History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, May 6th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book.

Today, the 50th anniversary of a bloody battle that changes U.S. strategy in Vietnam. Plus, on this date in 1994, the “Chunnel” officially opens—connecting England and France by rail.

EICHER: But first we celebrate the birth of a great composer and pianist. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER. We begin today on May 7th, 1833 in Hamburg, Germany. Amateur musician Jakob Brahms and his seamstress wife Henrika give birth to their second child. It’s a boy they name Johannes.

He proves a gifted musician at an early age, learning the violin, cello, and piano from his father. As a teenager, Brahms performs in local pubs and inns to earn money for his family. During this time he also begins composing and giving recitals of his work.

As a young man, he meets Robert Schumann, who glowingly praises Brahms in a widely published article. That makes him a household name. Soon after, he begins working on a large-scale work for chorus, orchestra, and soloists.

The German Requiem is Brahms sacred masterpiece consisting of seven movements. He rejected the standard Latin text and chose the German Luther Bible instead. He premiered the composition on Good Friday, 1868.

Today many debate Brahms’ faith. Some claim he was a humanist, but his personal correspondence shows a deeply religious man with strong Lutheran orthodoxy. Over his lifetime he wrote many sacred pieces for piano, organ, orchestra, and choir. He died at age 64 from cancer complications.

Next, May 10th, 1969:

AUDIO: [Sound of gun shots and helicopters]

U.S. Army and South Vietnamese forces begin the coordinated attack of a 3,000-foot fortified mountain. It’s called Ap Bia—or “the mountain of the crouching beast.”

The U.S. Army drops more than 1,000 tons of explosives. It also discharges 31,000 shells and hundreds of tons of tear gas and napalm on the mountain.

During the offensive, North Vietnamese snipers shoot with deadly accuracy. They kill more than 70 Americans and wound hundreds more.

One soldier called it “a human meat grinder”—and it quickly becomes known as The Battle for Hamburger Hill. The U.S. military finally captures Hill 937 after 11 days.  

Shortly after securing the position, the U.S. military abandons it. The decision sparks controversy—including on Capitol Hill. Senator Ted Kennedy argues the loss of life was “both senseless and irresponsible…” But military officials counter that the battle for Hamburger Hill was not about capturing terrain, but exacting enemy casualties.

The battle marks a turning point in the Vietnam War. President Nixon announces a new policy three weeks later. He assigns primary combat responsibility to the South Vietnamese army as U.S. troops begin to withdraw.

And finally, May 6th, 1994, 25 years ago today.

AUDIO: [Brass band fanfare]

Queen Elizabeth the second and French President François Mitterrand meet on a red-carpeted train platform near Calais, France. They cut a ceremonial ribbon, and officially open the Channel Tunnel.

AUDIO: [Applause] 

Nicknamed “The Chunnel, ” the underground tunnel connects Kent, England, and northern France under the English Channel. It is the only physical link between Britain and the European mainland. The Eurostar train reaches a top speed of nearly 100 miles an hour, making the 31-mile trip in about half an hour. Construction of the Channel Tunnel began in 1988. It took 13,000 builders six years to complete.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: It stands as a monument to the joint efforts and talents of our engineers, technicians, and construction workers…

The total project cost more than four and a half billion pounds—the equivalent of 15 billion U.S. dollars today.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/Hugh Van Es, AP Photo) A wounded U.S. paratrooper of the 101st Airborne Division is helped through a blinding rainstorm by two medics after being evacuated from Dong Ap Bia during the 10-day battle for Hamburger Hill, May 1969. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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