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Navy History Matters – June 2, 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.

Battle of Midway 78th Anniversary

In early 1942, cryptologists under then-Cmdr. Joe Rochefort at Pearl Harbor’s Station Hypo detected Japanese references to a pending operation against an objective designated “AF.” Fleet intelligence officer Capt. Edwin Layton and Rochefort were able to confirm “AF” meant Midway. From June 3–7, 1942, the U.S. Navy was engaged in one of the most decisive naval battles of World War II. During the battle, naval aviators—such as Torpedo Squadron Eight pilot Ensign George Gay; Cmdr. Torpedo Squadron Eight Lt. Cmdr. John C. Waldron; and Commander (Enterprise) Air Group Lt. Cmdr. Clarence Wade McClusky Jr.—demonstrated skill and boldness against great odds. At the heart of every victory in naval history is the sacrifice and valor of American Sailors. Intelligence set the stage for victory, but the Battle of Midway was fought and won by the skill, courage, and blood of those who flew the planes, manned the antiaircraft batteries, and peered through the periscopes. On June 4, 1999, the chief of naval operations designated the Battle of Midway and the Navy’s birthday for special commemoration with the issuance of NAVADMIN 164/99.

H-Gram 048: The Naval Battle of Okinawa—U.S. Flagships Hit

In his latest H-Gram, NHHC Director Sam Cox covers the naval Battle of Okinawa from late May to early June 1945, including the kamikaze hits on flagships USS Bunker Hill, USS New Mexico, and USS Enterprise. All of the ships survived, although the hits on Bunker Hill caused the most casualties on a single ship from a kamikaze attack, with 396 crewmembers killed. The mass kamikaze attacks Kikusui No. 6, 7, and 8, are also discussed. In addition, Typhoon Viper, which occurred on June 5, 1945, and damaged all four carriers of TG 38.1 with seas of 50–60 feet and winds near 100 knots is examined. For more on these subjects, read H-Gram 048 at the Director’s Corner.

Fair Winds Rear Adm. Thomas Francis Brown III

Rear Adm. Thomas Francis “Tom” Brown III passed away recently. He was 87 years old. Brown entered officer candidate school in 1954 and served as a naval aviator his entire career until his retirement in 1984. His final assignment was as Director, Strike and Amphibious Warfare Division (OP-954) in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. During the Vietnam War, Brown flew 343 combat missions. He received the Silver Star for dropping a bridge span in North Vietnam. He also received four Distinguished Flying Crosses and multiple other awards over the course of his career. He commanded VA-37, CVW-19, USS Caloosahatchee, USS Midway, Military Enlistment Processing Command, CARGRU 1, and CARGRU 5/CTF-77, during which he amassed 4,843 hours of accident-free flying and 1,017 traps. For more on Brown’s life, read the blog by NHHC Director Sam Cox at The Sextant.

WWII@75: Fred Lester

On June 8, 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, Hospital Apprentice First Class Fred Faulkner Lester spotted a wounded Marine beyond front lines; he crawled to him, despite being hit twice by enemy gunfire, and pulled him to safety. Refusing medical treatment for his fatal injuries, Lester guided squad members in providing medical treatment to the rescued Marine and to others before dying shortly thereafter. For his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity,” he posthumously received the Medal of Honor. Lester is buried at Clarendon Hills Cemetery in Westmont, IL. USS Lester was named in honor of the World War II hero.

The Seabees and Operation Overlord

In a recent naval history podcast from Preble Hall, Dr. Lara Godbille, director of the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, and Gina Nichols, head of the Collections Department at the museum, discuss the role of the Construction Battalions (Seabees) in the European Theater of Operations during World War II, specifically with regard to D-Day. The Preble Hall podcast, conducted by personnel at USNA 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 loaded recently are the War of 1812 and experimental learning, the Navy Seabees: Rear Adm. Ben Moreell speaks, and the case of Ensign Vernon “Copy” Berg, which features discussion about a paper written by doctoral candidate Heather Haley that won honorable mention for the Reynolds Prize this year.

Aviation Museum Opened Doors 57 Years Ago

On June 8, 1963, the National Aviation Museum opened its doors in Pensacola, FL. The museum, known today as the National Naval Aviation Museum, began modestly in a renovated, wood-frame building constructed during World War II. Capt. James McCurtain, the museum’s first director, displayed eight aircraft that were rotated periodically with others in the 8,500 square-foot space. In March 1964, the chief of naval operations established an executive committee to consider the need to expand the facility due to growing demands placed upon it. New construction appeared to be the only real solution, but the main obstacle was funding. On Dec. 5, 1966, the Naval Aviation Museum Association received tax-exempt status, which allowed it to raise funds in support of the museum unregulated by restrictions of official Navy activities. By 1970, a proposal for a five-phase design to be built over years was accepted. Today, the NNAM is the world’s largest naval aviation museum with more than 150 restored aircraft.

Spruance Christened 10 Years Ago

On June 5, 2010, USS Spruance was christened at Bath Iron Works, Bath, ME. The destroyer is named in honor of Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, who served in a number of high-level positions over the course of his career, notably as the Fifth Fleet commander during World War II. During the war, Spruance took part in the Battle of Midway, Operation Galvanic, Operation Forager, Battle of the Philippine Sea, Battle of Iwo Jima, and the Battle of Okinawa. He ended his career as the president of the Naval War College. After commissioning on Oct. 11, 2011, Spruance’s namesake ship steamed from Key West, FL, to her homeport of San Diego, CA. In March 2012, Spruance, during its eight-week Combat Systems Ship Qualification Trial, set an Aegis record when it intercepted a long-range air target at the farthest distance in the history of the Aegis and Standard Missile program.

In the COVID-19 Era, Fleet Week Goes Viral

The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard hosted the first-ever Virtual Fleet Week New York recently, providing residents of the city a new way to take part in the annual celebration despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Fleet Week New York, held nearly every year since 1984, typically involves ship tours, school visits, and band performances. This year, the entire event was conducted online through a series of prerecorded videos that were published on social media platforms. “This was an innovative way for people to connect with our Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, while also staying safe at home,” said Rear Adm. Charles Rock, Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic. “Our nation’s maritime services always adapt to any challenge we face and Virtual Fleet Week New York is a great example of how we are continuing our mission even in difficult times.” NHHC’s Outreach Branch provided information on New York’s naval history. For more, read the article in The Maritime Executive.

Webpage of the Week

This week’s Webpage of the Week is new to NHHC’s exploration and innovation pages. Airships & Dirigibles provides a short history on the Navy’s lighter-than-air program that began when it awarded its first contract for an airship, DN-1, to the Connecticut Aircraft Company in June 1915. Although DN-1 had multiple problems during testing and eventually had to be scrapped, it sparked the beginning of the Navy’s use of the innovative craft that were operated during World War I and extensively during World War II. When the war was over and the military drew down, the Navy kept two squadrons that conducted mostly training, search and rescue, observation, and photography missions. On June 21, 1961, the Secretary of the Navy announced he was going to terminate the Navy’s lighter-than-air program. The last flight of a naval airship occurred on Aug. 31, 1962. Check out this page today to learn more.

Today in Naval History

On June 2, 1941, the first aircraft escort vessel, USS Long Island, was commissioned. A little more than a year later, after conducting experiments to prove the feasibility of aircraft operations from converted cargo ships, the ship reached San Francisco, CA, where it joined Adm. William S. Pye’s four battleships that provided air cover while at sea to reinforce Adm. Chester Nimitz‘s forces during the Battle of Midway. The “baby flattop” also supported the landings on Guadalcanal in August 1942. For the next year, the escort carrier trained carrier pilots at San Diego, CA, an unglamorous but vital contribution to the war effort. Long Island was reclassified CVE‑1, on July 15, 1943. During 1944 and 1945, she transported airplanes and their crews from the west coast to various outposts in the Pacific. After V‑J Day, Long Island revisited many of the same bases while transporting Soldiers and Sailors back home during operation “Magic Carpet.”Long Island decommissioned March 26, 1946, at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

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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