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.
H-Gram 028: U.S. Navy Valor in Vietnam, 1969
In his latest H-Gram, NHHC Director Sam Cox marks National Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day, which occurred on March 29. On this occasion, all U.S. Navy museums hosted commemoration events, presenting pins provided by the Vietnam War Commemoration Commission to all Vietnam War veterans in attendance as a gesture of appreciation and respect for their service and sacrifice. Director Cox sketches the strategic background to the Navy’s operations in Vietnam 50 years ago—the year 1969—and provides the Medal of Honor citations of three Sailors whose actions in the canals, rivers, and jungles of Vietnam that year went far above and beyond the call of duty. To learn more, read H-Gram 028 at the Director’s Corner. Also, watch a new video at NHHC’s website that honors the contribution of the U.S. Navy to the Vietnam War, and read an article at All Hands about a radar intercept officer who was a prisoner of war after his F-4B Phantom was shot down over North Vietnam.
NHHC’s Newest Publication Highlights Innovator John A. Dahlgren
NHHC’s recently released book, “The Autobiography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren,” is now available for free download as a 508-compliant PDF. The book, 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. Of note was his close and personal friendship with President Abraham Lincoln. Throughout this book, Luebke provides insight into Dahlgren’s activities, giving readers context about the war and his personal life. “I saw an opportunity, given the materials we had in the Navy Department Library, and wanted to publish something using his personal papers that reflected what he saw as important to his life work,” Luebke said. To learn more, read the release by MC3 Daemon Pellegan at NHHC’s website.
The Fates of Six Frigates Created by the Naval Act of 1794
On March 27, 1794, President George Washington signed into law the Naval Act of 1794 that authorized the creation of six frigates—President, Constellation, Chesapeake, United States, Congress, and Constitution. Of the six original frigates, only Constitution remains in commission. “Old Ironsides” holds the title as the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat and the honor of being America’s Ship of State. What happened to the other five ships? To find out, read the blog by MC3 Casey Scoular at The Sextant. Also, check out the video starring the National Museum of the U.S. Navy’s Director of Education Tom Frezza on the Naval Act of 1794.
The Silent Screwtop of VAW-123, Part 1
On Naval Station Norfolk, at Ely Memorial Park, there is a static display of an E2C Hawkeye early warning aircraft that has the paint scheme of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron One Hundred Twenty-Three (VAW-123)—also known as the Screwtops. The static display honors three purposes: 50 years of operations based at Norfolk, outstanding achievement, and memorialization of the loss of three aviators aboard a Hawkeye during a training mission conducted on Aug. 14, 2007, from USS Harry S. Truman. On April 1, 1967, VAW-123 was commissioned at NAS Norfolk. While VAW-123 was conducting combat operations during the Vietnam War on board USS Forrestal, the ship suffered a catastrophic fire that resulted in the loss of 134 crewmen and wounding of 161 more. Fortunately, the squadron aircraft suffered only minor damage, but the ship returned to Norfolk with millions of dollars in damages. To learn more, read the post by retired Capt. Alexander G. Monroe at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s blog. To learn more about naval aviation, go to NHHC’s website.
On March 27, Naval Station Newport, RI, observed the 10th anniversary of the loss of Lt. j.g. Francis L. Toner IV during a ceremony at a bridge that is named in his honor. Toner was killed by an Afghan National Army soldier during an insider attack at Camp Shaheen, Afghanistan, on March 27, 2009. Toner, a Seabee, had been in the country six months into a year-long tour in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. “A patriot, a son, a husband, a brother and a Seabee was lost in a moment of irrational and inexplicable violence,” said Capt. Richard Hayes III, NAVFAC Mid-Atlantic commanding officer. “His zest for life lives on in his family, friends and the very fabric of the Civil Engineer Corps.” To learn more, read the U.S. Navy release.
Navy’s First Heisman Trophy Winner Dies
Joe Bellino, the Navy’s 1960 Heisman Trophy winner, died in his home state of Massachusetts, March 28. He was 81. In 1960, Bellino rushed for 834 yards and 17 touchdowns, and he added 17 receptions for another 280 yards. He led Navy to a 9–2 record and an invitation to the Orange Bowl where they lost to Missouri 21–14. Bellino was the first of only two Navy players to receive the Heisman. Roger Staubach would go on to win the Heisman three years later. “I couldn’t believe it and I was devastated. I’m very, very sad. My heart is broken,” said retired Adm. Ed Straw, who was a classmate and close friend of Bellino. “Joe was the finest gentlemen I’ve ever known” To learn more, read the article in the Capital Gazette. Bellino was instrumental in the 17–12 win over arch rival Army that year. To see all the Army-Navy game scores, go to NHHC’s website.
SECNAV Names Destroyer in Honor of Korean War Veteran
Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer named a future Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, DDG-131, in honor of a Korean War veteran, March 26. Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class George M. Neal, a native of Springfield, OH, received the Navy Cross for his actions while serving with Helicopter Utility Squadron ONE (HU-1) during the war. “At significant risk to his personal safety, Petty Officer Neal distinguished himself by volunteering to go into harm’s way into North Korea to rescue a fellow servicemember,” said Spencer. “He was a hero, and I am proud his legacy will live on in the future USS George M. Neal.” The ship will be capable of fighting air, surface, and subsurface battles simultaneously. She will be 509 feet long and be capable of operating at speeds in excess of 30 knots. To learn more, read the U.S. Navy release.
U.K. Firm Claims It Found Bonhomme Richard; Experts Say “Not So Fast”
In November 2017, a team at Merlin Burrows, a U.K. satellite imagery firm, announced it had found the wreck of Bonhomme Richard near the Yorkshire shore. The firm combined data from historical accounts of the ship’s Sept. 23, 1779, battle with HMS Serapis along with satellite imagery and X-ray data. Scans of a wreck near Flamborough Head show the location of what the firm believes to be a ship’s bell and a figurehead, but experts in the United States are saying, “not so fast.” “Perhaps 1,500 wrecks line the British coast, many relatively close to shore,” Robert Neyland, head of NHHC’s underwater archeology branch, said. Neyland has worked with researcher Melissa Ryan in searching for Bonhomme Richard and shares her view that the wreck is likely farther offshore. “We’ve been in contact with Historic England and they didn’t think it was worth a survey to verify,” Neyland added. “Common sense tells you if the ship sunk close to shore it would’ve been found.” To learn more, read the article at USNI News. To learn more about NHHC’s Bonhomme Richard Expedition, go to NHHC’s website.
Tlingit Code Talkers Honored
Two brothers who were Tlingit Code Talkers for the U.S. Navy during World War II were among those honored at a ceremony in Juneau, AK, recently. Sailors Mark and Harvey Jacobs used the little-known language, which was spoken by Indians who inhabited the coast of Canada and Alaska, as an unbreakable code. Tlingit was used in the same fashion as the well-known Navajo Code Talkers as a means of secret communication. The military declassified the Navajo Code Talker program in 1968, but it would be decades before recognition would come to the Tlingit Code Talkers. The military kept the program a secret because it was believed that the language could be used again for future wars. In 2013, Congress recognized the code talkers, but state recognition lagged behind. Finally, Alaska state lawmakers agreed to honor them after Tlingit Vietnam veteran Bill Thomas and the Sealaska Heritage Institute pushed the idea. To learn more, read the article in the Navy Times. To learn more about Indians in the War, go to NHHC’s website.
In the Offing: Cover to Cover in Vietnam
This October, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum is scheduled to open a new exhibit, The Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea: The U.S. Navy in Vietnam, 1950–1975, which will feature artifacts from the Vietnam War—some that have never been on public display before. One of the dozens of artifacts that will make its debut at the exhibit is a utility cover worn by retired Navy Capt. Frederick A. Olds, who wore it during the war and has loaned it temporarily to the museum. Also featured is an unidentified Vietnamese insurgent peaked cap that currently resides in the collection of NHHC. If you turn the Vietnamese hat over, you’ll see a spot of blood inside of the cap. To learn more, read the post at the HRNM’s blog.
NHHC Webpage of the Week
This week’s Webpage of the Week is Goats and the U.S. Navy under NHHC’s customs and traditions page. In the early days of service, many larger ships kept goats and other livestock on board as a source of fresh meat and milk. Not all livestock did well on the open seas; goats were the only livestock able to maintain “sea legs” in any weather, and under all conditions. In the 20th century, goats served a different purpose—as mascots. The first goat mascot, El Cid, was the pet aboard the cruiser New York. He was credited with bringing good luck to the Navy Midshipmen in the 1893 victory over Army when he was brought to the football game by the crew. Today, the mascot—known as Bill the Goat—still brings good luck to the Naval Academy.
Today in Naval History
On April 2, 1951, 68 years ago, two F9F-2B Panthers of VF-191, each loaded with four 250- and two 100-pound general-purpose bombs, were catapulted from USS Princeton for an attack on a railroad bridge near Songjin, North Korea. The mission was the first U.S. Navy use of a jet fighter as a bomber. To learn about other significant events that have happened on this day, visit today in naval history April 2 at NHHC’s website.
Downloadable version of the above information is available here.