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Today in history: December 20

Celebrity birthdays, highlights in history, plus more facts about this day
/ Source: The Associated Press

Today is Tuesday, Dec. 20, the 354th day of 2005. There are 11 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History:
On Dec. 20, 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was completed as ownership of the territory was formally transferred from France to the United States during ceremonies in New Orleans.

On this date:
In 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union.

In 1864, Confederate forces evacuated Savannah, Ga., as Union Gen. William T. Sherman continued his “March to the Sea.”

In 1879, Thomas A. Edison privately demonstrated his incandescent light at Menlo Park, N.J.

In 1945, the Office of Price Administration announced the end of tire rationing, effective Jan. 1, 1946.

In 1963, the Berlin Wall was opened for the first time to West Berliners, who were allowed one-day visits to relatives in the Eastern sector for the holidays.

In 1968, author John Steinbeck died in New York at age 66.

In 1976, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley died at age 74.

In 1987, more than 3,000 people were killed when the Dona Paz, a Philippine passenger ship, collided with the tanker Vector off Mindoro island.

In 1989, the United States launched Operation Just Cause, sending troops into Panama to topple the government of General Manuel Noriega.

In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that homosexual couples were entitled to the same benefits and protections as wedded couples.

Ten years ago: An American Airlines Boeing 757 en route to Cali, Colombia, slammed into a mountain, killing all but four of the 163 people aboard. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, NATO began its peacekeeping mission, taking over from the United Nations.

Five years ago: President-elect Bush named businessman Paul O’Neill to be his treasury secretary; Ann Veneman to be the first female secretary of agriculture; Mel Martinez to be secretary of housing and urban development; and Don Evans, secretary of commerce.

One year ago: In a sobering assessment of the Iraq war, President Bush acknowledged during a news conference that Americans’ resolve had been shaken by grisly scenes of death and destruction, and he pointedly criticized the performance of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops. A Chilean appeals court upheld the indictment and house arrest of General Augusto Pinochet on murder and kidnapping charges during his rule. Attorneys presented opening statements in the Robert Blake murder trial in Los Angeles.

Today’s Birthdays: Actress Audrey Totter is 88. Comedian Charlie Callas is 78. Actor John Hillerman is 73. Rock musician Peter Criss is 60. Psychic Uri Geller is 59. Singer Alan Parsons is 56. Actress Jenny Agutter is 53. Actor Michael Badalucco is 51. Actress Blanche Baker is 49. Rock singer Billy Bragg is 48. Rock singer-musician Mike Watts (The Secondmen, Minutemen, fIREHOSE) is 48. Country singer Kris Tyler is 41. Rock singer Chris Robinson is 39. Singer JoJo is 15.

Thought for Today: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. ... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” — C.S. Lewis, British author (1898-1963).