On This Day, December 20th
1. 1957: Elvis Presley received his draft notice
It was on this date in 1957 the “King”, Elvis Presley, received his draft notice to serve a two-year stint in the United States Army. He had recently purchased a mansion in Tennessee that he referred to as Graceland and was there spending time for the Christmas holidays when the letter showed up at his front door. At the time, Elvis was in the peak of his career after a solid string of gold records and his popularity couldn’t have been any higher. Fans reportedly sent tens of thousands of letters to the army requesting that he be spared from the draft, but Presley wouldn’t hear anything of it. He was going to serve no matter what. He did receive one deferment in order to finish the movie he was working on called King Creole. Once he finished that obligation he was officially sworn in as a private in U.S. Army on March 24, 1958.
2. 1987: The worst maritime tragedy of the 20th century
Many people might think the Titanic disaster is the worst maritime tragedy in modern history, but they would be wrong. Actually, the worst has more than twice the casualties of the Titanic. It all started on this date in 1987 when a passenger ferry collided with an oil tanker near Manila in the Philippines. The ferry, known as the Dona Paz, was only supposed to hold roughly 1,400 passengers on its 375-mile journey from Tacloban to Manila. However, due to the holiday season, the ferry company decided to double and possibly even triple the ship’s capacity. The total number of passengers onboard is unknown, but according to reports it was approximately 4,000 or more. Apparently, just after 10 p.m. most of the Dona Paz’s crew were relaxing watching television and having a few drinks while an apprentice piloted the ship. The actual cause of the collision is listed as unknown, but nonetheless it resulted in a massive explosion that left more than 4,000 casualties. Only 24 survivors were found in total from both the crew on the oil tanker and passengers and crew from the ferry.
3. 1963: The Berlin Wall opens for the first time to allow travelers for Christmas
It was on this date in 1963 that German officials decided to allow roughly 4,000 people cross from West Berlin into East Berlin to celebrate the holiday season. It was just over two years since the wall was built and separated families that were split between west Berlin and the communist East Berlin. The people that were allowed to pass could only do so for one day before they had to return or face severe punishment. Upon entering East Germany, they were immediately handed brochures explaining how the wall was built to “protect our borders against the hostile attacks of the imperialists”. There was also said to be a loudspeaker greeting the visitors and informing them they had just entered “the capital of the German Democratic Republic” which is something that people from West Berlin were extremely opposed to. The wall was open from December 20th till January 5th, allowing as many as 170,000 people to cross for their one-day reunion with friends and family.