History is a human endeavor. As such, it is complex, inherently limited, and evolving. What has counted as “history” and how “history” has been investigated have changed greatly since Herodotus. Historians and philosophers debate the purpose of history, how it should be conducted, and indeed what even counts as history. What history actually is has no clear answer, doubtless the debate on history’s essence will continue, but history certainly has a number of elements which must be present in order for an investigation of the past to be considered “history.” History deals with the past. History aims at truth. History attempts to explain past events. These are just a few examples of some of history’s core characteristics. Aside from the question of what history is, philosophers and historians also attempt to explain the importance of history. Answers to this question are also varied. Some historians argue that history has no real importance, relegating history to hobby status. Other historians view history as integral to human existence. These two questions, what is history and why is it important, are essential to a proper understanding and appreciation of history.
Archive for the 'Commentary' Category
From Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division
The Washington Navy Yard was established 215 years ago today, Oct. 2, 1799, the Navy’s first and oldest shore base. At first it was built as a shipyard, under the careful guidance of its first commandant, Capt. Thomas Tingey. And then during the War of 1812 we famously burned it down (not the British) and then our neighbors looted it (again, not the British).
The base was back running again by 1816, although it never quite came back as a shipbuilding yard due to the shallowness of the Anacostia River. Its mission changed with the establishment of the Bureau of Ordnance at the Washington Navy Yard in the late 1880s and the building of a large gun factory. The yard then evolved into a place to test the most scientific, technologically advanced naval weaponry in the nation. By the end of World War II, when the yard was renamed the U.S. Naval Gun Factory in Dec. 1945, it had become the largest naval ordnance plant in the world, peaking at 188 buildings on 126 acres of landing and employing nearly 25,000 people.
But during the 1950s, as fewer weapons were needed, the Navy Yard began to phase out its ordnance factories. On July 1, 1964, the property was re-designated the Washington Navy Yard and unused factory buildings were converted to office use. The yard is now home to the Chief of Naval Operations (living in the same house as the yard’s original commandant) and is also headquarters for the Naval History and Heritage Command, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy and numerous other commands.
Just as captivating as the Yard’s transition from shipbuilding to ordnance technology to host of various command headquarters, are the hints of the macabre that lurk among the centuries-old brick and mortar of the Washington Navy Yard.
Which takes us back to Commodore Thomas Tingey. The plump commodore lovingly nurtured his navy yard through its first construction, then had suffer the horrible orders to burn it in August 1814 during the War of 1812. And he did, waiting until he could almost see the British before finally ordering it set ablaze. He returned the next day overjoyed to find the two housing quarters – A and B – unburned, along with the massive gate designed by Benjamin Latrobe.
But after all that, Commandant Tingey got the Navy Yard back running again building ships by 1816. In 1829, Commandant Tingey, still running the place and living in his beloved Quarters A at the top of the hill, reported he was tired and wanted to work half days. He died five days later. He was so attached to the home he lived in for nearly 30 years that people have claimed to see a rotund apparition roaming the halls in his nightshirt while wearing his sword. In 1886, the shipyard changed direction to become the Naval Gun Factory, thanks to the technological advances by Capt. John A. Dahlgren. Rumor has it Tingey’s ghost gave out a loud cry at the indignity of it.
And speaking of the Civil War, Capt. Dahlgren served as the commandant of the base in 1861-62 and again in 1869-70. But it was Army Col. Ulrich Dahgren who would leave a lasting legacy: His leg. After the battle of Gettysburg, Col. Dahlgren had his leg amputated at the navy yard in 1863. It was buried amid new construction at the shipyard. He would lose the rest of him (minus an eye) when his men were ambushed in 1864 while attempting to take Richmond. Papers found on his body, thereafter called the “Dahlgren Papers,” outlined a planned assassination attempt on Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Outrage from Southerners over that plan has been speculated to have fueled the plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, a close friend of Capt. Dahlgren.
Just a few days after his second inauguration, President Lincoln would indeed be assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. The actor’s body – along with suspected cohorts – was brought to the Washington Navy Yard where an autopsy was performed onboard the monitor USS Montauk.
Which brings us back to the Navy Yard, which was known to have a special place in the heart of Lincoln. The yard bade its final farewell to the slain president by firing guns every half hour from noon until sundown on May 4, 1865, the day the president was buried at Springfield, Ill.
A more complete history of the Washington Navy Yard may be found here.
After three quick months of open and fierce competition to help inspire Naval History and Heritage Command’s next logo, we’ve compiled all 40 submissions. We have to say, there isn’t one that didn’t get us thinking – great work contestants!
Now it’s your turn: Tell us what you think! Do any of them have the stuff to knock off the reigning NHHC logo?
Click here to view the NHHC logo submissions:
Of course, we are assembling a panel here to examine all the submissions, but determining what defines U.S. Navy history and heritage is everyone’s job. We think highly of your opinions — so share ‘em with us and the group here. We’re eager to hear from you – and we’ll be sure to pass on any thoughts or suggestions you have to the panel members and the Director of NHHC.
We’d ask that in the commentary section below, you choose one favorite design — or designs — that you believe best represent Naval History and Heritage Command and how its work and services are relevant in today’s Navy. Please include your comments, thoughts, suggestions and perhaps areas for improvement on the design.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how truly honored we at NHHC are by the depth and breadth of thoughtful work by the designers. The Logo Contest allowed us to see a wide range of talent, new interpretations on what our command represents, and a host of new branding opportunities to consider. We are deeply grateful to all of you who participated and to those who have viewed and supported this effort online.
OK – get crackin’ and tell us what you think!
As I stepped across the brow onto the deck of USS Constitution the sense of history was almost overwhelming.
It was on these decks that the Sailors from past ages had fought and died for the colors that were whipping in the warm breeze above my head.
It’s July 4th, and time for Old Ironsides to get underway once again as she always does on Independence Day. The maneuvering watch is set and they are preparing their charts and instruments to plot the course down the Charlestown River to Castle Island, a familiar course, but still the motions are required as a Sailor assigned to Constitution must be proficient in these skills in order to be called a Constitution Sailor.
I introduce myself to the Sailors on watch and they say “Welcome aboard the Constitution and just let us know if there is anything we can do to help sir!”
Finding a place on deck, aft, near the Quartermaster’s station, , a simple table with a chart of Boston Harbor and a few tools of the Quartermaster rating and I begin to take a few quick photos.
Among my first impressions was the size of Constitution, it is a real surprise to me, not having ever seen her up close I quickly realized that she was as large as a WW II Destroyer Escort and slightly wider.
As I look around I see the details one misses in simple photographs of the ship. The mooring lines dressed out on deck, the smooth bore Cannon surrounding the deck perimeter and the fighting tops almost 100 feet above my head speak to me, knowing that it was at these locations some of the real fighting took place with Marine sharpshooters taking aim at the enemy’s gun crews and the officers as they knew that by taking these targets out of action the chances for victory increased with each and every well placed round.
After a short time I hear the order to cast off all lines and within moments Constitution begins to move slowly out of her berth, then the order is announced “Underway, shift colors” as a Sailor slowly lowers a perfect replica of the first Navy Jack, “Don’t Tread On Me” in brilliant and bold letters that can be easily seen.
As we pull away from the pier I found myself thinking about Constitution’s great engagements with the British warships that she fought and defeated. Ships with names like Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cayne and Levant, it was in the engagement with Guerriere that Constitution earned her nickname “Old Ironsides”.
I watch as the crew raises a large American Flag with 15 stars and 15 bars and everyone begins to cheer, USS Constitution is underway once again.
The crew is busily moving around deck, seemingly oblivious to the hundreds of eyes watching their every move as they stow mooring lines and equipment, their pride is obvious to all however, as this is a special day for them as well.
I check the chart as the navigation team is busy marking it with the ships position in the channel and hear them discussing their trade, “no, says one Sailor, the measurement must be taken this way”
as he attempts to teach a younger subordinate the correct method of marking the ship’s position every couple of minutes and I find myself thinking that in today’s Navy these tasks are much simpler with advanced digital charts and the benefit of a GPS enhanced moving map display.
The Constitution Sailors of old did not have these tools and would probably view them as magic if they could see them in action today.
Looking out across the channel one can see the “chase boats” of all sizes and bigger harbor cruisers alongside keeping pace with the ship as she slowly makes her way toward Castle Island.
Occasionally a helicopter will fly over or a large commercial airliner as Logan Airport is just a few miles away, I find myself imagining that the sailors of old Constitution would think this technology was magic as well.
As Constitution approaches Castle Island a reminder is announced that the Gun crews will be firing a 21 Gun salute and that hearing protection is advised. Within a few moments the guns are readied and the order to fire is passed, within seconds the ship shakes from the concussion of the guns firing from the bow in sequence, port and starboard, one can hear the order to fire from below on the gun deck and feel the force of the blasts as the ship is slowly rotating in front of the hundreds of onlookers on Castle island.
The cheers from the crowd both on board and ashore can easily be heard between each shot and the feeling of patriotic pride is heavy in the air.
Constitution is showing her stuff once again and there is no denying that she is the focus of thousands of people who have made it a special point to be there to witness this display.
While cruising back to her berth we pass the US Coast Guard Station, Boston, the site of Constitution’s construction and the cannons sound with a 17 Gun salute as we pass by and again the cheers are raised and unmistakable, the “Coasties” ashore and on their vessels waving American Flags and cheering along with Constitution’s riders.
At approach to the pier and Constitution is turned so that she enters her berth stern first and is slowly backed into position with the precision of a skilled surgeon who has done this operation a hundred times before. After a few moments the announcement is made “Moored, shift colors” and history is recorded once again aboard the USS Constitution, America’s Ship of State!
NHHC Communication & Outreach Div.
View USS Constitution’s 4 July Underway
Photo Album on their Facebook Fan Page:
“Underway, 4 July 2013″
A Reunion In the Water, Part 2
E. R. “Bud” Quam on the Yorktown at Coral Sea and Midway
by Ronald Russell
(The following post is from the Battle of Midway Roundtable and originally appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)
At the age of 15, young Bud Quam was severely injured in a hunting accident, and two years later he was nearly lost in a blizzard that inundated the area near his home town of Willmar, Minnesota. Consequently, when his 18th birthday rolled around in 1940, his parents had no reservations about sending him off to the Navy—they thought he might actually be safer there!
After boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, Quam was sent directly to the deck force of the USS Yorktown (CV-5). After toiling for some months with the usual drudgery experienced by apprentice seamen on the deck force, he requested a transfer to the Engineering Department and became a striker (trainee) in “E” Division, which was the ship’s electricians and interior communications technicians. His battle station was in the magazine for one of the five-inch guns, and it was a terrifying place to be when a Japanese bomb hit the ship during the Battle of the Coral Sea.
In the Battle of Midway, the tensions mounted tenfold as the ship was battered during two enemy air attacks. “You didn’t feel too scared when you only heard the five-inch guns firing,” he says. “That meant the enemy planes were still pretty far out. Things got a little more tense when the 1.1-inch mounts started up, and then when you heard those machine guns chatter, you knew you were about to get hit.”
When the order to abandon ship came, Quam went into the oily water while still wearing his heavy anti-flash coveralls, required for ammo handlers in the magazine. He was struggling to stay afloat with little success, when he was surprised to be pulled aboard a small raft by ARM3/c Harold Wilger and EM3/c Peter Newberg, both former high school friends from Willmar! Chance had gotten the two men and their raft to Quam, one of nearly 2000 Yorktowners then in the water, at precisely the critical moment. The three were rescued by the destroyer USS Benham (DD-397) and eventually returned to Pearl Harbor.
At Pearl, Quam was reassigned to the USS California (BB-44), salvaged after the Pearl Harbor attack and undergoing repairs. He worked aboard the battleship during its passage to Bremerton for major overhaul, then requested and was granted a transfer to the submarine service. He sailed on war patrols aboard USS Pilotfish (SS-386) until 1944 when he became available for assignment to another sub. An Electrician’s Mate Third Class at the time, he was set to go aboard USS Seawolf (SS-197), when an EM2/c abruptly pulled rank on him and took the billet instead. The Seawolf was lost on its next patrol.
Quam then finished the war aboard USS Segundo (SS-398), serving as the pointer on the five-inch gun during several battle-surface engagements in the Yellow Sea. He left the service in 1947 to begin a long career with the Sperry-Univac corporation, with whom he helped develop computer systems for the Trident missile submarine.
A Reunion In the Water
Peter L. Newberg on the Yorktown at Coral Sea and Midway
by Ronald Russell
(The following post is from the Battle of Midway Roundtable and appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)
The small town of Willmar, Minnesota is rather unique with regard to the Battle of Midway, for it is the home town of three of its veterans who by chance all wound up on the same ship during the battle One of the three was Pete Newberg, who joined the Navy on his 18th birthday in order to pursue education opportunities—an interest in amateur radio had fueled a desire for training in a related technical field. Training would have to come later, though, as the Navy needed seamen for its big new carriers. Thus upon completing boot camp in December 1940, Newberg was sent directly to the USS Yorktown (CV-5), where he requested and got assignment to “E” Division, the ship’s electricians.
During his first year aboard the Yorktown, the ship was engaged in neutrality patrols and convoy duty in the Atlantic, but transferred to the Pacific Fleet following the Pearl Harbor attack. Its first major taste of combat occurred in May 1942 in the Coral Sea. Newberg’s battle station was with the flight deck repair party, meaning that he had a front-row view of all the action occurring around the carrier. His most vivid recollection of the Coral Sea was a bizarre incident as darkness fell on the first day of the battle. Two Japanese pilots got their aircraft into the landing pattern for the Yorktown and were all set to trap aboard, thinking they had found their own carrier in the fading light! The first enemy pilot realized his error at the last possible second and abruptly banked away, passing directly over the landing signal officer. Newberg and the other topside personnel could plainly see the bright red insignia on the plane’s wingtips.
Newberg was topside again as Japanese bombs and torpedoes blasted the Yorktown at Midway. He was firing a .30-cal. machine gun on the port side catwalk when one of the torpedoes struck almost directly below him. He’s not certain exactly what happened for several minutes after that, because his next clear memory is of treading water near the listing carrier’s stern, kept afloat by his life jacket. A few minutes later he was amazed to see Harold Wilger, one his friends from Willmar, Minnesota, nearby in a small raft. Wilger was a radioman-gunner in one of the ship’s squadrons and had pulled the two-man raft out of his aircraft before abandoning ship. Newberg swam toward the raft and climbed aboard. Wondering exactly what to do next, the two looked out over the 2000-plus survivors in the water and miraculously spotted the third sailor from their home town, Bud Qualm, also from “E” division. Mere chance had brought the three Willmar men together in the oily water near the stricken Yorktown. Their raft was soon overwhelmed by other survivors, but the three made it to safety aboard the destroyer USS Benham (DD-397).
Upon return to Pearl Harbor, Newberg was transferred to the USS West Virginia (BB-48), raised from the bottom of Pearl Harbor and undergoing repair. He served aboard the battleship for the remainder of the war. After the expiration of his enlistment in 1946, he earned an engineering degree at the University of California and began a lengthy career in the petroleum industry.
Escaping the Yorktown
Bryan A. Crisman
by Ronald Russell
(The following post is from the Battle of Midway Roundtable and originally appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)
As an economics student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1940, Bryan Crisman was intrigued by a notice posted at the university’s school of finance. The solicitation from the U.S. Navy’s Supply Corps promised college graduates a commission in the Naval Reserve. That sounded fine to Bryan, so he signed up and found himself called to active duty only a few months after graduation. After training at the Navy’s Supply Corps school, he initially served aboard USS Ranger (CV-4), then in September 1941 became the disbursing officer and “S” division officer on USS Yorktown (CV-5).
The Yorktown’s first major test in combat came in May 1942 in the Coral Sea, in which it suffered bomb damage from a Japanese air attack. But there was no respite upon returning to Pearl Harbor from that battle—the men worked feverishly to repair the damage and reprovision the ship for a another major operation. As the Yorktown left port, the crew was informed that they were going to take on an enormous Japanese invasion fleet headed for Midway.
As disbursing officer, Ensign Crisman’s assignment before leaving port had been to ensure enough cash was on hand to pay the crew upon arrival at Bremerton, Washington after the forthcoming action at Midway. The ship was slated for an overhaul to permanently repair its Coral Sea damage, and after more than three months away from the states, the men would have a lot of money due at Bremerton. Thus, before departure for Midway, Crisman had under his control over $500,000 in cash that was destined for the bottom of the sea. (That would be the equivalent of more than four million dollars in today’s money!)
Ensign Crisman’s battle station was at Flight Control in the island, which shook violently from three bomb hits as the Battle of Midway commenced. One of the bombs hit at the base of the island, sending billowing smoke into Flight Control. The ship came to a halt as the crew furiously worked to repair damage to the flight deck and get the boilers restarted. Crisman left his battle station at that point to retrieve the vital pay records from the disbursing office, deep in the ship. He bagged and secured them with 200 feet of line to prepare for lowering into a boat, then moved them to his stateroom, which was more accessible in an emergency. (Saving the crew’s pay records was deemed more important than saving the cash!)
He returned to Flight Control, but the ship was struck again by aerial torpedoes, prompting the captain to give the “abandon ship” order. Crisman gathered the bagged pay records and proceeded toward his abandon ship station when he noticed three Marines isolated at their gun mount due to damage to the catwalk at the edge of the flight deck. The catwalk had been peeled up by a torpedo blast, leaving the men no way to exit their battle station. Sacrificing the vital pay records, he threw his 200-foot line to the Marines, tying off one end so that they could free themselves.
Now without his pay records or his line, he encountered an unconscious sailor in a squadron ready room, still alive. With the aid of another officer, the two carried the sailor to the fantail and lowered him into the sea where a third rescuer got him aboard a raft and eventually to safety on a destroyer. Crisman finally lowered himself into the oily water, and after four hours of swimming in a life jacket that was gradually losing its buoyancy, he was taken aboard the USS Anderson (DD-411), along with about 200 other Yorktown survivors. He eventually returned to Pearl Harbor aboard USS Fulton (AS-11). And as for his all-important pay records? The salvage crew aboard the Yorktown wisely rescued them two days later, transferring them for safekeeping to the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412), tied up alongside. A short while later the Hammann and the Yorktown’s pay records slipped beneath the waves, the result of a Japanese submarine attack!
Crisman continued to serve in Supply Corps billets for the rest of the war and at its end was the supply officer for the U.S. embassy in London. Eventually promoted to lieutenant commander, he left the Navy in 1956 to commence a long career in real estate.
Reading Yamamoto’s Mail
RADM D. M. “Mac” Showers, USN-Retired
by Ronald Russell
(This post if from the Battle of Midway Roundtable and originally appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)
In August 1940 Mac Showers joined the Naval Reserve while in his senior year at the University of Iowa, where he majored in journalism and political science. He was commissioned as a USNR ensign in September 1941 and commenced active duty with the 13th Naval District headquarters (Com 13) in Seattle. At Com 13 he was introduced to the world of naval intelligence while a member of the district intelligence officer’s staff.
In February 1942 he was transferred to Pearl Harbor and to the staff of Commander Joseph Rochefort, who was to become one of primary architects for the stunning victory at Midway. Rochefort was in charge of the Combat Intelligence Unit at Pearl, known generally in the history books as “Station HYPO.” HYPO was tasked with breaking the Japanese navy’s radio code, analyzing the intelligence derived, and providing CINCPAC (Admiral Nimitz and his staff) with the best possible view of the enemy’s battle plans. Rochefort was a master of the art, and under his supervision the cryptanalysts at HYPO ultimately divined virtually the entire Japanese operations order for Midway before the battle commenced. Ensign Showers was an intelligence analyst working closely with the unit’s cryptanalysts and Japanese linguists. He was specifically responsible for extracting key data from each intercept, plotting the movements of the Japanese ships en route to Midway, and preparing graphic presentations of such movements for delivery to CINCPAC.
The remarkable success of the HYPO team, with support from a similar operation in Australia, was the fundamental key to the “Miracle at Midway.” As it turned out, the quality of the intelligence delivered to CINCPAC by Ensign Showers and his comrades was nearly perfect—Admiral Nimitz stated after the battle that with regard to the initial Japanese air strike on the atoll, his staff’s prediction for its arrival had been off by only five minutes on the clock and five degrees on the compass!
Mac Showers remained a fleet intelligence specialist throughout the war, after which he transferred to the regular Navy. He retired in 1972 and commenced a second career with the Central Intelligence Agency, where he served until 1983. In 1986 he was instrumental in securing a posthumous Distinguished Service Medal for Joseph Rochefort, who had received no awards for his vital achievements at HYPO in 1942.