Today is Monday, Dec. 20, the 355th day of 2004. 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 1998, Nkem Chukwu gave birth in Houston to five girls and two boys, 12 days after giving birth to another child, a girl. (However, the tiniest of the octuplets died a week later.)

Ten years ago: Former President Jimmy Carter succeeded in getting Bosnia's warring factions to agree to a temporary cease-fire. Intel announced it would replace all flawed Pentium computer chips. Marcelino Corniel, a homeless man, was shot and mortally wounded by White House security officers as he brandished a knife near the execution mansion. Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk died in Athens, Ga., at age 85.

Five years ago: The Vermont Supreme Court ruled that homosexual couples were entitled to the same benefits and protections as wedded couples. Country music legend Hank Snow died in Nashville, Tenn., at age 85.

One year ago: Spain's prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, paid a surprise visit to Spanish soldiers in Iraq. Friends and relatives of Michael Jackson descended on his Neverland Ranch to show their support for the entertainer as he fought child molestation charges.

Today's Birthdays: Actress Audrey Totter is 87. Comedian Charlie Callas is 77. Actor John Hillerman is 72. Rock musician Peter Criss is 59. Psychic Uri Geller is 58. Actor John Spencer is 58. Singer Alan Parsons is 55. Actress Jenny Agutter is 52. Actor Michael Badalucco is 50. Actress Blanche Baker is 48. Rock singer Billy Bragg is 47. Rock singer-musician Mike Watts (The Secondmen, Minutemen, fIREHOSE) is 47. Country singer Kris Tyler is 40. Rock singer Chris Robinson is 38. Singer JoJo is 14.

Thought for Today: "There are two days in the week about which and upon which I never worry. Two carefree days, kept sacredly free from fear and apprehension. One of these days is Yesterday. ... And the other ... is Tomorrow." - Robert Jones Burdette, American clergyman and author (1844-1914).