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.
Families of USS Indianapolis Crewmembers: We Are Their Legacy
The story of the service and ultimate sacrifice of the crew of USS Indianapolis is an important chapter in U.S. Navy history. Just days after delivering the components of the atomic bomb that was later dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, Japanese submarine I-58 torpedoed Indianapolis in the dead of night on July 30, 1945. Within minutes, more than 880 of the ship’s crew were plunged into the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. After four to five days of exposure to the elements, drownings, dehydration, hypothermia, and shark attacks, only 316 of the brave crew survived. After 75 years, remembering the resilience of the crew is still important. Peggy McCall Campo is the secretary of the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization and the daughter of Indianapolis survivor Donald C. McCall. She graciously shared with NHHC the impact the ship’s crew has made on her life, and the importance of the survivors organization in honoring them. For more on her thoughts, read the blog at The Sextant. To learn how the current crew of USS Indianapolis honored their predecessors, read USS Indianapolis pauses to honor crew of famed namesake ship.
WWII@75: Hiroshima, Nagasaki Attacks
On Aug. 6, 1945, 75 years ago, the atomic bomb “Little Boy” was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan, by the bomber, Enola Gay, piloted by U.S. Army Air Force Col. Paul Tibbets Jr. Navy Capt. William S. Parsons, who later became the Navy’s leading figure on nuclear issues and attained the rank of rear admiral, armed the bomb in flight. Three days later, on Aug. 9, the atomic bomb “Fat Man” was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, by the bomber, Bock’s Car, piloted by U.S. Army Air Force Maj. Charles Sweeney. Navy Cmdr. Frederick W. Ashworth armed the bomb in flight. The atomic attacks eventually led to Japan’s unconditional surrender and the end of World War II. For more, read Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before and after the bombs at History’s website.
H. L. Hunley Raised 20 Years Ago
On Aug. 8, 2000, at 8:37 a.m., the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley broke the surface of the ocean for the first time in more than 136 years near the mouth of the harbor at Charleston, SC. Once safely secured for transporting, H. L. Hunley was shipped to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, now part of the Clemson University Restoration Institute, for conservation inside a specially designed tank. The Confederate submarine has the distinction of being the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in wartime. In the summer of 2000, a team of professionals from NHHC, the National Park Service, and the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology made the decision to excavate the site due to concerns that the historic vessel could be disturbed or damaged since its location was known. For more, check out Underwater Archaeology Branch’s H. L. Hunley page.
Purple Heart Day
On Aug. 7, 1782, President George Washington ordered the establishment of the Badge of Military Merit, which was to be presented to Soldiers for “any singularly meritorious action.” Washington’s Badge of Military Merit was awarded to only three known Soldiers during the American Revolution and was mostly forgotten until Gen. Douglas MacArthur revived the award when he served as the Army’s chief of staff. On Feb. 22, 1932—Washington’s 200th birthday—the U.S. War Department announced the creation of the Purple Heart, a revival of Washington’s Badge of Military Merit. The Purple Heart is the oldest American military decoration for military merit and is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who have been killed or wounded in action against an enemy of the United States. For more, read The Purple Heart at NHHC’s website.
Happy Birthday, U.S. Coast Guard
Today, the U.S. Coast Guard celebrates its 230th birthday. Established in 1790 by President George Washington to enforce tariffs, the U.S. Coast Guard has become a military force and federal law enforcement agency dedicated to the safety, security, and stewardship of the nation’s waters. The Coast Guard is the only military organization within the Department of Homeland Security and is considered the nation’s premier maritime law enforcement community that serves to save lives, protect the environment, and defend the homeland. Happy birthday, U.S. Coast Guard!
Pat Donnelly, Legendary Football and Lacrosse Player at Navy, Dies at Age 77
Pat Donnelly, who ranks among superstar football players Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach as the U.S. Naval Academy’s finest athletes, died July 24 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Donnelly’s prowess on both sides of the ball made him one of the greatest players in Navy football history. The Ohio native was such a great athlete he picked up lacrosse while at Navy and became an All-American in that sport as well. “Pat may have been the most tremendous natural athlete I’ve ever seen. He could have played any sport and been highly successful,” said Dennis Wedekind, starting goalie for the Navy lacrosse team, 1963–1965. Donnelly, an Ohio native, was his high school’s valedictorian and a three-sport standout. After graduating from the Naval Academy, Donnelly served two tours during the Vietnam War. For more, read the article in the Capital Gazette.
Navy Department Library Formally Established
On Aug. 7, 1882, Public Act No. 21 officially established the Navy’s Library as a departmental institution; however, the library’s roots extend back to 1794 when the Naval Bureau was part of the War Department in Philadelphia. Although it was formally established in 1882, a March 31, 1800, letter from President John Adams to Benjamin Stoddert, the first Secretary of the Navy, documents the establishment of the Navy Department Library. The library, which was attached to the office of the Secretary of the Navy and located near the White House, was in continuous existence until it was formally named the Navy Department Library in 1882. For more, read History of the Navy Department Library at NHHC’s website.
Preble Hall Podcast
In a recent naval history podcast from Preble Hall, Jan Herman discusses his book, The Lucky Few: The Fall of Saigon and the Rescue Mission of the USS Kirk. 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 loaded recently is Anglo-American Naval Relations, 1918–1953. Corbin Williamson is an assistant professor of strategy at the Air War College. He holds a PhD in history from Ohio State University and specializes in the 20th century U.S. Navy. He has previously worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense Historical Office and taught for the Naval War College. His first book, The U.S. Navy and its Cold War Alliances, 1945–1953, will be published by the University Press of Kansas in 2020.
Webpage of the Week
This week’s Webpage of the Week is new to NHHC’s exploration and innovation pages. The use of flying objects in the United States, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), dates back to the Civil War when both Union and Confederate forces would launch balloons laden with explosives on ammunition depots in an attempt to explode them. In late 1916, the U.S. Navy hired the Sperry Gyroscope Company to develop an unmanned torpedo that could fly 1,000 yards with the capability of detonating its warhead on an enemy warship. Two years later, after a series of failures, on March 6, 1918, the company succeeded in launching an unmanned torpedo that hit the desired target 1,000 yards away. With that successful flight, the world’s first unmanned aircraft system, the Curtis N-9, was born. For more, check out the Navy’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles. The new page contains a short history, suggested reading, articles, blogs, and selected imagery.
Today in Naval History
On Aug. 4, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, USS Monterey became the first monitor to cross the Pacific, reaching Manila Bay, Philippines, from San Francisco, CA. Monterey was ordered—in company with collier Brutus—to sail for the Philippines to provide the Asiatic Squadron with big gun support against a possible attack by the Spanish battleship Paleyo. The two ships made the 8,000‑mile voyage without mishap. Monterey remained in the Philippines supporting the occupation of Luzon into the following year. On April 6, 1900, Monterey sailed for China, receiving new boilers at Hong Kong, and then operated from July 1900 to September 1901 as a station ship at Shanghai.
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