• On Dec. 18, 1777, the new United States celebrates its first national day of thanksgiving, commemorating the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga after the surrender of Gen. John Burgoyne and 5,000 British troops in October 1777.
• On Dec. 14, 1909, workers place the last of the 3.2 million 10-pound bricks that pave the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since then, most of that brick has been buried under asphalt, but 1 yard remains exposed at the start-finish line. Kissing those bricks after a successful race remains a tradition among Indy drivers.
• On Dec. 19, 1968, Warner Brothers releases the movie “Bullitt,” starring Steve McQueen, in Sweden, two months after its debut in U.S. theaters. Many critics consider “Bullitt” to be one of the greatest action movies ever made, because of the seven-minute car chase through the streets of San Francisco.
• On Dec. 15, 1973, Jean Paul Getty III, the grandson of American billionaire J. Paul Getty, is found alive near Naples, Italy, five months after his kidnapping. Getty had initially refused to pay the ransom, but agreed after the boy’s severed right ear was sent to a newspaper in Rome.
• On Dec. 20, 1989, the United States invades Panama in an attempt to overthrow military dictator Manuel Noriega, who had been indicted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges. His Panamanian Defense Forces were promptly crushed.
• On Dec. 16, 1998, President Bill Clinton announces he has ordered air strikes against Iraq because it refused to cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors. Key members of Congress accused Clinton of using the air strikes to divert attention from ongoing impeachment proceedings against him.
• On Dec. 17, 2003, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” the final film in the trilogy based on the best-selling fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, opens in theaters.
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