Archive for November, 2012

Nov 27

Richard McKenna on the Impact of Defense Drawdowns on Naval Careers

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 4:17 PM

By A. Denis Clift*

EDITOR’S NOTE: At the end of two long wars and a time of defense drawdowns, there is a need to guard against the damage that could be caused by a hollow force. Richard McKenna’s words from the past are worthy of reflection.

Fourteen years before reaching fame as the author of the highly acclaimed novel and subsequent Hollywood hit The Sand Pebbles, Chief Machinist’s Mate Richard McKenna, USN, won the Naval Institute’s Enlisted Prize Essay, 1948, writing on “The Post-War Chief Petty Officer: A Closer Look.”

McKenna was born in 1913, grew up in rural Idaho, and enlisted the Navy in 1931 during the Great Depression. From 1939 – 1941, he was a machinist aboard the USS Luzon (PG-47), a Yangtze River Gunboat, which would give him the setting in The Sand Pebbles aboard the fictional 1920’s Yangtze River Gunboat San Pablo.  

The USS Luzon (PG-47) circa 1930

Throughout his Navy years, McKenna’s deep and abiding interest was machinery and engineering. In the engineering spaces and enlisted living spaces, he became an observer and student of the human condition, ridicules and humiliations, misplaced individuals, and the transcending discoveries of self and accomplishment in such environments. The leading character in The Sand Pebbles is machinist Jake Holman who is a loner, has a passion for engines, is disturbed by the crew’s racist attitude toward the Chinese, and who teaches a Chinese coolie the intricacies of engineering.

“McKenna,” according to editor and biographer Robert Shenk, “spent the whole of World War II in the USS Mount Vernon (AP-22), a ship that delivered troops to battle areas throughout the world. During this tour he was advanced to machinist’s mate chief, a rank he retained after the war. Then he found himself passed along rapidly from ship to ship. He transferred to the USS Wakefield (AP-21) in April 1946, joined the USS Washington (BB-56) in February 1947 for just a month, then was assigned to the USS Wisconsin (BB-64). The next year he went to a fleet training group. This kind of rapid transfer, common to the chief-rich but manpower-poor Navy of the period,” was the subject of his Proceedings Prize essay. Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 10

November 10, 1775: The Birth of the Marine Corps

Saturday, November 10, 2012 1:00 AM

The following article by Major General John A. Lejeune, United States Marine Corps, was originally published inProceedings magazine in October 1925 .

THE TENTH day of November of this year will mark one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the United States Marine Corps, since on November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the raising of two battalions of marines for the defense of the colonies which were then to protect their rights, as they saw them, against the aggressions of the mother country.

The men recruited for this force were to be familiar life of the sea, but were to be trained as a military force, and was the intention to have them serve aboard the ships to be provided for the defense of the colonies. It is evident that the founders of the Marine Corps had in mind the fine services previously rendered by the British marines, both afloat and ashore, and that it was the intention to use the marines aboard the ships in naval battles when on the high seas and as landing forces when occasion might offer.

From that distant date down to the present day the United States Marines have continued to serve as an integral part of the United States Navy and in peace and war have proved the military army of the Navy. In all of the wars in United States have engaged the marines have played their part according to their abilities and the occasions offered, and how well this part has been played is amply testified to in the many reports of the admirals who have commanded our squadrons on the seven seas throughout the 150 years that have looked down upon the organization and growth of our nation.

There is neither space nor inclination to give here even passing note of the incidents that have contributed to the pages of history due to the acts of the Marine Corps; but it appears to be proper to state here the present-day mission of the corps which derived from the experiences of a century and a half of service in the Navy and to call attention to what has been done in recent times to fit the corps to meet in a creditable and efficient the requirements of the mission assigned to it by the highest authority in control of the military and naval destinies of the nation.

The mission of the Marine Corps, briefly stated, is:
“To support the fleet, or any part thereof, in the accomplishment of its mission.”

The principal mission of the Navy as a whole may be briefly stated, in the language of the great Mahan:
To gain command of the sea and hold it.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 8

Operation Torch: November 8-11, 1942

Thursday, November 8, 2012 1:00 AM


“IN ORDER to forestall an invasion of Africa by Germany and Italy, which, if successful, would constitute a direct threat to America across the comparatively narrow sea from western Africa, a powerful American force equipped with adequate weapons of modern warfare and under American command is today landing on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of the French colonies in Africa.

“The landing of this American army is being assisted by the British Navy and Air Forces, and it will in the immediate future be reinforced by a considerable number of divisions of the British Army.

“This combined Allied force, under American command, in conjunction with the British campaign in Egypt, is designed to prevent an occupation by the Axis armies of any part of northern or western Africa and to deny to the aggressor nations a starting point from which to launch an attack against the Atlantic coast of the Americas.

“In addition, it provides an effective second front assistance to our heroic allies in Russia.”

With these few words President Roosevelt announced the landing of American troops on African soil on Sunday, 8 November 1942.

This announcement to the American people was accompanied by one in French, broadcast in the early hours of 8 November, of which the English translation is as follows:

Read the rest of this entry »