ON THIS DATE in 2003, thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm to a shark attack while surfing near her home in Hawaii.
With her arm dangling in the water, Hamilton saw a flash of gray and felt “a couple of lightning-fast tugs.” In a matter of seconds, a 15-foot tiger shark had severed her arm almost to the armpit.
Hamilton blacked out several times on the beach and on the way to the hospital, where it took two operations to repair the wound. Yet less than a month later, she was back on a surfboard.
She wrote about her ordeal in a 2004 autobiography, Soul Surfer, which was made into a 2011 film.
ON THIS DAY IN TEENAGE HISTORY (1942), sixteen-year-old British sailor Tommy Brown escaped a sinking German U-boat with parts of an M4 Enigma machine and codebooks that helped the Allies solve the riddle of the enemy’s wartime signals. Brown was one of three British seamen to board the abandoned U-boat, and the only to survive: Colin Grazier and Anthony Fasson drowned when the U-boat made a sudden plunge. One naval historian estimated that 500,000 to 750,000 tons of allied shipping were saved the year after the German Enigma Code was broken, and that the Normandy invasion of 1945 would have been delayed a year if not for the retrieval of the U-boat documents. In 1945 while on leave from the HMS Belfast, Brown died in a house fire that also killed his four-year-old sister Maureen. He was eighteen years old.
ON THIS DATE in 1923, nineteen-year-old Elisabeth Welch launched a dance craze by singing “Charleston” in a Broadway show called Runnin’ Wild.
“Because I had a loud voice I was chosen to sing Charleston,” she told the Associated Press, “but when the chorus girls came on they quickly yanked me off the stage because I couldn’t dance.”
An energetic and popular dance in the 1920s, the Charleston involved turning the knees inward and kicking out the lower legs.
In 1931 Welch sang the controversial “Love for Sale,” a song about prostitution, in Cole Porter’s New Yorkers. She later broke new ground for black actors by starring in Song of Freedom (1936) and Big Fella (1937).
In 1986, Welch was nominated for a Tony for her role in ”Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood” and won an Obie for her one-woman show, ”Time to Start Living.”
ON THIS DAY IN TEENAGE HISTORY (1928), a group of young Indonesians gathered in Jakarta, Indonesia’s largest city, and pledged that they would be united under one motherland called Indonesia, one nation called Indonesia and one language — Bahasa Indonesia. A collection of more than 13,000 islands in southeastern Asia, Indonesia was a Dutch colony from 1800 to 1945. Youth Pledge Day is celebrated annually in Indonesia.
ON THIS DATE in 1917, sixteen-year-old violinist Jascha Heifetz made his U.S. debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall. “This Russian boy is beyond all possibility of cavil a divinely inspired marvel – the supremest genius of the violin,” wrote one reviewer. Itzhak Perlman called Heifetz “the greatest violinist who ever lived” and said “None of us mortals are going to be able to reach his standard,” when Heifetz died at age eighty-six in 1987. “His playing had the quality that sizzled and he had such color. He revolutionized violin playing to where it wishes to go today.”
ON THIS DATE 1914, nineteen-year-old Perce Blackborow stowed aboard the Endurance, a ship docked in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and bound for the Antarctic. A native of Whales, he had been stranded in Argentina without a ship. When expedition leader Ernest Shackleton learned of Blackborow’s presence on the vessel he made him a steward but said, “If anyone has to be eaten, then you will be the first!” The young sailor would suffer frostbite in his toes and eventually have his left foot amputated. He was the first person to ever step foot on Elephant Island, an ice-covered mountainous island off the coast of Antarctica.
Above: Children’s Peace Movement members (clockwise): Dilia Suarez (top left), Mayerly Sanchez, Wilfrido Zambano, Farlis Calle, and Juan Elias Uribe.
ON THIS DATE in 1996, 2.7 million children in Colombia cast their votes for 12 basic rights that included the right to love and family, the right to a clean environment, the right to justice, and the right to peace.
Seventeen-year-old Farlis Calle and 25 other young Colombians had drafted the Children’s Mandate for Peace and Rights, which was placed on a special ballot. The mandate also resulted in the government banning recruitment of individuals under eighteen into the army.
A year later, a Citizens’ Mandate for Peace resulted in nearly ten million adults — nearly three times the number that had participated in the previous year’s presidential elections — voting for a politically negotiated solution to Colombia’s armed civil warfare.
The members of the Children’s Peace Movement were nominated for the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize.