Sep 23

American Shipbuilding, Navy Maintenance Past and Present: Keeping the Fleet Fit to Fight

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 4:26 PM
Off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, July 2, 1944, following reconstruction. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USS West Virginia off Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, July 2, 1944, following reconstruction after sunk at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. She returned to the Pacific fleet Sept. 23, 1944. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Part one of a 3-part series

A ship rejoining the fleet after a major overhaul is nothing new in the Navy. But 70 years ago today, when USS West Virginia (BB 48) returned to Pearl Harbor, it was a momentous event. West Virginia was the last, and most heavily damaged, of the 18 ships salvaged after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack.

Her return to the fleet would prove to the enemies of the U.S. that despite being knocked back on the ropes, the America had not thrown in the towel. West Virginia would serve valiantly in the remaining battles of the Pacific campaign and was at the Sept. 2, 1945 Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, along with more than 250 other Allied ships, mostly from the United States.

West Virginia Commanding Officer Capt. Mervyn S. Bannion, who received the Medal of Honor "for conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet at Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Captain Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge."

USS West Virginia Commanding Officer Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, who received the Medal of Honor “for conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet at Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. ..after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.”

Her commanding officer on the day of the attack, Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his efforts to keep the ship afloat despite being mortally wounded by a bomb fragment from USS Tennessee, moored next to West Virginia. Another 105 “Wee Vee” Sailors were killed in the attack.

As the smoke cleared on that day of infamy, it might have been difficult to see the crucial mistake made by the Japanese: They sunk a lot of ships, but they didn’t take out Pearl Harbor’s industrial and logistics capabilities. And folks who handle ship salvage know going down doesn’t mean lights out for a ship.

Her journey back to the fleet was arduous and fraught with complications and the work carried out by the salvage teams is unprecedented in the U.S. Navy’s history. But it would not be the last time the Navy undertook a major overhaul of a severely damaged ship.

(001029-M-0557M-011) The USS Cole (DDG 67) is towed away from the port city of Aden, Yemen, into open sea by the Military Sealift Command ocean-going tug USNS Catawba (T-ATF 168) on Oct. 29, 2000. Cole will be placed aboard the Norwegian heavy transport ship M/V Blue Marlin and transported back to the United States for repair. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer was the target of a suspected terrorist attack in the port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000, during a scheduled refueling. The attack killed 17 crew members and injured 39 others.

USS Cole (DDG 67) is towed away from the port city of Aden, Yemen, into open sea by the Military Sealift Command ocean-going tug USNS Catawba (T-ATF 168) on Oct. 29, 2000. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer was the target of a terrorist attack in the port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000, during a scheduled refueling. The attack killed 17 crew members and injured 39 others.

It’s been nearly 14 years since USS Cole (DDG 67) was attacked Oct. 12, 2000, while refueling at a Yemen port. A small boat laden with explosives struck the ship, killing 17 members of the crew, wounding 39 others and seriously damaging the destroyer.

After 14 months of upgrades and repairs, the Navy’s “Determined Warrior” returned to the fleet and full active duty April 19, 2002. The $250 million repair included removing and replacing more than 550 tons of steel, replacing two, 27-ton main engines and modules, installing a new stern flap to increase the ship’s speed and fuel efficiency, replacing three gas turbines generators and installing new galley equipment. The repairs, completed by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems’ Ingalls Operations, was overseen by the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair (SUPSHIP) Pascagoula, the on-site representative of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) for assigned ship repair contracts awarded to the private sector.

At sea with the guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) Aug. 9, 2002 -- USS Cole steams off the coast of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico conducting Combat System Ship Qualification Trials with Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). NAVSEA is verifying Cole's combat systems and providing realistic combat training scenarios. Cole recently completed 14 months of shipboard repairs in Pascagoula, Miss., following an Oct. 12, 2000 terrorist attack that killed 17 Sailors in the port city of Aden, Yemen. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class James Elliott. (RELEASED)

At sea with the guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) Aug. 9, 2002, after 14 months of shipboard repairs in Pascagoula, Miss., following an Oct. 12, 2000 terrorist attack that killed 17 Sailors in the port city of Aden, Yemen. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class James Elliott. (RELEASED)

“This was a challenging repair process, due to the complexity of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and the pace of the repair effort,” said now retired Capt. Phil Johnson, SUPSHIP Pascagoula, at a pierside ceremony that day in April. “The Navy/industry team set new benchmarks with this repair since certain portions of the repair, such as the removal and reinstallation of the starboard propulsion train, were conducted for the first time outside of new construction.”

Getting the ship repaired and back into the fleet, better than ever, sends a message to terrorists that we won’t be defeated.

As the Navy adjusts to ever-changing global threats, the acquisition of new ships is only part of what it takes to achieve national security objectives. Maintaining, repairing, efficiently managing and modernizing the existing force is just as important.

“If we do not conduct the appropriate maintenance and modernization at the correct time, then there is little hope of keeping our ships as viable assets throughout their entire expected service life,” said Capt. Michael Malone, commanding officer of the Navy’s Surface Maintenance Engineering Planning Program (SURFMEPP). “Maintenance and modernization are vital events in the life of a ship designed to maintain their military value, keeping our ships battle ready and capable of projecting power and defending our nation’s vital interests.”

Part two of this 3-part series tomorrow will be USS West Virginia’s journey from the bottom of the harbor to ‘fit to fight.”

 
Sep 19

Dirt, Taps & Nursery Rhymes: Vietnam POW Book Offers Insight into Captivity

Friday, September 19, 2014 11:42 AM

 

This image, part of a Pentagon corridor exhibit during the Vietnam War, depicts the environment of a typical Hanoi prison cell.

This image, part of a Pentagon corridor exhibit during the Vietnam War, depicts the environment of a typical Hanoi prison cell.

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

53APOW-MIAflag99 It’s National POW/MIA Recognition Day today, observed on the third Friday in September. There will probably be no cars, furniture or carpet on sale this weekend, but please take a moment to remember those who served as prisoners of war and the thousands who remain missing in action since World War II.

The POW/MIA flag, made official by Congress in 1990, may be flown six days a year, smaller and always below the United States flag: Armed Forces Day (third Saturday in May); Memorial Day (last Monday in May); Flag Day (June 14); Independence Day (July 4); National POW/MIA Recognition Day (third Friday in September), and Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11).

The day of recognition was created in the 1998 Defense Authorization Act, stating the annual event “honors prisoners of war and our missing and their families, and highlights the government’s commitment to account for them.”

And yet thousands remain unaccounted: World War II has at least 73,000 missing plus those lost at sea; 7,500 from the Korean War, 1,600 from Vietnam, 126 during the clandestine operations of the Cold War years, and two from Desert Storm. Both of those missing are Navy pilots whose planes went down in the Persian Gulf: Lt. Cmdr. Barry T. Cooke, flying an A-6 aircraft on Feb. 2, 1991, followed by Lt. Robert J. Dwyer, in his FA-18 aircraft on Feb. 5, 1991.

A Naval History and Heritage Command publication, The Battle Behind Bars: Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War, offers a glimpse of how the POWs coped with torture, disease and untreated wounds in the unforgiving environment of Southeast Asia, whether their time in captivity was spent in the jungles or jails. The book was released in 2010 by the late Stuart I. Rochester, the chief historian in the office of the Secretary of Defense.

No servicemen had suffered through a longer, rougher captivity, or played a more prominent role in the leadership and life of the American-occupied prison camps in Southeast Asia, than the veteran Navy and Marine POWs among the Operation Homecoming returnees, Rochester states in the book’s prologue.

They comprised a high percentage of the early captures, dominated the ranks of the early seniors, and contributed vitally by deed and by example to the high standard of conduct and resistance that so distinguished the POWs of the Vietnam War.

All told, the nearly 600 U.S. prisoners, including 25 civilians, repatriated between February and April 1973 during Operation Homecoming included 138 Navy and 26 Marine Corps personnel.

Additionally, another seven Navy POWs had either escaped (two) or been released (five) earlier, and nine died in captivity. Captured Marines besides the Homecoming contingent included nine who died while incarcerated, 10 who escaped, two who were released prior to 1973, and one who was returned in 1979.

Vietnam POWs, Rochester explains, had an influence and significance disproportionate to their small numbers, owing to their being at the center of a war (waged in large part by propaganda and political persuasion) in which prisoners were key pawns and bargaining chips.

Capt. Jeremiah Denton

Capt. Jeremiah Denton

It was fitting the senior officer aboard the first plane to land at Clark Air Base in the Philippines following the release of the American prisoners of war from Hanoi in 1973 was a naval officer. When a thin, wan Capt. Jeremiah Denton descended the ramp to a bank of microphones and uttered the poignant words, “We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances,” he spoke for the entire body of comrades who over the past decade had endured the longest wartime captivity of any group of U.S. prisoners in the nation’s history.

Captain Donald Cook, the first U.S. Marine captured in Vietnam and the first and only Marine in history to receive the Medal of Honor for exemplary conduct while in captivity.

Marine Capt. Donald Cook

In the book are vignettes of those POWs and what they did to survive the conditions, although some did not. Capt. Donald Cook was the first Marine captured when the Army of Vietnam battalion he was accompanying was overrun by Viet Cong in 1964. He refused to cooperate with his captors, or even respond to their commands, which resulted in less food for him. He contracted malaria, was forced to trek 200 miles between camps while ill.

In 1967, now also suffering with anemia and dysentery, he died during another move between camps. Promoted to colonel while in captivity, Col. Cook was the first and only Marine in history to receive a Medal of Honor for exemplary conduct while in captivity. USS Donald Cook was named to honor Col. Cook.

There are stories about other senior and well-known POWs, such as Lt. Cmdr. John McCain and future Adm. James Stockdale. But one of the more remarkable stories is about the youngest Navy POW to be jailed in North Vietnam, Seaman Apprentice Douglas B. Hegdahl. The 19-year-old South Dakotan had joined the Navy only six months before, lured by a chance to visit Australia. He was assigned to serve as an ammunition handler on the guided-missile cruiser USS Canberra (CAG 2) in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Seaman Apprentice Douglas B. Hegdahl on cleanup detail at Plantation.

Seaman Apprentice Douglas B. Hegdahl on cleanup detail at Plantation.

Eager to witness a night bombardment, he went topside without authorization and was knocked overboard by the concussion of the ship’s giant guns on April 6, 1967. He stayed afloat for several hours before being picked up by North Vietnamese fishermen and turned over to militiamen and then trucked to Hoa Lo.

Hegdahl’s story that he had fallen off a ship was so preposterous to his captors they thought he was a spy. After being slapped around for a few days, he finally convinced officials he was just a raw recruit and then cunningly played up his country bumpkin demeanor. More than 6-feet tall and near-sighted without the glasses he lost overboard, Hegdahl played the fool to gain extra communication opportunities and time outdoors. In the process, he became a valuable reconnaissance operative and “mailman” in the POW network.

Using the tune of “Old McDonald Had A Farm” as a mnemonic device, Hegdahl memorized 256 captive’s names, their shoot-down dates and a personal reference to prove his information was correct, all gained through an elaborate tap code created by the prisoners.

A peace delegation visit in 1969 offered the opportunity for the North Vietnamese to free a few pre-chosen POWs while hiding the true numbers of POWs held captive and the atrocities they endured. Although the POWs had pledged that no one would accept an early release unless all were released, Lt. Cmdr. Richard “Dick” Stratton, the senior officer at the Plantation, ordered Hegdahl to accept it. And so unbeknownst to the enemy, Hegdahl “sang” a detailed accounting of captives and conditions to Naval Intelligence of Hanoi’s neglect and mistreatment of American prisoners that discredited the Communists’ “humane and lenient” claim.

 

Lt. Cmdr. Richard "Dick" Stratton

Lt. Cmdr. Richard “Dick” Stratton

Stratton, who would survive as a POW and retire as a captain in the Navy, credited Hegdahl with saving his life by providing that information. And with his permission, he offers an uncensored, poignant and often hilarious recounting of his time with Hegdahl on his blog, Tales of SE Asia. One includes Hegdahl surreptitiously dumping a little dirt each day into the fuel tanks of the Plantation’s trucks. Over the course of his captivity, Hegdahl disabled five trucks. The country bumpkin who played his captors for a fool would eventually become a civilian instructor in the Navy’s SERE school in California.

Stratton said the emotion he feels on POW/MIA Recognition Day is “relief that I made it and sorrow that others didn’t,” he said Friday morning from his home in Florida. “I am very proud of the efforts being made to account for people who remain missing, from the incredible work being done to identify remains at the laboratory in Hawaii to the folks in Washington who are doing a superb job considering the issues of working with other countries.”

For those returning during Operation Homecoming in 1973, the journey that ended with Denton’s words on the tarmac at Clark brought some of the prisoners home to hard-won honor and tributes and others to new trials. For all of them, their tenure as POWs would be a defining chapter in their lives, just as their homecoming would be a singular moment in the life of the nation that celebrated their return.

When Marine aviator Capt. Harlan Chapman arrived stateside, Gen. Louis Wilson shook his hand and said: “Welcome back to the Marine Corps.” Chapman replied: “Thank you, General, but I never left.”

Please join NHHC today in this video as we remember those who endured so much as prisoners of war and never forget those who remaining missing.

 
Sep 17

227 Years of Military Oaths to “Support and Defend the Constitution”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 12:29 PM
SAN DIEGO - Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus administers the oath of enlistment to 91 Sailors from the San Diego area during a reenlistment ceremony before a Major League Baseball game between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park in 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan P. Idle/Released)

SAN DIEGO – Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus administers the oath of enlistment to 91 Sailors from the San Diego area during a reenlistment ceremony before a Major League Baseball game between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park in 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan P. Idle/Released)

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

 

Presidents come and go, as do commanders and officers. The mission, style and location of war changes as does the enemy. But for every member of the Armed Forces, whether wearing a uniform of blue or green, one thing remains constant: They raise their right hands and pledge to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

That document, with its memorable Preamble, was signed 227 years ago today, Sept. 17, 1787, born out of the Declaration of Independence as a means of governing 13 very diverse states. Prior to that date, the young nation had been ruled by the Articles of Confederation, which required all 13 states to agree unanimously to get anything passed. Finding that a bit unwieldy in the days after the war, the Constitution diluted the majority requirement to a two-thirds agreement, or nine out of 13 states. That would be a fortuitous choice.

Constitution of the United States. Photo courtsey of Archives.gov

Constitution of the United States. Photo courtsey of Archives.gov

After months of arguing Benjamin Franklin, wrote to the committee as they met Sept. 17, 1787, begging them to become unified in their quest. “I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats.”

Subtlety aside, Franklin’s words must have worked. Thirty-eight signed the document, with two delegates from Virginia, Gov. Edmund Randolph and George Mason, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, as the hold-outs. As soon as the ninth state, New Hampshire, ratified the document June 21, 1788, the Constitution became law, going into effect Sept. 15, 1788. Rhode Island would be the last of the 13 states to ratify the Constitution on May 29, 1790.

Of course there are now 50 states and a few territories that fall under that original Constitution, which has been amended 27 times over its 227 year history. Having the Bill of Rights added as among the first amendments was the compromise made to get reluctant states to ratify the Constitution.

Bill of Rights Photo courtsey of Archive.gov

Bill of Rights
Photo courtsey of Archive.gov

But it first started out with seven Articles: Legislative powers being granted to Congress with a Senate and House of Representatives; Executive power given to the President of the United States; Judicial power given to the Supreme Court; States’ rights; Requirement for two-thirds agreement; Laws made under the Constitution shall be the “supreme Law of the Land;” and Ratification is required for the establishment of the Constitution.

Luckily, no one enlisting in the military had to name the seven Articles that came with the original Constitution. As it was, officers wishing to serve in 1775 during the Revolutionary War had to name the 13 states and swear them to be “free, independent and sovereign states and declare no allegiance to George the third, king of Great Britain” and swear to “defend the United States against King George, his heirs and successors, and his and their abettors, assistants and adherents.”

For enlisted folks in 1775, it was a simple declaration of loyalty of voluntarily enlistment for one year unless sooner discharged.

The wording was slightly beefed up for the enlisted by Sept. 20, 1776, and approved by Congress to be “true to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies opposers whatsoever; and to observe and obey the orders of the Continental Congress and the orders of the Generals and officers set over me by them.” The United States is still spoken of in the plural at this point in time.

The oath was tweaked again on Sept. 29, 1789, with the United States, still listed in plurality, now operating under the Constitution. The first part had all military enlistees swear to uphold the Constitution, and the second part to swear allegiance to the United States of America and obey the orders of the President of the United States, as well as be governed by the rules and articles of war established by Congress.

The oath for enlisted military remained pretty much the same until 1960.

But such was not the case for officers. By 1862, just as the Civil War was getting heated, the oath of office for officers changed the plural United States into a singular, because now the enemy was a divided nation. It was extremely specific in making sure those who joined did not harbor Southern sympathies. It specifically made prospective officers “swear or affirm” they have “never borne arms against the United States” have “voluntarily given no aid, countenance, counsel or encouragement to persons engaged in armed hostility thereto; …have neither sought nor accepted nor attempted to exercise the functions of any office whatsoever under any authority or pretended authority in hostility to the United States,” and “have not yielded voluntary support to any pretended government, authority, power or constitution within the United States, hostile or inimical thereto.” The oath also adds for the first time that those taking it will “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

After the Civil War, the officer oath was revised again on May 13, 1884, which harkened back to a more simpler time, to “solemnly swear (or affirm) to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; to bear true faith and allegiance to the same; to take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and to well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

It remained unchanged until 1959 when the officer oath was tweaked yet again to what remains in effect for today. The oath is the same for anyone, civilian as well as military, “elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services,” with the exception of the President of the United States:

“I, _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.” (DA Form 71, 1 Aug. 1, 1959, for officers.)

 The oath currenly used by enlisted personnel was revised in 1960, taking effect in 1962 as follows:

 “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of May 5, 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective Oct. 5, 1962).

Recently, although not in the Navy, there has been some debate about the use of the phrase “So help me God” while taking or giving the oath. The Navy’s policy is outlined in Chapter 1, Section 010203.b.(5) of the May 2011 Navy Recruiting Manual and it is the member’s discretion.

 The Constitution itself, despite being written 227 years ago, indicates in the final paragraph of Article VI that all “shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

 
Sep 13

Through “Rocket’s Red Glare” Flotilla Sailors Stand Strong

Saturday, September 13, 2014 7:00 AM
A painting by Thomas Moran shows Francis Scott Key watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the Dawn's early light of September 14, 1814. Key, a lawyer, was part of a delegation negotiating the release of American prisoners and was compelled to remain on board a Royal Navy warship. It was viewing the battle from warship that inspired him write the poem which became the American National Anthem. Artwork courtesy Library of Congress

A painting by Thomas Moran shows Francis Scott Key watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the Dawn’s early light of September 14, 1814. Key, a lawyer, was part of a delegation negotiating the release of American prisoners and was compelled to remain on board a Royal Navy warship. It was viewing the battle from warship that inspired him write the poem which became the American National Anthem.
Artwork courtesy Library of Congress

 

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford, Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division

 

It was arguably one of the most famous battles on American soil and is still sung of today. It was a failed attempt by the British to invade one of America’s largest cities during the War of 1812, a battle that inspired the anthem of the American people. When Francis Scott Key witnessed a battered American flag still waving “at dawn’s early light,” he was seeing it not from Ft. McHenry, but from a British ship.

Key, a lawyer, was on a British ship, HMS Tonnant, to negotiate the release of a prisoner. After having dinner with British military leaders, Vice Adm. Alexander Cochrane, Rear Adm. George Cockburn, and Maj. Gen. Robert Ross, the American was told he could not leave because he knew the British location and number of units for the planned Sept. 13, 1814 attack.

After 25 hours of constant bombardment, the British turned away from Baltimore in defeat, unable to take Baltimore as it had so easily taken Washington, D.C a few weeks earlier. After the assault, Key was released from the British ship, where his pen had given birth to what is now our national anthem.

Life was not quite as easy on the American side for those 25 hours. Before the bombardment, soldiers and militiamen stood awash with the familiar emotions for the oncoming Battle of Baltimore – fear, anger and excitement – they were not alone. Alongside the soldiers that night stood local Sailors including Sailors of Commodore Joshua Barney’s Flotilla. They would prove to be an invaluable asset.

Barney, a privateer and patriot, had set a defense for the Chesapeake with his flotilla – a mosquito fleet of small ships, lightly armed — that harried the British through the war until he was blockaded and forced to scuttle them. Even ship-less, he used his Sailors to stall the 4,000-strong British forces at Bladensburg. Even the British praised Barney’s Sailors, saying the only opposition they faced came from the Sailors.

Ultimately, the Americans lost the battle and Barney was wounded and captured, but his men escaped. When war loomed over Baltimore, the Sailors came north to defend that harbor city along with the regular Army and militia. The flotilla men joined with other Sailors already in Baltimore to defend the city.

Eighty flotilla Sailors and one officer were given the duty of manning an artillery defense protecting the city from the South, taking control of a battery of three long 18-pounders at the Lazaretto, a point of land across from Fort McHenry at the entrance to the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River. An additional 50 flotilla seamen manned Fort McHenry’s water battery. West of Fort McHenry, flotilla seamen manned batteries at Fort Babcock and Fort Covington. Forts Babcock and Covington were active participants in the repulse of a British effort to flank Fort McHenry during the bombardment. More than 300 Sailors worked on gun barges protecting the harbor.

When a British assault force in boats slipped by Fort McHenry unnoticed, they were sighted by the flotilla men manning Forts Babcock and Covington. These forts immediately engaged the assault force and drove it off before troops could be landed. Meanwhile the Navy manned the fort’s guns at the Lazaretto, and the water batteries actively engaged the bomb ships bombarding Fort McHenry.

A small part of the Sailors sacrifice was recorded by the Niles Register on Sept. 24, 1814:

“Aided by the darkness of the night and screened by a flame they had kindled, one or two rocket or bomb vessels and many barges, manned with 1,200 chosen British troops, passed Fort McHenry and proceeded to assail the town and fort in the rear, and, perhaps, effect a landing. The weak sighted mortals now thought the great deed was done — they gave three cheers, and began to throw their massive weapons. But, alas! their cheering was quickly turned to groaning, and the cries and screams of their wounded and drowning people soon reached the shore, for Forts McHenry and Covington with the City Battery and the Lazaretto and barges vomited an iron fire upon them, heated balls, and a storm of heavy bullets flew upon them from the great semi-circle of large guns and gallant hearts.”

So when you celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Fort McHenry, remember the Sailors and Soldiers who made possible the sight on the morning of Sept. 14, as the smoke cleared, of the giant flag flying over the fort inspiring the following poem:

An etching shows the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. U.S. Sailors played a part in the defense of the city by manning both cannon batteries and gun barges to protecyt the city's waterways and harbor. Artwork courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command

An etching shows the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. U.S. Sailors played a part in the defense of the city by manning both cannon batteries and gun barges to protecyt the city’s waterways and harbor.
Artwork courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command

 

O say, can you see by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming!
And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb’s bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

On that shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,

Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the beam, of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream;
‘Tis the star-spangled banner! O, long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

 

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore

That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

O, thus be it ever where freemen shall stand

Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto, “In God is our trust”;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

 

WarOf1812infograph_JPEG

 
Sep 12

Blue Angels History Milestones

Friday, September 12, 2014 8:36 AM

 

Flying the delta formation, Blue Angel A-4 Skyhawks pictured in a steep climb. The "Scooter," as the A-4 was nicknamed, equipped the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron from 1974 until 1986.

Flying the delta formation, Blue Angel A-4 Skyhawks pictured in a steep climb. The “Scooter,” as the A-4 was nicknamed, equipped the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron from 1974 until 1986. Photo courtesy of National Naval Aviation Museum

By Hill Goodspeed, Historian and Collections Manager, National Naval Aviation Museum

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, while serving as Chief of Naval Operations, formed the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team as a means to expose the American public to naval aviation, which had come of age during World War II. This was deemed very important in an era in which the roles and missions of the armed forces were the subject of vigorous debate.

 The Blue Angels performed their first air show at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida, in June 1946, and their initial show season consisted of 31 demonstrations.

 The first flight leader was Lieutenant Commander Roy M. “Butch” Voris.

 First use of the name “Blue Angels” occurred at a show in Omaha, Nebraska, in July 1946. The name came from an advertisement in the New Yorker magazine for a nightclub called the “Blue Angel.” Previous to that, the name suggested for the team had been the Blue Lancers.

The F6F Hellcat, the same aircraft the first Blue Angels flew in combat during World War II, was the first aircraft flown by flight demonstration team formed on the orders of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in 1946.

The F6F Hellcat, the same aircraft the first Blue Angels flew in combat during World War II, was the first aircraft flown by flight demonstration team formed on the orders of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in 1946. Photo courtesy of National Naval Aviation Museum

 The first airplane flown by the Blue Angels was the F6F Hellcat, though for a time they also operated an SNJ Texan painted to look like a Japanese Zero. This was used in a dogfighting sequence which was appropriate given the recent memory of World War II.

 

The Blue Angels make a formation take off in their F8F Bearcats at the beginning of an air show, circa 1947.

The Blue Angels make a formation take off in their F8F Bearcats at the beginning of an air show, circa 1947. Photo courtesy of National Naval Aviation Museum

 The F8F Bearcat followed the F6F Hellcat and was the last propeller-driven aircraft operated by the Blue Angels.

 The first jet flown by the Blue Angels was the F9F Panther, to which they transitioned in 1949.

 Following the outbreak of the Korean War, the Blue Angels disbanded, their aircraft, pilots, and some support personnel becoming the nucleus of Fighter Squadron (VF) 191, nicknamed “Satan’s Kittens.” They flew combat missions from the carrier Princeton (CV 37) and during their combat deployment lost squadron skipper, Lieutenant Commander John Magda, who had been the Blue Angels’ flight leader. He was shot down and killed, later receiving the Navy Cross posthumously.

 The first Marine Corps aviator was assigned to the Blue Angels in 1954.

 The Blue Angels performed their first air show outside the United States in 1956 when they appeared in Canada. Subsequently, they have performed at sites around the world, including demonstrations in Europe and Asia. Notably, they flew in Russia and former Eastern Bloc nations in 1992.

A F-4 Phantom II makes a knife edge pass during a Blue Angel flight demonstration in the early 1970s.

A F-4 Phantom II makes a knife edge pass during a Blue Angel flight demonstration in the early 1970s. Photo courtesy of National Naval Aviation Museum

 The only time that the Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds have flown the same type aircraft was when they operated the F-4 Phantom II.

 The Blue Angels have flown the F/A-18 Hornet since 1987, the longest serving demonstration aircraft in the flight demonstration team’s history. The longest-serving aircraft in general is the C-130 Hercules, popularly known as “Fat Albert,” which provided logistics support to the squadron.

A thrilling spectacle of any Blue Angel flight demonstration are the aerobatics of the two solo aircraft, which is on display in this image of two F11F Tigers. The Blues flew short-nose versions of the aircraft, like those pictured here, and long-nose versions of the Tiger from 1957 to 1968.

A thrilling spectacle of any Blue Angel flight demonstration are the aerobatics of the two solo aircraft, which is on display in this image of two F11F Tigers. The Blues flew short-nose versions of the aircraft, like those pictured here, and long-nose versions of the Tiger from 1957 to 1968. Photo courtesy of National Naval Aviation Museum

Then and Now

 The original Blues flew a three-plane air show compared to the six planes that fly today’s demonstrations, the original 17-minute show now lasting over 40 minutes. The original team had five pilots, one support officer, and eleven enlisted support personnel, while today, the squadron’s ranks consist of sixteen officers, including six demonstration pilots, and over 100 enlisted support personnel. The Hellcat weighed in at over 15,000 pounds fully loaded as compared to the 66,000-pound gross weight of the F/-A-18. The Hellcat, at top speed, reached 380 miles per hour at 23,400 feet, while the Hornet easily exceeds the speed of sound, over three times the F6F’s speed. Each Hellcat cost about $50,000 during World War II; the fleet Hornet comes in at over $25 million.

The National Naval Aviation Museum is located at 1750 Radford Blvd., Pensacola, Fla. For more information, please visit their website.

 

 
Sep 11

The First Act of Defiance against the Enemies of Freedom: A Sailor’s Experience at the Pentagon on 9/11

Thursday, September 11, 2014 1:43 PM
FBI agents, fire fighters, rescue workers and engineers work at the Pentagon crash site on Sept. 14, 2001, where a hijacked American Airlines flight slammed into the building on Sept. 11. The terrorist attack caused extensive damage to the west face of the building and followed similar attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill. (Released)

FBI agents, fire fighters, rescue workers and engineers work at the Pentagon crash site on Sept. 14, 2001, where a hijacked American Airlines flight slammed into the building on Sept. 11. The terrorist attack caused extensive damage to the west face of the building and followed similar attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill. (Released)

By Gordon Calhoun, Great Lakes Naval Museum

There are two important qualities that a Sailor learns when he or she makes the transition from civilian to a member of the U.S. Navy. The first is the willingness to put one’s life on the line in defense of the United States, its citizens, and his or her shipmates. The second is that willingness to defend may be called upon anytime and anywhere during a Sailor’s career, whether on a ship or shore duty. For Operations Specialist First Class Roberto Paz, both of these factors came together on Sept. 11, 2001.

Then-OS2 Paz was on duty at the Pentagon. During an oral interview about that day with Timothy Frank, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command, Paz recalled, “Basically we came in to work that day and it was a half day for our department due to we were having a command picnic. Just sitting in the office… It was a regular normal day.”[1]

However, someone then rushed in and informed Paz and others in his office the World Trade Center in New York City had just been hit by a commercial aircraft.

It was at that moment that the events of the day struck even closer.

“All of a sudden we heard the whole building shake – the windows rattle and all the sudden we started hearing screaming and black smoke coming in and filling up the hallways.”[2]

American Airlines Flight 77, hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists, had slammed into the Pentagon.[3] Paz was only one hundred yards from the point of impact.

Without hesitation, Paz and other petty officers “armed up” and began doing search and rescue into the area of the building that would eventually collapse. They went in and “started searching — room by room — seeing if anyone was in there.”

The broken floor had already begun to collapse. “Instead of walking on a level floor, you took a step down,” Paz said. “We then came out of there and went around to the other side and found two individuals who were in a room. They thought they would be fine because they had a window open. We had them escorted out. We told them the safest way to get out. There was another individual there who had told me he got blown across the hallway. He was kind of out of it. He was talking about one individual being in the room. I went down to the room to see if he was in there [but] he was not in there. Then, I escorted him out of the building to the ambulance and went back into the building.” [4]

Paz said four of them continued to go down floor-by-floor conducting search and rescue. “We went all the way down to where the comm (communications) center was where the plane had hit. We couldn’t get in there. There was about six inches of water on the ground and electrical wires hanging down. The ceiling debris had blocked a door from us being able to open it up so we were never able to get in.”

Paz and his buddies left the building after nearly an hour of search and rescue.

“It felt a whole lot longer for the four of us,” he said. “When we got out we then set up security around the building.”

It was while walking the perimeter that Paz saw that a section of the building had fallen.

“Then we started rendering first aid to people who had been injured and assisting with other police departments and services there. We saved about 20 people that day. Ten people I know lost their lives that day.”[5]

Paz believed the firefighting and damage control training skills he learned aboard USS Mitscher (DDG-57) were the primary reasons he was able to perform as well as he did under the circumstances.

On December 17, 2001 in a ceremony held at the Pentagon, Secretary of the Navy Gordon England awarded OS1 Paz and his three shipmates the Navy Marine Corps Medal, the highest medal a Sailor can receive during peacetime. Secretary England at the ceremony remarked the actions by Paz and others were the “first acts of defiance against the enemies of freedom.”[6]

Petty Officer Paz continued to serve in the Navy after receiving his medal. He served as a navigator for a landing craft (air cushion) during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the disaster relief efforts to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and Odyssey Dawn.

Gordon Calhoun is a historian at the Great Lakes Naval Museum, an official U.S. Navy Museum located at Naval Station Great Lakes. Go to www.history.navy.mil/glnm for more information on programs and operating hours.

 

[1] Operations Specialist First Class Robert Paz, USN, interviewed by Tim Frank, February 10, 2014, transcript, Naval History and Heritage Command, History and Archives Division.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alfred Goldberg. Pentagon 9/11 (Washington, D.C.: Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2007), 16.

[4] Interview with Operations Specialist Paz by Tim Frank, February 10, 2014.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Secretary Gordon S. England. Pentagon Personnel Awards Ceremony (Washington, D.C.: C-SPAN, 2001). Accessed on the Internet at http://www.c-span.org/video/?167886-1/pentagon-personnel-awards-ceremony on August 22, 2014.

 

 
Sep 4

A French Double: Two dates in the Storied Partnership of America and France

Thursday, September 4, 2014 10:07 AM
Artist Benjamin West (1730-1820) painted the depiction of the signing of the treaty between America and Great Britain on Sept. 3, 1783, but was never finished because the British delegation refused to pose. Pictured are John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens and William Temple Franklin. National Archives photo

Artist Benjamin West (1730-1820) painted the depiction of the signing of the treaty between America and Great Britain on Sept. 3, 1783, but was never finished because the British delegation refused to pose. Pictured are John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens and William Temple Franklin. National Archives photo

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Today we recognize two events that showed the United States’ appreciation for France’s support during the six years the young nation actively fought for independence from Great Britain. Benjamin Franklin, America’s first diplomat, was the driving force behind the warm relationship between the U.S. and France which readily agreed to recognize the 13 former British colonies as their own nation.

And so it was on Sept. 3, 1782, the United States gave as a gift to King Louis XVI a not-yet-completed 74-gun man-of-war to be named America, and a year later, it was in France where the Treaty of Paris would be negotiated and signed Sept. 3, 1873, officially giving the United States of America its freedom from Great Britain.

Neither effort by the Americans to honor their French partnership were sustained. The ship America lasted only three years sailing for the French. And less than 10 years after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the death of King Louis XVI would end more than 1,000 years of continuous rule by French monarchy during the French Revolution. And with the Louisiana Purchase 10 years after that, the French had no territory left near their former ally.

America, the only liner built of those authorized by the first American legislation. Presented to France prior to launching, she did not commission in the Continental Navy. Oil by Blunt, 1835. Courtesy of the Marine Historical Association, Inc., Mystic, Conn.

Oil painting by John S. Blunt, 1834, depicting the warship America, 74 guns, built in Portsmouth, NH, in 1781 and presented to France. Image courtesy of Mystic Seaport.

 Not the first USS America

She had at one point two legends of the U.S. Navy assigned as her commanders. She was the largest and most powerful man-of-war built in her day, constructed in a shipyard of a fledging nation still fighting for its independence.

Yet in a twist of fate, by the time the warship to be named America was ready to leave the dock, she would instead fly under the French flag. On Sept. 3, 1782, Congress decided to give the nearly finished America to King Louis XVI of France to replace the French ship of the line Magnifique, which had run aground and was destroyed Aug. 11, 1782 while attempting to enter Boston harbor. America was to symbolize the new nation’s appreciation for France’s service to and sacrifices on behalf of the cause of American patriots during the American Revolution. It had been less than a year earlier when France’s intervention during the Battle of Yorktown Oct. 9, 1781 resulted in British Gen. Cornwallis retreating, effectively ending the war.

The Continental Congress had authorized the construction of three 74-gun ships of the line on Nov. 9, 1776. America was laid down in May 1777 in the shipyard of John Langdon on Rising Castle Island in the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth, N.H. and Kittery, Maine.

Progress on her construction was delayed by a chronic scarcity of funds and a consequent shortage of skilled craftsmen and well-seasoned timber. After dragging on for two years, the Marine Committee named Capt. John Barry as her prospective commanding officer Nov. 6, 1779. He had already kept the Marine Committee from down-grading the 74-gun man-of-war to a 54-gun frigate. He was ordered to hurry the process and get the ship finished.

But Barry could do little about getting more skilled labor and seasoned wood. On Sept. 5, 1780, he was ordered to Boston to take command of what many considered the finest ship to serve in the Continental Navy, the 36-gun frigate Alliance, which had recently arrived from Europe.

But the loss of Capt. Barry would hardly be felt since the ship’s next commanding officer was Capt. John Paul Jones, legendary already for his exploits in fighting the British earlier in the war. He arrived at Portsmouth on Aug. 31, 1781, where he threw himself into the task of getting the man-of-war to sail within a year.

But then fate would change the ship’s journey, and effectively ended Capt. Jones’ career in a post-Revolutionary War navy. When the French ship Magnifique was destroyed entering Boston Harbor, Congress took the opportunity to play a bit of politics by giving the not-yet-completed ship to King Louis XVI on Sept. 3, 1782.

Greatly disappointed, Jones remained in Portsmouth striving to finish the new ship of the line. On Nov. 5, 1782, Jones watched as the America, partially held back by a series of ropes calculated to break in sequence to check the vessel’s acceleration, slipped gracefully into the waters of the Piscataqua.

After she was rigged and fitted out, the ship, the former commander of Magnifique, M. le Chevalier de Macarty Martinge, departed Portsmouth on June 24, 1783 and reached Brest, France, on July 16, six years after her keel was laid.

As her wake dissipated, so, too, was Jones’ career in the United States. With no ship to command, there simply was no position for Jones. He returned to Europe in 1783 to collect prize money due his crew. By 1787, he was a rear admiral in the Russian Navy. Five years later, while still pleading for a position within the U.S. Navy, he would die in France.

Alas, America’s service with the French was fleeting. Three years after receiving America as a gift, dry rot would do her in. A survey committee determined the dry rot, probably caused by her wartime construction from green timber, was beyond economical repair. She was scrapped and a new French warship bearing the same name was built in 1788. That Temeraire-class America was captured by the British during the Battle of Glorius First of June in 1794. Renamed HMS Impetuex, the ship served in the Royal Navy until she was broken up in 1813. But she became the prototype for the Royal Navy’s own America-class ships of line.

 Signing the preliminary Treaty of Peace at Paris. John Jay and Benjamin Franklin are standing at the left. The scene depicted took place on Nov. 30, 1782, one of many treaty signings between Great Britain, the United States and other European countries. This is a print of a painting by German artist Carl Wilhelm Anton Se8iler (1846-1921). Photo courtesy of U.S. Diplomacy Center

Signing the preliminary Treaty of Peace at Paris. John Jay and Benjamin Franklin are standing at the left. The scene depicted took place on Nov. 30, 1782, one of many treaty signings between Great Britain, the United States and other European countries. This is a print of a painting by German artist Carl Wilhelm Anton Se8iler (1846-1921). Photo courtesy of U.S. Diplomacy Center

 

 

 Diplomatic Dream Team

That the Treaty of Paris was developed where it was would come as no surprise to those who knew Benjamin Franklin. A distinguished scientific and literary scholar, French aristocrats and intellectuals alike embraced Franklin as a perfect example of New World Enlightenment. (We’ll forgive Franklin his preference of the turkey for our national bird). He had the popularity of a rock star in France, where ladies would fashion their hair in a style that imitated the balding diplomat’s fur cap he wore instead of a wig.

After Britain’s defeat at Yorktown in Oct. 1781, America’s dream team of diplomats – Franklin, John Adams and John Jay – began hammering out a treaty. Franklin started by asking for Canada, knowing the British government would never accept that offer. But asking for the moon allowed Franklin to gain fishing rights off the Newfoundland coast, plus expanded the young nation west to the Mississippi River, to the Florida border (then owned by Spain) to the south and to the Canadian border to the north. The formal treaty was signed by Great Britain on Sept. 3, 1783, although it wasn’t ratified by the United States Congress until the following year. The treaty also included a promise to give back to British Loyalists their land confiscated during the American Revolution. Some states did, others not so much.

Ironically, France’s appreciation for enlightened thinkers like Franklin and Jefferson, and the creation of a constitution that emphasized reason and individualism rather than tradition, would play a large part in the bloody French Revolution. Less than 10 years later, King Louis XVI, who had ruled for nearly 20 years, would be overthrown and guillotined in January 1793.

An offer he couldn’t refuse

Just another decade later, former Treaty of Paris dream team negotiator and now president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, would pull off the April 11, 1803 Louisiana Purchase from the French at a time when Napoleon needed money more than land to fight the British. Prepared to purchase just the city of New Orleans for $10 million, Jefferson quickly accepted Napoleon’s offer to purchase all of the Louisiana Territory for $15 million, which doubled the size of the United States to the Rocky Mountains on the west and completely boot their former ally out of owning any territory near America’s borders.

 
Sep 2

Destroyers for Bases: Roosevelt finds loophole in Neutrality Act to help Great Britain

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 3:07 PM
"Red Lead Row," San Diego Destroyer Base, Calif., with at least 65 destroyers tied up there. Of those destroyers, 15 of them would go to Great Britain for the "Destroyers for Bases" agreement. Photographed at the end of 1922. Photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command

“Red Lead Row,” San Diego Destroyer Base, Calif., with at least 65 destroyers tied up there. Of those destroyers, 15 of them would go to Great Britain for the “Destroyers for Bases” agreement. Photographed at the end of 1922. For a complete listing of ships’ names in this photo, please click here. Photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command

By Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

In September 1940, Americans were still recovering from World War I two decades earlier with terrible loss of life. So deep were the wounds of the war, that Congress passed the first of four Neutrality Acts in 1935 banning the shipment or sale of arms from the U.S. to any combatant nation. Isolationism was popular among the citizenry, but as Germany continued to invade and take control of one country after another, President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew the time would come when the U.S. would be drawn into the war.

Still, he faced a conundrum: He was sympathetic to the needs of Great Britain and the need to stop the Axis powers of Germany, Japan and Italy, but in July he had accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for a third term as president of the United States which counted among the planks of its platform a pledge that “We will not participate in foreign wars, and we will not send our army, naval or air forces to fight in foreign lands outside of the Americas, except in the case of attack.”

Lucky for Roosevelt that said nothing about sending ships.

And so it was, 74 years ago today, that Roosevelt proposed a solution that would help the embattled Britain and strengthen the United States’ defenses against any future threats: the Sept. 2, 1940 Destroyers for Bases Agreement.

When Germany began its invasion of France in May 1940, and marched into Paris a little more than a month later, it forced the British to evacuate thousands of French and British soldiers from Dunkirk. The evacuation came at a terrible cost: 68,000 men either dead, wounded, missing or captured, the loss of 222 ships including at least six destroyers plus another 19 heavily damaged, and the loss of more than 950 Royal Air Force aircraft.

“What General Weygard has called the Battle of France is over…the Battle of Britain is about to begin,” Winston Churchill delivered in a House of Commons speech in late June. He knew Britain, standing alone, was about to face her darkest hour and the only hope for help was an isolationist America.

Great Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill, left, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt onboard USS Augusta off the coast of Newfoundland during the Atlantic Charter Conference in Aug. 1941. NHHC photo

Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, left, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt onboard USS Augusta off the coast of Newfoundland during the Atlantic Charter Conference in Aug. 1941. NHHC photo

Churchill reached out to Roosevelt in July as German bombers began raids of Great Britain. The two world leaders had developed a close working relationship earlier in the year while Churchill was still the first lord of the admiralty. At the time, Churchill had urged the United States to take more of an anti-Axis position, pointing out that if Great Britain were to fall to the enemy, there would suddenly be a number of German colonies very close to America’s shores.

Bound by the Neutrality Acts, Roosevelt suggested a trade: air and naval bases within Great Britain’s colonies for 50 of the Navy’s over-aged destroyers. He could justify the swap because outlying bases would keep invaders from reaching America’s shores.

An agreement was quickly accepted on Sept. 2, 1940. The lease was guaranteed for 99 years “free from all rent and charges other than such compensation to be mutually agreed on to be paid by the United States.” Bases would be established in the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Antigua and British Guiana. Separately, bases in Newfoundland and Bermuda were “gifts generously given and gladly received,” Roosevelt said.

Roosevelt covered his bases, no pun intended, by reaching out first to Attorney General Robert H. Jackson to make sure the president had the power to enter into such an agreement without bringing it first to Congress. Jackson said he did. Jackson believed the Constitution gave the president the power under his title as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy whose power is not defined or limited.

Roosevelt explained his actions to Congress on Sept. 3.

“This is not inconsistent in any sense with our status of peace,” Roosevelt assured Congress. “Still less is it a threat against any nation. It is an epochal and far-reaching act of preparation for continental defense in the face of grave danger.

“Preparation for defense is an inalienable prerogative of a sovereign state. Under present circumstances this exercise of sovereign right is essential to the maintenance of our peace and safety… The value to the Western Hemisphere of these outposts of security is beyond calculation. Their need has long been recognized by our country, and especially by those primarily charged with the duty of charting and organizing our own naval and military defense… For these reasons I have taken advantage of the present opportunity to acquire them.”

The destroyers for bases agreement was just one of several the United States would employ in order to help give Great Britain what help it could. After winning an unprecedented third term in office, Roosevelt tried to bring Congress closer to understanding America’s continued neutrality could not stand much longer.

During a fireside chat on Dec. 29, 1940, Roosevelt explained the message wasn’t about going to war, but instead “a talk on national security.” It was when he urged America to become “the great arsenal of democracy.”

Shortly afterward, he proposed the “Lend-Lease” program that allowed cash-strapped countries to purchase armament and equipment and deferring their payments.

In the meantime, just weeks after winning an unprecedented third-term in office, Roosevelt reached out to Churchill by sending his personal emissary, his former Republican opponent Wendell Willkie, to London with a message that included a few lines by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, probably most famous for his poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” about America’s quest for independence from Great Britain.

But the stanza from “The Building of A Ship” included a personal note from Roosevelt, stating it applied to the British people:

Sail on, O Ship of State!

Sail on, O Union, strong and great!

Humanity with all its fears,

With all the hopes of future years,

Is hanging breathless on thy fate!

The lines resonated with the prime minister. As Congress wrangled with the decision to pass the “Lend-Lease” Act, Churchill responded to Roosevelt’s note during a Feb. 9, 1941 BBC radio speech to his citizenry:

“Here is the answer which I will give to President Roosevelt: Put your confidence in us. Give us your faith and your blessing, and, under Providence, all will be well. “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”

The Lend-Lease Act was passed just weeks later. This act, along with the Destroyers for Bases Agreement, would help turn the tide against Germany in Europe. Churchill would later call the initiatives as “the most unsordid act” one nation had ever done for another.

Although both agreements created goodwill between the nations, it was the United States that probably benefited the most. With its defense industry ramping up, the U.S. would be prepared to join the fight when the time came on Dec. 7, 1941.