February 15th, 1856
LT David Dixon Porter leaves Smyrna, Syria for
Indianola, Texas with 21 camels on board
Just five years before the outbreak of the Civil War, Lieutenant David Dixon Porter received unusual orders from the Secretary of War at the time, Jefferson Davis, to travel to the Mediterranean on the USS Supply. There, he was required to join Major Henry C. Wayne, then the Quartermaster of the Army, and aid him in finding and purchasing camels for experimental use in the American desert. The Supply had already traveled to the Mediterranean before, on Lieutenant William Lynch’s expedition to the Dead Sea, where Lynch himself had encountered camels, and managed to substitute them for draught-horses. Lynch’s interactions with these camels, and his lengthy descriptions of these creatures, no doubt inspired Porter’s unique assignment. Proceedings describes the history of Lieutenant Porter’s travels, as well as the fate of the camels he acquired.
Supply‘s next assignment was perhaps the most unusual duty of her career. Read the rest of this entry »
Archive for the 'People' Category
January 26th, 1913
The body of John Paul Jones is interred at the U. S. Naval Academy.
Almost a full century ago, the body of John Paul Jones, recently discovered in a Parisian cemetery, reached its final resting place in an ornate crypt on the campus of the U. S. Naval Academy. Fifty years after the discovery of his remains, the July 1955 issue of Proceedings printed a an article about the search for and identification of Jones’ body, written by a freelance writer, Dorothy Tooker. In her article, Tooker told the story of restoring the American naval hero to his rightful tomb, from the challenges of finding his body in Paris, to the task of identifying his remains after they had been discovered in an unmarked coffin. For John Paul Jones, whose mystery endured almost 113 years after his death, this story of his return to the United States makes a fitting end.
The breeze blew cold through the tunnel, and the smell of damp from its earthen walls permeated the men’s nostrils. At the bend in the passageway the grave gentlemen in derby hats halted while workmen dragged an old leaden coffin into the passageway. It was outmoded, tapered at the foot with a widened, rounded projection at the head, and encrusted with dirt and mold from long burial. Read the rest of this entry »
January 19, 1840
Lieutenant Charles Wilkes discovers Antarctic Coast
On January 19th, 1840, Lt. Charles Wilkes, during an expedition circumnavigating the globe, became the first American to sight the Antarctic Coast, and to discover the existence of an Antarctic continent. This discovery was the highlight of a four-year surveying expedition which greatly contributed to the scientific and cultural knowledge of the time. In October 1939, Proceedings published a detailed article about the expedition, excerpted below, written by Captain G. S. Bryan, U. S. Navy. In his article, Captain Bryan charts the course of Wilkes’ expedition, from beginning to end, and emphasizes not only the profound impact of the expedition and its discoveries, but the character and temperament of the commander responsible for its accomplishments as well:
The closing months of 1939 and early 1940 mark the one hundredth anniversary of the crowning achievement of the United States Exploring Expedition, or the Wilkes Exploring Expedition as it was later called. The accomplishments of this expedition under the command of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, U. S. Navy, stand perhaps as the greatest achievement in the field of exploration that this country has ever known. Read the rest of this entry »
During combat, situations often arise that cause junior officers to step up to the plate, testing their mettle.
Eugene A. Barham’s critical moment came during the Guadalcanal campaign. “Slim” Barham had graduated from the Naval Academy in 1935 and had become engineer officer of the destroyer Laffey at her commissioning on 31 March 1942. The Laffey spent the next 228 days in the Pacific, escorting aircraft carriers and trying to stop the “Tokyo Express” from delivering reinforcements down “the Slot” to Guadalcanal.
On Friday 13 November 1942, the Laffey and seven other American destroyers and five cruisers fought eleven Japanese destroyers, one cruiser, and two battleships in a naval melee that one U.S. skipper likened to “a barroom brawl after the lights had been shot out.” The Laffey nearly got sliced in two by the Japanese battleship Hiei when she crossed the Hiei’s “T,” her stern clearing the battleship’s bow by less than 20 feet. As the Laffey moved off she poured fire from every available gun into the Hiei’s tall, pagoda-like superstructure, which seemed to collapse like a house of cards. A few minutes later, shells from three Japanese destroyers and the battleship Kirishima ripped into the Laffey while a torpedo blew off her stern. In an instant the once taut ship became a blazing, sinking wreck.
Barham was below at his post in the engineering spaces when the torpedo struck. All the lights went out and the temperature suddenly shot up as steam poured in. Barham ordered the spaces evacuated. All the men got out. Barham grabbed a flashlight and tried to return below to inspect the damage, but the engineering spaces were so hot that water pouring in began jumping up and down and boiling as soon as it hit the steel floor plates.
Barham returned topside and made a quick survey. The ship was strewn with dead and injured Sailors, some with their legs severed. One young Sailor, still conscious, lay on the deck, his broken legs pinned under twisted steel. Fires raged in the space below, heating the deck plates and scorching his flesh. Two torpedomen worked frantically to free him before he was cooked, blown away by incoming shells, or drowned by rising water.
Barham went to the bridge. He told the skipper that they had to abandon ship. The captain argued, but then gave Barham permission to get the men organized. The executive officer, who should have been performing this duty, had frozen. The men got the boats and rafts in the water, climbed on board when their turn came, and shoved off. Barham led the “swimming party” of twenty-five men, for whom there was no room on the boats and rafts. The swimming party jumped into the oil-covered water and swam for their lives. They got only about fifty to one hundred feet away when the destroyer exploded. With debris falling around him, Barham dove down under the water. When he could hold his breath no longer, he returned to the surface and watched the Laffey’s bow rear up and plunge beneath the surface.
Barham turned to look for the others in swimming party, but didn’t see anyone. He remained still and listened. Soon, he heard the chugging of a small motor. He pulled his flashlight from his pocket and flashed it in the direction of the sound. A boat appeared and the sailors on board fished him out of the water. As ranking officer, Barham took charge of the boat. He picked up several swimmers, put five life rafts under tow, and began pulling them toward Guadalcanal.
As the raft chain drew near the island, Higgins boats full of U.S. Marines picked up the Sailors and took them ashore. Most of the wounded survived. For his conduct that night Barham received the Bronze Star and command of his own destroyer. In 1958 he retired from the Navy at the rank of rear admiral.
Despite fires raging and enemy fire pouring on the Laffey, Barham managed to assess the situation, quickly determine what needed to be done, and take the steps necessary to save his men. Somehow he remained unafraid and stayed focused on the job throughout the ordeal. It was an innate courage, the kind that can’t be taught, that enabled him to keep his cool under the most intense stress imaginable and to put saving lives above taking a chance at glory.
Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, himself a World War II destroyerman, once said that an officer has only seconds to make decisions in combat. “If he waits too long,” Burke declared, “he’s useless, which is worse than being dead.” Eugene A. Barham had mustered his courage in the nick of time.
On 13 November 1942 the light cruiser Juneau (CL 52) sank off Guadalcanal, with the loss of all but ten of her crew. Among the dead were all five brothers of the Sullivan family from Waterloo, Iowa. Albert, Francis, George, Joseph, and Madison Sullivan had enlisted together on 3 January 1942, with condition that they be allowed to serve on the same ship. News of the deaths of all five brothers became a rallying point for the war effort, with posters and speeches honoring their sacrifice, extensive newspaper and radio coverage, and war bond drives and other patriotic campaigns which culminated in the 1944 movie, “The Sullivans.”
Their sister Genevieve enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Specialist (Recruiter) Third Class and, with her parents, visited more than 200 manufacturing plants and shipyards under the auspices of the Industrial Incentive Division, Executive Office of the Secretary, Navy Department. According to a 9 February 1943 Navy Department Press Release, the Sullivans “visited war production plants urging employees to work harder to produce weapons for the Navy so that the war may come to an end sooner.” By January 1944 the three surviving Sullivans had spoken to over a million workers in sixty-five cities and reached millions of others over the radio.
On 10 February 1943 the Navy officially canceled the name Putnam (DD 537) and assigned the name The Sullivans to a destroyer under construction. Sponsored by Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, mother of the five Sullivan brothers, and commissioned 30 September 1943, The Sullivans served the Navy until decommissioning on 7 January 1965. In 1977 the destroyer was donated to the city of Buffalo, New York, as a memorial in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen’s Park. The second The Sullivans (DDG 68) was laid down on 14 June 1993 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works Co. and launched on 12 August 1995 sponsored by Kelly Sullivan Loughren, granddaughter of Albert Leo Sullivan. Commissioned on 19 April 1997 at Staten Island, New York, under the command of Commander Gerard D. Roncolato, the ship’s motto, “We Stick Together,” echoes the determination and dedication of the brothers for which the ship was named.
In the July edition of All Hands Television, we see the responsibilities of a Blue Angel Plane Captain, we see how sailors are put to the test in SERE, we meet some SERE instructors as they share their responsibilities, we see the high intensity training of Rescue Swimmers, and we hear the incredible stories of two soldiers preparing for the Warrior Games.
The Naval Media Center creates rich and enduring films about the Navy as part of All Hands Television. These segments document the most interesting facets of our sea services. All Hands Television releases these short documentaries on a monthly basis. Come back each month to find something new!
The actor Lt. Douglas E. Fairbanks, Jr., served on board “The Witch,” heavy cruiser Wichita (CA 45), during the terrifying battle of convoy PQ-17 in WWII. Born to his famous father in New York City in 1909, Fairbanks had also pursued the acting profession; however, he heeded his nation’s call, commissioned, and joined Wichita during a grueling run to help the Russians.
Before they sailed, King George VI toured the cruiser as the band played ‘God Save The King’; “Well, what are you doing up here?” he asked Fairbanks, “I’ve not seen you since we played golf at Sunningdale about five years ago!”
For a year the Russians had desperately struggled to hold back Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. Churchill and Roosevelt sent them supplies, but the Germans again tore open the Soviet lines and raced toward Stalingrad. The ships of PQ-17 sailed on 27 June 1942, but because the pack-ice floated so far south, the convoy’s route passed within range of German bombers that spotted them in the continual day light.
“Hi-yo Silver!” a lookout called out as he pointed toward the bombers. The Germans reported the ships to their superiors and raced in to attack. “Air defense–take battle stations!” sounded as the bugler’s blast sent sailors and Marines to action.
As the men of the convoy fought for their lives, the monstrous German battleship Tirpitz, sister ship of Bismarck, led her consorts to attack the convoy in Operation Rosselsprung (Knight’s Move). On the 4th of July the Allies learned of the enemy sortie, which sent ripples of panic through them: “Most Immediate…Convoy is to Scatter” the British Admiralty signaled. The skippers reluctantly obeyed and sailed off to make their way around icebergs and pack ice, unaware that the German ships had experienced trouble that forced them to return to Norwegian waters. German submarines and bombers, however, eagerly hunted the helpless ships.
Fairbanks described the frantic efforts that signalmen made to lure away the convoy’s tormentors with false messages, and their horror as they intercepted one distress call after another from victims but could not help. “The radio room is bedlam,” Fairbanks noted. “The bridge cannot keep up with the reports.” Disregarding regulations, many men began to sleep above the waterline to avoid ‘the hammer’ (a torpedo).
When gunners shot down a German bomber, the crew broke from Battle Stations and cheered as if they were “in a football game,” and Fairbanks had to remind them to return to their stations. The tension on the bridge grew thick as they debated whether to come about and help shipmates, however, the thought that lucky shots from bombers or U-boats would leave them helpless against Tirpitz persuaded them to stay on course.
As they left the ships to their fates, one of the British merchantmen cheerfully radioed “Celebrating your holiday with fireworks as suggested.” The men of Wichita, however, resolutely discussed returning to help, and British Rear Admiral Louis H. K. “Turtle” Hamilton, their commander, shared their sense of solidarity with his final signal: “I hope we shall all have a chance of settling this score with them [the Germans] soon.”
The Germans sank twenty-four of the convoy’s thirty-four ships. However, they assessed that their victories against PQ-17 were ironically due to the convoy’s failure to maintain formation.
After serving in what Fairbanks called “A Hell of a War,” he returned to acclaim as a screen star.
Such a cliche, isn’t it. But this month on All Hands TV from NavyTV – a special Chapter on the Carolina Canines. This program is working with the Charleston Navy Brig to train dogs for wounded warriors. This helps the inmates and is a great service to the wounded warriors who will depend on these wonderful dogs as aides and companions.
The journey starts at the SPCA. The healing for everyone involved is amazing, the trainers who feel a sense of redemption, and the wounded veteran who is given the trained animal to assist them with their daily lives, from turning on lights, to being the steady companion when the spaces are too small and there are too many people; and the life of the dog, spared from the cages of the pound or even worse.
Watch this piece.. and realize the healing power of a dog!