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.
Sacrifice for Peace: Reflections on Sailors Who Helped Win World War II
On Sept. 2, 1945, 75 years ago on the deck of USS Missouri, Japan formally surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II. The nation, and families of more than 1.3 million Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who were then stationed in the Pacific, joined millions around the world in celebration of the tremendous achievement in defeating the tyranny of the Japanese nation. The Pacific battles were hard fought victories for the Allies, and the U.S. Navy’s role cannot be overstated. The war began on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, where the Navy took the brunt of the surprise attack, but the nation rallied, and the Navy answered the call against an enemy that was at the time considered a superior naval force. It was only fitting the surrender ceremony took place aboard a U.S. Navy warship. For more on the fighting spirit and resiliency of the greatest generation, read the blog by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William K. Lescher.
WWII@75: Operation Magic Carpet
Following Japan’s formal surrender, the Allies initiated Operation Magic Carpet that would repatriate millions of Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen following service in World War II. Initial planning for the operation began in 1943, and grew as the war progressed in Europe and in the Pacific. Due to a lack of transportation assets, Fleet Adm. Ernest J. King authorized combat ships to be utilized to transport servicemembers home. The operation also transported former Axis prisoners in Allied prison camps to Europe and Japan and took Allied servicemembers to their respective countries. Operation Magic Carpet continued until September 1946. For more on WWII Sailors’ reactions to finally going home, read For U.S. Troops in the Pacific, the End of World War II Deepened the Ache for Home in Stars & Stripes.
Midway Commissioned—75 Years Ago
On Sept. 10, 1945, USS Midway was commissioned as the lead ship of its class. Midway was named for the famed June 1942 battle, in which the U.S. Navy courageously turned the tide of World War II. After shakedown in the Caribbean, Midway joined the Atlantic Fleet training schedule, with Norfolk, VA, as the aircraft carrier’s homeport. In March 1946, Midway’s crew tested equipment and techniques for cold weather operations in the North Atlantic. In September 1947, during Operation Sandy, the crew test‑fired a captured German V‑2 rocket from the flight deck—the first such launching from a moving platform. Midway was the largest ship in the world until 1955. The ship served honorably for 47 years, notably during the Vietnam War and as the Persian Gulf flagship in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm. In 1992, Midway was decommissioned and is now a museum ship at the USS Midway Museum, in San Diego, CA.
In memory of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Patriot Day is observed annually to mourn their loss and never forget the tragedy. President George W. Bush signed Patriot Day into law Dec. 18, 2001, with Sept. 11, 2002, the first Patriot Day observed. A national moment of silence is scheduled beginning at 8:46 a.m., corresponding with the exact time American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center—the initial attack. The subsequent Global War on Terrorism, which included the worldwide manhunt for Osama bin Laden and destruction of the al Qaeda terrorist network, followed. For more on the Navy’s continuing role in the GWOT, view the Middle East Engagements pages at NHHC’s website.
“Five Stars” Virtual Exhibit
On Sept. 1, the Naval War College Museum posted its first virtual exhibition, “Five Stars,” to mark the end of World War II. The exhibition explores the extraordinary careers of the only four naval officers to achieve the rank of U.S. fleet admiral, Adm. William Daniel Leahy, Adm. Ernest Joseph King, Adm. Chester William Nimitz, and Adm. William Frederick Halsey Jr. The exhibit is broken down into two separate blog posts that cover two admirals per post and contain an array of photographs that highlight their storied careers. For more, check out the exhibit.
Preble Hall Podcast
In a recent naval history podcast from Preble Hall, author and screenwriter Jamie Malanowski spoke at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in 2015 about his book on Cmdr. Will Cushing, who attended the U.S. Naval Academy. The Preble Hall podcast, conducted by personnel at the USNAM 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.
Washington Chambers Christened, Launched—10 Years Ago
On Sept. 11, 2010, USNS Washington Chambers was christened and launched, and then placed in service with the Military Sealift Command on Feb. 23, 2011. The ship is named for Capt. Washington Chambers, a pioneer in U.S. naval aviation, who was designated as the first officer to have oversight over all aviation matters. Before the Navy had either planes or pilots, he arranged a series of tests in which civilian aircraft designers and entrepreneurs Glenn H. Curtiss and Eugene B. Ely demonstrated the airplane’s capability for shipboard operations. The naval pioneers showed the world and a skeptical fleet that aviation could go to sea. The dry cargo/ammunition ship named for Chambers provides ammunition, food, repair parts, stores, and small quantities of fuel for the U.S. Marine Corps.
The Paralyzed World War II Veterans Who Invented Wheelchair Basketball
In the spring of 1948, 15,561 spectators packed New York’s Madison Square Garden to watch two teams of World War II veterans play an exhibition basketball game. Although the group seemed to be just ordinary veterans, they were different. The home team consisted of paralyzed veterans from Halloran Hospital on Staten Island, and the visiting team consisted of paralyzed veterans from Cushing Hospital in Framingham, MA. The players rolled onto the court in their shiny, new wheelchairs as the crowd cheered. It was the first wheelchair basketball game and the beginning of the disability rights movement. For more on the game and the resilient group of heroes, read the article.
Stunning Portraits of World War II Veterans
Growing up, Los Angeles based photographer Zach Coco’s hero was his grandfather, who served in the Pacific during World War II aboard USS Rushmore. Coco always wanted to interview him, but unfortunately, he passed away before Coco was able to conduct the interview. Faced with grief, Coco decided to embark on an inspiring venture—connect with as many WWII veterans as possible. “Each time I do an interview, it’s kind of like I get to spend another day with my grandfather,” he said. Over the past five years, Coco has interviewed and photographed more than 100 men and women who served during the war. In 2019, he published a selection of portraits and testimonies through his nonprofit organization, Pictures for Heroes. For more, read the article. A selection of the photographs and testimonies in the article includes Adolfo Celaya, who survived the USS Indianapolis sinking; George Hughes, who was the commander of an underwater demolition unit; and Anthony D’Acquisto, who participated in the Iwo Jima and Okinawa battles.
Webpage of the Week
This week’s Webpage of the Week was recently updated in NHHC’s DANFS index. USS St. Louis, the fifth named for the largest city in the state of Missouri, was commissioned Nov. 22, 1969, at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, VA. After outfitting, St. Louis set sail for her homeport of Long Beach, CA. On Aug. 1, 1970, with units of Amphibious Squadron 11, St. Louis steamed to Pearl Harbor and ultimately Vietnam. After unloading Marines and equipment, the ship was sent back to Long Beach to transport a World War II Japanese midget submarine to the submarine base at Pearl Harbor. St. Louis then redeployed to Vietnam. After completion of a large redeployment operation involving more than 2,000 Marines and 22,000 tons of equipment in the Quang Nam province, St. Louis visited Hong Kong and then moved to Subic Bay in the Philippines to participate in large-scale amphibious landing exercises. In March 1972, St. Louis was deployed again to Vietnam and after seven months of transporting servicemembers and cargo, returned to Long Beach. After years of service—mostly on the western U.S. coast—St. Louis was decommissioned on Nov. 2, 1992.
Today in Naval History
On Sept. 8, 1944, USS Spadefish was patrolling in the waters of Nansei Shoto when the submarine contacted a convoy of eight enemy cargo ships. During a daring night surface attack, Spadefish fired 20 torpedoes, sinking cargo ships Nichiman Maru, Nichian Maru, Shinten Maru, Shokei Maru, and damaging another. The following morning, she fired her final four torpedoes at an escort guarding the stricken ship, but the torpedoes ran under the target. The submarine’s only reward on this occasion was a rain of depth charges from the enemy. Although she was out of torpedoes, Spadefish continued to trail enemy ships. Spadefish terminated her first war patrol at Pearl Harbor, HI, on Sept. 24, having sunk six enemy ships for a total of more than 31,500 tons.
Download your copy of this week’s Navy History Matters here.