By Malwina Bardoni, Archivist, Navy Archives
Accessioned from the Chief of Information (CHINFO) in 1974, the Biography Collection is one of the larger collections housed at the United States Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). This collection primarily contains biographical sheets, service transcripts, Casualty Reports, obituaries, career biographies, and news articles about Navy personnel. The records in this collection were originally compiled to provide biographical information for publicity purposes. They serve as a valuable source of information into the past for researchers and reference archivists alike.
The collection is comprised of 1,499 boxes (or 605 linear feet as us archivists like to measure by) and contains the records of famous and non-famous people. Among many others, NHHC has records from Michelle Howard, Neil Armstrong, Grace Brewster Murray Hopper, David Crockett, Richard Halsey Best, and Jesse LeRoy Brown. You never know what or who you will find in the Biography Collection.
With a long list of impressive accomplishments, Admiral Michelle Howard was a trailblazer for women. She achieved many firsts for women and African Americans. She graduated from the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in 1982, and the United States Army Command and General Staff College in 1998 with a Master’s degree in Military Arts and Science. In 1996, Howard became the first woman in the Navy to be assigned as an Executive Officer of a combatant ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46). By 1999, she became the first African American woman to assume command of USS Rushmore (LSD 47). In August 2012, Howard became the first African American woman in the United States military to earn three stars. By 2014, Howard earned her fourth star, becoming the first female four-star admiral and the first female African American four star admiral. In 2009 she also led the task force to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean and coordinated the rescue of Richard Philips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, which later inspired the 2013 movie Captain Philips.
Howard’s career included many other notable accomplishments and “firsts.” She was in the third class at the Academy to accept women. In 2006, she received her first star as rear admiral lower half, making her the first admiral selected from the USNA class of 1982 and the first woman graduate selected for flag rank. By 2009, she received her second star. Admiral Howard also became the first woman to serve as the Vice Chief of Naval Operations. These are just a few highlights from among her impressive list of accomplishments. For further biographical information related to Adm. Michelle Howard click here.
Neil Armstrong, yes that Neil Armstrong, the one that walked on the moon. Armstrong joined the Navy in 1949 and reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida for flight training. By August 1950 he was a fully qualified naval aviator. He was then assigned to VF-51 in 1951 where he ended up flying 78 missions and more than 120 hours over Korea. During his service Armstrong earned the Air Medal with two gold stars, the Korean Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the United Nations Korea Medal and was promoted to Lieutenant junior grade. In 1962, Armstrong was selected as an astronaut by National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In March of 1966 he became the command pilot for the Gemini 6 mission alongside pilot David R. Scott. In July 1969, Armstrong along with Michael Collins and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin conducted the famous Apollo 11 mission where Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon and spoke his famous line “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” For more biographical information related to Lt. j.g. Neil Armstrong visit these links:
An innovative Navy officer, with a Navy career spanning over four decades Rear Admiral lower half Grace Brewster Murray Hopper has touched our lives whether we know it or not.
She earned her PhD from Yale University in mathematics in 1934 while also working as a professor of mathematics at Vassar College. Unable to join the Navy during WWII because of her age, she joined the United States Navy Reserves in 1944, which started her computer career. Her first order was to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard, where she became the first programmer for the Navy’s Mark I computer. In 1949, she joined Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation where she designed the first commercial large-scale electronic computer- the UNIVAC I. Hopper eventually changed the computer industry by developing the COBOL (common business oriented language) and coining the term “bug” for computer problems. In 1966 she retired from the Naval Reserves as a Commander. For more biographic information related to Rear Adm. Grace Hopper click here.
Lieutenant David Crockett joined the US Navy as an Aviation Cadet in 1941. After completing extensive training he was commissioned as an Ensign in 1942 and rose through the ranks to Lieutenant Commander. In 1944, Lt. Cmdr. Crockett was reported missing after his F6F Hellcat was shot down on a mission over Toulon, France. Although he bailed out safely he was taken prisoner by the Germans, where he joined other Americans, Englishman, Frenchman, and Algerians. When the German garrison was informed that the war was over, they surrendered to Lt. Cmdr. Crockett. After the garrison surrendered, Crockett worked together with French forces to detain and process their former captors as prisoners of war. Eventually, Crockett made his way back to a US Army air field, and was transported to his carrier. Known as Davy to his friends, Lt. Cmdr. Crockett is a distant relative of the popular American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, and politician, David Crockett. For more information related to Lt. David Crockett click here.
Richard Halsey Best graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1932 with honors. In December 1935, he completed flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. In May 1940, he was assigned to the USS Enterprise (CV 6), an assignment which was destined to make him famous in naval history. In 1942, Best became squadron commander, just in time for the Battle of Midway. Best’s tactical expertise and leadership ability
, enabled VB-6 to locate and sink two Japanese aircraft carriers – a devastating blow to the Japanese and a decisive turning point in the Pacific War. It has been suggested that Best was the first pilot to sink two aircraft carriers in a single day. For his heroic actions he was awarded the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
If you had a hunch that this sounds familiar to the movie Midway– then you are right, Dick was one of the main characters in the movie. For more biographical information related to Lt. Cmdr. Richard Best click here.
In 1948, Jesse LeRoy Brown became the Navy’s first African American aviator. On July 8, 1946 Brown enlisted in the US Naval Reserves, and in April 1947 he was assigned to flight training and appointed Midshipman. In October 1948, Ensign Brown completed flight school and earned the coveted “Wings of Gold” as a Naval Aviator. In April 1949, Brown was commissioned as an Ensign in the US Navy. He was assigned to Fighter Squadron 32 and in 1950 he flew 20 combat missions off the northeast coast of Korea, earning him the Air Medal. On December 4, 1950, Brown flew his final mission in support of United States Marines fighting near the Chosin Reservoir. This also made Brown the first African American naval officer to lose his life in combat. For his heroic actions Brown earned the Korean Service Medal, and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) holds an expansive collection of naval biography files. These biographies primarily span the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with an emphasis on those who held the rank of captain and above. For related webpages:
Eighteenth and nineteenth century naval profiles https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/research-guides/z-files/zb-files.html