Navy History Matters – October 15, 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.

H-Gram Special Edition: No Higher Honor—The Battle off Samar

“In no engagement in its entire history has the United States Navy shown more gallantry, guts, and gumption than in the two morning hours between 0730 and 0930 off Samar,” Rear Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison assessed in the History of the U.S. Naval Operations in World War II. Although there have been plenty of U.S. Navy engagements that are contenders for “most gallant,” a strong case can be made for the Oct. 25, 1944, Battle off Samar. Outgunned and outmanned, Task Unit 77.4.3—call sign “Taffy 3”—with three destroyers and four destroyer escorts charged into a line of massive Japanese battleships to protect the force attempting to liberate the Philippine Islands. Commander Ernest Evans of USS Johnston, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, said he would “never run from a fight.” He certainly stayed true to his word. For more, read the special edition H-Gram by NHHC Director Sam Cox at the Director’s Corner.

WWII@75: Rangers Land on Outlying Islands to Leyte

On Oct. 17, 1944, 75 years ago, naval forces landed the 6th Ranger Infantry Battalion on outlying islands at the entrance to Leyte to secure and guide naval forces to the landing beaches. The Sixth Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger and supported by two corps and two divisions, would conduct invasion operations once ashore. Allied naval forces consisted primarily of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, commanded by Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid. Preliminary operations began at dawn by Task Group 77.2, under Rear Adm. Jesse B. Oldendorf, with minesweeping and shore bombardment. Although delayed by a storm, the Rangers secured the islands of Suluan and Dinagat by about noon, encountering a small number of enemy defenders on Suluan and no opposition forces on Dinagat. Rangers would occupy the third island the next day. On Oct. 20, American forces, including Gen. Douglas MacArthur, landed on their assigned beaches. A few days later, the Battle of Leyte Gulf—the largest naval battle of the modern era—began to liberate the Philippine Islands.

Hitting Print: 3D Printing Exhibit at Puget Sound Navy Museum

Hitting Print: Navy On Board With 3D Printing is the latest exhibit now open at the Puget Sound Navy Museum in Bremerton, WA. It explores the world of 3D printing—the next frontier of manufacturing. The Navy uses 3D printing to produce various items, such as spare parts and test prototypes—even to manufacture drones. On USS John C. Stennis, Sailors tested 3D printers while at sea in hopes that someday ships can print spare parts while underway, making them more self-sufficient and negating the need to carry a large inventory of parts. The PSNM exhibit features more than 40 3D-printed items and is scheduled to be open for the next two years. One of the items on display is a 3D-printed model of USS Arizona. For more, read the blog by PSNM curator Megan Churchwell.

WWII@75: African American Women Accepted into Reserve

On Oct. 19, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal’s order for African American women to be accepted into the Naval Reserve. Originally, black women were to serve on a segregated basis, but too few enlisted to form a separate WAVES corps. The first two African American women to answer the nation’s call during World War II were Frances Eliza Wills and Harriet Ida Pickens. After graduating from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School (WR) at Northampton, MA, in December 1944, they became the Navy’s first African American female officers. After graduation, Wills taught naval history and administered classification tests. Pickens led physical training sessions at Hunter Naval Training Station in Bronx, NY. For more on the African American experience in the U.S. Navy, go to NHHC’s website.

One of Three Remaining WWII Medal of Honor Recipients Dies

One of the three remaining World War II Medal of Honor recipients has died, Oct. 8. Francis Currey, who received the nation’s highest honor for his heroic actions during the Battle of the Bulge, was 94. Currey, a native of Selkirk, NY, joined the U.S. Army when he was just 17 years old. On Dec. 21, 1944, Currey secured a bazooka he found in a nearby factory and knocked out a German tank with just one shot. Moving to another position, Currey then killed or wounded three German soldiers who were in an enemy-held house. His actions were credited with saving the lives of five Americans, two of whom were wounded. After being discharged from the Army in 1946, Currey served as a counselor in the Veterans Administration, and he owned a landscaping business. Charles Coolidge and Hershel “Woody” Williams are the only two living Medal of Honor recipients remaining from WWII. For more, read the article at Fox News. 

First Carrier With Women Assigned

On Oct. 20, 1994, 25 years ago, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower deployed as the first combatant warship with women permanently assigned. More than 400 women served aboard during the six-month deployment. While underway, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s crew participated in Uphold Democracy, in the Caribbean; Southern Watch, in the Arabian Gulf; and Deny Flight, Provide Promise, and Sharp Guard, in the Mediterranean. Women began arriving to the ship on and after March 10, 1994; Congress had repealed the law that barred women from combatant ships on Nov. 30, 1993. The change acknowledged the end of a long debate about the meaning of “combat.” For more, read the essay “Twenty-five Years of Women Aboard Combatant Vessels” by COD’s Adam Bisno. For more on women in the U.S. Navy, go to NHHC’s website.

Fearless Farragut

Following a remarkably similar path to Civil War glory, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and David Glasgow Farragut were virtually unknown during the early stages of the war. Grant was the captain of a company of volunteers, Sherman was the head of a streetcar company, and Farragut had a desk job. Of the three, Farragut’s rise is in many ways the most spectacular. Nearly 60 years old at the time, Farragut had already served in the Navy for 50 years. Although a Southerner by birth, Farragut chose the Union over the Confederacy, because he believed secession was treason. Farragut’s fortunes changed in December 1861 when the Union high command decided to capture New Orleans by sea rather than land. In January 1862, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles pulled Farragut from his desk job and gave him command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. For more, read the article in the Navy Times.

SECNAV Names Ship in Honor of Pennsylvania City

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer named the next San Antonio-class amphibious transport ship in honor of a Pennsylvania city, Oct. 10. The future USS Harrisburg will be the second U.S. Navy vessel named in honor of the state’s capital city. “The people of central Pennsylvania have always played a critical role in forging the strength of our Navy and fighting to defend our nation,” said Spencer. “The future USS Harrisburg will carry on this legacy to every part of the world.” Central Pennsylvania is home to a number of Department of Defense facilities, including Naval Support Activity, Mechanicsburg. During the Civil War, Camp Curtin served as the largest camp with more than 300,000 enlistments passing through its gates. For more, read the U.S. Navy release. For more on Pennsylvania’s naval history, go to NHHC’s website.

Baseball Legend Yogi Berra Experienced Combat in Navy During WWII

Lawrence Peter Berra grew up in the Italian district of St. Louis, and a childhood friend gave him the nickname “Yogi.” Berra spent countless hours of his youth playing baseball and, in 1942, he entered the New York Yankees farm system. Although Berra was a promising prospect, his career was delayed when he entered the U.S. Navy during World War II. After completing initial training at Bainbridge, MD, Berra received orders to the Navy Amphibious Training Center at Little Creek, VA, arriving in January 1944. By March 1944, Berra was aboard LST 508, traveling in a convoy to Glasgow, Scotland. Following his arrival, he was assigned to USS Bayfield where he participated in the invasion of Normandy. After the massive amphibious invasion, Berra would go on to serve in Italy, North Africa, and the Allied invasion of southern France. For more, read the article in the News Tribune.

NHHC Webpage of the Week

This week’s webpage of the week is the newly revamped Navy leadership page located under organization and administration. On this page, you will find the historical leadership for most of the offices in the Department of the Navy, from the Secretaries of the Navy to Chiefs of Chaplains to Yards and Docks. Also included are links to an assortment of articles and blogs about leadership; a collection of books of interest to leadership; and additional resources, including U.S. Navy history lessons learned, command operations reports, and much more. This page has it all. In addition, selected imagery of some of the Navy’s most storied leaders is included. Check it out today.      

Today in Naval History

On Oct. 15, 1917, USS Cassin was torpedoed by German submarine U-61 off the coast of Ireland. Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Osmond Kelly Ingram spotted the incoming torpedo and, realizing it could hit near the depth charges at the ship’s stern, ran aft in an attempt to release them before the torpedo arrived. However, the torpedo struck the ship before he was able to release the depth charges. For his extraordinary heroism, Ingram posthumously received the Medal of Honor. Ingram was the first U.S. Navy enlisted Sailor killed in action during World War I. In 1919, Ingram became the first enlisted man to have a ship named for him, USS Osmond Ingram.