“A man-of-war is the best ambassador,” wrote Oliver Cromwell, a true statement whether applied to the wooden sailing ships of his era or the modern warships of the U.S. Navy that today ply the world’s oceans. With the majority of the Earth’s surface covered by water, the ships of our Navy in so many ways represent the nation they serve. They protect against enemies that seek to hurt America and guard the flow of natural resources and foodstuffs that sustain her citizenry; serve as instruments of aid and compassion to others in need and keepers of the sea.
This fact is not lost on those who serve at sea. In the profession of arm in which unit pride is sacred, there are few bonds more special than that between a sailor and his or her ship and among shipmates. For some, the affection is born of the fires of combat, be it the wet and weary men of the carrier Yorktown (CV 5) watching their ship slip beneath the waves off Midway despite their best efforts to save her or the crew of the destroyer Cole (DDG 67) fighting to keep their ship afloat in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. For others, the devotion stems perhaps from milestone events while on board, be it making rate or receiving an award or, in a more personal way for younger sailors, feeling the satisfaction of growing up during the first extended period of time away from home and family. In this latter way, a ship is not only a servant of a nation. Indeed, its crew is an extension of the country’s most valuable asset, its people. Shipmates are of all races and creeds, their backgrounds as varied as the stars seen from the bridge during midwatch, the values they possess distinctly American.
Such was the realization for Lieutenant Larry White, who during 1943 received orders to the carrier Hornet (CV 12), under construction at Newport News, Virginia. As a “plankowner,” he joined the rest of the crew in preparing the ship for her launching and eventual commissioning. The urgency of their task was not lost on them given the stream of headlines in newspapers reporting from the war fronts and the tales of combat occasionally shared by new shipmates transferred from ships that had been in harm’s way. Finally, the momentous day arrived, the cold 29 November 1943, day contrasting sharply with the hot and humid Pacific where Hornet would eventually make her name. That was something the future held; Lieutenant White knew nothing of what the coming months had in store for him. Yet, from the words he penned on the back of the commissioning program that he sent to his parents, it is clear that his was a solid foundation for what lay ahead, as a son and a citizen serving a cause greater than himself.
Dear Mother and Father,
I sincerely wish that you could be here for this day and that I might have arranged it…I will be thinking of you and wishing that I could have been free to have had you here…It is a thrill to me to have been with the ship from its launching and I most assuredly am pleased and proud to be on board. I want you both to come down later and see us both.
As I feel this great pride, I can’t help wanting you both to know that wherever we go, it will be part of America. Every state is represented on board among the officers and men. I will often think of both of you and know that if I am able to do a creditable job it is because of my many opportunities of the past, my upbringing, and the traditions of our family, all of which I owe to you.
It was also apparent that Lieutenant Larry White had come to a realization on the eve of America entering her third year fighting World War II. Hornet, and the men with whom he served, were family.