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.
Man Sets Foot on Moon: 50 Years Ago
On July 20, 1969, 50 years ago, former Navy pilot Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. Armstrong famously said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong was the commander of Apollo 11 during the eight-day mission. Michael Collins was the command module pilot, and Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin Jr. was the lunar module pilot. The landing effectively ended the Cold War-era space race with the Soviet Union and fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the moon before the end of the decade. On July 24, Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. USS Hornet and its embarked units were tasked with recovering the astronauts and transporting them to Pearl Harbor. To learn more, read “Apollo 11: The Navy’s Role in the Recovery Operation,” an essay by COD’s Adam Bisno, at NHHC’s revamped The Navy’s role in space exploration webpage.
WWII@75: Port Chicago Explosion
On July 17, 1944, 75 years ago, two massive explosions occurred at approximately 10:19 p.m. at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine, CA. Two ships—SS Quinault Victory and SS E.A. Bryan—were being loaded with ordnance and ammunition when they blew up. The blast reduced the almost fully loaded E.A. Bryan into rubble, and large pieces of Quinault Victory were found more than 500 yards away in the Suisun Bay. The blasts equaled roughly 5,000 tons of TNT, and 320 personnel in the direct vicinity of the explosion were killed instantly. African American Sailors comprised nearly two thirds of those killed. Another 250 at the facility were injured, some seriously. The explosion, which was felt as far away as 40 miles, disintegrated many of the flatcars, structures, and most of the pier. It was the worst homefront disaster of World War II. To learn more, check out the new Port Chicago Naval Magazine explosion page at NHHC’s website. It includes a Leadership Lessons Learned essay by NHHC historian Regina T. Akers.
WWII@75: Guam, Tinian Landings
Seventy-five years ago, on July 21, 1944, Task Force 53 landed the Third Marine Division and the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, along with the U.S. Army 77th Infantry Division, on Guam. The island was secured about three weeks later, though bands of enemy Japanese were long encountered after VJ Day. The recapture and liberation of Guam was originally planned for June, but had to be postponed due to the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the unexpected ferocity of enemy resistance on Saipan. The assault on Guam was a key part of Operation Forager, as were the U.S. landings on the island of Tinian that began July 24. The assault forces for Tinian—elements of two Marine divisions and an Army regimental combat team—were drawn from those who fought at Saipan. By Aug. 1, Tinian was declared secure. To learn more, read “Operation Forager Continued: Landings on Guam and Tinian” at NHHC’s website.
Vice Adm. Mike Gilday to be Nominated Next CNO
Vice Adm. Mike Gilday, a career surface warfare officer and 1985 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, is set to be nominated by President Donald J. Trump as the next chief of naval operations. Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer announced earlier in the week that all three- and four-star admirals were eligible for recommendation. According to sources, it was determined that all four-stars need to stay where they are right now. The last time a three-star was nominated to lead the Navy was when then-Vice Adm. Elmo Zumwalt was nominated in 1970. Gilday is a career surface warfare officer and the current director of the Joint Staff. He led the Navy’s component to U.S. Cyber Command, 10th Fleet/Fleet Cyber Command, from July 2016 to June 2018. If confirmed, he will be the first officer to lead a service who also commanded a cyber-component. To learn more, read the articles at USNI News and Navy Times.
Reaching the Pinnacle: The Origin of Independent Duty Corpsmen in the U.S. Navy
On April 17, 1918, ammunition ship SS Florence “H,” caught fire in Quiberon Bay while moored off Brittany, France. Although the crew hurriedly pushed crates of smokeless powder off the decks, the cargo caught fire, unleashing a series of deadly explosions. Among the first medical responders was Pharmacist’s Mate 1st Class Louis Zeller, independent duty corpsmen (IDC), USS Christabel. Zeller moved through the devastation of the fire to treat the wounded, even jumping through flames to rescue an injured Sailor. For his heroics, Zeller received the Navy Cross. During World War I, IDCs like Zeller served across the Navy aboard some 100 ships. Whether rescuing survivors or attending to the sick, IDCs proved time and time again their worth in the most trying circumstances. To learn more about IDCs, read the blog by André B. Sobocinski. To learn more about Navy medicine, go to NHHC’s website.
H. Ross Perot Dies at 89
H. Ross Perot—billionaire entrepreneur, two-time presidential candidate, and U.S. Naval Academy graduate—died July 9 at his home in Dallas, TX. He was 89. Born on June 27, 1930, Perot worked in sales with his father as a kid selling saddles, horses, newspapers, and more. He received his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in the spring of 1949 and graduated in 1953, earning the Distinguished Graduate Award. In 1957, he left the Navy and started working for IBM, selling computers to corporate businesses. Perot got the idea to start one of the earliest information technology services, Electronic Data Systems (EDS); in 1984, General Motors purchased EDS for $2.5 billion. He twice ran for president in the 1990s as an independent but failed to receive any electoral votes. Throughout his career, Perot worked on a variety of military causes, including raising awareness for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War, and funding research that led to the discovery of Gulf War Syndrome. To learn more, read the article at USNI News.
The Naval History of New Jersey
The state of New Jersey has a rich American and naval history because of its prime location near the center of the original 13 colonies—New York City and Philadelphia. During the American Revolution, more battles were fought in the “Garden State” than in any other state. At least 30 ships have been named after the state, its cities, places, and people. The most famous ship, USS New Jersey, participated in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Adm. William F. Halsey, born in Elizabeth, NJ, was one of only five men to ever hold the rank of five-star fleet admiral. To learn more, read the blog. If New Jersey is not your home state, check out NHHC’s state infographics collection. It includes all 50 states plus Puerto Rico.
How the Navy Built a Better Jet
When jet aircraft began appearing during World War II, officials at the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics were not completely sure they could be operated from an aircraft carrier. In 1946–47, developmental trials with the McDonnell FD/FH-1 Phantom and North American FJ-1 Fury demonstrated that carrier-based jet operations were practical. Although proven practical, no truly combat-capable jet fighter emerged until 1949 and 1950 when Grumman F9F Panthers and McDonnell F2H Banshees began reaching operational units. Although the new jets were considerably faster than prop-driven planes, they did not measure up to land-based jets. This became evident during the Korean War when Navy and Marine Corps aircraft were forced to either avoid airspace within range of MiGs or rely on the U.S. Air Force F-86s for protection. Carrier-based aircraft, at a minimum, needed to be fast enough to travel at transonic speeds (more than 600 mph at 40,000 feet) and, eventually, supersonic speeds (more than 660 mph at 40,000 feet). To learn how naval aviation developed the best all-around fighter jets in the world, read the article at Navy Times.
A Reluctant Naval Officer Became a War Hero
Although his fame at the time rivaled that of Adm. George Dewey, Charles E. Clark is someone largely forgotten, except by historians and residents of his hometown of Bradford, VT. Clark commanded USS Oregon in March 1898 when it was in San Francisco Bay preparing to steam to Cuba to join other American ships in a blockade of the Spanish fleet. Oregon’s mission was no mystery to the Spanish. American newspapers had pushed for war against Spain, and each time Oregon pulled into port for supplies, it was reported to the American people. Oregon’s route to the Spanish-American War was a 14,000-mile loop around South America to Florida where it joined the North Atlantic Squadron. When the squadron made it to Santiago Bay, Spain’s ships were no match for the Americans. In fact, the Spanish ships were so outmatched their only option was to try to run—but even that was unsuccessful. To find out what happened and to learn more about Clark, read the article at VTDigger.
Navy Commander Commands Ship That Rescued Her Father
Cmdr. Jean Marie Sullivan has a remarkable family history with the ship she commands. In the summer of 1990, her family lived in Liberia, and her parents worked at the embassy as part of the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service. During the country’s civil war, USS Whidbey Island was sent to Mamba Station off the coast of Monrovia, Liberia, to evacuate U.S. citizens as part of Operation Sharp Edge. “My siblings, mother, and I were evacuated earlier, but my father was required to stay,” said Sullivan, who now commands Whidbey Island. “The civil war worsened, and the rebels surrounded the embassy, sending notice that they planned to kill all Americans in the embassy. U.S. Marines rescued my father, and those Marines came from the USS Whidbey Island. It’s hard to believe that nearly 30 years later, I’m serving aboard the ship that delivered my father’s rescuers.” To learn more, read the article at Military.com.
NHHC Webpage of the Week
On July 18, 1943, 76 years ago, renowned artist Lt. Cmdr. McClelland Barclay was killed in action when the ship he was aboard, LST-342, was torpedoed by Japanese submarine Ro-106 in the Solomon Islands. In honor of Barclay’s significant contributions to the U.S. Navy during World War II, this week’s Webpage of the Week is Art by McClelland Barclay located on NHHC’s online art exhibits page. On the page, view Navy Art’s extensive collection of Barclay’s work and learn more about the artist whose work captured the patriotism and spirit of the American Sailor during the war.
Today in Naval History
On July 16, 1957, a Vought F8U-1P Crusader, piloted by U.S. Marine Corps Maj. John H. Glenn Jr. broke the transcontinental speed record by crossing the country from Los Alamitos Naval Air Station, CA, to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY, in 3 hours, 22 minutes, and 50.05 seconds. The flight reached speeds up to 723.517 mph. Dubbed Project Bullet, the flight was intended to prove that the Pratt & Whitney J-57 engine could tolerate, without damage, an extended period at combat power with full afterburner. After the flight, the engine manufacturer examined the engine and determined that power limitations would be lifted. Glenn came up with the name Project Bullet because the flight would be faster than a round from a .45-caliber pistol. The media attention Glenn gained from the record-breaking flight put him on the radar for selection to the first class of astronauts. To learn more about naval aviation, go to NHHC’s website.
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