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Navy History Matters – April 14, 2020

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.

What Was Life Like for Sailors During the Battle of the Atlantic?

In the winter of 1994, now retired Admiral James Stavridis was off the coast of Norway in the guided missile destroyer USS Barry. It was his first stint as a ship’s captain. Although the ship was large—8,000-ton size—she was rolling viciously in the harsh winter seas. As he walked the unstable decks and visited Sailors standing long watches, he talked to them about the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II. “First and foremost in every Sailor’s mind was the looming presence of the sea and weather—in many cases their most dangerous foe. Sailors would be shaken awake in the middle of the night for the long, dark midwatch, from midnight to 4 in the morning, tumbling out of canvas bunks jammed by the dozens in tiny sleeping compartments. Every man in the ship would have an intuitive sense of the weather after rising, feeling the pitch and yaw of the ship in the harsh seas.” For more, read the article in the NY Times.

Fair Winds, Edward Lewis “Whitey” Feightner

Rear Adm. Edward Lewis “Whitey” Feightner passed away on April 1, 2020. He was 100 years old at the time of his death. “Whitey” enlisted in the Navy’s aviation cadet program in June 1941 and continued to serve until his retirement in 1974. During World War II, Feightner, flying F4F Wildcats and F6F Hellcats, shot down nine Japanese aircraft. He was awarded four Distinguished Flying Crosses while stationed on ships that earned three Presidential Unit Citations. After the war, his career consisted of many firsts in naval aviation as a test pilot, Blue Angel, and squadron and air group commander. His achievements while serving at the Pentagon were of legend, including playing a pivotal role in the development of the F-14 Tomcat fighter and many other aircraft and weapons systems. During his extraordinary career, Feightner flew more than 100 different types of aircraft, amassing 4,100 hours in jets, 4,500 hours in props, 210 hours in helicopters, and almost 2,400 hours in civilian aircraft. His last flight was at 97 years old. For more, read the blog by NHHC Director Sam Cox at The Sextant.

WWII@75: Tirante Sinks Three Enemy Ships

On April 14, 1945, USS Tirante, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. George L. Street III, attacked a Japanese convoy during a daring night penetration of the harbor of Quelpart Island (also known as Cheju Do), southwest of the Korean peninsula, and sank the 4,000-ton Juzan Maru andantisubmarine escorts Nomi and Kaibokan. The submarine concluded its first war patrol on April 25. For Tirante’s stellar performance, Street received the Medal of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity.” Lt. Edward L. Beach, the executive officer and later commander received the Navy Cross. The ship was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

Holocaust Days of Remembrance

This year, Holocaust Days of Remembrance Week will be observed April 19–26, and Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) is April 21. This year’s theme is “Honoring the Past, Securing the Future!” The poster for this year’s observation is designed to represent the somber remembrance of the atrocities of World War II. Additionally, it reflects upon the liberation that victory brought to many repressed people. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, six million Jews and millions of non-Jewish people were persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime. By 1945, as part of the “Final Solution,” the Nazis and their allies had killed nearly two out of three European Jews.

National Volunteer Week

This year, National Volunteer Week runs April 19–25. Especially with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, it is vital for volunteers to step up when they can safely do so and help those in need. There have been reports recently of volunteers making masks for medical personnel and of others providing food for those in need. Volunteering in our communities provides immediate assistance, and volunteering for the betterment of others is a win for everyone. Do what you can to help each other during this trying time and make a difference in your own community. For more on volunteer opportunities, visit NHHC’s website.

Naval Hygiene in the Age of Epidemics

In 1894, the Navy’s South Atlantic Squadron arrived in Rio de Janeiro just as a deadly disease epidemic hit the city. To protect the crew, shipboard doctors issued a strict series of sanitary guidelines. The squadron was in port for months, yet Sailors remained almost disease-free. Surgeon General of the Navy Rufus Tryon lauded the squadron’s success as a triumph for Navy medicine and advocated using the sanitary measures to develop Navy-wide guidance. Nearly three years later, Tryon got his wish. On April 8, 1897, Navy general instructions for sanitation was the first fleet-wide guidance on protecting crews from outbreaks of infectious disease. The measures included rigid quarantine, restriction of liberty, removal of infected patients from ships, isolation of patients who may be infected, strict enforcement of personal hygiene, and disinfection of contaminated material. Although the Navy was still limited in treatment options, the guidance represented a significant milestone in the history of medicine and progress in the prevention of disease. For more on this topic, read the blog by André B. Sobocinski at Navy Medicine Live.

Father of the Trap

As plans proceeded to convert Jupiter into the Navy’s first aircraft carrier, Lt. Cdr. Godfrey deC. Chevalier, the carrier’s prospective flight officer, noted an oversight in the plans. Interviewed in 1970, Alfred “Mel” Pride recalled, “Chevalier told me that I was to stay ashore at Norfolk and devise an arresting gear to stop the aircraft on Langley’s deck.” Pride, who had joined the Navy at the onset of World War I, applied for flight training and eventually flew antisubmarine missions from naval air stations in Europe before the war’s end. Pride was to be assisted by Lt. Frederick W. Pennoyer Jr., who had graduated the Naval Academy in 1915 and later obtained a master’s degree in engineering at MIT. In 1921 through 1922, Naval Station Hampton Roads would serve as the testbed for flight operations. For more, read the article at the Naval Historical Foundation’s website. For more on naval aviation, go to NHHC’s website.

The U.S. Navy in World War I

In a recent naval history podcast from Preble Hall, NHHC’s Dr. Tommy Sheppard discusses the role of the U.S. Navy during World War I and its leaders. The Preble Hall podcast, conducted by personnel at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, MD, interviews historians, practitioners, military personnel, and other experts on a variety of naval history topics from ancient history to more current events. Also uploaded recently are a firsthand account of the landings on Okinawa and the end of reconstruction and the new Navy, in which doctoral candidate Colin McConarty of Boston College’s History Department talks about key legislators of the late 1800s, including Congressman and later Secretary of the Navy Hilary Herbert.

NHHC Webpage of the Week

In honor of the ongoing heroic efforts of medical personnel during this COVID-19 pandemic, this week’s Webpage of the Week is the USNS Mercy page, authored by NHHC historian Mark Evans. Originally laid down on Dec. 1, 1974, as San Clemente-class merchant oil tanker Worth, Mercy was placed in service with Military Sealift Command on Nov. 8, 1986. The ship’s mission is to “provide afloat, mobile, acute surgical medical facilities when called upon to the U.S. military, and hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.” The ship, which is currently moored at the Los Angeles World Cruise Center in San Pedro, CA, to provide support during the coronavirus pandemic, has a long history of answering the call for help. On Dec. 26, 2004, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, triggering a tsunami across the Indian Ocean littoral. The disaster killed more than 230,000 people. Mercy deployed to the region to provide aid and deliver supplies to emergency personnel inland during the crisis.

Today in Naval History

On April 14, 1988, during Operation Ernest Will, USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an Iranian mine off Qatar. The mine blew an immense hole in the ship’s hull. Ten Sailors from Samuel B. Roberts sustained severe injuries, including four who were seriously burned. Cmdr. Paul X. Rinn was hurt as well. The ship should have sunk, but thanks to an extraordinary damage control effort by all hands of an extremely well-trained crew, Samuel B. Roberts was kept afloat. The U.S. response was fierce. Operation Praying Mantis was the largest of five major U.S. Navy surface actions since World War II. It was the first, and so far only, time the U.S. Navy has exchanged surface-to-surface missile fire with an enemy, and it resulted in the largest warship sunk by the U.S. Navy since WWII. In the one-day operation, the U.S. Navy destroyed two Iranian surveillance platforms, sank two of their ships, and severely damaged another.

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.  

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