By CAPT Jim McGovern, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11
For the last two months my flagship, USS Wasp (LHD 1), has sailed through the Coral Sea. We had the privilege to operate with our high-end Australian partners in the Pacific during the bilateral, biennial exercise Talisman Sabre. During this transit through the Coral Sea, we passed through the same waters one of Wasp’s namesakes, USS Wasp (CV-7), was lost in during World War II, and remembered the lives lost through a wreath-laying ceremony with USS Wasp (LHD 1), Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11, and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). As the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) continues to provide the most capable, flexible and forward-deployed force to the United States Navy, it is important we take time to pause and reflect on the sacrifice of our Wasp lineage.
The World War II aircraft carrier Wasp was integral in both theaters during World War II. After Wasp provided assistance in the European theater in Malta not once, but twice, Winston Churchill congratulated the crew on a successful mission by writing them and asking, “Who said a wasp couldn’t sting twice?” This quote remains as a reminder on board Wasp today, as the quote is inscribed on the door of our VIP quarters. As expertly described in James D. Hornfischer’s “Neptune’s Inferno,” Wasp was called upon again, in the Pacific theater this time, as the flagship of Air Support Forces Task Group 61.1, commanded by Rear Admiral (RADM) Leigh Noyes.
In the afternoon of September 15, 1942, after Wasp had completed flight operations for the day, she turned out of the wind making 16 knots when she was struck by two I-19 torpedoes from a Japanese submarine. Hornfischer describes the attack as “the single most devastating torpedo spread of the war.” The final mortality count was 176 men, and the ship itself. One of the Sailors that survived the attack on Wasp was Seaman JC Crowder, the great-uncle of Wasp’s current Navigation Officer, LT Roger Gonzalez. Through this familial lineage we are able to more fully appreciate the Navy’s 240-year legacy of service, sacrifice, and success. This heritage binds us to our duty and evokes operational excellence in all of us.
In addition to the Wasp, the destroyer USS O’Brien (DD 415) and the battleship USS North Carolina (BB 55) were struck in the same attack. Due to the crew’s damage-control expertise, North Carolina would survive. O’Brien’s crew also worked quickly to attempt to contain the damage, but would later sink in transit to the shipyards.
As we pause to remember all of the lives lost that day, we must also remember the importance of keeping our naval history alive. By looking back and recognizing the loss almost 77 years ago, we are able to ensure today’s Fleet does not relearn old lessons. As the crews from North Carolina and O’Brien did, we must be constant and vigilant in our preparation for any adversary, ready at a moment’s notice to respond. Reflecting on the Wasp’s actions, we must be ready to continue to provide support and assistance to our Nation’s interests, however and wherever called upon.
Amphibious Squadron 11 lives by the following mantra: Forward. Partnered. Lethal. Together with our partners in the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), who are embarked on board our ships, we espouse the oft coined phrase from General James Mattis, “no better friend, no worse enemy.” We are a formidable team. We look to our history to refine our procedures, evolutions and actions, ensuring that we remain the most forward-leaning partner-of-choice, prepared for any mission we are tasked with.
Amphibious Squadron 11 is forward deployed from Sasebo, Japan, permanently embarked on USS Wasp (LHD 1). Wasp, flagship of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group, along with USS Green Bay (LPD 20), USS Ashland (LSD 48), USS Germantown (LSD 42) and the embarked 31st MEU, is operating in the Indo-Pacific region to enhance interoperability with partners and serve as a crisis response force for any type of contingency.