The Dutch colony of Netherlands New Guinea raised the new Morning Star flag next to the Dutch tri-color, and was made the autonomous territory of West Papua, with partial self-government as a UN Mandate. In 1963, however, the UN turned the mandate over to Indonesia, which annexed West Papua in 1969 after a sham plebiscite.
In a speech that began at midnight, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro declared "soy marxista-leninista y seré marxista-leninista hasta el último día de mi vida" ("I am a Marxist-Leninist and I will be a Marxist-Leninist until the last day of my life"). Castro confirmed that he would guide Cuba to becoming a Socialist state, and, in the long run, a Communist state, but added, "I'm saying this for any anti-communists left out there. There won't be any Communism for at least thirty years". However, he made clear that there would be only one political party, "The United Party of Cuba's Socialist Revolution", adding that "There is only one revolutionary movement, not two or three or four revolutionary movements." 
Dean Smith began his career as the North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball head coach. He opened with an 80-46 victory over the visiting University of Virginia Cavaliers, the first of a record 879 wins as coach of one team. The record for most wins overall (903) was broken by Mike Krzyzewski on November 15, 2011, which included 83 wins as coach of Army before he became coach of Duke University.
Workers at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City discovered that there had been a mistake in the museum's exhibit of "The Last Works of Henri Matisse". For 47 days, beginning on October 18, Le Bateau had been on display, hanging upside-down, and 116,000 visitors had passed it before Mrs. Genevieve Habert, a stockbroker, noticed the mistake. She confirmed the problem by referring to a catalogue of Matisse's works, then talked to various MOMA employees before she was taken seriously. The Museum rehung the painting, right-side up, the next day.
1961 college football season: The Alabama Crimson Tide was voted #1 in the final AP and UPI polls, granting them recognition by the NCAA as the national college football champion. In the AP sportswriters poll, unbeaten (10-0-0) Alabama received 26 first place votes and 452 points overall. Ohio State (8-0-1) finished second with 20 first place votes and 436 points.
In Toronto, Floyd Patterson defeated challenger Tom McNeeley with a fourth-round knockout to retain the world heavyweight boxing championship. Tom's son, Peter McNeeley, would become Mike Tyson's first opponent upon the latter's release from prison in 1995. On the same evening, Sonny Liston knocked out Albert Westphal in a Philadelphia bout. It was the last bout for both Patterson and Liston, until they faced each other in 1962 in Chicago, with the Liston taking the title from Patterson.
An agreement on maintaining the neutrality of Laos was reached at the 14-nation Laos Peace Conference being held in Geneva.
President Kennedy authorized the U.S. Department of Defense to commence of Operation Ranch Hand, the defoliation of the jungles of South Vietnam. The first run was on January 12, 1962, and the last in February 1971.
The Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal was established by Executive Order of the U.S. President, for service in specified military operations during designated times. Retroactive awards were made for service in the Quemoy and Matsu Islands (since 1956), Lebanon (in 1958), the Taiwan Straits (1958) and in West Berlin since August.
The largest ever escape from East Berlin, to the West, was carried out by Harry Deterling, a 28-year-old train engineer, after he and co-worker Hartmut Lichy learned that there was still an open rail connection at Albrechtshof, one-quarter mile from the border, and that East German authorities were preparing to block it. Deterling's wife and four children, his mother, and 13 friends boarded at Oranienburg, and four others got on at Falkensee. Deterling and Lichy never stopped at the Albrechtshof station, and rushed the train past startled border guards. The train's conductor, and six passengers who hadn't been in on the plot, elected to return to East Germany. The government tore up the tracks the next day and put up barriers, and there were no further escapes by train.
U.S. President John F. Kennedy authorized American financial support to the Volta Dam project in Ghana, in order to prevent the West African nation from coming under the influence of the Soviet Union.
NASA announced that the United States would not put an astronaut into orbit before the end of 1961, thus ending the possibility of matching the Soviets in the same calendar year. Lt. Col. John Glenn, the space agency said, would not be launched into space until at least January.
The second phase of American manned spaceflight, the Gemini program, was announced by NASA, with plans for a two-man version of the one-man Mercury capsule. Originally called Mercury Mark II, the program was renamed Gemini on January 3, at the suggestion of Alex Nagy, after the constellation of the same name, associated with the "heavenly twins", Castor and Pollux.
Formerly The Pendletones, The Beach Boys release first single
Brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine, known as "The Pendletones", saw the release of their first recorded song, called "Surfin'" (with "Luau" on the "B"- side). For the single, record distributor Russ Regen renamed the group, The Beach Boys, and their first song peaked at #75 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Sixteen people were killed in a flash fire on the ninth floor of the Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. The blaze started in a trash chute and swept across the ceiling tiles, killing 7 patients, 5 visitors, and 4 hospital employees, including a physician. Investigators eventually concluded that the fire had resulted from the discarding of x-ray film into the chute, and ignition from a cigarette.
In a triple-overtime NBA game in Los Angeles, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors scored 78 points, breaking the record of 71 set by Elgin Baylor, as the two men faced each other. Baylor, playing for the Lakers, poured in 63 points. The two men had already combined for 100 points (53 for Chamberlain, 47 for Baylor) at the end of regulation with the score tied 109-109. Chamberlain's Warriors lost the contest, 151-147, and while his record carried with it an asterisk, he would score 100 points in a regular game on March 2.
Portugal's ambassador to the United Nations appealed for help from the UN Security Council, reporting that 30,000 troops from India were massing along the border of the Portuguese colony at Goa, and that seven ships from the Indian Navy were approaching Goa's coast.
At the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam, the former British colony of Tanganyika gained independence, with Julius Nyerere as its first Prime Minister. Sir Richard Turnbull, who had been the British governor, served as the first and last Governor-general of Tanganyika until the nation became a Republic on the next Uhuru Day, one year later, with Nyerere as President. Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, appeared on behalf of the United Kingdom. At midnight, the British territorial flag was slowly lowered as a record played God Save the Queen. The lights were then turned off, the new national anthem, Mungu Ibariki Tanganyika (God Bless Tanganyika) was played as the new flag was raised, and the lights were switched on again. In 1963, Tanganyika would merge with Zanzibar to become Tanzania.
The Communist government of Albania confirmed that the Soviet Union had severed diplomatic relations on December 3, marking the first time that the U.S.S.R. had ever withdrawn its embassy from another Communist state. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had criticized Albanian leaders Enver Hoxha and Mehmet Shehu at the 22nd Soviet Communist Party Congress after the Albanians refused to repudiated Stalinism. The People's Republic of China then began a program of emergency aid to the Balkan nation.
Operation Plowshare, the American experiment in using atomic weapons for peaceful purposes, began with Project Gnome, the underground explosion of a 3 kiloton atomic bomb near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Although the test device was placed 1,200 feet below the surface in a cavern of rock salt, water within the salt was vaporized by the blast and sent a geyser of radioactive steam 300 above the surface.
Nobel Prize: Melvin Calvin was awarded the Nobel Prize for the process of photosynthesis, while .
The Vietnam War officially began for the United States, as the USS Core arrived at Saigon Harbor. The ship brought in two helicopter units, the 8th Transportation Company from Fort Bragg and the 57th Transportation Company from Fort Lewis, with 33 H-21 Shawnee helicopters, and 400 U.S. Army personnel.
After months of trial before a three judge panel in Israel, Adolf Eichmann was found guilty of multiple crimes arising from the extermination of German and European Jews during the Holocaust. Judge Moshe Landau started his reading of the verdict with the words, "Accused, the court convicts you of crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity, and membership in hostile organizations," then began reading the text of the judgment. Judge Landau was followed by Judges Benyamin Halevi and Itzhak Raveh. The reading of the entire verdict was not completed until the next day.
The first of a series of satellites constructed by and for ham radio operators, OSCAR (Orbital Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio), was launched into orbit as part of the payload of Discoverer 36. By the end of the century, more than 50 OSCAR satellites had been launched.
The South African cricket team won the first Test of their series against New Zealand, at Durban, by 30 runs.
Police in Tokyo arrested 13 men in a pre-dawn raid after uncovering a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda and the 16 members of his cabinet. The plot, under the cover of the "Society for Japanese History", was financed by industrialist Toyosaku Kawanami with the assistance of former Lt. General Tokutaro Sakurai.
In Geneva, the United States and the Soviet Union announced that they had come to an agreement on the formation of a multinational discussion to reduce nuclear weapons, in a group described as the "Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament". The United Nations General Assembly endorsed the idea one week later, and the group first met on March 14, 1962. The 18 nations were the U.S., the U.K., Italy, Canada and France; the U.S.S.R., Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania; and the non-aligned states of Mexico, Brazil, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Egypt, Sweden, India and Burma.
The chairman of the Dutch cycling federation, Piet van Dijk, revealed his experiences of doping in the sport, stating that, in the 1960 Rome Olympics, "dope - whole cartloads - [was] used in royal quantities."
Twenty schoolchildren were killed and 13 seriously injured near Greeley, Colorado when their school bus was struck by a Union Pacific train. The crossing, located to the west of Evans, did not have flashing lights. The engineer for the train "City of Denver", which was inbound from Chicago at 80 miles per hour, told police that the driver, who had only minor injuries, did not stop at the crossing, while a student on the bus reported that the driver stopped at the crossing and opened the door. The 23-year-old driver, Duane Harms, was acquitted of manslaughter.
The United Nations General Assembly declined a resolution to allow the People's Republic of China membership. The vote was 36 in favor, 48 against, with 20 abstentions. On the same day, a resolution declaring Communist Chinese membership an "important question", requiring 2/3rds approval rather than a simple majority, passed 61-34, with 7 abstentions.
Pope John XXIII created 23 new memberships in the College of Cardinals, bringing the number to 75, and exceeding the maximum number of 70 that had been set in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V.
The Israeli war crimes tribunal sentenced Adolf Eichmann to death for his part in the Holocaust. Chief Judge Landau delivered the decision in Hebrew at Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem.
The first episode in the long-running BBC series, Comedy Playhouse, was presented.
Soviet KGB officer Anatoliy Golitsyn, who had memorized the details of secret documents and cases, defected to the West at the American CIA station office in Helsinki. Golitsyn has been described by one author as "perhaps the most controversial and divisive defector of the Cold War".
The 1961 New York City Zoning Resolution is adopted, the first change to New York City's zoning code since the first Resolution was passed in 1915.
The African National Congress, frustrated with peaceful attempts to end apartheid in South Africa, began a bombing campaign with a new organization, Umkhonto we Sizwe, setting off explosions at empty government buildings in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban. "Had we intended to attack life," Nelson Mandela would say in a statement at his trial in 1964, "we would have selected targets where people congregated, and not empty buildings and power stations." The Manifesto of Umkhonto, published the same day, began, "The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices— submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom."  The only casualty was one of the saboteurs, Petrus Molefe, who died at the Dube township in Johannesburg, when the bomb he was placing exploded prematurely. There would be 190 attacks in all until the group was suppressed in 1963, and only one other death, when a young girl was killed by a bomb.
The British medical journal The Lancet published a letter from Dr. W. G. McBride, an Australian obstetrician in the Sydney suburb of Hurstville, New South Wales, with the heading "Thalidomide and Congenital Abnormalities" The letter, which brought the link between thalidomide and birth defects to the world's attention, began "Sir- Congenital abnormalities are present in approximately 1.5% of babies. In recent months, I have observed that the incidence of multiple severe abnormalities in babies delivered of women who were given the drug thalidomide ("Distaval") during pregnancy, as an anti-emitic or as a sedative, to be almost 20%..." 
Niterói circus fire: A fire at a circus at Niterói, in the Rio de Janeiro State in Brazil, killed 323 people and injured hundreds of others. Most of the victims were children; many were burned or died of smoke inhalation, while others were trampled as the crowd (originally 2,500 people) attempted to escape. Towards the end of the second afternoon performance of the Gran Circus Norte-Americano, the circus tent had 2,500 spectators. At 3:45 pm, as trapeze artists began their act, the nylon tent caught on fire and then fell upon the crowd and the wooden bleachers inside. Days later, Adilson Marcelino Alves, a disgruntled worker nicknamed "Dequinha", confessed to pouring gasoline on part of the tent with gasoline, with the help of Walter Rosa dos Santos ("Bigode") and José dos Santos ("Pardal"), in revenge for not being given free tickets to the circus after helping erect the tent. The three conspirators were sentenced to 16 years in prison.
1961 Indian Annexation of Goa: At 5:15 am, Operation Vijay was launched by the Army and Navy of India, as 30,000 troops invaded the Portuguese colonies at Goa, Damao and Diu. The colonies, founded in 1510 and collectively known as Portuguese India comprised 1,537 square miles and had a population of 650,000 people. By 5:00 in the afternoon, all but the capital had been taken. Major General Kenneth Candeth, who led the invasion by 30,000 troops, was named the new Governor of Goa. The Portuguese warship NRP Afonso de Albuquerque traded fire with the Indian Navy ship INS Betwa and was destroyed, with five of the crew killed. The Portuguese Governor-general, Manuel António Vassalo e Silva, declined to follow a cabled order from Portugal's Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar that prohibited surrender and closed with "Our soldiers or sailors must conquer or die." 
Addis Ababa University was established as Haile Selassie I University by the consolidation of several smaller colleges, with a total enrollment of 1,000 students. By the end of the century, there were over 19,000 students at the largest university in Ethiopia.
At 2:30 pm, Portuguese India's Governor-General Vassalo e Silva signed an unconditional surrender in front of Indian Brigadier General K.S. Dhillon, bringing an end to the colony to 451 years of Portuguese rule.Goa, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli were incorporated into India as a single Union Territory. In 1987, Goa became the 25th State of India.
Indonesia's President Sukarno announced a military campaign that he called "Trikora" (TriKomando Rakyat, or "Three Commands to the People"): (1) Take over the Netherlands' territory of West Papua and put an end to creation of a republic there (2) Take over the Netherlands' territory of West Irian; and (3) Mobilize all of Indonesia's resources for those purposes.
The World Food Program was created by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1714, adopted unanimously.
UN General Assembly Resolution 1723 (XVI) was passed, declaring that the large-scale exodus of Tibetan people was linked to a violation of its human rights and the suppression of its culture and religion.
Sir Geoffrey de Freitas resigned his seat in the UK House of Commons to become British High Commissioner in Ghana – the first Labour appointment to an important role in one of the newly independent former British colonies.
At the U.N. military base at Kitona, in the Congo, Katangan President Moise Tshombe and Congolese Prime Minister Cyrille Adoula signed an 8-point agreement, bringing an end to Tshombe's attempt to create a separate nation out of the mineral-rich Congolese province.
Fiumarella rail disaster: A crowded railroad car, carrying Christmas shoppers, as well as students and migrant workers heading home for the holiday, jumped a track near Catanzaro in Southern Italy, and plunged down a 100-foot embankment and into the rain swollen Fiumarella River, killing 71 people. The dead were from the villages of Cerrisi, Decollatura, and Soveria Mannelli. The engineer, Ciro Micelli, survived and was later sentenced to ten years in prison for manslaughter after a court found that he had taken the curved railroad track at almost twice the speed limit.
Eighteen people on the motor launch Roby Anita drowned after the boat capsized off of Mindanao Island in the Philippines. Another 63 were rescued.
At the town of Bugalagrande in western Colombia, a terrorist bomb killed 51 people who were participating in a religious procession on Christmas Eve. The blast went off in an army barracks as worshippers were passing through the town square.
Francisco Franco, the long-time dictator of Spain, was shot and wounded. Franco had been pigeon shooting at El Pardo when a shell casing from his gun exploded, injuring his left hand. While he recovered during the first few months of 1962, Franco delegated some of his powers to his Interior Minister, General Camilo Alonso Vega, and his the Director General of Security, Carlos Arias Navarro.
Radio Mecca reported a breakthrough in a move toward democracy in Saudi Arabia, with news that Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud had submitted a proposed new Constitution to King Ibn Saud and his Council of Ministers. The draft, which would have created an elected legislature, was rejected, and three days later, Radio Mecca denied ever broadcasting the news.
PERMIAS (PERsatuan Mahasiwa Indonesia di Amerika Serikat, or the Organization of Indonesian Students in the United States), was founded in Washington, D.C., the first and largest of several Indonesian-American groups in the U.S.
Pope John XXIII issued the papal bull Humanae salutis ("of human salvation") to summon the Second Vatican Council. The announcement surprised everyone, in that the Pope did not consult with advisers beforehand. "Vatican II" would open on October 11, 1962, with participation from Roman Catholic clergy and theologians worldwide.
The Maxwell House Hotel, at one time the most luxurious hotel in Nashville, and the inspiration for Maxwell House coffee, was completely destroyed by a fire on Christmas night. Although eight U.S. Presidents had stayed at the inn over the years, it later became a residential hotel.
The Kingdom of Yemen, which had joined Egypt and Syria in March, 1958, to become part of the United Arab Republic, broke ties with the government of Egypt's Gamel Abdel Nasser. The Imam of Yemen had retained his throne while being linked with the UAR under the collective name "United Arab States".
The Empire State Building, at that time still the tallest skyscraper in the world, was sold to a group of investors headed by Lawrence A. Wien for $65,000,000. In what was described, at that time, as "the most complex transaction in real estate history", the closing, required the services of almost 100 professionals. It took place at the headquarters of the seller, the Prudential Insurance Company, in Newark, and the signing of the necessary documents took more than two hours.
Four days after the Catanzaro train wreck that killed 71 people, a crowd of more than 3,000 people, most of them friends and relatives of the dead, attacked the privately owned Italian railroad line, tearing up the tracks and wrecking stations. Angry protesters set fire to the terminal at Soveria-Mannelli, and at Decollatura, the crowd tore down telephone poles.
Died:Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, 89, sometimes referred to as the "first woman president"  of the United States after her husband, Woodrow Wilson, was disabled by a stroke. Mrs. Wilson's passing occurred on the 105th anniversary of her husband's birth, and she had been scheduled that day that to have dedicated the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Washington.
Congolese troops captured Albert Kalonji, who had declared the independence of the Congolese province of South Kasai, with himself as President, and later as the King. With South Kasai reconstituted into the Republic of Congo, Kalonji was imprisoned, but would escape on September 7, 1962, making a final, unsuccessful attempt, to set up a new government.
Ireland's first national television station, Telefís Éireann (later RTÉ), began broadcasting. A speech by Irish President Éamon de Valera opened the new era. Previously, the eastern area of the Republic of Ireland was able to receive broadcasts from the BBC from Great Britain.
^Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam (National Academies Press, 1997) pp16-17
^Scott B. MacDonald, Trinidad and Tobago: Democracy and Development in the Caribbean (ABC-CLIO, 1986) p135
^Keith E. Bonn, Army Officer's Guide (Stackpole Books, 2005) p556
^"Hijacked Red Train Flees To West", Miami News, December 6, 1961, p10A
^Hans-Hermann Hertle, The Berlin Wall: Monument of the Cold War (Ch. Links Verlag, 2008) p52
^Robert Anthony Waters, Historical Dictionary of United States-Africa Relations (Scarecrow Press, 2009) pp243-244; "U.S. OKs Funds For Ghana Dam", Miami News, December 16, 1961, p1
^"Man In Orbit: Russ '61, U.S. '62", Deseret News, December 7, 1961, p2
^Ben Evans, Escaping the Bonds of Earth: The Fifties and the Sixties (Springer, 2009) p220
^Steven S. Gaines, Heroes and Villains: The True Story of the Beach Boys (Da Capo Press, 1995) pp66-67
^"15 Persons Are Killed in Blaze at Hospital", Milwaukee Journal, December 9, 1961, p1
^Ellsworth Grant, Connecticut Disasters: True Stories of Tragedy and Survival (Globe Pequot, 2006) pp149-153
^John Taylor, The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball (Random House, 2005); "Chamberlain Scores 78 as Warriors Lose", Milwaukee Journal, December 9, 1961, p20
^Thomas M. Franck, Nation against Nation: What Happened to the U.N. Dream and What the U.S. Can Do about It (Oxford University Press, 1985) p53
^"Philip Hoists Free Tanganyika's Flag", Montreal Gazette, December 9, 1961, p2
^Michael Longford, The Flags Changed at Midnight: Tanganyika's Progress towards Independence (Gracewing Publishing, 2001) p415-417
^Election Results 1961, University of Western Australia; "MENZIES GOVERNMENT HAS MAJORITY OF TWO SEATS; Moreton Gives 62-60 Result", The Age (Melbourne), December 19, 1961, p1
^"Russia Severs Its Ties With Albania", St. Petersburg (FL) Times, December 11, 1961, p1; Robert Elsie, Historical Dictionary of Albania Scarecrow Press, 2010) p392
^"Red China Speeds Aid To Albania", Miami News, December 18, 1961, p6A
^Barton C. Hacker, Elements of Controversy: The Atomic Energy Commission and Radiation Safety in Nuclear Weapons Testing, 1947-1974 (University of California Press, 1994) p214; "Radioactive Steam Escapes From Blast", Edmonton Journal, December 11, 1961, p1
^Peter Dorland and James Nanney,, Dust Off: Army Aeromedical Evacuation in Vietnam (U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1982) p23; "Copter Load, 2 Companies Reach Saigon", Youngstown Vindicator, December 11, 1961, p1
^"EICHMANN CONVICTED BY ISRAEL", Pittsburgh Press, December 11, 1961, p1
^Ruth Sachs, Adolf Eichmann: Engineer of Death (Rosen Publishing Group, 2001) pp5-7
^David Aikman, Great Souls: Six Who Changed the Century (Lexington Books, 2003) p160
^Ron Miller, Space Innovations: Satellites (Twenty-First Century Books, 2007) p81
^"Japan Cracks Plot To Slay Premier", Miami News, December 12, 1961, p 1
^"The Geneva Conference - Five Years Later", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (January 1967) p39
^Van Dijk, Pieter: Doping bestaat en doen we eraan, Het Vrije Volk, Holland, 13 December 1961
^Eliakim M. Sibanda, The Zimbabwe African People's Union, 1961-87: A Political History of Insurgency in Southern Rhodesia (Africa World Press, 2005) p71
^Mustasad Ahmad, Living up to Heritage: History of the Rajput Regiment 1947-1970 (Lancer Publishers, 1997) p126
^"INDIA GRABS PORTUGUESE TERRITORIES", Miami News, December 18, 1961, p1
^Tom Gallagher, Portugal: A Twentieth-Century Interpretation (Manchester University Press ND, 1983) p156
^David H. Shinn and Thomas P. Ofcansky, Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia (Scarecrow Press, 2004) p131
^Satyindra Singh, Blueprint to Bluewater: The Indian Navy, 1951-65 (Lancer Publishers, 1992) pp407-408
^Retnowati Abdulgani-Knapp, Soeharto: The Life and Legacy of Indonesia's Second President: An Authorised Biography (Marshall Cavendish, 2007) p38; "Indonesia Gets Ready For War", Miami News, December 19, 1961, p1
^Edmund Jan Osmańczyk and Anthony Mango, Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements, Volume 4 (Taylor & Francis, 2003) p2445
^Mike Gruntman, Blazing the Trail: The Early History of Spacecraft and Rocketry (AIAA, 2004) p420
^John H. Davis, The Kennedys: Dynasty and Disaster (SPI Books, 1993) p725