1891 Erwin Rommel is born Erwin Rommel, the German commander known as the “Desert Fox” for his cunning in North Africa during World War II, is born in Heidenheim, Germany. Rommel’s father and grandfather were teachers, but he chose a military career for himself, enlisting in the German army as an officer cadet in 1910. He served in World War I as a lieutenant and was decorated for bravery and recognized for his leadership abilities. While other promising officers in his situation sought a wartime place on the general staff, Rommel remained in the infantry as a front-line officer. Between the wars, he taught at various military academies and wrote an important textbook on infantry strategy. After the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Rommel was appointed to command the Seventh Panzer Division in the invasion of France. Though he had little experience with armored warfare, he immediately grasped its potential and played a leading role in Germany’s triumphant drive across France in May and June 1940. In February 1941, German leader Adolf Hitler appointed Rommel to lead the German divisions dispatched to Libya to stiffen the all-but-defeated Italian forces there. The British commanders in North Africa were no match for Rommel, and by May he had won back nearly all the territory lost by the Italians during the Allies’ winter drive. To the Allies and Axis alike, Rommel became known as the Desert Fox for his elegant deceptions and audacious surprise attacks. Hitler promoted him to field marshal. In 1942, Rommel pressed almost to Alexandria with his Afrika Corps, but he was halted by the British at El Alamein. In October 1942, British General Bernard Montgomery launched a major offensive against Rommel at the Second Battle of El-Alamein, overwhelming Rommel’s outnumbered forces. Disobeying an order from Hitler, Rommel ordered a retreat and his Afrika Corps fled to Tunis. Before the final surrender of Axis forces in North Africa, Rommel was called back to Europe in March 1943 and entrusted with defending northern France from Allied invasion. He erected a sophisticated system of coastal defense works but was denied his request for large numbers of troops to defend against the expected attack. On June 6, 1944, the Allies successfully landed at Normandy. Meanwhile, a conspiracy against Hitler had been brewing among German army commanders who felt that the Fehrer was leading Germany to certain ruin. The plotters approached Rommel; he was sympathetic but took no direct role in the planning of Hitler’s assassination. There was talk that Rommel, a popular figure known as the “people’s marshal,” would serve as German head of state after Hitler’s death. Three days before the attempted coup took place, Rommel suffered serious head injuries after a British aircraft attacked his car. He was thus in the hospital on July 20 when Hitler narrowly escaped being killed by a bomb in Berlin. However, the conspirators, arrested and tortured for information, revealed Rommel’s involvement. Hitler sent two generals to Rommel, who was just recovering from his injuries, to offer him the choice of suicide or trial. Rommel chose the former and on October 14 took a lethal dose of poison. He was later buried with full military honors. 1806 Zebulon Pike spots an imposing mountain Approaching the Colorado foothills of the Rocky Mountains during his second exploratory expedition, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike spots a distant mountain peak that looks “like a small blue cloud.” The mountain was later named Pike’s Peak in his honor. Pike’s explorations of the newly acquired Louisiana Territory of the United States began before the nation’s first western explorers, Lewis and Clark, had returned from their own expedition up the Missouri River. Pike was more of a professional military man than either Lewis or Clark, and he was a smart man who had taught himself Spanish, French, mathematics, and elementary science. When the governor of Louisiana Territory requested a military expedition to explore the headwaters of the Mississippi, General James Wilkinson picked Pike to lead it. Although Pike’s first western expedition was only moderately successful, Wilkinson picked him to lead a second mission in July 1806 to explore the headwaters of the Red and Arkansas Rivers. This route took Pike across present-day Kansas and into the high plains region that would later become the state of Colorado. When Pike first saw the peak that would later bear his name, he grossly underestimated its height and its distance, never having seen mountains the size of the Rockies. He told his men they should be able to walk to the peak, climb it, and return before dinner. Pike and his men struggled through snow and sub-zero temperatures before finally taking shelter in a cave for the night, without even having reached the base of the towering mountain. Pike later pronounced the peak impossible to scale. The remainder of Pike’s expedition was equally trying. After attempting for several months to locate the Red River, Pike and his men became hopelessly lost. A troop of Spanish soldiers saved the mission when they arrested Pike and his men. The soldiers escorted them to Santa Fe, thus providing Pike with an invaluable tour of that strategically important region, courtesy of the Spanish military. After returning to the United States, Pike wrote a poorly organized account of his expedition that won him some fame, but little money. Still, in recognition of his bravery and leadership during the western expeditions, the army appointed him a brigadier general during the War of 1812. He was killed in an explosion during the April 1813 assault on Toronto.