Navy History Matters – September 24, 2019

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.

Ramage Docks in Beirut, First U.S. Ship to Visit in 36 Years

Guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage (DDG-61) docked at Beirut, Lebanon, Sept. 14, marking the first time a U.S. warship has pulled into the country in 36 years. During the early 1980s, a multinational peacekeeping force deployed to Lebanon to stabilize the country after fighting broke out between Syria, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Israel. The peacekeeping mission turned to tragedy when, on the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, two truck bombs struck separate buildings housing U.S. Marines and French forces, killing nearly 300 American and French servicemembers—241 of the casualties were Americans, mostly Marines. This visit from Ramage was to highlight the strong U.S.—Lebanon relationship that has developed over the years. “We are committed to our partnership with the Lebanese Armed Forces and our shared goal of maritime security in the region,” said Vice Adm. Jim Malloy, commander of U.S. Forces Central Command/Commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet. For more, read the article in The Jerusalem Post and the U.S. Naval Forces CENTCOM release. Also, go to the Lebanon—They Came in Peace page on NHHC’s website. The page provides a brief historical summary, media, resources, and selected imagery on the 1980s peacekeeping mission.

Widow of Navy’s First MCPON Visits NHHC

Naval History and Heritage Command hosted Ima Black, widow of the Navy’s first Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPON) Delbert Black, and former member of the WAVES, for a tour of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy at the Washington Navy Yard, Sept. 20. The tour provided Black the opportunity to see pieces from NHHC’s expansive collection, including uniforms and memorabilia from her husband’s service as well as her own. Black met her late husband while serving with the WAVES. Black recalled when she first saw one of the WAVES in uniform at a recruiter’s office in Alabama. “I looked up and saw a woman standing there and her uniform was just so white,” said Black. “That Navy recruiter looked at me and said, ‘You know you can wear a uniform just like that?’ and when he said that, there were stars that went off inside my head and I knew that was my ticket to see the world.” For more, read the article.

USS Constitution Honors Educators

On Sept. 20, USS Constitution and her crew took more than 450 guests underway to honor educators across the New England region. The event, held in coordination with the USS Constitution Museum, was to thank educators for their tremendous support of the U.S. Armed Services, veterans, and the nation and to acknowledge the significant impact teachers have on today’s youth. David Cornwell, a history teacher from Vermont, said being aboard underway was a great experience for him and he will relay it to his students. “Constitution is a living link to our history,” said Cornwell. “It ties together our founding and present day.” For more, read the USS Constitution release.

Gold Star Mother’s Day

Presidential proclamation established Gold Star Mother’s Day on June 23, 1936. Expanded in 2012 to include parents, spouses, and children, Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day is observed the last Sunday in September—this year, Sept. 29. The day recognizes and honors those who have lost a family member serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The name Gold Star Mothers was derived from the custom of military families placing a service flag near their front window. The flag featured a star for each family member serving their country; blue stars represented living members, and gold stars honored family members who had lost their lives in combat. American Gold Star Mothers was incorporated in 1929, obtaining a federal charter from the U.S. Congress. The organization began with 25 mothers living in the Washington, DC, area and soon expanded to include affiliated groups throughout the nation.

WWII@75: Nautilus Evacuates 47 from Panay

On Sept. 30, 1944, 75 years ago during World War II, USS Nautilus landed 95 tons of supplies, 70 drums of gasoline, and four drums of oil at a designated spot on Panay, Philippine Islands. While there, the submarine embarked 47 evacuees. The evacuation by submarine was one of about a dozen that occurred during that year in the Philippines. After Panay fell in April 1942, American and Filipino refugees trapped on the island had two choices, either face the wrath of the Japanese or go into hiding. As time went on, the refugees’ situation became more and more perilous. They lived in constant fear the Japanese might discover them at any moment. In late 1943, the Japanese announced that any American found in the Philippines would be executed. In March 1944, USS Angler had evacuated 58 men, women, and children. The Nautilus rescue occurred in the exact location as Angler’s rescue. 

Heroic Effort Saved Shipwrecked USS Saginaw Crew

In early 1870, USS Saginaw was at Midway Island supporting dredging operations to deepen the entrance of the harbor, and by Oct. 21, completed the task. A week later, Saginaw sailed for Ocean Island to make a routine check for castaways before returning to San Francisco. On the way, the ship struck an outlying reef and grounded. Before the ship was battered to pieces, the crew relocated to the remote Kure Atoll. The marooned crew of 93, who all survived the wreck, was able to live on monk seals, fish, and sea turtles, but the commanding officer feared provisions would not last. He ordered his 26-foot captain’s gig be fitted with sails and, on Nov. 18, five volunteers set sail for Honolulu to get help. About 1,500 miles and 31 days later, as they neared Kauai, the boat capsized in the surf. Only Coxswain William Halford survived. Exhausted and half-starved, Halford was able to wade ashore and find help. On Jan. 3, 68 days after the shipwreck, the crew of Saginaw was rescued. For more, read the article at the Times-Herald.

Killed at Pearl Harbor, Sailor Finally Laid to Rest

A Sailor killed during the Pearl Harbor attack was finally laid to rest in his hometown, Clayton, NJ, Sept. 14. Hundreds gathered to say farewell to Fireman 3rd Class Harold Kendall “Brud” Costill, who was just 18 years old when he was killed while onboard USS West Virginia. His only surviving sibling, Gene Costill, 93, was at the funeral. “He was one of the greatest guys I ever knew,” he said. “He was fantastic. My mother and my sister never knew when this day would come. They never knew where, but they never gave up hope, they knew it would happen.” His sister, Joan Burke, spearheaded the effort to bring him home, although she died three years ago. The family was notified in June that Costill had been identified through DNA. For more, read the article in the Navy Times.

Widow of WWII Navy Hero Turns 100

“I really have had a good, good life,” said Tess Gay as friends and family stopped by her home in Marietta, GA, to celebrate her 100th birthday. Tess is the widow of decorated Navy pilot and hero from the Battle of Midway Lt. George Gay. Tess grew up on a naval base just outside Washington, DC, in a military family. She said her life changed after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II. “I was stunned,” she said. “A friend of mine’s husband was called to serve right after Pearl Harbor.” Six months after the attack came the Battle of Midway. George was an ensign assigned to Torpedo Squadron 8. His heroism during the battle earned him the Navy Cross, Air Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with blue star, and the Purple Heart. Although George became an instant celebrity in the United States, Tess said she only had a vague idea who her future husband was before they met for the first time. “I loved everything about him,” she said. “It wasn’t perfect, I don’t mean that, but I just liked his way of doing things. And I must have liked him for 50 years.” For more, read the article in the Navy Times.  

Navy Lays Keel of Future USS Savannah

The U.S. Navy held a keel-laying and authentication ceremony at Austal USA’s shipyard in Mobile, AL, for the future USS Savannah, Sept. 20. Savannah is the sixth ship named for the city on the east coast of Georgia. “We are honored to lay the keel of what will one day be a magnificent combat ship that will defend our great country as our Sailors operate her around the globe,” said Capt. Mike Taylor, LCS program manager. The keel laying traditionally represents the formal start of a ship’s construction. Fabrication of the ship begins months in advance. Today, keel laying continues to recognize symbolically the joining of the components of the ship and her ceremonial beginning. For more, read the U.S. Navy release

U.S. Navy Gets Desperately Needed Win at “Midway”

World War II movie “Midway” is scheduled to open in theaters Nov. 8 for Veterans Day weekend. Director Roland Emmerich (“The Patriot” and “Independence Day”) has been trying to get “Midway” made for decades, and improving technology has finally allowed him to create the movie he always envisioned. “Midway” stars Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz and features Luke Evans, Patrick Wilson, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid, Nick Jonas, Aaron Eckhart, and Darren Criss. The Battle of Midway was fought June 3–7, 1942, at and near the island of Midway in the central Pacific Ocean. After Midway, the tide of the war turned in favor of the United States and her Allies. To watch the trailer, go to Military.com

NHHC Webpage of the Week

As we begin to say goodbye to the warm months of summer and prepare for cooler temperatures, this week’s webpage of the week should get you in the right frame of mind. Polar exploration in the Navy dates back to as early as 1839 when Capt. Charles Wilkes led the first U.S. naval expedition into Antarctic waters. Later, Adm. Richard E. Byrd established an Antarctic naval base known as Little America and led multiple expeditions in the 1930s and after World War II. Operations conducted by the Navy during the Cold War included multiple Deep Freeze operations, and on Aug. 3, 1958, USS Nautilus became the first to pass directly below the North Pole. For more on these events plus notable people, articles, art, artifacts, and much more, check out this new page today at NHHC’s website.  

Today in Naval History

On Sept. 24, 1918, while on a test flight in a Sopwith Camel, Lt. j.g. David S. Ingalls, USNRF (Naval Aviator No. 85), sighted a German two-seat Rumpler over Nieuport, Belgium. In company with another Camel, Ingalls attacked and scored his fifth aerial victory in six weeks to become the Navy’s first ace. Ingalls also shot down at least one enemy observation balloon while serving with No. 213 Squadron of the British Royal Air Force. For these and other meritorious acts, the British awarded Ingalls the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the United States conferred upon him the Distinguished Service Medal. An official British evaluation of Ingalls’ service named him “one of the finest men No. 213 Squadron ever had.” For more on naval aviation, visit NHHC’s website.

For more dates in naval history, including your selected span of dates, see Year at a Glance at NHHC’s website. Be sure to check this page regularly, as content is updated frequently.  

Downloadable version of the above information is available here