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This Day, May 27, in History

Today, May 27, we look back at a few historic events that occurred on this date. We can learn several lessons from these happenings if we think about them carefully.

On this date in 1940, the "miracle at Dunkirk" began. Adolf Hitler's blitzkrieg across Belgium and France had quickly pushed the combined forces of France and Great Britain (Belgium had already been defeated) to the shores of the English Channel at Dunkirk, the third deepest harbor in France and a little more than six miles south of the Belgian border.

Two things saved the Allied armies from utter destruction at Dunkirk. First, Hitler inexplicably ordered his panzer divisions to halt their attack, thinking that the Luftwaffe could finish the job. It didn't. Second, the British scraped together every floatable craft they could find and rescued the Allied armies from the beaches, enabling them to fight another day. These two factors (combined with a lot of English propaganda) turned what might have been an ignominious defeat into a glorious and inspiring miracle.

Two years later on this date, Dorie Miller was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic actions during the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Miller was a cook third class aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia at the time of the attack. He helped treat several wounded sailors before jumping to man an anti-aircraft machine gun and shooting down possibly four Japanese planes. He was the first black to receive the Navy Cross, an honor that is second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. Courage is not limited by skin color.

In 1961, Ralph Boston set a long jump record of 27 feet, 7 1/2 inches. Ten years later, I ran excitedly beside him on the University of Tennessee's Tom Black Track. He, a world-famous Olympian, was doing practice sprints while I, a scrawny high school kid, practiced with my teammates on the Halls High School two-mile relay team. Boston blew past me so fast that I hardly saw his face. But I can say that I ran with the man--for about half a millisecond! The breeze created by his streaking past me provided some cool refreshment for about that long, too.

President Ronald Reagan was shot by a would-be assassin on this date in 1981. I'll never forget visiting my in-laws that day and their greeting me at the door with the sobering news. Then we watched the news film of the event, in slow-motion and in real speed, over and over again the rest of the day. Thankfully, God spared his life. (An excellent account of the events of that day is Rawhide Down by Del Quentin Wilbur.)

Finally, on this date in 1994, author and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn returned to his native Russia after a 20-year forced exile. I wonder what the author of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Cancer Ward, The Gulag Archipelago, and other works would have said about Putin's war on Ukraine ? During Solzhenitsyn's exile, he had a lot of thought-provoking warnings to offer the West, which we have largely ignored. What would he have to say to us today?

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