Navy History Matters – March 12

Compiled by Brent Hunt, Naval History and Heritage Command’s Communication and Outreach Division

Welcome to Navy History Matters—our weekly compilation of articles, commentaries, and blogs related to history and heritage. Every week we’ll gather the top-interest items from a variety of media and social media sources and then link you to related content at history.navy.mil, your authoritative source for Naval history. 

SUNDA STRAIT (March 1, 2019) U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Joseph Donovan Jr. (right), Cmdr. Greg Adams (center), Naval Atache of U.S. Embassy Jakarta, and First Admiral Denih Hendrata, Commander Main Naval Base III, lay a wreath during a memorial service aboard the Indonesian Navy ship Kri Usman Harun (359). The ceremony was held to honor the American and Australian crews of USS Houston (CA 30) and HMAS Perth (D 29) that lost their lives in battle against the Japanese Imperial Navy during World War II. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jordan Crouch)

U.S., Australian, Indonesian Sailors Commemorate WWII Battle of Sunda Strait

To commemorate the 77th anniversary of the Battle of Sunda Strait, Sailors from mine countermeasures ship USS Chief attended a wreath laying ceremony aboard Indonesian navy ship Kri Usman Harun, March 1. The ceremony honored the crews who lost their lives on USS Houston and HMAS Perth during the World War II battle. “It is important to remember the sacrifice of the Sailors that have gone before us to pay tribute to shipmates who have made the ultimate commitment while personifying the essence of duty,” said Lt. Cmdr. Fred Crayton, commanding officer of Chief. “It is events like the commemoration of the Battle of Sunda Strait that captures the fighting spirit and significance of Sailors who chose obligation over existence. These were heroes that embodied honor, courage, and commitment and who should always be remembered.” To learn more, read the article. Also read H-Gram 003: The Valor of the Asiatic Fleet, Lest We Forget at NHHC’s website, and Lost but not forgotten: Ocean relics of WWII battle that discusses efforts to preserve the wrecks.

WASHINGTON (March, 6, 2019) The Navy Cross, left, and Purple Heart medals awarded to Ensign George H. Gay, Jr. for his actions of June 4, 1942 during the Battle of Midway as a member of Torpedo Squadron Eight. The Navy Cross is an early World War II “Black Widow” medal, so named for the over-anodized finish on the planchet. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution/Released)

Navy Celebrates 100th Anniversary of the Board of Decorations and Medals

On March 6, 1919, 100 years ago, the Board of Decorations and Medals was established by then-Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to standardize the awarding of medals for extraordinary acts of heroism or distinguished service. The board was established following the Armistice of World War I and Congress’ creation in February 1919 of two new decorations—the Navy Cross and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. Before the establishment of the board, input was sought from the fleet on servicemembers whose performance merited the new Distinguished Service Medal. These recommendations were reviewed by a board chaired by an admiral, and then its recommendations were forwarded to the Navy secretary. Arbitrary designations at times evidenced the need for an independent, standardized organization.  “The Board of Decorations and Medals guarantees authenticity of the high tributes we bestow on our Nation’s warfighters,” said Greg Slavonic, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. To learn more, read the U.S. Navy release.

USS Shamrock Bay (CVE 84) underway.

WWII@75: Shamrock Bay Commissioned

On March 15, 1944, 75 years ago, USS Shamrock Bay was commissioned in Vancouver, WA, with Capt. Frank T. Ward Jr. in command. The ship would remain on the west coast until June of that year when she was transferred to transport duty in the Atlantic. While serving in the Atlantic, she transported Army fighter planes with Army and Navy personnel to Casablanca and then brought back damaged P-40s for use in training and salvage. After completing her second transport mission, Shamrock Bay was ordered back to Pacific waters. For the remainder of World War II, she participated in the Philippines campaign, Battle for Iwo Jima, Battle for Okinawa and, after the war was won, “Magic Carpet” duty. Shamrock Bay earned three battle stars for her service during the war.

WWII Veteran, Oldest Naval Academy Graduate Dies

Retired Rear Adm. Edgar Keats, a decorated World War II veteran who was the Naval Academy’s oldest living graduate, died March 2 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Maryland. He was 104. Keats, a Chicago native, entered the Naval Academy in June 1931 as a member of the class of 1935. He won the Academy’s history prize at his graduation. During the war, Keats was assigned to the Pacific and served as chief staff officer and air commander in preparation for the November 1943 Battle of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. He also planned the air attack portion of amphibious landings at Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. He was awarded the Legion of Merit with a combat citation for his service during the war. After serving in a variety of positions, Keats retired from the Navy in 1958. To learn more, read the article in The Baltimore Sun.

One Century Ago: Bringing ‘Em Back after “The Navy Put ‘Em Across”

Naval historians often tend to gravitate toward the great battles such as Jutland and the ferocious Dardanelles operation, but the Navy’s most decisive contribution to the Great War was delivering the two million strong American Expeditionary Force to the battlefield. The feat of putting an entire American Army across the Atlantic was inconceivable to European leaders at the time. Now that the task was done, a new and equally important mission was ahead of the U.S. Navy—bringing all of them home. “After the signing of the Armistice,” wrote Vice Adm. Albert Gleaves, Cruiser and Transport Force commander, “the United States Transport Fleet expanded still more, and developed into a fleet of 149 ships manned by 4,238 officers and 59,030 men, with the gratifying result that 86.7 per cent[sic] of our overseas army was brought home under the Stars and Stripes.” To learn more, read the post at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s blog.

Kamikaze Boat, Rarest WWII Killing Machine, in Alabama

A Japanese Shinyo—an extremely rare artifact known by most as a Kamikaze boat—will soon be on display at Mobile’s Battleship Park in Alabama. The boat is believed to be one of only three left in existence. The two other boats are in museums in Japan and Australia. Japanese records indicate that more than 6,000 Shinyo boats were built during World War II. Most were destroyed when they crashed into Allied ships. The 17-foot boats were designed to be built quickly and cheaply. The driver, usually a boy 15 to 16 years old, sat in a small cockpit in the stern of the vessel. In the bow was a 500-pound bomb built to explode after ramming a ship. The boats were usually operated at night when they would sneak up on unsuspecting ships resting or at anchor. To learn more, read the article at AL.com. For more information on Shinyo boats, read the U.S. Naval Technical Mission to Japan: Reports in the Navy Department Library at NHHC’s website. The boats are discussed in the same section as Kamikaze planes.

WWII Hero Rarely Talked About Battle; Discovery of USS Hornet Changed All That

In October 1942, James Gardner was aboard USS Hornet when the ship came under attack by Japanese airplanes near the Santa Cruz Islands in the South Pacific. In defense of the ship, he shot down two airplanes before the order to abandon ship was given. He didn’t think he’d live through the ordeal. “I had to go overboard after I shot them down,” said Gardner, now 98 and living at a Norfolk, VA, nursing home. “I stayed in the water for about three hours.” The memories came flooding back after Hornet’s final resting place was discovered in late January. In fact, his 63-year-old son said he had never heard any stories about the war from his father. All that changed with the discovery of Hornet. To learn what Gardner had to say, read the article in The Virginian-Pilot. Also at The Sextant, read about a shipmate of Gardner’s who was aboard Hornet when she was sunk.

Remains of Ensign Killed at Pearl Harbor Identified

On March 5, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of an American Sailor who was killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Charles M. Stern Jr., of Albany, NY, was a 26-year old ensign assigned to USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941, during the Japanese aerial attack that plunged the United States into World War II. Oklahoma was hit by multiple torpedoes and capsized while moored at Ford Island. More than 400 crew members lost their lives on Oklahoma during the attacks. In recent years, there has been an intensified push to identify servicemembers killed in WWII and more recent wars. Identifications have climbed from 59 in 2013 to 183 in 2017 to more than 200 in 2018. DNA has been the key to identifications that match with living relatives. Standard X-rays of WWII servicemembers taken when they enlisted have also been helpful. To learn more, read the article at Navy Times.

USS Pittsburgh Comes Home for Good After 35 Years of Undersea Duty

One by one the U.S. Navy’s Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarines are being replaced by Virginia-class subs. Now it’s USS Pittsburgh’s time. After 35 years of sea duty, port visits, and combat missions around the world, the lifespan of the boat has ended. The boat is scheduled to be decommissioned in Bremerton, WA, and eventually recycled. Pittsburgh and the city of Pittsburgh have had a long-standing relationship over the past 35 years. This month the commander and the crew will march in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, visit local schools, and conduct meet and greets at various locations. “For us, It’s going to be horribly sad seeing our namesake no longer being able to do what she was designed to do,” said Bob MacPherson, president of the Navy League council and a submarine veteran. Pittsburgh’s mission is classified, but she saw action firing Tomahawk missiles during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The sub marked its 1,000th dive in November 2017 with a posed picture of Sailors holding a “Terrible Towel.” To learn more, read the article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. To learn more about the evolution of subs, visit NHHC’s infographic collection.

Webpage of the Week

This week’s Webpage of the Week was recently published to NHHC’s Publications by Subject page. “The Autobiography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren,” edited by NHHC historian Peter Luebke, provides insight into the legendary admiral’s life that left a profound and lasting legacy on the Navy and our country. His role in designing and developing weapons and ammunition enabled the Union Navy to emerge victorious at sea and on the inland waterways during the Civil War. Throughout this book, Luebke provides his expert insight into Dahlgren’s activities, giving readers context into the war and his personal life. Download this significant publication for free today and learn more about one of the Navy’s most renowned figures.

Today in Naval History

On March 12, 1956, the first missile firing aircraft squadron, Attack Squadron 83, was deployed overseas aboard USS Intrepid. To learn about other significant events that have happened on this day, visit today in naval history March 12 at NHHC’s website.


Downloadable version of the above information is available here.

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