” (ASN, 1985). A stopoff occurred at Gander Airport in Newfoudndland, Canada; after inspection and refueling, the plane readied for takeoff. Shortly after lifting off the runway, the craft’s speed decreased and caused the plane to descend, despite raising the pitch angle. The DC-8 burst into flames and broke apart, killing everyone on board. The probable cause of the accident was not definitively decided. However, it is thought that a stall at low altitude resulted from “an increase in drag and reduction in lift” (ASN, 1985). The cause of the stall came from ice contamination of the wings, as well as “a loss of thrust from the number four engine and inappropriate take-off reference speeds” (ASN, 1985).
December 16th, 1985 – Famed gangster John Gotti became the leader of the Gambino crime family after murdering Paul Castellano and Thomas Bilotti, the previous bosses of the family, in New York City in front of Spark’s Steak House. Gotti had sworn to usurp control of the Gambino crime family over presiding don Paul Castellano, who was attempting to break up Gotti’s own crew and was perceived as a poor leader. Gotti set up a meeting between the three men (Castellano and Bilotti, Castellano’s favorite subordinate) at Spark’s Steak House.
Instead of showing up, however, he sent assassins to shoot both boss and underboss (Davis, pp. 272-273). This event led to Gotti being sworn in as the boss of the Gambino crime family.
December 24th, 1985 – David Lewis Rice murdered Charles Goldmark and his family. Goldmark, a civil rights attorney, was killed by Rice due to Rice’s associations with the ‘Duck Club’ Christian Identity movement, and his suspicions that Goldmark was Communist and Jewish.
Rice claims to have wanted to rob Goldmark’s family and “get information about an international Jewish-communist conspiracy he believed Goldmark was involved in” (UPI, 1986, p. 5). Rice pretended to be a deliveryman in order to enter their home, and bound, chloroformed and beat his victims. He then stabbed all four victims to death, and was caught by police after he attempted to take money from Goldmark’s credit card. After the murders, he was given the death penalty for his crimes (UPI, 1986, p. 5).
December 26th, 1985 – Dian Fossey, an American naturalist, was killed in Rwanda. Fossey was a zoologist who made it her life’s work to study mountain gorillas. While studying them, she became an activist to fight poaching, which had made the gorilla population dwindle to less than 250 specimens. The identity of the murderer is still a mystery; all that is known is that she was killed by a machete. She is interred at Karisoki, in the graveyard that sits behind the cabin where she lost her life (“Dian Fossey,” 2009).
December 27th, 1985 – Terrorists attack the Vienna and Rome airports, a major strike that takes the lives of over a dozen people and injuring many more. The responsibility for the attacks fell to the Abu Nidal Organization, a terrorist group that wished to retaliate for Israel bombing the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The attacks led to an increasing fervor to stop terrorism, especially acts related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by the American and Italian governments (AP, 1985). Around 13 people were killed, and 50 injured. Terrorists used gunfire and hand grenades, and attacked simultaneously at both locations, attacking the El Al offices at both airports. (AP, 1985).
Accident Description – learned details of airplane crash, as well as date and potential causes of crash
Associated Press, 1985 – News article at the time of the terrorist attacks, offering a contemporary view of what happened, including the details and the potential reasons
Conn et al., 2000 – A comprehensive chapter on Pearl harbor, including the reasons for the Japanese attack, as well as the costs to American forces and the subsequent declaration of war
Davis, 1993 – Learned the dynamics of the Gambino crime family at the time, as well as the reasons why John Gotti chose to assassinate his superiors; also the details of the crime
“Dian Fossey” – Learned the circumstances of her work, as well as her death; discovered her ultimate resting place and the lack of a murder suspect
UPI, 1986 – Contemporary account of the murder case, with details of the crime and the sentencing of death given to Rice
Accident Description - Arrow Air Flight 1285. (1985). Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved September 16, 2011, from http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19851212-0
Associated Press (1985, December 27). Terrorists kill 13 at El Al offices. The Miami News, p. 3.
Conn, Stetson; Fairchild, Byron; Engelman, Rose C. (2000), "7 – The Attack on Pearl Harbor", Guarding the United States and Its Outposts, Washington D.C.: Center of Military History United States Army
Davis, J. H. (1993). Mafia dynasty: the rise and fall of the Gambino crime family. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Dian Fossey - Short Biography. (n.d.). The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International . Retrieved September 16, 2011, from http://gorillafund.org/page.aspx?pid=379
UPI (1986, July 21). Rice sentenced to death. Ellensburg Daily Record, p. 5.