Today in History: Dec. 20

Map shows the vast stretch of land shown April 20, 1953, nearly a million square miles, which the U.S. acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the subsequent westward and southward expansion that brought America to its present continental limits just half a century later, in 1953. The Louisiana Purchase involved total payments of $27,267,622. (AP Photo)
In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was completed as ownership of the territory was formally transferred from France to the United States. Map shows the vast stretch of land shown April 20, 1953, nearly a million square miles, which the U.S. acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the subsequent westward and southward expansion that brought America to its present continental limits just half a century later, in 1953. The Louisiana Purchase involved total payments of $27,267,622. (AP Photo) (AP)

Replica of South Carolina Sovereignty/Secession Flag. Used in article Flags of the Confederate States of America. (Wikimedia  Commons)
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. Replica of South Carolina Sovereignty/Secession Flag, flown after it was the first to secede from the Union, Dec, 20, 1860, setting off the road to Civil War.  (Wikimedia Commons)
FILE - In this Oct. 25, 1962 file photo, John Steinbeck talks to media in the office of his publisher in New York after the announcement he had been awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature. Steinbeck, best-remembered for his Great Depression tale "The Grapes of Wrath," was awarded the prize "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception." This year's winner is due to be announced on Thursday Oct. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano, File)
In 1968, author John Steinbeck died in New York at age 66. FILE – In this Oct. 25, 1962 file photo, John Steinbeck talks to media in the office of his publisher in New York after the announcement he had been awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature. Steinbeck, best-remembered for his Great Depression tale “The Grapes of Wrath,” was awarded the prize “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano, File) (AP/Anthony Camerano)
Relatives crowd at coffins of victims of the ill-fated passenger ship M/V Dona Paz which collided with a fuel tanker M/T Victor December 20 killing at least 1500 passengers. Some 50 coffins were brought to Manila's Rizal Memorial Coliseum Dec. 28, 1987 because funeral parlors cannot accommodate the increasing number of dead bodies recovered 8 days since the worst sea tragedy of the century. (AP Photo/Willie Salenga)
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. Relatives crowd at coffins of victims of the ill-fated passenger ship M/V Dona Paz which collided with a fuel tanker M/T Victor on December 20, 1987, killing at least 1500 passengers. Some 50 coffins were brought to Manila’s Rizal Memorial Coliseum Dec. 28, 1987 because funeral parlors cannot accommodate the increasing number of dead bodies recovered 8 days since the worst sea tragedy of the century. (AP Photo/Willie Salenga)
In 1989, the United States launched Operation Just Cause, sending troops into Panama to topple the government of Gen. Manuel Noriega. (AP)
In 1989, the United States launched Operation Just Cause, sending troops into Panama to topple the government of Gen. Manuel Noriega. Lieutenant General Tom Kelly, Army deputy chief of staff, points to a map of Panama City during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 1989.
Carl Sagan
In 1996, Astronomer Carl Sagan died in Seattle at age 62. In this 1981 file photo, astronomer Carl Sagan speaks during a lecture. On Saturday, May 9, 2015, Cornell University announced that its Institute for Pale Blue Dots is to be renamed the Carl Sagan Institute. Sagan was famous for extolling the grandeur of the universe in books and shows like “Cosmos.” He died in 1996 at age 62. (AP Photo/Castaneda, File) (AP)
FILE - Students head home after classes ended for the day at Dover Area High School Dec. 20, 2005 in Dover, Pa. This year, eight families upset over "intelligent design" being offered as an alternative to evolution in their high school's biology curriculum ultimately prevailed in a legal challenge that emerged as a key battle in America's culture war. (AP Photo/Bradley C. Bower, file)
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. FILE – Students head home after classes ended for the day at Dover Area High School Dec. 20, 2005 in Dover, Pa. Eight families upset over “intelligent design” being offered as an alternative to evolution in their high school’s biology curriculum ultimately prevailed in a legal challenge that emerged as a key battle in America’s culture war. (AP Photo/Bradley C. Bower, file) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/BRADLEY C. BOWER)
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Map shows the vast stretch of land shown April 20, 1953, nearly a million square miles, which the U.S. acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the subsequent westward and southward expansion that brought America to its present continental limits just half a century later, in 1953. The Louisiana Purchase involved total payments of $27,267,622. (AP Photo)

Replica of South Carolina Sovereignty/Secession Flag. Used in article Flags of the Confederate States of America. (Wikimedia  Commons)
FILE - In this Oct. 25, 1962 file photo, John Steinbeck talks to media in the office of his publisher in New York after the announcement he had been awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature. Steinbeck, best-remembered for his Great Depression tale "The Grapes of Wrath," was awarded the prize "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception." This year's winner is due to be announced on Thursday Oct. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano, File)
Relatives crowd at coffins of victims of the ill-fated passenger ship M/V Dona Paz which collided with a fuel tanker M/T Victor December 20 killing at least 1500 passengers. Some 50 coffins were brought to Manila's Rizal Memorial Coliseum Dec. 28, 1987 because funeral parlors cannot accommodate the increasing number of dead bodies recovered 8 days since the worst sea tragedy of the century. (AP Photo/Willie Salenga)
In 1989, the United States launched Operation Just Cause, sending troops into Panama to topple the government of Gen. Manuel Noriega. (AP)
Carl Sagan
FILE - Students head home after classes ended for the day at Dover Area High School Dec. 20, 2005 in Dover, Pa. This year, eight families upset over "intelligent design" being offered as an alternative to evolution in their high school's biology curriculum ultimately prevailed in a legal challenge that emerged as a key battle in America's culture war. (AP Photo/Bradley C. Bower, file)

Today is Dec. 20, the 354th day of 2018.

Today’s Highlight in History:

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.

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