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 040: “One Helluva Day”
In his latest H-Gram, NHHC Director Sam Cox covers the costly U.S. and Allied naval campaign to secure the islands of Leyte and Mindoro, and then to conduct the main amphibious landing on the island of Luzon at Lingayen Gulf. During the period of November 1944–January 1945, Japanese kamikaze attacks were increasingly effective. The attacks caused the loss of the escort carrier Ommaney Bay and heavy cruiser Louisville, and serious damage to other major U.S. warships. The Jan. 6, 1945, kamikaze attack on Louisville resulted in the death of Rear Adm. Theodore E. Chandler, who received the Navy Cross and Silver Star posthumously. He was one of four U.S. admirals killed in battle during World War II. Also included in this H-Gram is the posthumous Medal of Honor for Cmdr. George F. Davis, commanding officer of USS Walke. For more on these topics, read H-Gram 040 at the Director’s Corner.
NHHC Historian on Scholarly Exchange
NHHC historian John Sherwood—Fulbright-Schuman European Union Affairs Fellowship recipient for the 2019–2020 academic year—has been working on the subject of EU and NATO naval migration-related operations. While in Europe, Sherwood has divided his time between two host institutions: the Institute for the Security Policy at Kiel University in Germany and the Hellenic National Defence College in Athens, Greece. To read about his experience, check out the blogs Kiel: Germany’s Naval City and Greece: Breaking Stereotypes. Sherwood has been a historian with NHHC since 1997, and has written six books on military and naval history. He holds a PhD in history from The George Washington University.
Veterans, Officials Mark 75th Anniversary of Key WWII Battle
On Jan. 9, World War II veterans and military attachés from the Philippines and Australia commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Luzon at the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC. The battle was one of the bloodiest battles of the war in the Pacific. More than 10,000 American servicemembers were killed in action. The Japanese lost more than 200,000, and between 120,000–140,000 Filipino civilians and combatants were killed as well. On April 9, 1942, Philippine-American forces surrendered to the Japanese at Bataan. Approximately 75,000 Filipino and American troops were forced to make a grueling 65-mile march to Japanese prison camps. Thousands perished during the march due to intense heat, dehydration, and harsh treatment by the Japanese guards. Ira Rigger, who served as a Seabee in the Pacific during the war was at the commemoration. “We built a harbor there,” he said. “It was crucial that we won. That’s the point. If we hadn’t have won, we’d have been serfs.” For more, read the article at DOD’s website.
Martin Luther King Jr.
In observance of the 2020 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a national day of service will be recognized on Jan. 20 throughout the United States. Dr. King was widely regarded as America’s preeminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest civil rights leaders in history. The holiday celebrates his life and achievements and encourages people everywhere to reflect on the principles of nonviolent social change and racial equality. The national recurring theme is “Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On…Not a Day Off.” It calls upon the American people to engage in public service and promote peaceful social change. To learn more about Dr. King or to download products for celebrations, visit the DEOMI Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday page.
Independence Commissioned 10 Years Ago
On Jan. 16, 2010, USS Independence, the first of the Independence littoral combat ships, was commissioned at Mobile, AL. It is the sixth ship to bear the name Independence. Ships that bear the name trace their roots back to the beginning of our country. The first Independence, a Continental sloop, sailed with Ranger and John Paul Jones in 1776 when Ranger received the first national salute of our flag. The second Independence served nearly 100 years and participated in the War of 1812. Two aircraft carriers have borne the name as well. The first, (CVL-22), served during World War II and the second, (CVA-62), served for more than 39 years, participating in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam War, and Desert Storm. During the active service of the sixth Independence, ship’s personnel passed through the Panama Canal in April 2012, trained with the Mexican navy, and successfully completed RIMPAC in 2014.
“Pin”-nacle Achievement: The Story Behind NASA’s Astronaut Pin
On Jan. 10, NASA graduated its 22nd astronaut candidate class at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. This class, under the Artemis program, includes 11 NASA candidates—three are U.S. Navy officers—and two Canadian Space Agency candidates. At the ceremony, candidates received an astronaut pin, signifying their eligibility for future flights. The tradition of the pin dates back almost 60 years. On Dec. 6, 1961, Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom were presented the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force’s first astronaut wings. The wings resemble the two branches’ aviator badges with a device at the center featuring a five-pointed star and three rays passing through a halo. As NASA’s space program expanded, a new pin was deemed necessary. In 1963, astronauts chose a new pin at a get-together organized by Wally Schirra. Its design included the silver version, which is awarded at the completion of training, and a gold version, presented after an astronaut has flown in space. For more on this topic, read the article. For more on the Navy’s role in space exploration, go to NHHC’s website.
Antarctic Continent Discovered
On Jan. 19, 1840, 180 years ago during the Wilkes Expedition, USS Vincennes, commanded by Lt. Charles Wilkes, became the first U.S. Navy ship to reach the Antarctic Continent, although it took later explorations to confirm the continent existed. Wilkes reported that he, “…saw the land gradually rising beyond the ice to the height of three thousand feet…. It could be seen extending to the east and west of our position full sixty miles…and now that all were convinced of its existence, I gave the land the name of the Antarctic Continent.” Vincennes continued westward, attempting to land, but was prevented from doing so by ice and heavy seas. After being blocked by an immense wall of ice, the ship set sail for Sydney, Australia. For more on polar exploration, go to NHHC’s website.
Keel Laid for Future USS John Basilone
General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, ME, announced the keel of the future U.S. Navy destroyer USS John Basilone was ceremoniously laid during a ceremony, Jan. 10. Laying the keel—one of the major events in the life of a ship—is a precursor to the final construction of the ship, testing, and sea trials. The destroyer is named in honor of Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, who received the Medal of Honor for “his extraordinary heroism” on the night of Oct. 24–25, 1942, during the Battle of Guadalcanal. Following his service at Guadalcanal, Basilone was assigned to Marine units in Washington, DC, and California. Basilone was killed in action during the Battle for Iwo Jima in February 1945. He received the Navy Cross posthumously for his actions during Iwo Jima. For more, read the U.S. Navy release.
Marv’s Mission: Levy Enlisting NFL’s Help to Honor Greatest Generation
For former Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy, history has long been a coaching tool. He often quoted Winston Churchill and one time, to teach his team the importance of winning games away, he asked his team a question about Adolph Hitler’s failed invasion of Russia during World War II. “Do you know why Hitler lost the war?” Levy asked. Nobody knew. “Because he couldn’t win on the road,” Levy yelled. Levy, who is now 94, hasn’t coached in decades but still wants history to be part of the National Football League. Levy is campaigning the NFL and each of its teams to honor the 75th anniversary of WWII. The NFL already honors veterans, but Levy wants them “to do more this year by honoring and preserving the memory of WWII and helping to create the next Greatest Generation.” The Pro Football Hall of Fame coach enlisted the day after he graduated from high school in 1943, but the war ended before he could be deployed to the Pacific. To learn more about Levy’s notable effort, read the article.
NHHC Webpage of the Week
On Jan. 16, 1991, President George H.W. Bush announced the beginning of combat operations to liberate Kuwait from occupying Iraqi forces who had invaded the country months earlier. In commemoration of the event, this week’s Webpage of the Week is Desert Shield/Desert Storm located under Middle East Engagements on NHHC’s website. On this page, read a short history on the war and then browse through the multitude of resources, including notable people, notable naval vessels, selected articles and blogs, an online art exhibit, related operations, selected imagery, and much, much more. Explore this page today.
Today in Naval History
On Jan. 14, 1863, Navy General Order 4, signed by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, announced the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln signed on Jan. 1, 1863. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation as the nation approached its third year of the Civil War. The proclamation declared, “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Although the proclamation did not end slavery, it promised freedom—based on military victory—and captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans. The proclamation also announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling them to become their own liberators. By war’s end, almost 200,000 African-American Sailors and Soldiers fought for the Union.
Downloadable version of the above information is available here