Oct 5

Washington, D.C. Turns Out to Say “Welcome Back” to Fleet Adm. Nimitz

Sunday, October 5, 2014 8:17 AM
Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz riding in a limousine during a parade in his honor at Washington, D.C. on Oct. 5, 1945. National Archive photo

Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz riding in a limousine during a parade in his honor at Washington, D.C. on Oct. 5, 1945. National Archive photo

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

 

Sixty-nine years ago today, Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz was honored twice with parades for his part in the Navy’s victory in the Pacific campaign and ending World War II. The first was held in Washington, D.C. The second, four days later on Oct. 9, 1945, was a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

Few things can upstage the Washington Monument among the landmarks at the National Mall. Yet on Oct. 5, 1945, USS Missouri managed to do just that. Or at least a wooden facsimile of the bow of the battleship on which World War II officially ended the month before, except this battleship had the Washington Monument as its backdrop.

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, returns triumphant to Washington, D.C. at the end of World War II. Photograph shows one of the plane formations forming the letter “N” in honor of him. This was taken as planes flew over Pennsylvania, 5 October 1945. Other formations spelled out the rest of his name. Courtesy of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, (Retired). NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 62321.

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, returns triumphant to Washington, D.C. at the end of World War II. Photograph shows one of the plane formations forming the letter “N” in honor of him. This was taken as planes flew over Pennsylvania, 5 October 1945. Other formations spelled out the rest of his name. Courtesy of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, (Retired). NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 62321.

It was all part of a celebration and parade honoring Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz. A parade from the Capitol to the wooden viewing stand featured Nimitz, wearing his dress blue uniform and a wide grin, riding in the back of an open-air limousine. More than 1,000 Navy aircraft from fighters to dive and torpedo bombers, filled the skies above, thrilling the thousands of people who packed the National Mall and the parade route. The crowd cheered upon the arrival of planes that spelled out N I M I T Z in block letters (thank goodness his name wasn’t Eisenhower).

Once Nimitz arrived at the viewing stand, it took nearly an hour for the hundreds and hundreds of military personnel, equipment and even Coast Guard sentry dogs to file past. The last truck to file by featured a sign “The Alpha and Omega of the Pacific War” and it carried a 1,600-pound bomb that had been dropped on USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor and a yellow-painted pagoda carrying the samurai sword that was surrendered by Japanese Imperial Navy Vice Adm. Denshichi Okochi onboard the Missouri.

Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, sitting on top of the open convertible car, returns triumphant to Washington, D.C. on Oct. 5, 1945. Pictured is a portion of the parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in his honor with an overhead banner that reads, “Well Done Admiral,” October 1945. Courtesy of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, (Retired). NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 62354.

Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, sitting on top of the open convertible car, returns triumphant to Washington, D.C. on Oct. 5, 1945. Pictured is a portion of the parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in his honor with an overhead banner that reads, “Well Done Admiral,” October 1945. Courtesy of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, (Retired). NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 62354.

The biggest cheer that day came not for Nimitz, but for the Navy and Marine veterans of the battles of Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Philippine Sea and Okinawa engagements.

And Nimitz wouldn’t have it any other way as he stood to address the thousands who packed the National Mall that Friday.

“I can accept none of these honors for myself as an individual. I can accept them, and I gratefully do accept them, in the name of all the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who fought under my command in the Pacific….In my opinion, there has never been a finer body of determined patriots, even among those early Americans who fought under the great man whose monument rises here as a symbol of freedom throughout the world.”

Rather than reveling in the victory, though, Nimitz warned the “future for us all lies in a world” greatly altered with the use of atomic power.

“Perhaps it is not too much to predict that history will refer to this present period not as the ending of a great conflict but as the beginning of the great new atomic age,” he said, adding “scientists and technologists have already theorized atomic power will be harnessed and available for industrial and humanitarian uses.”

Nimitz told the crowd the introduction of atomic power gave new importance to seapower from the standpoint of America’s future welfare and safety.

“Our defense frontiers are no longer our own coastlines or the adjacent waters by which they are bounded,” he said. “Today our frontiers are the entire world.”

Earlier in the day, Nimitz spoke to both houses of Congress, pointing out that Japan — from the standpoint of troops and aircraft –was better off on V-J Day than she was when she initiated “national hari-kari with their treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor.”

Nimitz explained at the time of the surrender on Sept. 2, Japan had more than 2 million trained professional military personnel. In Japan’s “stolen empire to the south,” there were more than 3 million men for a total of more than 5 million, compared to only 3 million when the war began.

Japan began the war with approximately 5,300 planes, of which roughly 3,200 were combatant types, Nimitz told Congress. On the day the war ended, Japan’s air force had increased by approximately 100 percent to a total of 11,000 planes, of which approximately 6,000 were combatant types.

“So why then, did the enemy have no alternative but to surrender, and why sue for peace before the introduction of the atomic bomb and before the entry of Russia into the war?” Nimitz asked.

Because the Imperial Navy had ceased to exist. “Of a once great navy of this year, Japan had still afloat one battleship, damaged; four aircraft carriers, all damaged; two heavy cruisers, both damaged, and two light cruisers, one damaged. Not one of these ships had a crew aboard,” he explained.

Thirty-nine of Japan’s once large force of destroyers remained, but six were damaged and 10 were without crews. Only 51 enemy submarines survived, and 95 small patrol craft. In addition, there were a couple of minelayers, two old training cruisers and a submarine tender.

“By the middle of 1945, Japan might as well have scuttled this remnant of her navy for all the good it could do against our own powerful sea-air forces,” Nimitz said.

The United States also exacted a toll against Japan’s merchant ships, they counted themselves lucky if three out of five made it through from Singapore.

“Our enemy was forced to surrender because Japan…a maritime nation, dependent on food and materials from overseas, was stripped of her seapower,” Nimitz said. “On the other hand, we had the seapower that made it possible to capture – and hold – the bases within Japan’s system of inner defenses from which our Army’s very long range bombers and other aircraft operated.

“We had the seapower that made it possible to cut the enemy’s lines of overseas communications to ports on the Asiatic continent and in the Southwest Pacific, denying access to needed resources. His industry was strangling and his people were at the point of starvation.

“We had seapower that made it possible to protect our own lines of communication and move vast quantities of men, materials and munitions to our forward bases and also to the Russians.

“We had seapower to prevent an enemy effort to launch amphibious counter-attacks on our flanks or in the rear. We had seapower to cover and support every amphibious landing of the Pacific War. We had powerful carrier forces that had struck strategic and tactical targets in the innermost recesses of the empire. We had seized forward bases and built the air fields that made possible the wonderfully successful B-29 bombing and mining missions, and eventually the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“With our seapower making possible the use of all our other resources, we gave Japan the single choice of surrender or slow but certain death.”

Nimitz said no one service deserved praise above another for their country’s victory. “They were all brave men. There was no difference in the way they fought; and when they fell – whether they were dressed in Army khaki, Marine green or Navy blue – they all wore the same red badge of honor that is stained with the blood of free men who hold that liberty is dearer than life itself.”

Nimitz praised his late Commander-in-Chief, Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose “foresight and keen interest resulted in a rapid up-building of the Navy soon after he assumed” the presidency.

He also thanked Congress for providing “the tools, machines and weapons in such quantity and of such quality as has never before been known in the history of warfare.”

Nimitz then pointed out “the sad fact that we have never yet entered a war for which we were prepared. The science of warfare is constantly changing, but with the emphasis always on speed. In the name of all we Americans hold dear, I pray that no future war may ever again find us unprepared.”

Crowds gathered in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. in a ceremony to honor Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz. National Archive photo

Crowds gathered in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. in a ceremony to honor Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz. National Archive photo

As he told the throngs on the National Mall, Nimitz told Congress he stands before them “merely as the representative of the Soldiers, Sailors and the Marines who have won the victory in the Pacific. We have carried out the duty imposed upon us on Dec. 7, 1941. I am deeply moved by – and profoundly grateful for – the evidence I have seen today that Congress considers that duty to have been well and faithfully discharged.”

At a banquet that evening attended by top-ranking military and naval leaders in Washington, Nimitz continued his stumping for keeping a strong and professional navy with a push toward more technological advances.

“We should never forget that permanent attitude of willingness to defend our freedom will always stand as our greatest contribution to a continuing world peace.”

 

 On Thursday, revisit Adm. Nimitz’ triumphant return to New York City and the ticker-tape parade he received there.

 

The information for this blog came from articles published in the New York Times Oct. 6, 1945, which included the complete texts of Nimitz’s speeches before Congress and the National Mall.

 
Oct 2

Washington Navy Yard: A Celebrated Legacy of Service to the Fleet

Thursday, October 2, 2014 2:15 PM

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).

060701-N-ZZ999-111 WASHINGTON (July 2006) An aerial photograph taken in July 2006 of the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

060701-N-ZZ999-111 WASHINGTON (July 2006) An aerial photograph taken in July 2006 of the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

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.

Long-time superintendent of the Washington Navy Yard -- Commodore Thomas Tingey. His ghost has been rumored to haunt Quarters A, also known as the Tingey House. NHHC photo

Long-time superintendent of the Washington Navy Yard — Commodore Thomas Tingey. His ghost has been rumored to haunt Quarters A, also known as the Tingey House. NHHC photo

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.

This plaque, on Bldg. 28 parking garage, explains why the leg of Col. Ulrich Dahlgren happened to be buried at the Washington Navy Yard. Alas, Col. Dahlgren soon followed his leg in the ground after he was killed in 1864 during a raid on Richmond.

This plaque, on Bldg. 28 parking garage, explains why the leg of Col. Ulrich Dahlgren happened to be buried at the Washington Navy Yard. Alas, Col. Dahlgren soon followed his leg in the ground after he was killed in 1864 during a raid on Richmond.

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.

The leg of Army Col. Ulrich Dalhgren was buried amid construction of a building at the Washington Navy Yard in 1863. A plaque marks the spot.

The leg of Army Col. Ulrich Dalhgren was buried amid construction of a building at the Washington Navy Yard in 1863. A plaque marks the spot.

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.

 

 
Sep 26

History Live from Groton: Nautilus @ 60

Friday, September 26, 2014 2:00 PM

In this file photo taken Jan. 21, 1954, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus (SSN 571) is in the Thames River shortly after a christening ceremony. A year later, shortly after the commissioning 60 years ago Sept. 30, 1954, the first commanding officer, Capt. Eugene Wilkerson, would announce "UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER." (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

In this file photo taken Jan. 21, 1954, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus (SSN 571) is in the Thames River shortly after a christening ceremony. A year later, a few weeks after the commissioning 60 years ago Sept. 30, 1954, the first commanding officer, Capt. Eugene Wilkerson, would announce “UNDERWAY ON NUCLEAR POWER.” (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

 

By David Werner, Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach

On Tuesday, Sept. 30, the U.S. Navy will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the commissioning of the world’s first nuclear powered warship, the attack submarine USS Nautilus (SSN 571). Nautilus served for 25 years and racked up an impressive list of additional firsts including the first submarine to cross the North Pole.

The ship embodies the pioneering spirit of engineers, shipyard workers and Navy leaders who saw an opportunity to vastly improve the Navy’s operational readiness. Any risks associated with designing, constructing and putting to sea such a ship were far outweighed by the benefits to our nation and its defense.

In that same bold spirit, Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach Division will attempt to pioneer – albeit on a much smaller scale – its first-ever live internet streaming of an event. We’re committed to the cause of sharing naval history – especially when space constraints on the pier limit the number of people who can join in person. There’s even a live chat function – so we won’t be running silent.

The event will be held pier side next to Nautilus at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Conn. at noon (Eastern Time) on Sept. 30. We’re excited and hopeful about the opportunity to bring this event live to the many dedicated Submariners who served onboard Nautilus as well as the devoted men and women who designed, built and maintained her. But like the pioneers who took on the monumental design, engineering, construction and operational challenge of Nautilus, we recognize there is no reward without risk.

More than 300 people, including those who helped design, build and operate USS Nautilus are expected to attend the invitation-only event. Anticipated guest speakers include Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy; Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, Adm. John M. Richardson; and Electric Boat Shipyard Vice President for Engineering and Design Programs, William Lennon. Plank Owners from the original 1954 Nautilus crew are also scheduled to attend.

We’re by no means pioneers in this technology or communication method, but it is another opportunity for us at NHHC to explore a different means of exporting our Navy’s and our nation’s history. We hope you’ll join us live – where we hope to proclaim on behalf of naval history: “Underway on Internet power.”

 

 
Sep 25

Fit to Fight: American Shipbuilding and Salvage Comes Through in the Wake of Pearl Harbor

Thursday, September 25, 2014 1:00 AM
USS West Virginia approaching drydock, June 8, 1942. After six months under 40 feet of water, she was finally afloat. Naval History and Heritage Command photo

USS West Virginia approaching drydock, June 8, 1942, at Pearl Harbor. After six months under 40 feet of water, she was finally afloat. Naval History and Heritage Command photo

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

 This is the final chapter in a 3-part series about the salvage operation that brought USS West Virginia (BB 48) back to the fleet 70 years ago Sept. 23, 1944. She had been hit by seven torpedoes and two bombs during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Click for Part 1 and Part 2.

Lessons noted, lessons learned

The Pearl Harbor Salvage Division worked virtually non-stop to get 10 of the 19 ships sunk or damaged after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack back into the fleet by mid-1942. The Pearl Harbor ship salvage effort through most of 1942 was directed by Capt. Homer A. Wallin, Material Officer for Commander, Battle Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. USS West Virginia would prove the most challenging.

Capt. Homer N. Wallin (left), Salvage Officer, and Lt. Cmdr. W. White, commanding officer of USS West Virginia, on board the ship while she was under salvage at Pearl Harbor in 1942. They are wearing the "tank" suit coveralls and knee-length rubber boots used by Pearl Harbor salvage team members when engaged in particularly dirty work. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, NHHC Collection.

Capt. Homer N. Wallin (left), Salvage Officer, and Lt. Cmdr. W. White, commanding officer of USS West Virginia, on board the ship while she was under salvage at Pearl Harbor in 1942. They are wearing the “tank” suit coveralls and knee-length rubber boots used by Pearl Harbor salvage team members when engaged in particularly dirty work. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, NHHC Collection.

Seeing it to completion required Navy and civilian divers to spend about 20,000 hours underwater among 5,000 dives. Two destroyers, Cassin (DD 372) and Downes (DD 375), were stripped of their serviceable weapons, machinery and equipment, which was all sent to California, where it was installed in new hulls. Still, both ships returned to service in late 1943 and early 1944.

Within two years, the Salvage Division refloated five ships and removed weapons and equipment from the other two. Among its accomplishments were the refloating of the battleships Nevada (BB 36) in Feb. 1942; California in March 1942, and West Virginia (BB 48) in June 1942, plus the minelayer Oglala (CM 4). After extensive shipyard repairs, the four ships were back in the active fleet in time to help defeat Japan.

The Salvage Division also righted and refloated the capsized battleship Oklahoma (BB 37), partially righted the capsized target ship Utah (BB 31) and recovered materiel from the wreck of the battleship Arizona (BB 39). Those three ships did not return to service, and the hulls of Arizona and Utah remain in Pearl Harbor.

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 the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, July 2, 1944, following reconstruction wearing her camouflage paint. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

All this represented one of history’s greatest salvage jobs, Wallin pointed out in his publication Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal.

Although only 19 ships of the almost 100 that occupied berths at Pearl Harbor were sunk or damaged, an important part of the fleet was immobilized for many months, Wallin states in the publication.

“The shortage of ships prevented decisive action against a superior foe. It was only after new ships joined the fleet from building yard or the Atlantic that offensive warfare could be pursued in earnest,” he said.

And it’s not like Pearl Harbor was prepared to pull 18 ships out of the harbor and refloat them. They were already noted for shortages, Wallin pointed out. Lumber and fastenings were acutely in short supply, along with a lack of manpower, especially electric welders, carpenters, mechanics and engineers.

But they were ahead of the game in one aspect. The Great War had taught fleet officials where fire hazards are on ships, and many had already been removed from the combatant ships. Those included items like rubber sheeting, paints, canvas, oakum and linoleum. Paint had been chipped off down to bare metal and replaced with latex or water paints, which are better in resisting fire and high temperature.

But of all shortages, the lack of ordnance presented the worst problem, particularly for the defense of Pearl Harbor, Wallin said. No temporary batteries had been installed and 30-caliber machine guns were the main ones at the air bases.

During the salvage, at the top of the list was building up the base’s anti-aircraft defense by taking batteries and ammunition from disabled ships to points of vantage around the Navy Yard and air stations. Divers worked “assiduously in saving range finders, directors, small arms and fine ordnance instruments from various sunken ships. After initial care and preservation, the material was soon ready for use against the enemy,” Wallin noted in the publication.

Wallin also pointed out a fair proportion of Japanese bombs and torpedoes failed to explode, and strafing by the Japanese did little to do major harm to the ships or even deter Sailors from their duties. But the close-range anti-aircraft batteries on the U.S. Navy ships were limited in their scope. From 1942 on, Sweden-made 40-millimeter Bofors guns, mounted in twos and fours, and the 20-millimeter Oerlikon gun from Switzerland, were installed on newer American ships.

In a war that lasted nearly four years, all 19 of the Pearl Harbor victims, except Oklahoma, Arizona and Utah, saw action against the Japanese Navy. The marvel of salvage surprised not only the Japanese but also our own forces. The Salvage Operation had lived up to its motto: “We keep them fit to fight.”

“We learned that sunken or damaged ships can be put to work again and with greatly increased potential,” Wallin noted in the publication. “Enough cannot be said in praise of the salvage crew. They worked hard and earnestly. They soon saw that the results of their efforts exceeded the fondest hopes of their supporters and they were urged on by their successive achievements.”

Rear Adm. William R. Furlong, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, and Capt. Homer N. Wallin inspecting the salvage operations at Pearl Harbor.

Rear Adm. William R. Furlong, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, and Capt. Homer N. Wallin inspecting the salvage operations at Pearl Harbor.

Wallin, who retired in 1955 as a vice-admiral, received the Navy’s Distinguished Service Medal due to his “tireless and energetic devotion to duty, and benefiting his past experiences, Capt. Wallin accomplished the reclamation of damaged naval units expeditiously and with success beyond expectations, thereby sustaining the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service…”

…And “for being an undying optimist,” Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz added upon presenting the award to Wallin.

 
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 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.