On Dec. 20, 1989, the United States launched Operation Just Cause, sending troops into Panama to topple the government of Gen. Manuel Noriega.
On this date:
In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was completed as ownership of the territory was formally transferred from France to the United States.
In 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union as all 169 delegates to a special convention in Charleston voted in favor of separation.
In 1864, Confederate forces evacuated Savannah, Georgia, as Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman nearly completed his “March to the Sea.”
In 1924, Adolf Hitler was released from prison after serving nine months for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch.
In 1963, the Berlin Wall was opened for the first time to West Berliners, who were allowed one-day visits to relatives in the Eastern sector for the holidays.
In 1968, author John Steinbeck died in New York at age 66.
In 1987, more than 4,300 people were killed when the Dona Paz, a Philippine passenger ship, collided with the tanker Vector off Mindoro island.
In 1995, an American Airlines Boeing 757 en route to Cali, Colombia, slammed into a mountain, killing all but four of the 163 people aboard. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, NATO began its peacekeeping mission, taking over from the United Nations.
In 1996, Astronomer Carl Sagan died in Seattle at age 62.
In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that homosexual couples were entitled to the same benefits and protections as wedded couples of the opposite sex.
In 2001, the U.N. Security Council authorized a multinational force for Afghanistan.
In 2005, a federal judge ruled that “intelligent design” could not be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, delivering a stinging attack on the Dover Area School Board.
In 2008: A Continental Airlines Boeing 737-500 taking off from Denver veered off the runway into a ravine, injuring 37 people. Olga Lepeshinskaya, the Bolshoi Ballet’s prima ballerina for three decades during Soviet times, died in Moscow at age 92. Movie director Robert Mulligan (”To Kill a Mockingbird”) died in Lyme, Conn. at age 83.
In 2013: Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky (mih-hah-EEL’ khoh-dohr-KAHV’-skee), who had spent 10 years in prison on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement. A federal judge struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.
In 2017: The House gave final congressional approval to a $1.5 trillion tax overhaul, the biggest package of tax changes in a generation and the first major legislative achievement of President Donald Trump and House and Senate Republicans; some Republicans warned of a potential backlash against an overhaul that offered corporations and wealthy taxpayers the biggest benefits. Cardinal Bernard Law, the disgraced former archbishop of Boston, died in Rome at the age of 86; his failure to stop child molesters in the priesthood had triggered a crisis in American Catholicism.