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 NHHC’s website (history.navy.mil), your authoritative source for Navy history.
The Epic Hunt for a Lost WWII Aircraft Carrier
The discovery of World War II aircraft carrier USS Wasp by the crew of Research Vessel Petrel more than 4,000 meters below the ocean’s surface in the Coral Sea was announced on March 13. Wasp was sunk by torpedoes from Japanese submarine I-19 on Sept. 15, 1942, southeast of San Cristobal Island. Wasp was in the Coral Sea escorting a convoy of U.S. Marines headed to Guadalcanal when the torpedoes hit the ship. The crew of Petrel attempted several times to locate “the elusive Wasp,” scanning multiple navigational grids on the ocean’s floor before finding it on Jan. 13, 2019. After finding the ship, the crew sent Petrel’s remotely operated vehicle to document Wasp’s final resting place. From the footage, fire and explosions were evident; surprisingly, however, the cold, deep water and lack of light had preserved her remarkably well. To learn more about this extraordinary discovery, read two new blogs by National Naval Aviation Museum’s Hill Goodspeed at The Sextant. A Future CNO’s Trial by Fire and Eyewitness to a Sinking provide first-hand accounts from Sailors who were aboard Wasp when she was lost. Also read The Epic Hunt for a Lost World War II Aircraft Carrier and The U.S.S. Wasp: Torpedoed, Scuttled, Sunk and Now Found in The New York Times Magazine.
Vietnam@50: HM2 David Ray
On March 19, 1969, 50 years ago, Navy Hospital Corpsman David Robert Ray, while serving with Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, was killed in action while providing medical aid to injured Marines during a surprise enemy attack at Phu Loc 6 in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam. During the early morning attack by the North Vietnamese army, the enemy had infiltrated the camp’s perimeter, and casualties began to mount. Despite heavy loss of blood after fighting off two NVA soldiers, Ray managed to crawl through a barrage of enemy fire to assist a fallen Marine. In the act of saving the Marine’s life, Ray shielded him from a grenade blast. The selfless deed would ultimately take Ray’s life, and he would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions. To learn more, read the blog A Portrait of HM2 Bobby Ray, Heroic “Doc” of Liberty Bridge at The Sextant.
Medal of Honor Day
On Nov. 15, 1990, Public Law 101-564 was approved by Congress, designating March 25, 1991, as National Medal of Honor Day. The day is significant, as it is the day the first Medals of Honor were presented in 1863 to six of the 22 men known as Andrews’ Raiders for their participation in the Great Locomotive Chase during the Civil War. The Navy and Marine Corps Medal of Honor is our country’s oldest continuously awarded decoration, even though its appearance and award criteria have changed since it was created for enlisted men by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles on Dec. 16, 1861. Legislation in 1915 made naval officers eligible for the award. Although originally awarded for both combat and noncombat heroism, the Medal of Honor today is presented for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty during combat operations against an enemy of the United States. Medal of Honor Day was established to honor the recipients of the Medal of Honor and to raise public awareness of the importance of the nation’s highest honor.
Idaho Commissioned One Century Ago
On March 24, 1919, 100 years ago, the battleship USS Idaho was commissioned with Capt. C.T. Vogelgesang in command. During World War II, Idaho served with the Pacific Fleet and participated with gunfire support of the Aleutian, Marianas, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa campaigns. The ship was in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japan formally surrendered aboard USS Missouri. Four days after the war ended, she began the long voyage to the east coast of the United States, steaming through the Panama Canal to Norfolk, VA, arriving on Oct. 16, 1945. Idaho decommissioned on July 3, 1946, and was placed in reserve until sold for scrap on Nov. 24, 1947. Idaho received seven battle stars for her WWII service.
10 Years Ago: Chinook Arrived for First Overnight Port Visit to Iraq
On March 25, 2009, coastal patrol craft USS Chinook arrived at Umm Qasr, Iraq, for the first overnight port visit by a U.S. Navy ship to the country. While in port, Chinook took on fuel and other supplies, and crewmembers participated in friendship building activities with Iraqi officers. “This is an important day for us and for Iraq,” said Lt. Allen Maxwell, Chinook’s commanding officer in a March 25, 2009, U.S. Navy release. “Our visit gave us a chance to interact with senior Iraqi navy leadership and further enhance cooperation with the Iraqi navy and marines. Today was an extraordinary opportunity, and I am proud to have made a positive difference in Iraq’s future.” To learn more about the Navy during Operation Iraqi Freedom, visit NHHC’s website.
10 Years Ago: Gettysburg Apprehends Six Pirates
On March 20, 2009, the crew from USS Gettysburg apprehended six pirates in the Gulf of Aden after distress calls from merchant vessels. During the early morning, Philippines-flagged motor vessel Bison Express sent a distress call that it was being pursued by six heavily-armed suspected pirates in a small skiff. Gettysburg spotted the pirates throwing objects overboard, and a visit, board, search, and seizure team from the cruiser detained the suspects, who were then transferred to USS Boxer for questioning. The attack was the second of the day. Earlier in the morning, suspected pirates approached motor vessel Sea Green, but the motor vessel was able to fire several warning flares as they approached, successfully warding off the attack. To learn more about pirate interdiction and the U.S. Navy, visit NHHC’s website.
Porter Commissioned 20 Years Ago
On March 20, 1999, 20 years ago, USS Porter was commissioned at Port Canaveral, FL. She’s the fifth ship named for Commodore David Porter and son, Adm. David Dixon Porter. In support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Porter joined 29 other U.S. and British ships and submarines that fired Tomahawk land-attack missiles against Iraqi military targets on March 22 and 23, 2003. In October 2007, Porter took action against suspected terrorists after they seized a pair of skiffs in the Indian Ocean. Because of the highly flammable cargo that was aboard the ship which could have been used for terrorism purposes, Sailors from Porter opened fire to disable the stolen skiffs. On April 7, 2017, Porter and USS Ross fired TLAMs at Syrian targets in response to the Syrian government using chemical weapons on its citizens.
Curtis Wilbur Commissioned 25 Years Ago
On March 19, 1994, USS Curtis Wilbur was commissioned at Long Beach, CA, where then-Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton was the keynote speaker. The ship is named after former Secretary of the Navy Curtis Wilbur who served under President Calvin Coolidge, March 19, 1924–March 4, 1929. During Wilbur’s tenure, he confronted multiple problems, including the “Teapot Dome Scandal” (a bribery scandal that included leasing production rights to Navy petroleum reserves); the Washington Naval Treaty, which limited the service’s strength; and Congressional reductions in Naval Academy appointments. In 2006, Curtis Wilbur assisted in humanitarian efforts at the village of Guinsaugon in the Philippines where a minor earthquake triggered a massive mudslide that killed at least 1,126 people.
Navy Week Wraps Up in Charleston
Navy Week Charleston wrapped up last week with more than 100 Sailors who supported the event saying farewell. During the week, the Navy featured leadership, Sailors from USS Charleston, USS Constitution, Navy divers, U.S. Fleet Forces Band performances, NHHC historians, and U.S. Naval Academy admissions. “My absolute favorite part about our Navy Week here in Charleston is being able to share the history and enhance the knowledge of the citizens that live in this beautiful area,” said Seaman Sarah Chandler, a Sailor assigned to Constitution. To learn more, read the U.S. Navy release. To learn more about the naval history of South Carolina, go to NHHC’s state infographics collection.
Book Review: “Our Little Monitor” is a Big Deal
“Our Little Monitor”: The Greatest Invention of the Civil War, by Dr. Anna Gibson Holloway and Dr. Johnathan White, is the most recent addition to the historiography of USS Monitor. The 283-page book is divided into two main parts. Part one, The Monitor in History and Memory, provides the history of the ship from conception to sinking and contains a small section about her well-known enemy, CSS Virginia. Part two, A Documentary Record of the USS Monitor, provides a number of primary resources, including letters sent to President Abraham Lincoln from well-intended citizens who proposed somewhat absurd modifications to improve Monitor. To read more of the review by museum educator Joseph Miechle, go to Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s blog.
NHHC Webpage of the Week
This week’s Webpage of the Week is Evacuation by Submarine: USS Angler in the Philippines by Adam Bisno, Communication and Outreach Division. On March 20, 1944, 75 years ago, the crew of USS Angler evacuated 58 people, including women and children, from the Philippines. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur had learned that the Japanese were killing any civilians they could find on the island of Panay, so he requested a submarine evacuation of what was believed to be about 20 people. By the time of Angler’s arrival, however, that number had grown to 58. The crew managed to get all of them aboard. Meals had to be limited to two per day in order to stretch the submarine’s food supply. There were also problems with infestations of cockroaches and lice brought aboard by the evacuees, most of whom required medical treatment. On April 1, Angler successfully completed its mission by delivering all passengers to Darwin, Australia.
Today in Naval History
On March 19, 1918, 101 years ago, Ensign Stephen Potter was the first American to shoot down an enemy seaplane, a German plane off the German coast during World War I. To learn about other significant events that have happened on this day, visit today in naval history March 19 at NHHC’s website.
Downloadable version of the above information is available here.