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Thursday, July 27, 2017

July 27, 1996

Okay, here we are.  The final Throwback Thursday of July.  And for the first time in what seems like a long time, I can actually tell you that today's date is one that I lived through.  And while the event was a very scary one, it is a story that needs to be told.

Of course, before we get to that story, we've got to take a look at what else happened on the 27th of July.

1775 - The United States Army Medical Department is founded

1778 - The First Battle of Ushant takes place during the American Revolution

1789 - The Department of Foreign Affairs is established

1866 - The first permanent transatlantic telegraph cable is completed; it stretches from Valentia Island, Ireland to Heart's Content, Newfoundland

1890 - Artist Vincent van Gogh shoots himself; he succumbs to his wounds two days later

1910 - Mexican-American actress Lupita Tovar (d. 2016) is born in Matais Romero, Mexico

1919 - The Chicago Race Riot begins, leaving 38 dead and another 537 injured over a period of five days

1921 - Researchers at the University of Toronto conclude that insulin does regulate blood sugar, leading to a method of treating, but not curing diabetes - the team was led by Frederick Banting

1929 - The Geneva Convention of 1929 is signed by fifty-three nations

1937 - Actor Don Galloway (d. 2009) is born in Brooksville, Kentucky

1940 - The first Bugs Bunny cartoon - "A Wild Hare" - is released

1953 - The United States, China, and North Korea sign an armistice agreement, effectively ending the Korean War - although South Korea refuses to sign, they pledge to observe the armistice

1964 - At least five thousand more American military advisers depart for South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, bringing the total number of American troops to 21,000

1987 - The first expedited salvage of the RMS Titanic begins - 75 years after the ship sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean

1991 - Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" begins the first of seven weeks at the #1 spot of the Billboard Charts

1995 - The Korean War Veterans Memorial is dedicated in Washington D.C.

2002 - 77 are killed and another 500 injured after a freak accident at a Ukrainian air show in which a Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet crashes near a crowd of spectators

2003 - Comedian/actor Bob Hope passes away two months after his 100th birthday

2005 - NASA grounds the Space Shuttle after an incident during STS-114

2010 - Actor Maury Chaykin passes away on his 61st birthday

And turning one year older on July 27 are the following famous faces - Norman Lear, Will Jordan, Joseph Kittinger, Jerry Van Dyke, Anna Dawson, John Pleshette, Bobbie Gentry, Betty Thomas, Peggy Fleming, Maureen McGovern, Simon Jones, Roxanne Hart, Yahoo Serious, Carol Leifer, Bill Engvall, Conway Savage, Rebecca Staab, Juliana Hatfield, Julian McMahon, Paul "Triple H" Levesque, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maya Rudolph, Pete Yorn, Alex Rodriguez, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Taylor Schilling, Kenny Wormald, Nick Hogan, and Jordan Speith.

Okay, so as I said before, today's date is one that I was alive for.  And I remember it quite well.

The date was
July 27, 1996.

I definitely remember the night before this date.  That was the day that my father celebrated his fiftieth birthday.  At the time, we all went out to the Chinese food place we usually had big birthday and anniversary celebrations for.  This included Dad, Mom, myself, and my two sisters - one of whom was heavily pregnant with her first child.  It was a really nice night.  I was only 15 at the time, but I recall that the mood on July 26 was great.  We all dined on chicken fried rice and sweet and sour spare ribs, we were all talking about our summer activities, and by the end of the night, everyone was on a high.

(And yes, even though I was 15, the owner still gave us all free gum.  I talked about that during the last Throwback Thursday post.)

Because it was summer, and I was still technically too young to get a part time job (most places wouldn't hire you until you were at least sixteen in Canada), I stayed up late that night to catch part of the Summer Olympic Games.  That was the year that the host city was Atlanta, Georgia, and the first time that the games had been in the United States since 1984.  Admittedly, I'm not that much of a sports fan - and besides, I like the Winter Olympics much better anyway.  But since there wasn't really much to watch on television past midnight, I thought that I'd watch part of the coverage.  If anything, it might have helped me get to bed quicker.

At least...that's what I thought anyway.

Shortly after one o'clock in the morning, all hell broke loose with the sound of a gigantic explosion.

I still remember watching it as it happened.  I believe that the clip of a news reporter interviewing American swimmer Janet Evans, and all was going well until a loud bang pierced the air and sent everyone scrambling for safety.

That was the moment in which the Atlanta Olympic Bombing took place.  On July 27, 1996 at 1:20am.

The location of the bomb was at Centennial Olympic Park - a designated area designed as the "town square" of the Olympic Games.  It was here that athletes, their loved ones, and people who had gathered to watch the games could hang out.  Although it was past midnight and no sporting events were being held during that time, there were outdoor concerts being performed to keep the crowds entertained.  On the evening of July 26, 1996 and into the morning hours of July 27, the band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack were performing a concert for several thousand people in the square.  What the spectators didn't realize was that someone had planted a bomb in the area.

It was a bomb that was specifically designed to create a lot of damage to a lot of people.  Three pipe bombs surrounded by dozens of nails which would act as shrapnel to purposely injure as many people as possible.  The bomb was placed inside of a green field pack designed for people in the military, and placed near the stage of the concert underneath a bench.  Had it not been for one man, the damage could have been even greater.

You see, Richard Jewell, a security guard working at the Centennial Olympic Park at the time, discovered the green bag, and made the call to evacuate as many people from the area as possible until the bomb squad could come in to investigate, and thanks to Jewell's quick thinking, he managed to get quite a few people a safe distance away.

Unfortunately, the bomb exploded before the bomb squad could get there in time.  The blast killed one person, American Alice Hawthorne.  As well Turkish cameraman - Melih Uzunyol - died of a heart attack while running towards the scene of the blast to film it.  Another one hundred and eleven people were left injured from the bomb.

American President Bill Clinton was outraged at the attack, and made the statement that the person who was responsible for the bombing would pay for their act of terror.  And despite the fact that the bombing caused a massive disruption in that day's events, the athletes and officials all agreed that the Games should continue.

But who set the bomb in the first place?

Astonishingly, many believed that Richard Jewell was the one who placed the bomb there, and he was named as a person of interest in the event.  Jewell, of course, maintained his innocence, and he was never formally charged with any crime linked to the Olympic bombings.  Eventually, Jewell was exonerated and he was free to live the rest of his life.  However, he never forgave the media for putting him under intense scrutiny and he later filed lawsuits against NBC News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other media reports for damaging his credibility and falsely making claims that he was responsible.  He would later be honored by Georgia governor Sonny Perdue in 2006 for his role in saving so many lives during the chaos of the bombing.

Richard Jewell passed away in August 2007, at the age of 44.

The real culprit was a man by the name of Eric Rudolph, a then 29-year-old roofer/carpenter originally from Florida.  Not long after the Olympic bombings, two more bombs were detonated in the Atlanta, Georgia area - one at an abortion clinic, and another at a lesbian nightclub.  Investigations into both bombings revealed that the bombs were made of the same materials as the one found at the Centennial Olympic Park.  It wasn't until a third bomb was detonated at a Birmingham, Alabama abortion clinic that the FBI realized they were dealing with a serial bomber.  Fortunately, one of the people that was injured in the Alabama bombing gave the investigators a partial license plate of the person who planted the bomb, and with that information linked the bombings to Eric Rudolph.

It took authorities at least several years before they could locate and charge Rudolph with the bombings, but he was finally arrested on May 31, 2003 and was sentenced to four life terms without the possibility of parole.

As for his motivation behind the crimes, it was all to make a political statement for Washington to cancel the Games because of the government's stance on abortion - which could explain why his later targets were abortion clinics.

But despite Rudolph's plan to not only terrorize the athletes and citizens of Atlanta, Georgia - resulting in the deaths of two people and the slandering of another man), the Games still went on, proving that the spirit of Atlanta - and the Olympic Games - would still go on.  And that Olympic flame would burn even brighter.

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