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.
Memorial Dedication Held to Honor Thresher Crew
More than 1,000 guests gathered at the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Amphitheater for a memorial dedication to honor the crew of USS Thresher, Sept. 26. On April 10, 1963, all 129 men aboard Thresher were lost during deep-dive tests off Massachusetts. It was the deadliest accident in submarine history. Organized by the Thresher Memorial Foundation, a polished, slant-faced commemorative memorial was recently placed at the cemetery to honor the men who lost their lives that day. “I am very humbled and privileged to stand here before you as a Thresher family member,” said Thomas Wiley, brother of Lt. j.g. John J. Wiley. “Lt. j.g. John J. Wiley graduated with distinction in 1961 from the U.S. Naval Academy and was on the Thresher. He was my older brother, my role model and my hero. The nation lost 129 men defending our country during the Cold War challenges of that period. The placement of the memorial in Arlington National Cemetery is a momentous achievement.” For more, read the article by MC2 Mutis Capizzi at NHHC’s website.
Naval Observatory @175
On Oct. 1, 1844, 175 years ago, the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO), headed by Lt. Matthew F. Maury, occupied its first permanent quarters in the Foggy Bottom district of Washington, DC, before it moved nearly 50 years later to its present location north of Georgetown. Maury, who was named the officer in charge of the Depot of Charts and Instruments two years earlier, had planned to include four important fields related to the problems of navigation: astronomy, hydrography, magnetism, and meteorology. With the new quarters—including an astronomical observatory—Maury took charge of all astronomical operations as the first superintendent of the USNO. In 1846, the observatory’s role in establishing and communicating the exact time of day was just the first of USNO’s trailblazing accomplishments. For more, read the essay by COD’s Adam Bisno at NHHC’s website.
Lake Michigan’s Naval Aviation History
During World War II, the United States dramatically increased its ranks of naval aviators, but the requirement to train and qualify them was problematic. Previously, carrier qualification took place onboard frontline ships, but with the threat of German and Japanese submarines in both the Atlantic and Pacific, an alternative location was necessary. The Navy decided on Lake Michigan, but the problem was getting an aircraft carrier into the Great Lakes. The solution was the procurement of passenger steamers Seandbee and Greater Buffalo that plied the waters of the Great Lakes prior to the war. The Navy quickly converted them into training aircraft carriers, although they retained their coal-driven, side-wheel propulsion systems. Seandbee, renamed Wolverine, and Greater Buffalo, renamed Sable, were where a majority of World War II naval aviators made their first launches and recoveries. For more, read the blog by National Naval Aviation Museum historian Hill Goodspeed. For more on naval aviation, go to NHHC’s website.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Established in 1945 by Congress, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is celebrated annually in October. The theme for 2019 is “Don’t set limits on unlimited potential.” The awareness month is observed so Americans may reaffirm their commitment to ensuring equal opportunity for all citizens and pay tribute to the accomplishments of men and women with disabilities, who contributed, continue to contribute, and wish to contribute to making the nation’s economy strong. National Disability Employment Awareness Month dates back to 1945 when servicemembers with disabilities returned from World War II looking for employment.
Naval History of Vermont, West Virginia, and Washington, DC
The state of Vermont has at least 20 U.S. Navy vessels named after noteworthy people, places, and cities to honor the “Green Mountain State” and its significant naval history. One of the ships—named after the state’s capital—was the first submarine to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles during Operation Iraqi Freedom. USS Montpelier would go on to fire 20 missiles during OIF, earning the submarine a “clean sweep.” West Virginia would seem unlikely to have naval ties, but the landlocked state has 25 vessels named in honor of its cities, places, and people. Rear Adm. Claud Jones from Fire Creek, WV, received the Medal of Honor for his actions while serving aboard USS Memphis when it encountered a hurricane near the Dominican Republic in 1916. Washington, DC, has many naval ties, including the Washington Navy Yard, U.S. Naval Observatory, and Farragut Square. For more, read the blogs on the naval histories of Vermont, West Virginia, and Washington, DC. Not from one of these spots? Check out NHHC’s state infographics collection, which includes all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
U.S., France Sign Agreement on CSS Alabama
On Oct. 3, 1989, 30 years ago, the United States and France signed an agreement recognizing CSS Alabama as an important heritage resource for both nations and established a joint French-American Scientific Committee to oversee archaeological investigation of the wreck. Ratification of the agreement established a precedent for international cooperation as it applies to archaeological research, as well as the protection of unique historic shipwrecks. USS Kearsarge sank CSS Alabama during a Civil War battle off the coast of Cherbourg, France, on June 19, 1864. French navy mine hunter Circe discovered a wreck, 125 years later, off Cherbourg, and French Navy Commander Max Guerout later confirmed the wreck was Alabama. Through 1995, yearly archaeological investigations at the Alabama wreck site were conducted under the direction of Guerout.
VCNO Directs End of Diving on Houston
On Oct. 5, 1973, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James L. Holloway III directed the end of diving on the wreck USS Houston, which was lost with nearly 650 of her crew in 1942 during the Battles of Java Sea and Sunda Strait. Holloway directed an end to diving out of respect for the wreck’s status as a war grave. In 2014, after receiving reports of unauthorized disturbance, NHHC and other organizations collaborated with the Indonesian Navy to assess the wreck’s state of preservation. Dives revealed evidence of illicit disturbance. NHHC implemented strategies to actively preserve the site and raise awareness, ensuring the service and sacrifice of the “Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast” is not forgotten. For more, check out the USS Houston, Then and Now story map at NHHC’s website.
RADM Zirkle Honors Navy Grasse Day with Oldest Ally
To commemorate the 57th French-American Navy Grasse Day, which honors the legacy of French Adm. Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse, Rear Adm. Matthew A. Zirkle, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa chief of staff, delivered remarks during ceremonies in Grasse and Bar-sur-Loop France, Sept. 22. “Over 240 years ago, a group of 13 British colonies in the New World set out on an ambitious quest to form a country founded on the principles of liberty and democracy,” said Zirkle. “This quest was not without help from our French friends, who shared similar values and came to our aid during the American Revolution.” De Grasse is best known for his actions as commander of the French fleet during the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781. His engagements led to the defeat of the British at Yorktown and yielded victory for the Americans. For more, read the U.S. Navy release.
Curator of Ship Models Established
On Oct. 5, 1945, the position of curator of ship models was established by the Bureau of Ships, along with a “Models and Special Training Devices Section” headed by the curator. Commander Joseph Appleton, USNR, was the first curator. Since 1883, the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair had a policy of constructing and retaining exhibition-type models for most new classes of warships. Rear Adm. David W. Taylor, known as the founder, is credited with constructing the first experimental towing tank ever built in the United States. Since 1942, the program has operated out of the David Taylor Basin in West Bethesda, MD. Naval History and Heritage Command and the Curator of Ship Models cooperate closely, sharing the ship model collection with the fleet and the American public. The National Museum of the U.S. Navy displays the largest numbers of the curator’s models.
NSA Bethesda Established
On Oct. 7, 2009, 10 years ago, Naval Support Activity Bethesda, MD, was established, transferring base operating support functions from the activity at National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda. The history of NSA Bethesda began with a 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) recommendation resulting in congressional legislation ordering the consolidation of NNMC and Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The transition was completed with the opening of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, on Sept. 15, 2011. The consolidation brought together two great medical centers on the grounds of the former NNMC by joining Army, Navy, and Air Force healthcare systems.
NHHC Webpage of the Week
In preparation for the 244th birthday of the U.S. Navy on Oct. 13, this week’s webpage of the week is the Navy Birthday Toolkit. On this page, you will find a multitude of information and resources to help prepare for this year’s celebration. Included are Navy logos, planning documents, digital resources, and Navy historical information. This year’s theme—“No Higher Honor”—draws upon the extraordinary service, sacrifice, and heroism displayed during Leyte Gulf’s Battle off Samar 75 years ago. New content has been added, including links to new pages, an H-Gram and blog post by NHHC Director Sam Cox, plus much, much more. Since our nation was founded, the Navy has defended American interests and values around the globe. Make your event special. Use the resources NHHC has to offer, and celebrate the heroism of the Sailors who are part of the world’s greatest Navy!
Today in Naval History
On Oct. 1, 1980, USS Cochrane came across two boats 620 miles east of Saigon carrying 146 Vietnamese refugees who were fleeing Southeast Asia. Since the fall of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the Khmer Rouge establishment of Kampuchea (Cambodia), and other events, refugees poured out of communist ruled countries to avoid hunger, political retribution, and genocide. After the destroyer embarked the refugees, the crew provided them aid and comfort while continuing to the ship’s destination, Singapore. After reaching Singapore, Cochrane disembarked the passengers, refueled, and departed for the Indian Ocean.